The Ford Cortina precisely defined what a family car should be. Ben Wanklyn drives the model’s second incarnation
1968 Classic Ford Cortina Mk2 Review
With the Mark 1 Cortina being such a success, the Ford Mark 2 Cortina had a lot to live up to. An experienced company such as Ford knew not to change too much to the winning formula. Ford produced a comprehensively improved version of the original.
Ford managed to retain the original pressed-steel chassis platform, suspension and running gear from the Mk1 in a bid to save money. The new bodyshell was slightly larger than the previous car, with Ford choosing to use an advert with the slogan “New Cortina is more Cortina”.
Ford chose to use the tried and tested method of developing variants of the model to increase sales, including a two door, four door and an estate. Initially the engine from the Mark 1 was carried over, but in October 1967 Ford phased in a new range of overhead-valve Kent engines, with 1.6 litres and 71bhp (88bhp for the GT).
A mid-term face lift in 1968 saw the cars gain a new radiator grille and fascia layout in the interior. New front seats as well as an in-car bonnet release were new additions. By the time Ford stopped producing the Cortina Mk2 in 1970 it had swelled to fourteen different models, and produced 1,024,869 examples.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Although the bodywork isn’t the only thing that goes wrong on a Cortina, it is the thing that is most likely to cause problems. Original panels are no longer available and as was typical of the time, rustproofing wasn’t very effective. The result is that corrosion has claimed most of the 1,101,580 Mk II Cortinas produced. The reason for this is that there really isn’t anywhere that shouldn’t be checked carefully, whether it’s inner or outer panels. But there are some areas that are more rotprone than others, and some areas are easier to put right than others.
Work your way around the car methodically, starting at the front offside corner. The area around the headlamps corrodes readily along with the front bumper supports, the anti-roll bar mountings, the wing bottoms and the wheelarches.
Open the bonnet and see what state the MacPherson strut tops are in as well as the inner wings and the bulkhead. If the bulkhead needs to be repaired (and it’s best to check it from under the wheelarches) you’ll need to remove the front wings, which are welded in place.
As you work your way along the car, check the bottoms of the doors, the A-posts and also the sills to see if there are any holes present, as well as looking for filler. Don’t miss the B-posts or the closing panels for the rear doors. The rear wing bottoms and wheelarches are your next port of call, then there’s the rear valance and boot lid.
Finally, have a good poke around underneath. As well as the floorpans rusting, the jacking points can dissolve, as can the main members above the rear axle. The rear spring and shock absorber mountings can also cause problems – fail to check these and things could get very tricky on the road!
Whichever one of the ious engines is fitted to the car you’re inspecting, it’ll be cheap and easy to overhaul (unless it’s a Lotus). At worst you’ll need to buy a whole new unit, but they’re cheap and plentiful enough so it won’t be a problem.
With the exception of the twin-cam Lotus unit, all the powerplants fitted to the Mk II Cortina were based on the Kent engine. The first sign of trouble will be noisy valve gear, normally down to worn rockers, camfollowers and the camshaft itself – by that stage the engine needs a top-end rebuild, although the camshaft itself is housed in the block.
Worn timing chains also cause problems – listen for rattle from the front of the engine – but compared with all these potential maladies, it’s worn rings and bores that will blow the biggest hole in your wallet. Fumes from the oil filler cap and blue smoke from the exhaust will give the game away – spot these and a bottom end rebuild lies in store. The Kent engine is very easy to work on and a rebuilt unit can be tracked down for around £600.
If you’re looking at a Lotus Cortina and the engine is sick, remember that a used head casting – if you can find one – will set you back £800 on its own. A new one is more like double that, although it’s unlikely the unit fitted would be damaged enough to need renewing altogether.
All Cortinas with a manual gearbox were fitted with a four-speed unit. From September 1968 a completely different ’box was fitted; the configuration was the same but the two aren’t interchangeable. Since Sierra values disappeared from view altogether, five-speed gearbox conversions have become popular.
It’s fairly straightforward but the clutch operation needs to be swapped from hydraulic to cable and the yoke at the front of the propshaft needs to be changed. Synchromesh wearing out on second gear is the first sign of trouble with the manual gearboxes, along with the transmission jumping out of top gear. If you’re lucky it’s because there’s a broken spring in the gearchange fork rod, or the screw and lock nut which holds the selector fork rod together may have worked itself loose. But if luck isn’t on your side it could be more serious – the gearbox coupling dogs or selector fork rod could be suffering from serious wear.
If so, it’s likely that there’s major wear in the rest of the gearbox, in which case a reconditioned unit is the best solution. You can expect to pick one up for about £300.
