Ford Consul-Cortina GT
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 4
A Stellar Reputation
The Consul-Cortina GT quickly garnered a stellar reputation. There were factory teams and privately owned cars that were all doing well in saloon races in the UK – and this inevitably led to success on the European rally circuit. Ford felt the car was so good that they decided to export it to the USA – and by way of introduction they created an official factory team which entered the tortuous 12-hour endurance run at Marlboro, Maryland, in 1963. These factory-team cars finished 1-2 overall and 1-2-4 in class.
The Consul-Cortina GT was exceptionally good value. It included an all-synchromesh, four-speed transmission, full-flow oil filter, electric windshield wipers, all-vinyl seats and trim, padded dash, door arm rests, and full-width package tray, tachometer, centre console with storage compartment, and carpeting. The value proposition was further helped by outstanding fuel consumption figures, bettering 20 mpg in mixed cycle highway and around town use. On the highway you could better 25 mpg, while around-town it would drop to a still pretty good 18 mpg.
GT Cortina Performance
The GT was a willing performer – able to hit a top speed of slightly over an honest 90 mph. It was lively throughout its speed range, and even in the USA, where the V8 ruled, it was more than able to keep up with all but the most sporting coupes. The transmissions was a gem – although because of the GT's centre console a remote linkage was necessary – and unfortunately this made it all too easy to go from first to reverse, from third to second (on up-shifts), and from fourth to first (instead of third) on downshifts.
It was a shame, as the GT was otherwise almost without fault – and the overall ratios were well spaced and allowed the driver to take full advantage of the engine's torque and horsepower curves. The balk-ring synchromesh was unbeatable and, while the driver might have been able to accidentally cram it into the wrong gear, it wouldn’t grind unless it happened to go into reverse. The transmission was quiet, with just a slight hint of gear whine at high cruising speeds.
While the stock Consul-Cortina was fitted with all round drum brakes, the GT came with a disc/drum combination which worked exceptionally well. They were capable of pulling up the GT from its top speed repeatedly without fading noticeably. It would pull up straight and true – and always provided plenty of confidence. The hand-brake was operated via an under-the-dash T-handle normally found on family sedans – but it worked well enough. The basic engine was, at the time, recognized as one of the more advanced in-line Fours then available. It used a considerably oversquare design, the bore being quite large in relation to the stroke. The five-main-bearing crankshaft was extremely stiff, which added to overall reliability.
Professional Formula Builders
It was the durability and reliability of the Kent engine that found favour with professional race teams the world over. Professional Formula builders worked with it, the most famous being that made by Colin Chapman
, their twin-cam head engine (along with other modifications) producing an amazing 140 hp from a mere 95 cubic inches. Lotus also installed this engine in the Lotus Cortina GT
on special order, that particular variant able to do 0-60 mph in an amazing 7 seconds. The GT’s engine was smooth through the rpm range. It redlined at 6000 rpm, but brief excursions to are possible, and the engine did this willingly.
Because of their short stroke, low-end torque was on the weak side, so top-gear performance below 25-30 mph was sluggish, and third gear should was much better used. Except for spring rates, the suspension layout was identical on both the Cortina GT and the stock Consul-Cortina. They used conventional, semi-elliptic springs
at the rear, along with a rigid axle. The GT was equipped with telescopic shocks at the rear. Front suspension
was by McPherson struts. This had a single lower arm (forged) in conjunction with a leading arm stabilizer strut for positive lateral location. No upper arm, as such, was used. The spindle was part of a large tubular upright strut that was also the shock absorber. A high-mounted coil spring
encircled the strut.
On the Road
The ride of the GT Cortina was exceptional for a short-wheelbase car. There was very little of the pitching or harshness usually found in a car of this size – and this was another reason why Ford were convinced the car would be successful in the USA. There was some basic understeer on slow corners, but nothing excessive. Body lean was slight even under extreme cornering loads, thanks to an anti-roll bar
at the front. Because of its higher speeds, the GT could be a real joy to drive on winding mountain roads – thanks in part to the predictable handling.
The quality of fit and finish was exceptional. We all know what was about to beset the British automotive industry in that regard, but the Cortina avoided the worst of it. It was a common practice at the time for manufacturers to add lead to ill-fitting panels – but Ford did not do that with the Cortina. The panels either fitted as they should or they were discarded. The same degree of quality was evident in the interiors. The GT was, of course, the flagship of the Cortina range, and came with all-black upholstery and carpeting (as compared to the two-tone material and rubber floor-mats used in the stock Cortina’s).
The individual front seats were well padded and provided good support – but some road testers from the time complained that there was not enough seat adjustment, although leg room was adequate. The rear passenger area was adequate for three adults on short hauls. The GT featured an attractive instrument cluster, which included gauges for oil pressure, fuel level, and engine temperature. Most of the controls and levers were within easy reach of the driver, except for the cigarette lighter, which was too far to the right – this in an era when tobacco ruled. A steering
post quadrant housed the horn button, headlight switch, and turn indicator lever.
For anyone wanting a sports car in a sedan package, it was hard to go past the GT Cortina. It was reasonably priced, had fantastic performance, handling and was packaged brilliantly. They remain highly collectable these days, and for good reason.