1969 Ford Cortina GT, engine bay. Click image to enlarge
Article and images: Paul Williams
It’s been a long time since the Ford Cortina was seen on Canadian roads. If this English Ford is remembered for anything, it’s the collaboration between Lotus founder Colin Chapman and Ford of England to produce the Lotus Cortina. Powered with a twin-cam Lotus-developed engine based on the Ford Kent block and featuring performance suspension and aluminum body panels, the Lotus Cortina in traditional white paint with broad green stripe was campaigned internationally with many of the world’s top drivers behind the wheel.
These were the days when Formula 1 drivers would pretty much race anywhere, anytime in anything. World champion Jim Clark regularly drove a Lotus Cortina, typically on three wheels, sometimes two. Check out some YouTube videos and you’ll see what I mean.
While our subject car is not a Lotus Cortina, it is the next best thing: a Cortina GT. Very rare on the roads now, the first question asked is typically, “What the heck is that?” To me, its unfamiliarity adds to its appeal.
Here’s the background. This is a 1969 Mark II Cortina GT found in Eastern Ontario, and restored to almost as-new condition. Then as now, Ford, like many manufacturers, would add sporty details to a family car in the hopes that it would appeal to a younger buyer. The Cortina was Canada’s second most popular import car in 1969, but with the Cortina GT it wasn’t just about adding stripes (although it got those, too).
Under the hood you’ll find that famous Kent 1.6L four-cylinder with its signature cross-flow head. This engine was the foundation of the Formula Ford racing series that endured for 40 years, and as you can imagine, there is a mountain of performance technology available for the Kent. In the ’69 Cortina GT it arrived with a hotter camshaft, Weber carburetor and performance four-branch header making 93 horsepower (a 23 percent gain over the base 1.5L engine).
In addition you got bigger brakes, a stiffer suspension, four-speed manual transmission (no automatic available with the GT) and, of course, you paid more. The base Cortina sedan started at $1,899, but in GT trim you’d be looking at $2,582. That’s a big jump but commensurate with today’s pricing (maybe the Ford Focus SE 5-door at $17,602 versus the ST at $26,579 is a similar comparison?). The Cortina GT also got chrome trim along the sills, a matte black panel at the rear and a matching grille at the front. This one wears non-standard wheels.
Inside, the driver faces a veneered wood (real wood!) dashboard with four minor gauges mounted atop the centre stack and major gauges showing a 110 mile-per-hour maximum and a 6,000 rpm redline on the tachometer. The ignition key is on the left à la Porsche, perhaps?
1969 Ford Cortina GT, gauges, cabin. Click image to enlarge
I’ve got to tell you, when I first saw that wood dash panel it looked for all the world like someone had cut the thing out with a jigsaw in his garage and stuck it on the car. It just doesn’t look factory sourced. The story goes that styling manager Terence Beckett suggested to Ford executives that the GT could inexpensively be given a more upscale interior with the addition of the wood trim and that he knew of a local guy making them on a “one-off” basis at his shop in nearby Coventry. He acquired one of the bespoke wooden dash covers, screwed it on, and the Ford execs were impressed enough to pretty much reproduce it. They don’t build cars this way anymore (at least, not to my knowledge…).
Another interesting story about the interior has to do with who sewed the seats and glued and door panels together. If you’ve seen or can access the movie “Made in Dagenham” (it’s on Netflix), you’ll know that the women who assembled Ford interiors were paid vastly less than the men. Basically, they were designated as unskilled, but really they were underpaid because at the time women were always paid less than men. As it happened, this small group of women went on strike for equal pay and their action not only transformed Ford practices globally, but arguably set the stage for a move toward the achievement of wage parity throughout the world. The interior in this car was most certainly sewn together by those women in Dagenham, England.