There isn’t much that goes wrong with the Borg-Warner Type 35 automatic gearbox, and cars so equipped aren’t that easy to track down. Checking the transmission fluid for colour and level is about all you need to do, although the clutch bands can break up. If the fluid is black there’s a rebuild on the horizon, but rebuilt units aren’t difficult to source because the transmission is commonplace.
The pinion seals can start leaking oil from the differential, so have a close look to see if there are any damp patches that give the game away. Take the car for a test drive and listen out for droning or whining as the diff doesn’t like high mileages – after 100,000 miles have been racked up it’ll probably need rebuilding.
Even if everything else seems fine, check the propshaft is okay. If it hasn’t been balanced properly it’ll vibrate and if any of the universal joints have worn it’ll be clonking as the drive is taken up.
STEERING & SUSPENSION
All Mk II Cortinas were fitted with a steering box, which was never as precise as a rack and pinion set up. Expect to have an inch of movement at the steering wheel before the road wheels start to do anything. While you’re checking the steering by rocking the wheel from side to side, get somebody to see what’s happening to the ball joints and the steering idler assemblies. Severe play in these will be immediately obvious, and you’ll need to use it as a bargaining point.
MacPherson struts were fitted to the front of all Mk II Cortinas, but pre-August 1967 cars have an upper mounting that incorporates a thrust race ball bearing, which gives problems. Lack of lubrication and moisture getting in leads to it getting stiff, but later cars were fitted with tapered rubber bushes which don’t give problems. You can swap the struts, although it is a bit involved and you’ll need a spring compressor to do it. The units aren’t interchangeable unless you replace the whole of the strut.
The rear hub bearings are a pain to replace, as they require 1200lb of pressure to remove them and the same to put them back into place. So make sure there’s no play by jacking up the back of the car and rocking the top and bottom of each wheel to see if there’s any movement.
WHEELS & BRAKES
If there’s a lot of shaking from the front wheels when you test drive it, it’s probably because the wheels are out of balance – Fords with MacPherson strut front suspension are particularly sensitive to this problem.
The braking system is straightforward, but there are plenty of things that can go wrong. All Mk II Cortinas had disc brakes at the front and drums at the rear – in the case of the latter the cylinders can leak or seize.
Automatic adjusters were fitted at the rear, and these can seize up – plenty of travel in the handbrake is the classic symptom. Brake pipes need close scrutiny, as they’re steel and we all know what happens to that, don’t we boys and girls…
From September 1968 the E and GT could be fitted with an optional servo – these don’t give any more trouble than any other type of servo.
Decent interior trim is virtually impossible to find, so don’t underestimate the task of reviving a tatty cabin. Seat frames can break and both carpets sets and trim panels can get damaged – and you’ll struggle to find new or used replacements for any of it.
The electrical system is very simple, and there are no standard problems that crop up. From September 1968 there was a fusebox fitted, for the lighting circuit only. Although these don’t play up, they do go brittle and if you break yours you’ll struggle to find a replacement. Other than that, most things are easy enough to source, although rear number plate lamps are now extinct.
Looms don’t give trouble unless they’ve been hacked about, so look for Scotchloks as evidence of electrical bodgery having taken place. Instrumentation and switchgear tend to keep going, but if anything stops working it’s easy enough to find used replacements.
If you’re after new stuff though, you’ll probably look in vain, unless you’re really lucky.
As is usual at this end of the market, Cortinas are bought more on condition than model.
Although there was a variant for everyone when they were new, the rate of attrition for some of the lowlier editions means true poverty-spec cars are now very hard to find. Cars that are more desirable (and rarer), such as estates and two doors, aren’t really worth more than other derivatives, they’re just easier to sell. The estate makes a brilliantly practical classic, but they’re usually sold before an advert ever gets printed – which is why joining the Cortina Mk II Owners’ Club is essential. As well as making it easier to find a car, the club is the best source of parts.
Most of the remaining cars are 1600Es and Lotuses – De Luxes and Supers are now very thin on the ground, and of those that are left, few are in good condition. Alternatively you could track down one of the few remaining Savages, which are the most valuable of all the Mk II Cortinas.
If you take this route, make sure it’s a genuine car; the club can help with this as it knows the fakes and the real ones. It’s much the same for the Lotus cars, which are much easier to fake in Mk II guise than Mk I; join the Lotus Cortina Register and they’ll make sure you don’t get stitched up.
Just about any mechanical malady you’re likely to encounter can be knocked into shape cheaply and easily. But overlook bodywork glitches and things are very different, so don’t dismiss a car with a good body but mediocre running gear.
Most common of the remaining Mk IIs is the 1600E, which combined sport and luxury in a great all round package. Track a nice example of one of these down and you’ll have the ideal practical classic.