Words & Photos: Courtesy of practicalmotoring.com.au
After stepping off a long-haul flight from Blighty, the first priority for Cortina devotee Richard Coles was to find a sweet set of wheels to help get him around his new home in Queensland. It took less than 24 hours to secure the purchase of a 1968 2-door Mk2 Cortina.
Long term Love
Richard’s obsession with Mk2 Cortinas started in the UK over 37 years ago when he was just 15 years old. He fell in love with his neighbours’ Jet Black Mk2 Cortina GT and when it came time to get his first car, Richard chose a burgundy black cherry Mk2 Cortina 1600 GT 2-door. Since then, there have only been a few brief periods in Richard’s life where he has gone without owning at least one Cortina.
Local and Long Distance
On inspection of his freshly-purchased Mk2, Richard could see it had potential. His wife Joan, who was still back in England at the time, wasn’t surprised that he had managed to acquire a Cortina, only at how quickly it had happened!
The car has since been treated to a custom restoration in the skilled hands of Richard and pays homage to Cortinas of the era through subtle nods and mods – If you know what to look for.
As such Richard’s first priority was to ensure the car was mechanically sound but back then, spare parts for the Mk2 were relatively scarce in Australia. As such, Richard spent many a late night on the phone to Joan, instructing her where he’d stashed spare parts around the house and garage. ‘Go up the ladder, turn to your right, third box on the left’. Ever supportive, Joan duly found the parts and shipped them out to Australia, allowing Richard to continue work on the Mk2.
Once that trickle of spares started to arrive, work began on upgrading the Cortina to GT spec. The process was slower than normal, as this car was also Richard’s daily driver at the time. Those daily commutes and the miles accrued by past owners had taken their toll on the car’s original 1600 crossflow engine, so it was replaced with a similar reconditioned motor.
However, Richard was still unsatisfied, so the idea of replacing the crossflow with a more modern Ford engine began to germinate.
A to Zetec
A chance meeting with Steve Wilson of Wilson Racing Services at Lakeside Raceway in Queensland resulted in Richard purchasing the same 1.8-litre four-cylinder Ford ‘Zetec’ engine supplied to Ginetta for their G40. Steve said the Zetec was good for producing around 135bhp and this particular engine only had 90km on the clock.
The installation of the Zetec was handled over a weekend, with all the swap-over parts to make it fit into the Cortina supplied by Retro Ford in the UK. It took a little longer to get the MBE engine management system working satisfactorily, so Wilson Racing Services were called in to help get things running properly with the Zetec.
To complement the new engine, Richard sourced and fitted a Type 9 five-speed gearbox with an AP racing clutch and 3.77:1 diff in the rear. Upgraded camshafts and a Jenvey fuel injection system, oil cooler and a full stainless steel tuned exhaust and extractors rounded out the mods under the bonnet.
Suspension and brakes were next, bought up to GT / Lotus Cortina spec to handle the added power.
After a dyno tune, the Zetec is now pushing 150bhp at the flywheel and around 120bhp at the wheels with room to tune more if needed in the future.
With the mechanicals, brakes and suspension sorted, attention turned to the Cortina’s body work. Although the car was solid, some cosmetic work was needed on the floor and body panels. There were some variations in colour from a previous re-spray, too, so the car was stripped back to bare metal to make sure there was a good foundation to work from.
As the car was still being used as a daily driver, the panel work took a little longer than anticipated. Finally, after eight years, the Mk2 was ready to go to Weavers Autobody Restorations in Beenleigh for the re-spray.
Richard selected Opal Glow for the paint; a Ford Australia colour which was mainly used on the Falcon, but found its way onto a handful of locally-assembled Cortinas in 1969 and 1970.
Satin black accents, on the bonnet, flanks and tail, were applied using templates from the Mk2 Lotus Cortina workshop manual which gives an authentic period look to the side stripes. The bonnet stripes were used on both Australian GT Cortinas and the Ford Mustang.
A refurbished bonnet was fabricated by Weavers Autobody Restorations to include vents from a period Ford Mustang. As well as being a nice custom touch, the vents are functional and help with heat extraction from the engine bay.
Influenced by Colin and Jeff
To complete the custom GT look outside, Richard fitted a set of period-correct 5 1/2J x 13 Lotus steel wheels with original hubcaps. However, out of respect for Lotus and the late, great Colin Chapman, Richard decided against fitting Lotus badges on the rear quarter panels. Instead, he had custom badges made with ‘TC’ (Twin Cam) in the same font as an original Cortina’s GT badge. Complementing these is a ‘Twin Cam’ badge on the bootlid.
If you look closely at the Cortina badge in the center of the grille, you’ll notice the word ‘Cheetah’ below the ‘C’. The Mk2 Cortina Cheetah was a development of Jeff Uren, owner of ‘Race Proved’ in the UK. The Cheetah ran the 2.5-litre Ford ‘Essex’ V6, as opposed to the more widely known Cortina ‘Savage’ that used a 3.0-litre V6.
Style and Looks
For the interior, Richard had everything re-trimmed to factory pattern, with the exception of the front seats. New carpets were fitted, together with a new cover for the original back seat and a new headlining.
The dash is GT spec and topped with a rare Styla wood rim GT steering wheel which was offered in the 1960s as an aftermarket accessory. Bright work was upgraded and new door mirrors fitted.
“The car has got plenty of attention over the years,” Richard says. “It’s great fun and makes good sense in today’s driving world.
“I like the stock sleeper look, personally. It’s been a journey from its humble days as a standard 240 and transforming it into the car it is today. Still, it’s not totally finished. When I get time to take it off the road, I will be painting the engine bay and the boot area. You can’t do it all when you use it all the time!”
Now well and truly settled in Australia, Richard is not only enjoying this restored and upgraded Mk2 Cortina, but has also shipped out the two Cortinas he previously restored whilst living in England. That’s devotion!
Introduced in 1962, the Cortina was Ford UK’s replacement for the Consul Classic. Over the next two decades, the Cortina went through five distinct generations before being replaced by the Sierra.
For the Australian market, the first two Cortina generations were largely the same as the UK versions. But when the Mk3 Cortina – known better locally as the ‘TC’ - was released in the ’70s, Ford Australia began fitting the 200 and 250 cubic inch inline six-cylinder engines out of the Falcon to remain competitive against local rivals, whilst still offering the UK-based 1.6- and 2.0-litre four-cylinder engines.
There were a number of performance variants available across the generations, including factory-built Super and GT versions, plus the iconic Lotus Cortina (produced in-house at Ford after the Mk1).
While it never reached great heights in Australia, thanks in part to Ford’s focus (no pun intended) on the Falcon, the Cortina was a smash hit in Britain. Taking the mantle of the country’s best-selling car for the first time in 1967, the Cortina would be Britain’s #1 seller throughout most of the 1970s. When production ended in 1982, more than 2.5 million had been sold in the UK alone.