The Ford Cortina: a listener’s top ten guide

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Inspired by Peter Counsell's recent CarTunes feature, William Dickey delivers a top ten countdown of songs containing an ode to the Ford Cortina.

Inspired by Peter Counsell's CarTunes feature, William Dickey got in touch with PetrolBlog to ask if he could pen a musical tribute to the Ford Cortina. The tunes are good, but his words are even better. Over to you, William.

Last Easter Monday, the hottest since records began™, spent in sodding lockdown. Many of us of a certain age reminisced about Baltic Easters past...

You’ve been in the car for six hours. Two being driven to the seaside. Four parked on the beach. Windows shut against the gale and semi-horizontal hailstones. Your parents and the scary aunt with a City & Guilds in psychological warfare are working their way through a shared pack of 20 Benson and Hedges.

You and your siblings have long exhausted last week’s Dandy and you’ve resorted to writing rude words in the condensation/tobacco deposits on the windows. You’ve learned to write BUM in reverse for the benefit of the passing dog walkers.

Lanzarote? I thought Tracey had a Cortina?

The car, most often, was a Ford Cortina. There is a generation for whom the Cortina is an integral part of such life-defining memories. Perhaps a Cortina rushed their mother to maternity, and if things progressed faster than expected, the vinyl upholstery standard in the 60s was a lot more serviceable than cloth trim.

We may have got passive smoking and resilience training in Cortinas as children, but it didn’t stop us buying them soon as we got our driving licences.

Ford Cortina 1600E

A generation courted in Cortinas and ultimately drove their own offspring around in them. The Cortina (1962-1983) was around long enough in its Mk1 to Mk5 iterations to have The Circle of Life nailed long before Elton John.

Younger readers, even if they can be arsed about sitting their driving test and embarking on the unrelenting purgatory of SUV clone ownership at two-fifty a month on PCP, will have difficulty understanding the cultural significance of the Cortina for their parents.

And as the car hurtles towards extinction, with only 1,700 left of the four million manufactured, how better to explain it than through the medium of song?

10. Gilbert O’Sullivan 1992: Shy

My name is John, I’m twenty-one
I drive a Ford Cortina estate
If you’d care to join me in my room
I’ll show you my licence plate

A wee lad with self-esteem issues. Thirteen years earlier, Trevor Eve had been mandatory Sunday evening viewing as Eddie Shoestring in the eponymous BBC private detective drama. With that dishevelled trailed-through-a-hedge-backwards chic that was quite the thing at the time. And an orange Mk3 2000 XL estate.

But this celebrity endorsement was over a decade too early for John. By the 90s, Jim Bergerac had long replaced Shoestring in the nation’s affections. And no way a 21 year old would have access to a 1947 Triumph Roadster.

9. The Clash 2006: Janie Jones

In the in-tray, lots of work
But the boss at the firm always thinks he shirks
But he’s just like everyone, he’s got a Ford Cortina
That just won’t run without fuel

He loves rock and roll, getting stoned and Janie Jones. But he’s in a dead-end job, primarily it seems to keep the Cortina in petrol. Assuming by 2006 he’s driving a Mk5, you’re looking at mpg in the low 20s. Plus it must be due a bit of welding for the MOT. And it doesn’t sound like he’s getting a pay rise anytime soon. Yikes.

8. Crass 1979: Chairman of the Bored


I’m looking for something that I can call my own
Which ain’t a Ford Cortina or a mortgage on a home
I’m the chairman of the bored and I’m looking for some truth, truth, truth, truth

Three years later, the Cortina ceased production, replaced by the Ford Sierra which was universally regarded as a bit rubbish in comparison. A nation mourned. Be careful what you wish for.

7. Alexei Sayle 1982: Ullo John! Gotta New Motor?

The Cortina is not mentioned by name in the song, but a wonderful orange Mk3 with a black vinyl roof and aftermarket boot spoiler features in the video.

There is one specific Cortina reference: ‘Them locks are easy/ Them locks are easy.’ Once, coming back from the cinema to a dark car park, I accidentally unlocked and almost drove away in a GXL using the key of my Dad's 1300L that I'd arrived in. Thankfully, I clocked the ersatz wood and unreadable centre console gauges that were unique to The Best Cortina Ever Made™ before embarking on Grand Theft Auto.

In fact, Fords of that era could be opened with a corned beef tin key. This, ironically, makes the Cortina relatively secure in this day and age where the favoured MO of the car thief involves electronic hacking rather than tinned goods.

With this song on his CV, the homme d’age moyen terrible of alternative comedy went on to become a columnist for CAR magazine. And the Daily Telegraph.

6. Arctic Monkeys 2013: I Wanna be Yours

I wanna be your vacuum cleaner
Breathing in your dust
I wanna be your Ford Cortina
I will never rust
If you like your coffee hot
I will be your coffee pot

The Arctic Monkeys put to music a work by John Cooper Clarke from 1982. This rather sweet poem of devotion has the writer working through various household appliances. Though, would you as the intended target of affection not snort out loud at the second couplet?

