Long before the term ‘Mondeo Man’ passed into common English parlance, Ford of Britain was making a car that was just as symbolic of the young and aspiring middle manager: the Cortina. Made in five ‘Marks’ between 1962 and 1982, the Cortina was in the 1970s the best-selling car in the United Kingdom. The cars were conventional in the extreme, with four-cylinder engines, live rear axles and, for the Mark I and Mark II versions, front suspension by MacPherson strut.
The Mark III Cortina followed the contemporary Detroit-influenced “coke bottle” style. The MacPherson struts were replaced with more conventional double wishbone suspension, giving the Mark III a much softer ride on the road but significant understeer to cars fitted with larger, heavier engines. The GXL version gained the overhead-camshaft Pinto engine (which had a remarkable propensity to wear through the case-hardening on the cam lobes). Trim levels for the Mark III Cortina were Base, L (for Luxury), XL (Xtra Luxury), XLE (Xtra Luxury Edition – Australia and South Africa only), GT (Grand Touring) and GXL (Grand Xtra Luxury).
Which brings us to the cultural baggage that inevitably followed a car as ubiquitous on 1970s roads as the Cortina. John Betjeman’s immortal poem ‘Executive’ was first published in 1974 and took unerring aim at the pretentious and arrogant young man who sometimes drove such a car. It must, however, be remembered that most drivers of these cars had no choice: they were provided by their companies. Sadly, space does not allow a full repetition of the poem, but the two opening stanzas will give some idea; it is worth seeking out the whole of it on the internet.
I am a young executive. No cuffs than mine are cleaner;
I have a Slimline brief-case and I use the firm’s Cortina.
In every roadside hostelry from here to Burgess Hill
The maîtres d’hôtel all know me well, and let me sign the bill.
You ask me what it is I do. Well, actually, you know,
I’m partly a liaison man, and partly P.R.O.
Essentially, I integrate the current export drive
And basically I’m viable from ten o’clock till five.
But the Cortina Mark III’s image was totally transformed in 2006 when a bronze GXL starred in the BBC’s television series Life on Mars as the ‘wheels’ of Detective Chief Inspector Gene Hunt. The Mark III GXL suddenly became utterly cool. We do hope that the owner of this red example bought it because of DCI Hunt; the series was based in Manchester and this car was spotted in the southern suburbs of that city.
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