Ford Cortina MkIII
Left for dead in a muddy field, the future looked bleak for this MkIII. Step forward Pete Crompton, who couldn't let such a rare beast perish.
Rare 2000 GXL, dragged from a muddy field and brought back to life.
With five different iterations appearing during a twenty-year production run, Ford ensured that the oft-upcycled and seemingly omnipresent Cortina generated plenty of showroom traffic. Consequently, this fleet and family favourite regularly topped the bestseller charts.
There's much to like about the Cortina, in all of its forms, and I'll confess to having a soft spot for both the rakish MkI and the 'kicked-up' MkIII. Concerning soft spots, prior to its restoration, the featured MkIII that would garner the nickname 'Swampy', spent twenty-four years in an extremely soft spot – a waterlogged field.
Field of dreams
It would undoubtedly have continued to dissolve into its sodden surroundings, had fate – and Pete Crompton – not intervened. "I've long had a passion for MkIII Cortinas," enthuses Pete. "I've owned my 1973 2000GXL since 1992 and love the American styling cues, artistic flair, and chrome.
Nevertheless, I wasn't intending to get another. But, in 2011, I was sent a picture of a MkII that someone had spotted in a field in Essex."
Intrigued, Pete decided to investigate. "I managed to track down the photographer," he continues. "Unfortunately, he only had a vague recollection of where the car was. Eventually, having scrutinised Google Earth for ages, I found the Cortina and worked out its exact location."
Pete wasted little time in driving to Essex, although he wasn't quite sure what to expect – or what to do when he got there. "A resto wasn't really part of my plans," he explains. "But, after squelching across the field, scrabbling through an overgrown copse, and seeing the Cortina in the flesh and realising it was a 2000GXL, I knew I had to save it. Of course, before I could do this, I had to find the owner."
Sadly, Pete discovered that the owner had passed away, although his brother was still alive. "He filled me in on the history," mentions Pete." Before his brother bought the Cortina, it had been owned by the Ford Motor Company. We chatted more and, having come to appreciate how enthusiastic I was, he agreed to sell. A friend and I returned some weeks later, dragged the Cortina out, and took it home. I couldn't wait to inspect it properly."
The inspection proved to be a reality check. "It was so rotten, a
I felt drawn to this car and had a burning
desire to bring it back to life
restoration wasn't really viable," admits Pete. "But, I love to channel my creativity. My ethos is to find a project most would consider not worth doing, and then do it. I felt drawn to this car and had a burning desire to bring it back to life – even though I appreciated I'd have to put just about everything else on hold. I'd done a partial restoration on my MkIII, so felt I had the ability, but I wasn't blind to the huge task I was about to take on."
Pete set a budget, drew up a detailed action plan, complete with a timescale, and got stuck in. His goal was the 2014 Cortina Day.
"To create a good base to build upon, literally, I started by installing new floorpans and sills," elaborates Pete. "If these aren't sound, and properly fitted, you are on a hiding to nothing. They are the reference points for the rest of the build. I worked really hard to achieve a factory finish, knowing this would give me the inspiration to work to the same standard throughout. From the start, I reverse-engineered the Cortina, unpicked each spot-weld, measured datum points, looked at manuals and build details, took digital photos, and also recorded everything on video.
Pete's video diaries, regularly posted on YouTube, received thousands and thousands of views – and one of those viewers, was a fellow Cortina fan who wishes to remain annonymous. We'll call him Bob.
"I was six months into the project and had got as far as the roof," recalls Pete. "It was beyond repair, so I resorted to cutting one from another MkIII to transplant. The donor car had a DVLA Certificate of Destruction. I wouldn't have taken the roof otherwise.
'Bob', who was also restoring a MkIII, saw the video of me overcutting, trimming, and fitting the roof. He appreciated what I was doing with the project and offered to help, for free."
Understandably, this was an offer Pete gladly accepted. Bob spent six months of evenings and weekends helping out, sharing the load, but also mentoring Pete. "Bob is very focused and supremely talented," Pete reveals. "He helped improve my skills and sped up the project. I'll always appreciate what he did."
Together, the pair continued the bodyshell restoration, crafting everything to perfection, mock-fitting panels and sub-assemblies first. Not one section, however small, was overlooked. "We did everything," informs Pete. "The only thing we didn't tackle was the paintwork. This was done after the shell had been dipped and treated."
As with the body, the mechanical rebuild was meticulously executed and impeccably detailed. "Parts were either powder coated or galvanised, even those you'll never see," emphasises Pete. "I bought a kit and did it myself; every bush, bearing and nut was renewed. My commitment to this car, and its quality, was one hundred percent."
That commitment extended to salvaging as much of the original running gear as possible, even the long-dormant engine. "The engine
was seized, but I managed to strip it," says Pete. "Then, after having it professionally rebuilt, I ran it in on a home-made jig before installing it. The gearbox and axle were also professionally rebuilt."
While the mechanical items were being rebuilt, Pete sourced trim, restored other parts, and carried on with the build. "There was no downtime," says Pete, smiling. "I rebuilt the seat frames, and sourced the very rare seat material – known as 'basket' weave – from America. To make the Cortina more luxurious, I installed acres of soundproofing and sound deadening material. Quality, as well as reliability, was paramount. I mocked up the dashboard on a special jig, testing every connector, replacing where necessary. I also converted the radio to MP3 and fitted hidden speakers.
The final part of the bodyshell build involved fitting the lights, glass, rubbers and external trim. "The headlamps were in a right state," tells Pete. "Unfortunately, the concave glass, marked with the word 'Halogen' and specific to the GXL, is unobtainable. However, I
I ran in the rebuilt engine on a home-made jig before installing it
managed to restore the originals and mate them to new reflectors. The aluminium trim was re-anodised and the chrome buffed. Finally, a friend, Gary, gave me his spare, brand new, rear panel insert. In fact, the human aspect of this restoration has been the best part. People have been so supportive. With their help, I was able to complete PNO 922K in time for Cortina Day."
Original Pinto engine was unseized and nursed back to health.
Interior is a riot of colour, with several shades of blue to draw your eye! Cosy bucket seats are ideal
for long-distance trips. 'Coke bottle' styling has a
simply timeless appeal. AM-FM unit is beautiful
in its simplicity.
Pete can justifiably be proud of
the fruits of his labour.
Despite the work involved in saving it, Cortina is used on a regular basis.
Rarity of the 2000GXL model convinced Pete to save the car.