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Some projects can take years to see fruition, but if they’re anything like Nick Manson’s Mk2 Cortina Pinto, they’re well worth the journey.

It’s no secret that the average classic Ford obsessive likes to play the long game. Strike up a conversation with one at a show and you’ll most likely find that they’ve been mucking about with old Fords for years, quite often leaving the scene for a while then coming back a few years later, and in the meantime holding onto whatever cars and parts they’ve amassed along the way.

Nick Manson is no exception. He started messing around with Fords before he could even drive (well, legally…), buying up cars and parts when they were cheap and tucking them away in various lock-ups around his home town. This once-ropey Mk2 Cortina is a classic case in point, having impressively been in Nick’s ownership since 1986.

“This was actually the first car I bought,” he recalls. “This was back in 1986 and I was still learning to drive at the time. I didn’t stay on the road for long though and once the MoT ran out it ended up being stored in various lock-ups, as me and my mates got into mucking about with Fiat 131s. I never though to get rid of it though — I guess I’d become quite attached to the car.”

Fast-forward a decade or so, and Nick started picking up Classic Ford, and the bug bit again.

“This was 2007 and I decided it was time to do something with the car. I dragged it out of the lock-up expecting the worst, but it really wasn’t that bad.”

mk2 cortina pinto

When Nick says it wasn’t that bad, he’s being slightly economical with the truth… “OK, when I stripped the car down, I found it needed strut tops, sills, front panel, bulkhead sides and rear arches. The panels and repair sections weren’t as easy to find back then, but I was able to get the sills and arches from the late Paul Money at Classic Ford Parts — I think they were all new-old stock Hadrian ones, and the rest came from Ex-Pressed Steel Panels.”

The work was all done in a mate’s shed, and before Nick could weld on all the new panels he had to scrape off mountains of underseal from the underside — a job that took 20 hours all-in.

“The bodywork was definitely the hardest part of the build and I spent so long on it. My wife didn’t see much of me for three months — I’d go straight to the shed after work and be there until midnight, then be back down there most weekends, too. It had to be done, but getting things like the panel gaps right felt like a never-ending job.”

“Once I’d done the bodywork, I decided to do a dry build, so I put it back together to the point where it was running, then stripped the car back down again and took the shell to be sandblasted — I was relieved to see it came back absolutely fine and needed no more work.”

The Cortina was an unknown red when Nick originally bought it, but he already had a plan. “I always liked the Radiant Red on a mate’s Escort so decided to go for it — a friend, Barrie painted the outer panels for me, while I did the inside, underside and engine bay — I’m really pleased with how it turned out. I also painted the door frames satin black for the RS2000 look.”

mk2 cortina pinto

Far from standard

With Nick’s track record of modifying cars, the Mk2 wasn’t going to go back on the road completely standard. “My original intention was to drop a Fiat twin-cam in it, but then I decided to keep it Ford. A friend had a 1600 Pinto up for grabs so I went for it — it fills the engine bay rather nicely, I think. I did the valve stem seals and fitted a new oil spray bar but left the rest of the engine alone — and it’s turned out to be a good one. I also fitted a twin-choke and modified an Escort four-branch manifold to fit.”

Mounting the Pinto proved easier than thought for Nick, too. “I didn’t need to touch the bulkhead or top of the transmission tunnel,” he recalls. “I did need to move the radiator mounts 8 mm forwards to allow room for the fan though. I probably made life a little easier for myself by retaining the standard struts, crossmember and steering box rather than switching to a rack-and-pinion set-up as is the norm, though this did mean I had to modify the sump so that it was a front-bowl. That took a bit of time and working out, but nothing too difficult.”

Nick also elected to use the three-rail 2000E ’box rather than go for an obligatory Type-9 five-speed. “I had one in my stash of spares, and the ratios work really well with the 1600 engine,” he reasons.

mk2 cortina pinto

Going under

Take a peak underneath the car, and you’ll find a superbly-detailed floorpan and set of running gear, with the struts now featuring GT inserts and uprated RS2000 springs, while at the rear Nick’s opted for Capri leaf springs, lowering blocks and Spax dampers, with poly bushes fitted throughout — a simple but, Nick reckons, effective set-up. “It drives really well — it’s as tight as a drum with no squeaks or rattles, and the 1600 Pinto is really responsive.”

mk2 cortina pinto

It’s easy to live with on long journeys, too (something Nick knows all about, living on the north coast of Scotland), thanks to the full interior which is a mix of original and uprated parts. “It had a pair of tombstones from a Mk3 when I bought it, but I managed to find a pair of the correct front seats in tan, so these were recoloured with Vinylkote. My Mum made up a new headlining in black leather for me too — it fitted perfectly at the first attempt.”

Next in line

So with the Cortina finished, is Nick able to enjoy the fruits of his labours? No, of course not — he’s got too many other projects on the go, including a Sapphire GLS currently undergoing a full-on restoration.

“Doing the Cortina has definitely raised my game — some bloke once said to me that I could talk the talk, but couldn’t go the extra mile and that fired me up to do it properly. It’s a lot of extra hassle, but it’s worth it.”

Words Simon Woolley

Photos Adrian Brannan

Get the full spec and see more photos of Nick’s Mk2 Cortina Pinto in the July issue

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