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Wayne Champion has spent the last two years painstakingly restoring his stunning, ex-South African Signal Green Cortina 3.0S in his shed. Now complete, it’s clear to see all his hard work has not gone to waste.

Nothing worth having comes easy. At least that’s what they say. This old cliché gets trotted out every now and again when someone is trying to justify the toil and trouble associated with a certain achievement. It’s the generic equivalent to that old adage from the bodybuilding fraternity: ‘No pain, no gain.’ Now while Wayne Champion would happily admit that his physique is some way off from worrying the swollen contenders of the Arnold Classic, at the same time, he’s certainly gone through his own kind of pain, however, his gain has been less of the muscular type and more of the automotive persuasion. 

“Over the last two years I’ve spent most of my evenings and weekends hunkered down inside a small shed carrying out a full bare-metal restoration of my 1977 Cortina,” explains the lifelong Ford fan. “Over the years I’ve restored and modified a whole host of classic performance cars, from Sapphire Cosworths, to Astra GTEs and even a wild X-pack Capri, but none have been to quite the same level as this latest car.”

As a seasoned veteran of the game, Wayne had a decent idea of what he’d be letting himself in for when he took on the project, but even he couldn’t foresee the meticulous lengths that he’d go to as the project progressed. 

Flashback

“I bought the Cortina back in October 2018,” remembers Wayne. “I’d recently sold my Rover P6, which was a car that I’d lusted over for years, but when I finally managed to bag one for myself, it just didn’t live up to my expectations, so was keen to get back behind the wheel of a classic Ford.”

Sourced through Bournemouth-based, Aaron Jacobs, Wayne first heard about the car from his friend, Simon Hoar. 

“I’d been toying with the idea of getting another Mk4 Cortina as that was the first car I’d ever owned and it seemed fitting that I revisit the model for what I’ve planned to be my last restoration job,” Wayne explains. “When Simon mentioned it to me it sounded interesting, but when I found out that it was a South African 3.0S in good condition and with low mileage, it was simply too good an opportunity to miss, so I bought it over the phone and Aaron delivered it up to me that following weekend.”

And while we’d rarely advocate the purchase of a car that you’ve not inspected in the metal — especially if it’s a rare imported classic — sometimes taking a punt can pay dividends, and in Wayne’s case, he seemed to have come up trumps.

cortina 3.0s

“When the car turned up it looked good”’ says Wayne. “It was in completely original condition with Daytona Yellow paint — or Wild Primrose as it’s known in South Africa — and sand leather interior. I could see it definitely had potential, but would need a little TLC to get it up to my standards.’ So after a short test drive to ensure the mechanicals were working as they should, the Cortina was taken to Wayne’s shed to undergo what was originally planned to be a light restoration. The work began by removing all of the running gear to allow a thorough inspection of the underside of the car. 

“It was pretty tidy under there with only the rear valance showing signs of corrosion that was beyond repair,” recalls Wayne “Other than that it was just a case of giving it a bit of a clean. Or at least that was my intention…”

Like the inevitable chain reaction that begins with picking a scab or biting your nails, as soon as did Wayne started the job, his fastidiousness kicked in, the angle grinder came out and the snowball started rolling. In no time, the Cortina’s underbelly was totally stripped back to bare metal, any defects fixed and a fresh coat of primer and Raptor bed-liner stone chip protection applied.

Do it yourself

“With the underneath sorted, I planned on sending the car for a full respray, but my painter let me down,” Wayne says. “So I decided to have a crack at it myself.”

Having never really delved into the murky depths of paint spraying before, Wayne enlisted the help of his mate, Dave Pitchley, who was a dab hand when it came to all things bodywork. The pair set about removing the glass, interior and engine and stripped the car to a bare shell. They then started the arduous process of sanding the bodywork back to bare metal before filling any areas that needed it and applying a coat of primer. 

“I’d never even held a paint gun before,” laughs Wayne, “So Dave gave me a crash course! It’s been really good to learn something new, as well as save myself some cash in the process.”

