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Hellbent on getting the Mk1 Cortina four-door project to at least one show in 2021, Simon calls on racing history

Getting a car ready for a show — especially one as big as Ford Fair — is fraught for anyone. This year the magazine staff and contributors had added pressure to be there as we’d planned to pull together as many of our various and varied projects on the Our Cars fleet together as we could, to go on show.

We tried it a coupe of years back at the Classic Ford Show, but only Mike’s Fiesta and Gavin’s Cortina Estate made it, so this year we were determined to do more than one better.

That meant of course, that the Mk1 had to be there. As the car was not only running, driving and MoTd, I could have just pulled it out of the lock-up in its relatively standard form and taken it to Silverstone as it was — complete with seven years of dust and grime. But I don’t do standard.

With limited time and funds, a major makeover was never going to be on the cards so instead I decided to put together a look for minimal cost using parts stashed away in the dark corners of the lock-up.

My Cortina’s a bit of a weird one — although built as a right-hand-drive car at Dagenham in 1963, it spent the majority of the first 51 years of it’s life in mainland Europe, residing in Belgium, The Netherlands, Spain and, for the most part, France.

Spirit of ’68

A plan was hatched, and going on the tat I had in the lock-up, I decided to recreate how the car might have looked in 1968 if it had been owned by a French motorsport enthusiast who might just have been going to the Le Mans 24 Hours race that year. Niche? Yeah, I know, but bear with me.

Routing through my boxes of crap, looking for some Lucas yellow headlamp convertors that I had on my old Anglia, I turned up something even better — a pair of yellow Halogen headlamps, because nothing says old French car more than yellow headlights, right? The Cortina was already running Halogens, so they were a 5-minute swap, and already the car was looking more Gallic. Next I started delving into I Say Ding Dong’s website, which is a brilliant source of repro period decals and not only found a Le Mans strip sticker, but also a replica parking permit and some Marchal (the French lighting company) stickers, and these were duly ordered up.

Next: wheels. What else would have the Cortina worn in place of the skinny 3.5 inch wide steels in 1968 than a set of Lotus rims? Luckily, I had some — blasted and powdercoated black by Dave Fisher at D&D Developments a while back. On Dave’s advice, I keyed the powdercoat with some wet-and-dry, then adding coats of primer, Strato Silver (bought off the shelf from Halfords — impressively, they still stock loads of 1970s and 1980s Ford colours) followed by a few coats of clear lacquer. I’m pretty impressed with the results — we’re not talking concours, but they more than look the part. The finishing touch was a set of fresh A539s supplied and fitted by Stroud Tyres.

cortina four-door

Fitting the wider steels should have been straightforward, and on the rear it was, but being an early front drum brake model, I hadn’t realised that these cars had a narrower track so with the wheel bolted on, the tyres were well and truly wedged against the strut. Trying various wheel spacers I had lying around didn’t do the trick — I needed some with a decent amount of meat. Then I remembered hubcentric wheel spacers were a thing. These bolt onto the existing studs, but feature their own built-in studs which you bolt the wheel to. I found a company, Superforma, who could make some 20 mm spacers up with the correct centre bore and with 7/16 inch threads and a week later the Cortina was wearing Lotus steels on all four corners.

Missing in action

A few final flourishes planned later and the car should have been good to go. Only some unforeseen issues beforehand meant that it wasn’t to be. Ade made it though, as did Mike, Ben (in a K20-powered Mk2 Fiesta rather than his Mk1 Cortina), plus Joe from sister title, Classics Monthly with their ex-South African Mk3 Cortina (see their October 2020 issue for the lowdown on this car), but to say I was gutted was an understatement. Next year, right?

Words and Photos Simon Woolley

See more of Simon’s Cortina four-door in the November 2021 issue

Click here for more Classic Ford project cars updates

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