For the newest edition of Tomorrow’s Classic, Stephen Catlow waxes lyrical about his pride and joy – a 1982 Cortina Crusader. The Ford repmobile is Steve’s first, and likely only, foray into classic motoring; on a day to day basis he enjoys the 21st Century modernity of a Peugeot 508.

Stephen Catlow and his 1982 Ford Cortina Crusader

“I hadn’t had a long held desire to get into the classic motoring scene; after all, my day job involves me being surrounded by new cars all the time. But one evening I found myself in a situation I’m sure many men can empathise with: a choice of being forced to watch something unentertaining on the telly that your partner’s watching, or browsing through pages of listings on eBay. The latter won out and within seconds I’d entered the legendary phrase “Cortina” into the search box.

Ford's Cortina Crusader - retro painted in two-tone Cardinal Red over Stratos Silver

I knew it was dangerous when one appeared as being listed in Lincoln – a special run out Crusader edition. It was so dangerous that despite the unappealing description of how it had stood in a barn since 1999 after failing its MOT, I made arrangements to go and see it with a guy from the bodyshop at work. His assessment was suitably damning: “there’s at least 100 man hours of work there to sort the rot out, so walk away.”

And walk away we did. In fact, I didn’t really bother looking much until a few nights later, when after consuming enough alcohol to take leave of my senses, but not enough to lose control of my fingers, I located the auction and placed a bid. The next day, after parting with my winning sum of £303, I was the owner (not particularly proud at this stage) of a Cardinal Red 1.6-litre Ford Cortina Crusader saloon.

There wasn't much left of the sills - outer or inner

Cortinas had appealed to me since I started working in the motor trade for a Ford dealer many years ago. The first car I drove on the job was a Cortina and the first model I bought was the fairly aspirationally-specced 2.0 GL Mark V. There’s a particular rightness about the well proportioned three-box shape, with the long bonnet, hint of curvature about the shoulder line and relatively low boot level that you rarely get with modern cars.

Spending my days working with new metal too had anaesthetised my appreciation for driving. Not that the Cortina had a reputation for being an archetypal driver’s car, but you did have to think about what you were doing, coaxing it to extract every ounce of performance you could and driving it with care. It wasn’t like a contemporary car where you essentially get in and steer whilst its electronics do the thinking for you.

Mid-way through the painting process. Still all Cardinal Red at this stage

So, immediately after its summer 2007 purchase it was taken to the bodyshop to begin the metamorphosis. This wasn’t a simple buffing up with a splash of T-Cut to remove years of barnyard detritus after all. And it seemed that the initial 100 hours estimate of how long the work would take was hopelessly optimistic.

Getting closer - Stratos Silver has been applied to the lower quarters

Despite it only having travelled 82,487 miles at that stage of its life, the level of rust and rot suggested that the majority of those miles must have been of the nautical variety. There was so much to do it was difficult to know where to start, so the guys began on the offside front and worked their way around the entire car, clockwise fashion. A brief rundown of all the replacement and welding work included: 

  • Replacement wings
  • Replacement doors – only the nearside rear is original
  • Replacement floors
  • New inner and outer sills
  • New jacking points – the old ones only remained in place by memory
  • New boot floor – the ground was visible through the old one
  • New rear arches – these had been ‘fixed’ before with replacement ones pop riveted onto the already rotten originals
  • Major components such as front sub-frame and engine tray stripped and shot blasted
  • Rubber bushes replaced by new poly ones all-round

    Almost there...

While the body was in such a state of disrepair, I decided that as nice as the all-red paint was, it would be a great opportunity to two-tone the Crusader, in the same way many of the 30,000 examples built left the factory. When the spraying began, the lower portion from bumper height downwards was treated to a few layers of Stratos Silver. To complete the transformation, the pitted chrome bumpers were painted black and the wheels were re-painted, fitted with new chrome embellishers and shod with fresh rubber.

Front subframe removed prior to being shot-blasted

Mechanically the Crusader needed a bit of work on its 1593cc Pinto engine. To get it started in the barn we had to pour petrol directly into the carburettor, but the carb itself was on its way out. A new old stock Weber was located and fitted during its service.

Check out the Pinto powerplant, about to unleash 72 horses

The brakes too had a major overhaul, with new discs up front and drums at the rear as well as new lines and a replacement master cylinder, all of which provided a significant increase in confidence levels when squeezing the middle pedal.

The grey ‘Durham’ and crushed velour fabric interior was quite luxurious for the time but those years in that barn, with its superstructure crumbling away, had taken its toll on the Cortina. Whilst the seats and door cards were treated to a thorough deep clean to rid them of the mildew and dank smells, the carpet was rancid leaving no option but to replace it.

Car interiors today are missing the joys of crushed velour. The Crusader has lashings of it.

All was eventually set for its first MOT post-overhaul; the engine was ticking over nicely, warming through when a rogue wire dropped onto the hot manifold and shorted the whole electrical circuit. The result was the test was abandoned and the loom was attended to by an auto electrician, but when it was resubmitted it passed with flying colours.

Since then a series of improvements have been made on an ongoing basis, so when the clutch started to slip last year it was replaced and while it was disassembled I took the opportunity to have the four-speed manual gearbox overhauled too.

And to think, this classic shape gave way to the original Sierra just months later

Whilst the Cortina’s not been the proverbial money pit, needless to say it’s not been cheap to get it up to the level of quality it’s now at. I hate to think exactly how much I’ve spent but it’s got to be more than £7000 over the past four years.

Rarely do cars make sound economic sense and with a guaranteed insurance valuation for my £120 per annum classic policy of £3000, this one doesn’t appear to be either. Yet. But Mark V Cortinas are becoming very rare, considering there were over a million of them built between 1979 and 1982. Even suggests that there were just 123 Crusader models left on the road in 2011. As the numbers decline, values will slowly creep up.

Whilst the car looks good, there’re still aspects of it I’m not totally satisfied with, so next up for replacement are the bright roof guttering trims. They don’t look too bad from a distance but close up you can see they’re fading and need changing. Small jobs like that can make a huge difference to the overall appearance of the car.

The Crusader’s quite a regular on the show circuit but surprisingly at many events it’s the only Mark V Cortina present, including when it was on display at the NEC Classic Car show in 2009. Although it covers all 30 years of Cortina sales, there’s a heavy Mark V bias within the Mk1-5 Cortina Owners Club, so if any of the members attend a show there’s a bigger selection of the last of the line models.

A suitably long array of boot lid badges for the special edition Cortina

Any advice to prospective Mark V Cortina owners? Don’t do it! No, seriously, be very, very aware of what you’re taking on as a lot of them are full of rot. But, if you’ve a real hankering for them and you’ve money to spend, then £2000 can buy you a decent example that won’t need a lot of work doing. And there’s lots of online support, guidance and general encouragement from great websites like Buy Sell Cortina.

Am I pleased I bought it? Despite the amount of money ‘invested’ in it, definitely. This Crusader’s a keeper.”

Model Featured: Ford Cortina 1.6 Crusader

Top Speed: 94mph

0-60: 16.7sec

Average fuel consumption: 29.2mpg

Engine size: 4/1593cc carburettor petrol

Power: 72bhp

Torque: 86lb/ft

Price: £5435 (July 1982)

All photographs © Keith WR Jones 2012