Classic car values increase the higher the spec, the top of the range is normally the one to have. One car so rare, it has transformed from the undesirable model to the version topping the must have list, if you can find one…
Less is More the Cortina Fleet
History shows the success of the Cortina Mark 1 persuaded the Ford management and design teams not to stray too far from a winning formula with their new version. Much of the first model was retained including the floor pan and mechanicals but the power plants were up dated after six months with their five bearing cranks all new for the time in a 1300 and 1600 format. The outstanding success of the mark 2 is well documented; when production figures exceed one million any machine is an undoubted triumph and this was always likely when the Roy Haynes design sold 100,000 in the first four months.
Across the land company car parks would display lines of Dagenham’s finest and the drivers status with his or her employer would be reflected in the version of Cortina he or she was allocated. Senior management revelled in the GT or E trim. The Directors may have spoilt themselves with an iconic Lotus offering whilst head of accounts received the slightly down market Super. The company ‘Rep’ with a long service medal may well have had the Deluxe whilst the new employee who wasn’t given last year’s cast offs was lucky to enjoy the Base model better known as the Fleet. Launched under the advertising banner ‘The new Cortina is more Cortina’ or maybe less in this particular case.
The Fleet was built for and purchased mainly by the transport managers of companies to ensure the firm’s representatives could plough the length and breadth of the country. The managers of the companies mobile assets not only had to allocate the correct trim level to the right employee they also faced constant pressure from the manufacturers to buy their product. Ford stole a march on the opposition by offering many models and options lists and in the Cortina a car that was cheap to buy, run and could cope with boxes of representative’s samples and still return some value after a year of hard motoring. Some mark 2’s though were lucky enough to have fallen into the hands of penny-wise private owners and if cheap no frills transport is what they wanted they certainly got it. Performance was supplied by the 1298cc X-flow offering 50hp with 4 speeds and a top speed of 87mph; no different to the Deluxe version. The Fleet was fitted with a heater (the early Mk1 Cortina Base model didn’t) but from here on it is easier to tell you what it didn’t have. Carpet was replaced with rubber flooring only, there was no radio or passenger sun-visor. Wing mirrors and reverse lights were missing whilst only the basic dials were installed into the dash, which was a lovely single sheet of painted steel minus the gap for the non-existent glove box. Seats were basic and as for the nice chrome trim around the windows or along the side, certainly not for this model all bathed in white; Dagenham’s answer to the Model T’s black only finish.
So, what is all the fuss about? You may ask and the simple answer is rarity; with only a handful of this model surviving at all, this car may well be the only one left on the roads of the UK today. I must confess to not having seen this model before or maybe I have failed to notice its lack of anything. These were ‘rep mobiles’, a car you were given, not a model you purchased off the showroom floor and why would you; a company hack that wouldn’t get the neighbours curtains twitching. Ford’s marketing department ensured they could cover the requirements of all customers with their 2nd generation Cortina and Dagenham continued with a base model into the Mark 3 and 4, so there certainly was a market. Having the best version or highest level of trim was an important consideration for your average company representative as it reflected where you were in life. Think of it like this; your 1600E driver lived in a three bedroom semi, enjoyed dinner parties serving Vesta Curry, Angel Delight and a glass of Lambrusco; all very fashionable at the time. Whilst the Fleet driver had a small terraced, met his friends at the local, enjoyed a pint of Double Diamond with his faggots, smash and processed peas. Your Cortina pigeon holed your life style, it was that important. The base model was not appreciated by anyone but the firm’s accountants and largely unloved by its drivers who were desperate to get out of it and into a Deluxe. How do I know this, my father was a rep and spent his day’s criss-crossing the UK.
Twenty sixteen and this car is a real find, special for the same reasons that it was ignored. With your average UK sales rep historically able to cover 40k miles per year with ease, in 1970 things were tougher as the M4 and M5 were not completed, the M40 and M25 were distant dreams, it was just London – Birmingham on the M1. A Cortina Fleet would have been allocated to your more junior sales rep to spend many hours on A and B roads doing his upper most to wear out the 1300cc motor. As a result of this most were at the end of their useful lives within 5 years and many of those that remained faced destruction on the banger circuits. A few may well have found their way into the private sector and that is the case with this particular 1970 Fleet owned by Trevor Dunn.
