Ford Cortina 1600 GT

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Ford Cortina 1600 GT

Ford Cortina 1600 GT

1966 - 1972
United Kingdom
4 cyl.
1599 cc
88 bhp
4 spd. man
Top Speed:
95 mph
Number Built:
80,000 +
3 star
The Cortina 1600 GT was naturally enough based on the Cortina 1600 - a very good starting point. Externally, apart from the Goodyear 165 SR 13 radial ply tires and minimalist GT badging, it was difficult to tell a GT from the lesser car. Things changed however the moment you set eyes on the instrument panel. Simply put, it was magnificent - arguably much better than most real sports cars of the era.

Right in front of the driver was a large, round speedometer and tachometer. Over toward the center of the panel were four more round gauges, fuel, oil, temp, and amps. Each gauge had white numbers on a black background. No trick stuff. Just straight-forward information sources.

Being inside the 1600 GT was a pretty good thing too, not just because of the instrumentation, but because it was a roomy little sedan, with well spaced pedals (although some found the brake pedal was too close to the transmission hump. Compared to US automotive designers, you could be forgiven for thinking their British counterparts had less imagination than an anvil, and the Cortina was a case in point.

A decidedly British flavour surrounded the Cortina - even the heater gave away its origins, giving a pulsating whir that seemed common to British blowers going all the way back the immediate post war era. The drivetrain broadcast the same gravelly whine that characterized English sports cars after World War 2. Ford might just as well have painted the Union Jack on its bonnet, because the Cortina's origin couldn't be more obvious.

The big news about the 1600 GT however was not its origins, but the car's re-designed engine, up 100cc from past Cortinas. Although larger in displacement, at release Ford were busy promoting the new crossflow cylinder head. The engine was still a pushrod operated, overhead valve type but on the 1600 the in-take ports were on one side of the head and the exhaust ports on the other. With no corners for the gases to turn-they went "straight in and out", quoting Ford, who were at the time celebrating the whole philosophy of crossflow and the wonders it did for breathing.

Modifications to the combustion chambers meant they were now dish shaped cavities in the tops of the pistons with a flat surface on the head, just the reverse of the conventional system. A similar idea was used on the 348-409 series Chevrolet V-8 starting in 1958 and was at the time frequently seen in Diesels.

Like most foreign manufacturers that sold cars in the United States, Ford controlled exhaust emission in the Cortina with an air pump. Blowing fresh air into the exhaust port caused the unburned hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide to burn in the exhaust manifold rather than be exhaled out the tailpipe like bad breath. This process resulted in abnormally high exhaust manifold temperatures, and past owners we have spoken with have told us this would considerably shorten the life of the exhaust header tubing.

While the basic engine was shared between the Cortina 1600E and the Cortina GT, the GT version had some help in the form of a twin-choke Weber carburetor, higher compression ratio, and an impressive looking tri-style exhaust header of steel tubing. Ford advertised the output of its high-potency GT engine as 89 hp @ 5500 rpm. Road testers of the time had the GT doing the standing quarter mile in 18.6 seconds at 73.2 mph, which puts some authenticity on Fords claimed power output fitures.

The scrambler tires didn't give quite the desired levels of grip to ensure the best times were put in, but they were adequate. The factory performance figures corresponded to many road tests, this in an era when manufacturers tended to "gild the lily" considerably. Ford claimed 0-60 mph in 12 seconds and a top speed of 95 mph. One of the best attributes of the 1600 GT was that the car felt tough and well built. Rev it up. Pop the clutch. The rear tires would slip a little, then she would be off. The Cortinas shifting mechanism was, for the time, very precise, albiet being super noisy, but its virtues outweighed its faults by a whole lot. The Cortina had no outstanding surprises in the suspension department. A garden variety MacPherson strut was used in front with the assistance of an anti-sway bar. Semi-elliptic leaf springs held up the rear.

Taking It Up A Gear - Northern California's WinkSpeed

Unfortunately the wheels were only four inches wide. That may have been the going width in the econo car business, but the GT was supposed to be a notch above plebian transportation and wider wheels should have been standard kit. Despite Ford not maintaing a full time competitions director for British built cars in the US, enthusiasts were able to take their Cortinas to firms such as Northern California's WinkSpeed, who offered bolt-ons to make the little car into a genuine pocket terror. And that was a good thing. When it came to handling, the Cortina needed help. It was predictaable enough to suit even long-range planners, but its cornering speeds were not what many would have expected of a car with sporting flavor.

The inside rear wheel tended to unload, even in large radius turns, allowing that wheel to spin uselessly. Getting around a corner quickly but losing the ability to put power to ground was a considerable hinderance. All the while the 1600 GT would be trying to hang its tail out, so it took a real effort to get it going fast enough to do the job. The Cortina wasn't too sure-footed during quick lane changes either. Although not dangerous, it tended to wag its tail like a station wagon. Road testers of the time concluded that Ford should have spent more development time on the Cortina's suspension - more roll stiffness in the front would be a good place to start.

Inside the cabin the Cortina felt bigger than it looked from the outside. The Cortina's 98-inch wheelbase was about three inches longer than its Opel, Datsun and Toyota competitors and its 168-inch overall length was 3.3 inches longer than an Opel and almost six inches longer than a Datsun or Toyota. The Cortina had plenty of room for four even though it could never be called spacious by American standards. The GT had a conventional glovebox in the dash, along with a parcel tray under the dash on the right side, which had by then become somewhat of a European tradition.

As mentioned at the start of the article, the Ford designers did a fantastic job on the console. Obviously any console worth its space had a storage compartment, so the Cortina had a total of three bins for its occupants to fill. But the bin in the console was a masterpiece. It had a padded lid which served as a center armrest for the front seat passengers, the opening surrounded with bright metal trim and there was even a friction apparatus which held the lid open in an infinite number of positions. From the mid 1960's it seemed that, to give a console an official appearance, it needed to contain at least one "instrument". Ford followed the prescription by putting a clock in the Cortina GT's console.

Negative Earth

In the unlikely instance that you were dazzled by the clock, the tachometer brought you back to reality - British reality. Right there on the face of the tach in white letters appeared the words negative earth. When it came to schemes and devices to actuate the horn the Cortina ranked with the best of them - the turn signal lever telescoped and just as the lever reached its shortest length the horn would sound. The end of the turn signal lever makes a middling small target when you were frantically trying to honk the horn, but to be fair there were worse systems. Ford took a shotgun approach to interior ventilation - the 1600 GT having a flow-through system and vent windows too. As you would expect, it worked well.

By the time of the release of the 1600 GT stringent US safety regulations were in effect. Manufacturers had not adopted one approach to safety belt design. Most American cars used two separate belts - one for lap and one for shoulder. The Japanese favored a detachable shoulder belt. The Cortina used just one strap with a sliding buckle to equalize tension between the lap and shoulder sections.

For the American market, the 1600 GT was very much a British car. The engine and drive train would always remind you of that, being noisy and contributing to a high background noise level at cruising speeds. The ride was quite harsh (particularly in comparison to domestic cars), but all could be forgiven when you considered the GT's performance. The Cortina was quick for a sedan of its displacement and price, almost as good as a BMW 1600 with a US$350 less imposing list price. It Better still, it felt solid and well built. It had personality, and was best suited to an owner who could forgive minor niggles as a trade off. The 1600 GT was one for the individual who saw cars as more than mere A to B transportation.

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Also see:

Cortina Mk.II GT (AUS)
Cortina Mk.II Model Lineup
Cortina Mk.II Specifications
Cortina Mk.II Brochure
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