Wednesday January 10, 2018
One of my favourite forms of a classic is the ‘Q-Car’; those vehicles whose comparatively restrained appearance belie their performance. Most of us could probably compile a list of such fine vehicles; the Lotus Carlton, the MG 1300 Mk. II, the BMW 2002 Tii, the Sunbeam Tiger – and the Cortina Savage 3000E. Visitors to the Pride of Ownership stand at the Lancaster Insurance Classic Motor Show will have admired what appears to be an immaculate 1970-model 1600E before noticing a few subtle details that denote a rather enhanced level of performance.
The Savage was the creation of Jeff Uren, the famous racing driver of Fords at Goodwood, Aintree and Brands Hatch. In 1964, he collaborated with John Willment to produce the ‘Super Sprint’ Cortina GT’ which boasted a new camshaft and extensively altered springs to create a high-performance road car. The Sprint was also produced in Mk. II guise and Uren saw further potential in the second-generation Cortina. And so, his company, Race Proved Performance and Racing Equipment Ltd. of Hanwell transplanted the 3-Littre V6 Zephyr/Zodiac Mk. IV engine into the Mk.2 GT’s bay.
The combination of a comparatively lightweight body and a power plant that produced 192.5 lbs ft. of torque at 3,000 rpm was definitely a potent one and the prototypes were tested through literally thousands of miles. This was not merely an issue of swapping motors; the Essex unit weighed around 200lbs more than the 1 ½ litre Cortina engine of the time so the suspension had to be very carefully revised and further alterations included a modified front cross member and transmission sourced from the Corsair V4 GT. There was also a larger radiator with an electrical cooling fan, a Powr-Lok differential on the rear axle with reinforced half shafts and an additional fuel tank. To enhance the Savage’s appeal to the discerning motorist, there was also an alloy-spoked steering wheel, racing type front seats and such thoughtful touches as a rest for the left foot.
The resulting Savage was priced at £1,352, a sum which placed it well into the Rover and Triumph 2000 class, but this rather exclusive Cortina occupied its own niche as a ‘Q Car’. A report from Autocar from August 1967 noted that’ ‘it really does hitch its skirts and get moving in the open roads in a manner that will leave practically everything else standing’. Their test car was based on the 1500 GT, but the most famous Savage was to be based on the 1600E, which had debuted in October of that year. Graham Robson’s indispensable book Cortina: The story of Ford's best-seller contains Uren’s memories of how:
Walter Hayes (the then head of Ford GB’s PR), wangled us quite a lot of 1600E Cortinas for us to convert although they were very scarce at the time. He approved of the Savage because it put Fords into the hands of a different class of user – older people, quite well-off, who bought them as fun cars.
Indeed, Savage publicity contained the glorious quote ‘I can only say I am highly satisfied beyond any expectations, so much that I have sold my Bentley’.
Race Proved Performace was to offer conversions of two and four-door saloons plus the Cortina Estate; the last named was the proprietor's own car of choice for 20 years. After the end of Mk. II production in 1970, there were subsequent Mk. III and Mk. IV versions but it is the 1600E-based models that abide in memory. So, when you encounter Rob Sargent’s immaculate Savage at the NEC, just ask yourself the question posed in the original brochure – ‘Do You Have a Jekyll and Hyde Complex? Do you need a car to match that is suave in traffic, yet can bare its teeth with the best of ‘em’? N.B. It might advisable not to say this out loud.