Darby’s Dagenham Dynasty
Graham Darby still remembers the day well, one full of excitement when his father Leslie took him on a mission to Marshalswick Motor Co, Cuffley in Hertfordshire on 11th June 1968 to collect their new family car. A replacement for their green Austin A50 (PXC398 does that car survive?) would be a five year old Consul Cortina and 45 years later it still resides in the family fold. The Cortina had only covered 9099 miles having been used as a 2nd car by the first owner, she was a Super 1500 model with a great spec as the dealers advert (which Graham still has) waxed lyrical about; extras including a full sliding Webasto sunroof, safety belts, electric clock, over-riders and fog lamp, the advert goes on ‘this is unquestionably the lowest mileage and finest example available’. Tempted by all the features and seduced by the faultless Ascot Grey over Windsor Grey two tone paintwork £424.00 including road tax changed hands, not a small sum for the time but the Cortina Mk2 was heading for the showroom floors and this low mileage Mk1 in excellent condition offered good value for money. Young Graham remembers the joy of the first drive heading home from the dealers and within a few years his first opportunity behind the wheel of any car would be in this Cortina.
The Mk1 Cortina began a trilogy of Ford cars that everyone has either owned or knows someone that has; reliable and well-priced with an endless options list and every specification from the humble run-around to a race car for the road and the involvement of Lotus engineering. The International Car of the Year Award was pushed by the Ford Publicity Department and the Mk1 went global; it even sold well as far afield as Australia and New Zealand. Available with Fords 1198cc engine on the lower range and on the Super model the 4 cylinder motor was increased to 1498cc and produced a healthy 64bhp from the new power-plant sporting a 5 bearing crankshaft. Transmission was also right up to date, a 4 speed unit with synchromesh in all gears. At just ¾ of a ton the car was light in comparison with its competition and at 14ft long and 5ft wide four people sat in comfort. The name was inspired by the 1956 Winter Olympics bob sleigh run at the Italian resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo; later Ford, never one to shy from publicity drove several cars down the same course. By the time the Mk2 arrived in 1966 an estimated 933,000 Mk1s had been sold worldwide and the Cortina range continued in many variants for another 16 years as the back bone of the Ford Essex plant.
Grahams father Leslie kept every invoice, book and brochure which for me makes this fully documented Cortina from the 1960s extremely rare, it also increases its value; the more history the better and this car has enough detail to keep historian David Starkey quiet for some time. Living at the time in a council block adjacent to the busy North Circular Road in North London, the Cortina commuted into Central London. Left in a Post Office underground car park every day it collected a few dents and scrapes over the years and the only rest from the clutch pumping daily grind was family holidays including a tour around the coast of Ireland in 1971. Apart from normal service items no major repairs were needed but the sliding roof required a new cover in 1973 at a cost of £20. Whilst ploughing through the folders of paperwork something really interesting came to light, an unused fuel rationing voucher book. Having never seen one before I was intrigued and Graham tells me they are not from WW2 but actually issued in the 1970s. The Yon Kippur, Arab-Israeli conflict in 1973 saw oil production slowed and as a precaution the vouchers were issued allowing different amounts to be purchased in different weeks of the month. The restrictions never came into being and so the vouchers were never used; I wonder how many other people kept theirs? Another decade and Leslie was due to retire in 1983 and a new car would be sought; Graham readily admits his father was never really attached to any of his vehicles and the Cortina was facing the scrap yard when he persuaded his father to pass the car on. Graham was able to scrape through a couple of years but finally an MOT test failure due to corrosion saw the car covered over outside the house, a spot it would take up for a few years.
In the middle of the Fens near a town called Chatteris in Cambridgeshire a small out building was home to GJH classic bodyworks, it was here the Cortina would receive another 30 years plus of life. The decision made by Graham in 1992 would be a costly one but the Cortina was only going to decay further sat under a sheet for many more years; the body shop estimate is not a short read. Firstly the car was stripped to its shell and the engine was removed and rebuilt with new pistons, valves, main bearings and timing chain. A full body restoration and re-spray in original finish was carried out including replacement sills and o/s rear D post and floor. The o/s rear wheel arch and rear valance were replaced followed by wax-oil, under-seal and 12 coats of primer and colour. In total 140 hours labour were required to obtain a new MOT and 23 years on the restoration still looks fresh proving the quality of the work undertaken.
The drive in this 63 Ford is surprisingly good; having now covered 59000 miles the engine is quiet and happy in modern town traffic. After the initial cold start grumbling the motor settles on light choke and pulls away smoothly. Graham shows the excellent gearbox is as good as when it left the factory and we are quickly in top at just under 30mph. ‘I don’t like holding up other road users and the 1500 engine has enough power to prevent that’. The brakes are drum type (uprated in 1964 to discs) and stop the car well enough; they just require a bit more distance. Inside is a nice place to be, the bright red seats are comfortable and show little signs of wear and a dash that is unmarked after 52 years is impressive. Being an early Mark 1 this Super has the rectangular speedo unit and the indicator, headlight switch and horn button are all attached to the steering column. The steering wheel itself is quite a futuristic feature, very American straight out of a B movie or the ‘Jetson’s’; this was revised from October 1963 when the three spoke version was introduced. Chrome brackets fitted to the front seat backs were for static belts which have been replaced with a retractable type, the timepiece was installed when new and is correct twice a day at two o’clock. The exterior boasts clear front park light lenses separate from the grill and the badges are different from that of the later cars.
The Owners Thoughts
As with most young boys in the 60’s I was car mad and getting the Mk1 after the old A50 was like a breath of fresh air; the acceleration was so much better. I loved the chrome work and the bright red upholstery really set it off, not that I got to see much of it for the next 15 years however as my father, who grew up in the era when you looked after things, proceeded to put faux sheepskin seat covers over it. The upside was that it was warmer than the ‘leatherette’ and you didn’t slide about as much on the back seat! When I was 16 my father finally succumbed to my pleas to get behind the wheel and we went to a piece of land off Carterhatch Lane in Enfield, Middlesex where learner drivers could practice their manoeuvres. There my lifelong love of driving the Cortina began with kangaroo starts and ‘slow down, you’ll turn her over’ ringing in my ears. It was no surprise then that when the decision had to be made to scrap or restore her there was only one answer.
Plans to repeat the trip around Ireland’s coast line first taken in 1971 and visits to local shows will see the Mark 1 out and about over the next few summers. My thanks to Graham for his time and providing me with information about his family over the last 50 years and for the ride in the four wheeled member of the Darby clan; the Ford Consul Cortina 1500 Super.