The true story of the MkIII Cortina in Australia

Source:  Wheels December 1972. Article by Mike McCarthy

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The Cortina Six proves that first up, best dressed doesn’t apply to the Light Six Market.  Having been alone in its class Torana’s had things its own way until now.  Over 1300 test miles have convinced Mike McCarthy that Ford has had a better idea.

7:30am- We check that the tank’s full, enter the 1146 miles odometer reading in our hourly log sheet, note the time, and trundle out of the motel courtyard, bound for Sydney over 500 miles away.  There’s a gusty head wind but the weather’s clear and so is the road.   We’re soon loping along at 85 to 95 mph.

8:30am- the odometer is showing 1216 miles, meaning we’ve put 70 miles into the first hour.  Both we and the car are doing it easy.

9:30am, and the odometer reads 1286 meaning we’ve put another 70 miles behind us.

10:30am, and 1339 miles come up just as we’re leaving a service station after a 10 gallon refill.  That makes it a 53 mph average [including the stop] for the third hour and 19.3 mpg for the distance thus far.  Impressive.

11:30am sees us add another 73 miles to the tally, followed by 68 miles that take us onto 12:30pm.

1:00pm marks a further 36 miles on the odometer.  A few miles more and we pull in for a lunch break.  The fuel tank takes 9.7 gallons to return almost 18.6 mpg for the 183 miles of the second leg.

1:45pm- We’re away again and during the next two hours average a brisk 63 mph.  From 3.45 to 4.45 we encounter heavy traffic and squeeze only 36 miles into the hour.  But conditions improve and we pack the last 29 miles into an half hour, right on the dot of 5:15pm.  Here the tank accepts just seven gallons, giving an average of 26.4 mpg for the 185 miles third stint.  Overall, the trip has totaled 561 miles.  Travelling time excluding the lunch break but not the refills and a couple of other brief stops is within a minute or two of nine hours for average speed of 62.3 mph.  And the car has used 26.7 gallons of fuel to average 21 mpg.

Commendable figures; commendable car.

THANK YOU, General Motors, for the new Cortina Six.  No we haven’t got our wires crossed.  If the General hadn’t resuscitated the Torana by implanting six cylinder monkey glands from the regular Holden, the light six class wouldn’t have happened and the Torana wouldn’t have become a best seller.

And if it weren’t for that precedent, there probably wouldn’t have been the incentive for Ford to Falconise its successful anyway Cortina.

The General has profited from sowing the light six seed with the Torana.  But he has also opened the door for Ford and it’s the Cortina that stands really to reap the harvest.

There is no disputing that the Cortina is streets ahead in space, comfort, performance, economy, overall ride, handling, quietness and in most beholders eyes styling.

The Ford is basically such a good package as to confirm one of our pet theories namely that the light six class promises to foster the best all round cars produced in Australia.  The Cortina Six already comes very, very close to earning that distinction.

It has relatively few shortcomings, with only one or two areas warranting serious criticism, and these are far outweighed by its assets.

Let’s look first at the major complaint the ride and road holding, or lack thereof, on rough road surfaces.  Like there’s this open, sweeping 55 mph curve that we know intimately and love-hate because right at the apex is a depression several feet wide and a few inches deep.  Even the finest European aristocrats can’t completely ignore the dip but are nudged only a little off line.  The Cortina Six came close to setting a new mark by twitching out a good two feet when encountering the deviation. 

Through most pronounced and unsettling on uneven corners, the condition also arises on straights where the surface is sharply irregular or corrugated.  Here the Cortina skitters disconcertingly from the intended path, especially when travelling at middling to high speeds with the power on.

There’s also some susceptibility to suspension- bottoming.  For example, during a very fast run down an extremely steep and tortuously winding road the outside front- end twice slammed onto the bump stops as did the rear- end on another occasion when, at about 70 mph, we unintentionally let the tail run off the bitumen onto the rutted shoulder.

Whether these problems are attributable to conflicting suspension geometry’s, excessive rubbery bushes, inadequate spring rates, insufficient damping or a combination of those factors it’s something Ford will have to de-bug if the Cortina’s rough road behavior is to measure up to the car’s qualities in other departments.

In fairness, we must point out that the road holding limitations manifest themselves only under severe conditions.  At average speeds, on average roads, there’s no problem.  Given good roads the Cortina’s behavior is beyond reproach.  Here the road holding, ride and handling are extraordinarily good.

On reasonably smooth surfaces, the Six is simply delightful.  The handling is far better than we anticipated it would be with two more points, double the capacity and an extra hundred weight or so up front.

The steering, quite direct with 3.7 turns lock to lock and tight 32 feet turning circle, is still relatively light; no heavier than most 1.5 or two litre four- cylinder models.  Some road shock finds its way up the column to the wheel.  But at least there’s a tangible feel to the steering and this is preferable to the shock- free yet dead systems all too common these days.

Though it deteriorates under extreme conditions, the ride otherwise is outstanding – real big-car smoothness and comfort that soaks up minor bumps and undulations as well as you could wish for without refined independence at the rear as well as the front.

It was the handling as much as the cruising-speed capabilities that enabled us to pack 70 or more miles into many successive hours on a 500 mile trip in the Six.  Providing it’s not being bumped about, the Cortina lives up to the enviable reputation established by its predecessors.  The road holding and handling attain limits which, even if not remarkable by ultimate standards, are certainly about average.  More importantly, the characteristics are nicely balanced and completely predictable.

Mild under steer is the main ingredient under most conditions.  The Attitude changes progressively through neutrality until moderate over steer heralds the approaching limit.  

As is the mark of cars with responsive handling, the Cortina’s cornering can be finely adjusted with the throttle – easing off to tuck the nose tighter into the turn, or applying the power to put the tail where you want it.  Good Stuff.

