IWords: Ashley Webb
t was back in September 1962 that the Cortina was first introduced, initially in standard and deluxe form and aimed at sweeping up buyers of Morris Oxfords and Vauxhall Victors. It started a run of success for Ford that lasted for about 20 years, and, during that time, the mid-sized family car built by Ford of Britain was produced in five generations, MKI through to MKV. In New Zealand, the Cortina range generally followed that of Britain, and assembly ran from Ford’s Lower Hutt plant, where the cars were produced from 1962 to 1983.
The initial Cortina concept came about when Terence Beckett, its creator, recognized a gap in the market for a budget-priced family saloon car in a segment that was dominated by the British Motor Corporation’s (BMC) Mini, which was launched in 1959. Originally, the
car was to be called the Ford Consul ‘315’, but the number was changed to ‘Cortina’, with the name inspired by the Italian ski resort of Cortina d’ampezzo — Ford would later drop the ‘Consul’ part of the name tag.
Ford’s aim was for the model to be an inexpensive car to run in Britain, and it made the wise decision to stick with the tried and tested formula of the tremendously popular Anglia 105E, which used an overhead-valve engine, four-speed gearbox, and Macphersonstrut front suspension. Until January 1963, all Cortina models were fitted with an 1198cc three-bearing crankshaft engine — similar to the one in the aforementioned Anglia. The body styling of the new Cortina had an angular, contemporary flair, with tapering flutes along the sides and the immediately recognizable ‘Y’ (or, ‘ ban the bomb’) tail-light clusters.
Available in either two- or four-door saloon configuration, the Consul Cortina became one of Ford’s most successful models.
Launched in January 1963, the 1500 Super was immediately identified by its chrome-tapered strips along the side flutes. Later in the same month came the sporty GT version, boasting a 1500cc engine fitted with twin-choke Weber carburettors, disc brakes up front, a remote gear change, and modified suspension. The final model launched to complete the range was the hugely successful Lotus-modified Cortina.
Assembly of the MKI Cortina commenced in New Zealand during January 1963, and the car proved a spectacular success here as a popular and reliable saloon for many Kiwi families.
By July 1963, all suspension and steering grease nipples had been replaced by ball joints with plastic seats, and, in September that same year, the next set of modifications included such features as childproof locks added to all the rear doors, front bench seats, and a column gear change — all made available as optional extras to every model except the GT. December 1963 brought the introduction of the Borgwarner-supplied automatic gearbox.
In October 1964, the most significant change in the Cortina’s specifications included front disc brakes on all models as standard. The front grille was redesigned from the original two standard slats and deluxe chrome style to a single chrome unit incorporating a widened bottom that surrounded the sidelights and indicators. Also introduced was Ford’s Aeroflow ventilation system, which ensured fresh air would enter the car and then be expelled.
In its final year of production, the Cortina GT was given even larger front-wheel discs and self-adjusting rear brakes. Finally, in October 1966 — after a staggering 1,010,000 Mkis had been manufactured — it was replaced by the MKII.
We remember 1964 as the year that the Ford Mustang was born, Beatlemania hit New Zealand, and GI Joe was invented by Hasbro. But another thing that happened during 1964 was the birth of our featured Ford MKI Cortina.
Chris Alexander discovered the car in a wrecker’s yard in Mangere, South Auckland, seven years ago, sitting forlornly on a wooden pallet. It was a completely stripped shell with the four doors attached, and it quickly caught Chris’ eye, and he immediately thought ‘rally car’ — what a fantastic opportunity to start a project.
It had been abandoned by its previous owner as a failed project that had aimed to convert it to a Mazda-powered show car, and the shell was in surprisingly rust-free
Chip off the old block
Chris reckons that he must be a chip off the old block, as his grandfather, Bert Alexander, owned Newton Wreckers yard in the ’50s and ’60s. Chris became interested in motor sport at a young age, watching on television as Escorts, Mazdas, and Nissans raced at various events around the country. This was enough encouragement to entice Chris to get involved with Rally New Zealand through the late ’80s, and he helped out doing parc fermé and timing, as well as assisted on various organizing committees. It wasn’t long before he’d built his own car, a Ford Escort, and begun competing in many local hill-climb and club circuit events.
The defining moment for Chris was when he was asked to co-drive for Craig Stevens, in 2000, and, once he’d experienced the thrill of racing on gravel, he never looked back. After 10 years of competing in motor sport events such as rallies, hill climbs, and rally sprints, Craig and Chris had a national rally championship under their belts. But, although Chris had become accustomed to co-driving for Craig, he still missed driving himself, and, eventually, he decided to get back behind the wheel, setting his sights on working his way towards the New Zealand Rally Championship.
Since then, Chris has built several MKI/MKII Ford Escorts and successfully competed in many Targa and rally events, including the Catlins Coast Rally, Otago Classic Rally, and the World Rally Championship ( WRC) Rally New Zealand (Clubmans Rally), an event in which Chris was able to test his skills against the best in the business.
In 2001, Chris was the co-driver for Clyde Walters — in a 2000E Ford Cortina — in Targa New Zealand and again in 2004, alongside Rory Mctavish, in an MGB GT, in the 10th-anniversary Targa New Zealand. By 2007, Chris was ready to compete in the event in his own car. A Ford Escort MKII boasting a Zetec twin-cam engine was the ideal set-up. Chris remembers overtaking five cars during one special stage on day four, and making his way up the leader board, until the engine decided enough was enough and disintegrated in spectacular fashion, ending his event.
Keeping a car going, let alone getting it to the finish line, is the most challenging aspect of competing in a gravel rally. Chris was under no illusion; he knew that preparation is the key, and this became even more