’ In­spi­ra­tion

New Zealand Classic Car - - Feature - Photos:

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

Adam Croy

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.

Op­por­tu­nity knocks

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

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