Report from Roger Hampshire

In some ways this wasn’t day one – but day minus one as it all really started on Saturday 1st September when we boarded the ferry at Dover bound for Dunkirk. Although for all those in the UK we had already driven to Dover and met up in the Holiday Inn Hotel on Friday 30th August.

With preparations all complete, car serviced, new radiator, heater matrix, alternator and many hours spent tinkering and cleaning, hopefully (and praying) the car would work well for the next two weeks and an estimated 2500 miles, through France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Switzerland (again) Liechtenstein, Germany, Belgium and a tiny bit of France again before returning to those welcoming white cliffs of Dover.

Martin and I were excited and apprehensive about this great adventure and great it proved to be. About 9:30am Rob Sargeant and his navigator Peter Cooper arrived at our Oxfordshire home, in Rob’s excellent Mk2 Savage. After ‘goodbye’s’ to our wives we set off up the A40 & M40 to the Ace Cafe in London to treat ourselves to a big fry up. There we were joined by Pete Crompton in his immaculate Mk3 GXL and Graham Brown in his beautifully restored South African Mk5 XR6. After our introductions and the first of many photo shoots we set off in a convoy of four Cortina’s and turned a few heads going round London’s north circular en-route to Fords at Dagenham.

The organisers Graham Orchard and Pete Pascoe had pulled out all the stops to get us entry to the private Ford Heritage Building. We were made most welcome, especially as we lined up all our 24 cars in one line at the entrance to the Ford main plant. In the heritage building we were allowed to view all the cars and remove their outer coverings to get a good look and take photos.

Most of the vehicles are available for shows and exhibitions as their policy is to keep them in a road worthy condition, but not concourse. There were examples of virtually every Ford model made at Dagenham as they try to obtain the last vehicle off the production line before being replaced by a new model. We saw everything from Model T’s to the new Ford GT (retro GT40) and many others in between.

Ford had two rather special Cortinas from the Heritage Collection out in action for the day. One, a MkII from the original press fleet that launched the crossflow engine cars. Still in original condition, this Super was bought by one of the press reporters, donated back to Ford by his widow many years later, and the other, the very last Cortina built in 1982 that Ford has itself kept from day one.

Alexei Sayle was there, filming for the BBC ‘One show’ (shown on September 19th 2012) and was very approachable, talking to us and signing anything put in front of him.

We then had a very interesting talk about the history of the Ford Cortina and the details of the launch on September 21st 1962 by Harry Calton, one of the top PR managers at Ford’s in the 60’s. Amongst other stories, Harry recalled how he had gathered the press together at the top of a mountain in Cortina d’Ampezzo for a photo session with the MkI Cortinas and a number of the Ford personalities and race drivers of the time. This also included Colin Chapman and of course Jim Clark.

The cars had been driven up the mountain to where all the press were gathered when they decided to try them down the bobsleigh course as a bit of a dare. After a few runs someone called a sudden halt to their antics, despite everyone saying it was attracting a lot of publicity. Apparently the front suspension struts were now pushing bulges in the bonnets of the cars and at any time would have come through, giving Fords the type of publicity they did not want!

At the end of the day, Graham made a small presentation to Ford, accepted by Brian Bennett, to mark the occasion.

Outside the Heritage Centre was an area set aside with spot lights and Jon Hill from Classic Ford magazine, who was summoning a number of cars to his stand, with the results in the November issue of the magazine. Time was rapidly passing by and we were all wondering about the Friday night rush of the commuters to get home and our journey to Dover. However the BBC film crew were doing their best, as film crews do, to delay us. So up and down went 24 bonnets as they filmed, then we all sat in our cars with the engines running whilst the film crew came long to each car and the driver had to say in a very excited way ‘Were off to Cortina in our Cortina’.

We then drove in one long convoy away from the factory waving frantic goodbyes at a camera following Alexei who was in Phils MkII Savage and again we had to wave our goodbyes. All for a few seconds on the One Show, but we were proud really.

So finally now it was off to the hotel in Dover to get ready for an early start on the 8am ferry on what was really day one of our anniversary trip to Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Italian alps.

And from the Hill family:

We left Dagenham late afternoon and joined the notorious M25 just before the QE2 bridge to head for the first hotel of the trip, the Premier Inn at Dover (couldn’t be any closer to the Eastern Ferry terminal if we tried). We all arrived at the hotel but even before we were due to board the ferry the next morning it seemed that some cars had already developed early problems.

There was activity in the car park at the hotel and it soon became clear that all was not well. Amongst others, Ernie and Jill Queripel had propshaft worries, Phil and Jenny Lewis were having alternator problems, Grahams servo had eaten its non return valve, but more worryingly Mike and Linda Livesley had clutch problems and weren’t going to make the ferry the next morning. Our car seemed to be ok – fingers crossed for the early start in the morning – so we took this opportunity to meet other rally goers for a drink in the bar before turning in for a reasonably early night.

Day 2

All photos © Cortina MkII Owners Club LTD