Acceleration is smoothly muscular rather than brutal.   The performance figures speak for themselves.  Some interesting comparisons can be drawn between the two cars tested – both XL’s, one with 200ci engine and three-speed gearbox, the other with 250ci and four-speed.

The example with the larger engine and extra cog is quicker in all respects, but not to a dramatic extent.  The combination’s main advantage is the availability of a bit more power and a useful third gear for overtaking.

Though the three-speeder can be wound up, absolutely flat, to 70 mph in second, the realistic maximum is actually only 60/65 mph – which isn’t really fast enough for purposeful passing.

With the existing second cog the three-speeder’s essentially a top-gear car admittedly a very pleasant one.  You plonk it into top and virtually forget it; almost like an automatic.

Cruising at beyond 70 mph, though you have to condition yourself not to instinctively grab second when slowed to 55/60 mph by traffic you’re about to pass.  Instead you learn to allow an extra second or two, and equivalent clear distance ahead, before executing the maneuver by simply giving it the juice and overtaking without downshifting.

The system works well enough thanks to the excellent top-gear acceleration, but we’d still like to see second cog raised to give an effective 70/75 mph potential.

We proved the practicality of this, to ourselves anyway, by deliberately using only first, third and top during a 100 mile stint in the four-speeder.  The exercise also revealed that for everyday driving and fast cruising alike, one would have to be an addicted cog swapper to prefer the four-speed box and justify its whopping $155 extra cost.

Since the four-speeder does not confer a great gain in acceleration, its only real advantage [over the existing three-speed unit] lies with the useable third gear.

There isn’t all that much between the engines, either.  The 250 has more torque and power than the 200, of course, and pulls an even higher axle ratio.  It has an edge in both acceleration and flexibility departments, though the margin isn’t startling – just over a half-second for the standing quarter mile, in conjunction with the four-speed box, for example.

So if you’re not after the last bit of acceleration, or don’t require the extra muscle to help with frequent heavy loads and/or towing, the 200 is more than sufficient.  Besides that’ it saves $75 which might well be better spent on, say, radial ply tyres as were fitted to the test cars.

Though the six-cylinder engines weigh about 110 pounds more than the two-litre Cortina four, the additional weight hasn’t any noticeable adverse effects on steering effort or handling.

To the contrary, the car feels and generally behaves like it’s been designed around the six, rather than the six designed into it – which is as it should be.

Main reason for the impression of thoroughly integrated engineering is that most of the extra length [and weight] of the six sits behind the equivalent placement of the four.  In other words, the front of the six cylinder block is only about a half cylinder farther forward than that of the four.  The radiator [cross-flow type for reduced height] is about three inches farther forward than that of the four, to provide space for the six’s longer fan/pump/pulley assembly.

The other one-and-a-half cylinders of the six are behind the point at which the rear of the four resides.  This has been made possible by notching the firewall [always knew Henry was a hot-rodder at heart], so it has a deep recess at the center instead of running straight across as on the previous four-cylinder models.

The new firewall, like the reinforced front cross member and other structural/component changes involved in the conversion have been commonised through the Cortina series as a whole meaning the four-cylinder models benefit too.

Despite sitting relatively close to the front occupants, the sixes do their thing very quietly – even when working busily.  In fact, quietness rates high among the car’s many endearing features.  Mechanical and road noises are almost totally absent regardless of speed and surface.  Only on the rough is the suspension audible.  Wind noise, too, is held to a minimum and doesn’t begin to intrude until you’re travelling on the other side of 80 mph.

The overall result is that the Cortina Six is one of the quietest cars around – regardless of size or price.

Lack of noise is owed in part to the very high final drive ratios – 2.92:1 and 2.76:1 for the 200 and 250 engines respectively.  This means, of course, that the engines are revving relatively slowly at typical cruising speeds; under 3000 rpm at 70 mph for example.

The advantages are obvious.  At ordinary speeds the engines are working effortlessly, and extremely quietly, yet have generous reserves of revs and performance up their sleeves.

The sensibility of the high gearing is also reflected in the Cortina’s fuel consumption.  As explained in the introduction, we obtained just under/over 19 mpg [from the three-speed 200] for about 360 miles where our average speed of 70-odd mph meant consistently sitting on the high side of 90 mph.  Averaging 55 mph for 561 miles covered in nine hours.

Altogether, we totaled about 1100 miles in the 200, and a further 255 miles in the 250 four-speed.  We checked the latter’s consumption over 125 miles, which included all the performance tests and some fast cruising beside.  Under those conditions the car returned 20.1 mpg.

Though we didn’t have the opportunity to verify it during our test, we don’t doubt that 30 mpg is a reasonable expectancy for easy 55/65 mph cruising on the flat.  And that’s economical!  Even the consumption’s we obtained were excellent considering the conditions.

On this basis the 12-gallon fuel tank [same as Cortina Four] provides a minimum cruising range of at least 200 miles.  That’s an acceptable figure, but only marginally so for long-distance high-speed touring, and increased capacity wouldn’t be amiss.

The interior differs only in detail from the pre-six models but the changes are worthwhile.  Moving the pedals an inch or so to the right, for example, has meant there’s now plenty of room to rest the left foot on the toe board.

Driving position and comfort in general are very good.  Both test cars had the $30-extra reclining buckets.  The adjustable backrests are an advantage, of course, but the standard examples offer exactly the same shape, support and cushioning.

Like the previous edition, the current bucket-seated XL has a handy console tray ahead of the gear lever and a useful locker, with lift-up armrest lid, over the handbrake lever between the seats.

The facia remains basically unchanged with three large dials – an electric clock on the left, Speedo [with mph and kph calibrations] in the middle, and water temperature and fuel gauges on the right.

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