But while primer is one thing, even the most masterful of painters would likely baulk at the idea of finishing a coveted classic in a small shed no bigger than a single garage, so Wayne wisely decided to get the top coats applied by a pro and dropped the rolling shell off with Jay Bradley of Jay’s Auto Body Works in Staploe.

“I’d been toying with the idea of a colour change when I first got the car and now was the time to make the decision,” Wayne says. “My previous Capri was painted in Signal Amber, but this time I wanted to change things up a bit so went for Signal Green. It’s a Ford colour that was used on Escorts around 1977-78, so it worked as a period correct colour for the 1977 Cortina too, even if the model was never available in that shade from the factory.”

While Jay was getting busy in the booth, Wayne and Dave set about giving the running gear the same treatment as the rest of the car, stripping it back to bare metal and painting it in a flawless coat of gloss black paint. “I was happy to paint the smaller parts like the running gear in the shed, as there was more room and the final finish wasn’t as crucial as the main body panels,” Wayne says. “By the end of the build I was actually getting pretty decent with the gun!”

cortina 3.0s

The interior was the next item on the list to receive the Champion treatment and, feeling that sand leather seats wouldn’t really sit well with his two tone green and black theme, it meant that a full retrim was on the cards. 

“I took the opportunity at this stage to get a sportier set of seats for the car,” says the cunning carpet fitter. “In the end I spotted a full Capri interior for sale for £400. It came with a pair of Recaro recliners with fishnet headrests, which I kept for the Cortina before selling the rest on again.”

Along with the rest of the stock rear seats and door cards the new posterior perches were sent to trimming specialists, A&R Pound in Baldock to be recovered in an eye-popping green Carla check with black corduroy side panels. 

“When I got the shell back from the bodyshop and installed the retrimmed interior I knew I’d made the right choice,” beams Wayne proudly. “Combined with the black vinyl, RS four-spoke steering wheel and the original wooden dash trim, it really complements the exterior colour scheme. In fact, it’s my favourite part of the whole build!”

And we wouldn’t argue with that. Although pop the long bonnet and there’s another treat for your eyes that could easily take that top spot in the form of the immaculate engine bay.

“The engine was a good, reliable runner so I had no plans to change it or rebuild it, so I simply gave it a thorough cosmetic refresh,” Wayne explains. Due to the rising pressure on manufacturers to improve fuel economy at the time, the largest engines to grace UK Cortinas were 2.3-litre units, so the full fat 3-litre V6 variant in the South African models is highly sought-after in UK Cortina circles.  

“Every part of the engine and ancillaries that couldn’t be cleaned or painted back to perfect condition was replaced with new old-stock including the alternator, starter motor, HT leads, battery, washer bottle and the all hoses,” Wayne highlights. And if that wasn’t enough, he also replaced every nut, bolt and fixing with new items, too. “It’s often in the details that the real effort is shown,” he says. 

Ensuring the shifts are as clean as the rest of the car, the Cortina’s four-speed manual gearbox was removed and sent away to be refurbished by a local specialist while a new aftermarket 2.3-litre exhaust system was modified to fit with the existing factory 3-litre manifold. 

cortina 3.0s

“I’ve tried to keep the majority of the car as stock as possible, but one area that I completely uprated was the suspension,” Wayne points out. “I wanted the car to run lower on the wider RS2000 steel wheels so fitted -25 mm springs and GAZ dampers all round, plus a full complement of polyurethane bushes.”

The final stance of the car has a hint of hot rod about it as the front sits slightly lower than the rear, but it’s one that suits the Cortina to a tee. 

“It’s been two years of hard graft to get the car to this point and it would be great to get it out there next year.” One thing that only a select few can relate to, is the feeling of accomplishment of building your dream classic with your own hands, and it’s a feeling that Wayne experiences every time he gets behind the wheel. It may not have been the easiest journey, it’s been worth every minute.

Words and Photos Dan Sherwood

See more photos and get the full story behind this Cortina 3.0S in the January issue

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