While Bertone, Pininfarina and Giugaro put their signatures to numerous automotive exotica of that era, Isopon was the name typically associated with the coachwork of many Cortinas.

‘I wanna be your Ford Cortina/I will never rust’ is as credible as ‘I wanna be your Rover 200 with the K-series engine/My head gasket will give no bother. Honestly.’

5. Marlise Scheepers 2014: ‘n Beige Ford Cortina

So, who hasn’t had a Cortina up on bricks in their back yard? But I bet you weren’t inspired to song the way Ms Scheepers was by her Mk4 3.0S (a spec unique to South Africa). It gets recommissioned to go to the seaside: the Wimpy Bar at Margate on the east coast being their target. Which sounds much more appealing than Portrush 50 years ago.

The whole enterprise takes no time at all, the aircon is working, they stock up on pickled eggs and off they go. A knowledge of Afrikaans/Dutch is helpful but by no means essential to appreciate how utterly splendid this song and video are.

4. MC Dubstar 2004: Cortina

It’s not too big and it’s not too small
The engine’s knockin’ like the Avon lady at the door.

I’m cruisin’, at 20k fast
If you wanna drag race man, I think I’ll pass

He’s a Maori hip hop artist whose Mk5 fails the New Zealand MOT repeatedly (front indicator hanging off, black smoke coming out of the exhaust) and is eventually threatened with impoundment. He likely wouldn’t thank me for saying it, but this is the sort of rap song that a middle-aged white male can appreciate. Been there, done that, etc.

3. The Lambrettas 1980: Cortina MkII

There's a girl livin' down our street
She used to be mine

She used to go out with me

But now she's left with the boy next door

Because he's bought a Cortina Ford

Seems reasonable that the singer might get somewhat obsessed by next door’s Cortina. He certainly has an impressive grasp of the specification:

Column change is neat neat neat

Gives you room for manoeuvre on the front bench seat

And the disc brakes hold you if you're inclined

The rear light clusters are a modern design

Long before the Fiat Multipla and Honda FR-V trumpeted their three abreast front seats, early Cortinas with the optional bench front seat and column gearchange allowed three in the front and then some. The headmaster of our tiny rural school had a thus equipped Mk1 and ferried all eight of us Primary Seven pupils on a 60-mile journey for the end-of-term seaside treat. No seatbelts or airbags, and a bare metal dashboard with lots of sharp sticky out bits. All back home uninjured.

Incidentally, the rectangular rear lights of the Mk2 were a bit ‘meh’ compared with the upside down Mercedes-Benz star lights of its predecessor.

Ford Lotus Cortina

But be sure to choose a model with retractable armrest
And if she wants to make up
You can really surprise her
There’s a vanity mirror on the nearside visor

The interesting thing here is that the bench seat was only an option on the cheapo Deluxe and Super models. So next door wasn’t enticing her with a top of the range GT or 1600E. For heaven’s sake we’re told it had vinyl upholstery, which froze your arse off in winter and got hot enough to bring the backs of your legs out in blisters in summer. Maybe the Cortina wasn’t the pull. Rather, was the boy next door a balanced, rounded individual with conversation more inspiring than a Ford catalogue?

Maybe she would still have gone out with him if he’d rolled up in a Polski Fiat 125P? The lyrics are a transcript of a chat with Uncle Colm off Derry Girls once he had you backed into a corner.

This song may have been the inspiration for the 2000 film What Women Want, starring Mel Gibson, but don’t quote me on that.

2. Tom Robinson Band 1978: Grey Cortina

Wish I had a grey Cortina
Whiplash aerial, racing trim

Cortina owner – no one meaner

Wish that I could be like him

Shall I tell you what you want, what you really, really want? After listening to this song, you want a Cortina. You will be regarded as a brigand, somebody not reputable or nice, but you will not care.

Twin exhaust and rusty bumper
Chewing gum at traffic light
Stop at red but leave on amber
Grey Cortina outta sight

Fur-lined seats and lettered windscreen

Elbow on the windowsill

Eight track blazing Brucie Springsteen

Bomber jacket, dressed to kill

No surprise that Robinson did buy a Cortina. And no surprise, as he related in a later documentary, that he managed to get it written off on the day of purchase.

1. The Saw Doctors 1991: Red Cortina

The way to school I'd try to meet you
Your father used to drop you off
You'd step out of a red Cortina
You looked so pretty on those winter mornings

It’s 1977 in County Galway. Heartbeat like an earthly tremor/ First love stays with you for ever. The Cortina gets one mention, but like the shared packet of Love Hearts in the video, it’s hard-wired into the memory. And that song, arguably the finest ballad about lost love of the last twenty years, tells you youngsters who weren’t there all you need to know about the Ford Cortina.

More musical words

Ford Lotus Cortina image © DM Historics.