1970 Ford Cortina MkII 1600E
No sports saloon selection would be complete without a Ford – and jumping forward a decade from the MG into the Sixties, we’re spoiled for choice. The original Cortina or Escort in GT guise would have done, though as Ford’s period ad pointed out, ‘New Cortina is more Cortina’. It might have only been 21/2 inches ‘more’, but Ford’s new-for-1966 follow-up boosted its social aspirations as well as its dimensions.
By the mid-Sixties, Ford UK was gearing up for sales dominance, its new Cortina having one main purpose – to break the stranglehold of BMC’s 1100/1300 as Britain’s best-selling model. The new Ford achieved it too, just a year after going on sale. A shift upmarket was also envisioned at Dagenham with well-heeled appeal split between the MkIV Zodiac, Corsair and Ford Cortina MkII 1600E. The UK’s emerging executive class largely ignored the first two, but couldn’t get enough of the latter. The 1600E comprised the chassis strengthening and lowered suspension from the Dagenham-built Lotus Cortina MkII, matched to the Cortina GT’s 1599cc ‘Kent’ engine. It was loaded with additional equipment too – better soundproofing, a three-spoke sports steering wheel, comprehensive instrumentation and hand-painted pinstripes. At launch in 1967, it stood head and shoulders above the more pedestrian Cortina range.
What separates the 1600E from the Magnette right away is its Tardis-like cabin. The MkII Cortina isn’t a large car, yet driver and passenger have an astonishing amount of room. The plush, well-appointed cabin also boasts yards of wood veneer and vinyl. The driver sits before a shamelessly American-inspired three-spoke alloy and leather-trimmed steering wheel. A clock – Ford’s sign you’d arrived – is present and correct in the centre console. It feels airy in here, with a glasshouse that’s barely impeded by super-thin pillars.
By contrast to the willing nature of the MG, the 1600E almost feels reluctant at first – its engine being slightly coarse and disinclined to rev. The car’s cabin muting and desensitised (recirculating-ball) steering also add to its somewhat remote nature. The 1600E doesn’t feel as sporting as expected, preferring to play the laid-back cruiser role. Dig a little deeper and I begin to be rewarded, though I’m having to work it quite hard. Acceleration is comfortably superior to the MG’s, of course, though the sensation of same isn’t.
With far more accomplished suspension, consisting of MacPherson struts and a front anti-roll bar, the 1600E makes up for a lot of lost ground when it hits the bends. Grip from this Ford’s five-and-a-half-inch radial tyres is a world away from the MG’s crossplies. Common to both saloons however, is the neartotal lack of lateral support from the seats. It’s amplified in the Ford because its chassis is that much more proficient. During spirited spells at the helm, all you can do is hold the wheel tight while relying on your own core strength to stop you sliding right off the seat – the passengers don’t even have that option and there’s not a grab handle in sight.
‘The 1600E featured the lowered suspension from the Lotus Cortina MkII’
You won’t get much change from £20k if you’re in the market for a very good 1600E like this one. Projects aren’t really out there, with most surviving examples having now been restored into pampered show cars. The Kent engine isn’t especially refined, but if it grumbles or excessively vibrates, check the mounts before inspecting the bottom end for bearing wear. Jumping out of top gear has been known, as has a weak, crunching second-gear synchromesh. Having said all this, rust is by far the biggest issue with any Ford – the steel used was thin and hardly protected in this era. In addition to the usual spots (wheelarches, sills, etc) look for rot on the bonnet leading edge, in the engine bay and underneath the jacking points and chassis legs. If you’re feeling ambitious, remove the rear seat to inspect the suspension mounting area too. The 1600E was considered a classic long before its siblings and most of its rivals. Its original purchase price of just under £1000 put it beyond the means of a large proportion of traditional Ford customers, yet it wasn’t too far out of reach to seem unattainable. In other words, it was the perfect blend of aspiration and affordability, something Ford gets right time and time again.
Owning a Ford Cortina 1600E
Jeffrey Letch has had his dream car for the past 13 years – and in that time has had it comprehensively restored. ‘My first car was a MkII GT that was written off outside a petrol station. I always vowed that once my three sons were off-hand, I’d buy another. I bought this one along with two others. One turned out to be a Savage, which I’ve kept. I wanted to do this car with the best people and tools available – and that’s why it’s cost nearly £30k to restore. ‘I did things like drive to the Czech Republic to buy the genuine, original light bezels. It needed a lot of the usual welding to the sills and front end; effectively everything else is brand new – engine, propshaft, etc. The car’s been absolutely fine ever since it was restored. I don’t take it out in the rain and it’s only really used for family trips.’
1970 Ford Cortina MkII 1600E
- Engine 1599cc, inline four-cylinder (Kent crossflow), ohv, single twin-choke Weber 32 DFM carburettor
- Max Power 92bhp @ 5400rpm
- Max Torque 97lb ft @ 3600rpm
- Transmission Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
- Steering Recirculating ball
- Suspension Front: independent via MacPherson struts and coil springs with anti-roll bar.
- Rear: non-independent live de Dion axle suspended via semi-elliptic leaf springs and trailing radius arms with telescopic hydraulic dampers.
- Brakes Discs front, drums rear
- Performance 0-60mph: 12.5sec.
- Top speed: 95mph
- Weight 990kg (2183lb)
- Fuel consumption 31mpg
- Cost new £982 2s, 1d
- Classic Cars Price Guide £3750-£12,500
Wood veneer and vinyl reflects the Cortina’s social climb. ‘Kent’ engine needs pushing to give its best. 1600E fuses luxury and space with Lotus handling.