In the mid-1960s, Ford needed a new car. It had the Cortina to serve the needs of families, and it had the Zephyr and Zodiac to satisfy the appetite of the executive end of the market. However, what it had in the middle was somewhat lacking. That middle car was, of course, the Consul Classic. On paper, it should have been the perfect middle ground. However, while it was released in 1961, the design actually dated back to 1956, and as such, the Consul Classic was old technology trying to tread water betwixt two cutting-edge models.
Ford needed to ditch the ageing qualities of the Consul Classic and offer something more befitting of the rest of the model range. It needed the kind of car that would serve as midsize family transport, or as low tier luxury. Two things the Consul Classic simply couldn’t manage. Ford also needed this new car to stand out on its own, it needed to be bold and it needed to be brave. Ford was confident that such a car was what we needed. In 1963 it rolled out this, the Ford Corsair.
It was and still is a strange-looking machine. The sharp, pointed nose was designed to be reminiscent of America’s Thunderbird. The vertical rear lights were meant to hint towards the possibility of fins, keeping it in line with the luxury Zephyr and Zodiac models. Sadly though, the front and rear end were grafted onto a slightly stretched Cortina body, meaning the final car looked confused and rushed. When it hit dealerships, we simply didn’t know what to make of it, so we ran off and hid a Cortina.
The Cortina derived body also served to further confuse the Corsair’s place in the model range. Even those with a passing interest in cars would recognise the Cortina front screen and familiar mid-body lines. And then there was the effect this had on the interior. It all looked, somewhat unsurprisingly, very ‘Cortina’, and it was also almost identical in terms of space, offering only a modicum more room in the back. This left people to ponder why they needed it? They could, after all, just buy a Cortina.
Things didn’t get much better for the Corsair when it came to the engine. Initially, it was offered with a 1.5 pre-crossflow unit. The same one as found in, you guessed it, a Cortina. By 1965, Ford was desperate to get people into its dealerships, so it added a new engine to the range in the form of the 1,663cc V4. It was a woeful, noisy, harsh engine. Ford upped the capacity to 1,996cc in 1966, but it did little to cure the horrid noise and vibration.
Due to the banks being set at 60 degrees, rather than the much more balanced 90 degrees, the V4 shook and vibrated like a child full of E numbers. Ford did fit a balancer to the engine later on, but it only made a bad situation bearable. It did nothing to facilitate the optimistic marketing tagline of “the car that is seen but not heard”.
Thankfully, the V4 engines did offer a slightly more impressive turn of speed than the 1.5 four-cylinder engine, with impressive acceleration and a top speed of 110mph in 1,996cc guise. However, to get there you’d have to sacrifice all your fillings, as they would be quickly rattled free from your gums thanks to the engine’s vibration.
Engine woes aside, there were plenty of positives in the Corsair’s corner. For starts, it was available in a range of body styles. The most common was, of course, the traditional four-door saloon, however a less popular two-door was available, too. There was also a convertible version care of the talented team at Crayford, whereas Abbot took the Corsair and converted it into an estate for those buyers with far too many children and/or dogs. Yes, the Corsair could happily be all things to all motorists, but only if we were willing to let it be, and frankly we weren’t.
Ford tried to make us love the Corsair, even giving us the 2000E version to go up against the likes of the revolutionary Rover P6. Extra trim and a vinyl roof weren’t enough to satisfy us though. Even Crayford had a go by sorting out the engine issues. Not content with chopping the roof off, it also decided to start wedging the 3.0 Essex V6 under the bonnet, but still, the crowd went… mild.
The Corsair’s production run was from 1963 to 1971. It was killed off in favour of the infinitely more popular MkIII Cortina. The Escort took the reigns as the mid-sized car and was a roaring sales success from the off. The Corsair was quickly consigned to the history books, having only sold a mere 300,000 or so during its life. For some companies a production run like that would be a massive win, but for the powerhouse that was Ford at the time it was, frankly, embarrassing.
Of those cars, it’s rumoured that fewer than 400 survive today. When Ford stopped production, the Corsair was soon forgotten, and as such, a great many ended their days in the local breaker’s yard before being unsympathetically crushed. It was not a glorious end for the many, but for the few that survived, things were better.
The Ford Corsair is now recognised as being a true classic, with value steadily on the rise. There was a time – and we’re talking within the last fifteen years – that you could get a Corsair for very little. Now though, they’re catching up to the rest of the classic Fords, and in the process, they’re valiantly doing now what Ford so desperately needed them to do back then, and that’s find an appreciative following.
The Corsair was an odd duck, but you have to look back on it and smile. Ford tried something, and it put it out there. The Corsair failed not only because it was a bit too close to being a Cortina, but because we simply weren’t ready for its bold and brave lines. The Corsair dreamed into the future, while we just dreamed of the moment.