This car has enjoyed a one in a million life, well certainly one in several hundred thousand. The first owner was almost certainly a private individual and the Cortina was first registered in Cardiff July 1970, just before the Mark 3 was launched. I would like to think the new owner was able to grab a real bargain. When the new model hits the showroom floor the last thing any car dealer needs in stock is the base version of a previous model. The car would then spend several decades on the roads of Wales and it seems it was then stored in a barn close to where it was originally purchased. An enthusiast called Richard Grange found the car 35 years later, he confirmed the Fleet was solid and ensured it was roadworthy before selling on in 2006, shipped to Ireland with only 48000 miles on the clock and completely original. The Fleet then returned to England and now resides in West Sussex, well-travelled via owners in Cambridgeshire, Hampshire and London.
The clock now shows 59000 miles and there is plenty of paper work to confirm but the completely basic Cortina has had some up-grades on its travels. From his home on the South Coast Trevor ran through the modifications that have been carried out; luckily all within period and most removable if required. Facing the dilemma of which way to go with the Fleet, Trevor feels comfortable looking to return the car to standard. The Fleet now has a rebuilt 1600GT Kent unit and on the test drive it seemed to have lost none of its 80hp, if anything it might have gained a few. The brakes are standard although those also have been refreshed and handling has certainly been improved with the 14 inch Rostyle rims with quality rubber replacing the original spindly 13inch steels that would have been originally supplied with cross-ply tyres (Radials were an additional option). Audio equipment sits in a centre console; something the owner only dreamt of in 1970. The addition of clip on mirrors certainly aid driving the Fleet in modern traffic. Fortunately the rubber flooring remains as does the one piece dash, a feature that looks great nowadays, just a sheet of white steel with a couple of clocks. The basic seats are installed but I can’t help thinking the car would benefit from having the original steering wheel but all these items were removed before Trevor took custody of the car. As it stands the real value in this car emanates from its rarity and being ‘basically’ unique.
View from the Pilot
Trevor explains the attraction of his no frills Cortina…
Where do I begin, the urge to own another piece of motoring history was eating away inside me. I was looking for something different having never been one for running with the pack. I was scanning the web and classifieds for something when on a well know UK American Hot Rod sight I spotted her, Ermine White, Rostyles and a thin blue pinstripe down the side, interesting I thought. I read on and just what I hoped to see the words RARE model, not your 1600E, GT or even LOTUS but your Bulk Standard no bells and whistles lowest of the low. Phone in hand I rang the number, Chris answered and five minutes later negotiations over price were agreed, 120mls round trip and she was mine.
Two years on and I have loved every minute of owning her. Even the bottom end rebuild I did with one arm, as I had just had a major op. on it, I am quite proficient as a one armed torque wrench operator if anyone needs one. Now completely up together mechanically with rocker shaft replaced, tappets done, timing set, carb tuned, a mod to the exhaust, the brakes sorted and fluids all changed. Engine bay and bits cleaned painted and polished and I have put the original seat back in after a bit of stitching, to return the interior back to standard. I am sure as we all know the next drama will be lurking round the corner, I can’t wait. The last piece of the jigsaw is to source a set of original wheels and trims so I know I can return her back to standard. I use the old girl as much as I can weather permitting; it’s a great feeling when the Wifey and I are out. Thumbs up waves and smiles (for the Wife really) and some gestures I have no idea what they mean, but I think it is something to do with silly old fool having a mid-life crisis.
Ford Cortina Mark 2 Fleet/Base Specification 1970
Engine: Originally 1298cc 4 cylinder Kent x-flow unit
Gearbox: 4 speed manual
Performance: 62 hp. 71lb ft torque 0-60mph 18 seconds Top speed 87mph
Fuel consumption: 34.6mpg
Length: 14ft Width 5ft 4in Curb Weight: 1905lb
Front Suspension: MacPherson Strut, coil spring
Rear Suspension: Leaf spring live axle
Brakes: Front 241mm disc Rear drum