Wednesday May 24, 2017
The Paris Motor Show 1967 marked the debut of the latest version of the Ford Cortina Mk. II that instantly became the object of desire for many. Here was a car that felt as modern as the new Radio One pop station and Simon Dee’s chat show on BBC1, from the Ro-style wheels to the Styla steering wheel. It was groovier than a Humber Sceptre, more contemporary than a Riley 4/72 and, at just £982 2s. 1d, was far cheaper than a Rover or a Triumph 2000. It was, of course, the Cortina 1600E, the Ford with ‘enough performance and polish to satisfy the most extroverted executive’.
The 1600E was not the first ‘E-Class’ car from Dagenham – the flagship versions of the Zodiac Mk. III and Mk. IV plus the Corsair 2000E all pre-date it – but it is the one that most seems to abide in the public memory. The matt black grille and the badging on the C-pillars and boot lid all complement Roy Haynes’ crisp styling for Cortina Mk. II and the 1600E could have sold on the strength of its standard equipment alone. You can almost hear drivers of the 1300 De Luxe (with not a lot as standard) muttering ‘fog and reversing lamps’, ‘reclining front seats’, ‘Kienzle clock’ and ‘cigar lighter’ in sheer envy. The 1600E could be ordered in an array of eye-catching paint finishes – Amber Gold Metallic and Black Cherry are my favourites – and the cabin was very well-trimmed. The wood veneered fascia and cut pile carpets combining with the alloy spokes on the steering wheel to create an atmosphere that was ‘traditional’ without ever seeming out dated.
Under that smart coachwork was the lowered suspension and close ratio gearbox from the Cortina Lotus, launched earlier that year. Power came from the Cortina GT’s 1.6 litre ‘Kent’ unit and there was also extra sound deadening, although many 1600E owners relished that engine note as they accelerated past Vauxhall Vivas on the A32. Home market Es all had four door bodies although a handful of two-door versions were later produced for export markets. Late 1968 saw the 1600E face lifted with a modified dashboard, a new centre console and rather nice bucket-style rear seats; a black finish for the tail panel further distinguished the E-class Cortina from its stablemates. A 1600E in Silver Fox Metallic famously guest-starred in the first episode of Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased), where villains attempting to assassinate Mike Pratt at least had a very good taste in getaway cars.
1970 saw the demise of the 1600E along with the remainder of the Cortina Mk. II range but such was its popularity that three years later Ford advertised the new 2000E Mk. III under the slogan ‘Now will you please stop writing to us about the old 1600E’. The famous badge was subsequently revived in 1989 for a Tickford-built limited edition Orion but that could never have the same impact as the star of the 1967 Paris Motor Show. The Cortina 1600E remains the perfect example of the right car anticipating the right market introduced at just the right time. 50 years ago, it seemed to herald a brave new world for any up and coming regional sales manager, one of colour television sets and driving your new Saluki Bronze 1600E to the Golden Egg restraint for 10/6d worth of Mixed Grill ‘on expenses’. And, if that were not enough, who could resist this ultra-1969 advert with Freddie Garrity look-alike Ford customers being berated by their Joan Sims style wives?