28 November 2020

More than an old car #159: Ford Cortina


It never fails to amaze me at how some cars have managed to survive the test of time and remain, even when most of their siblings have been consigned into the depths of history. These Ford Cortina Mk 1s are a living testament to a bygone era of motoring!

The genesis of the Cortina began under the project name of 'Archbishop', where the management at Ford of Britain wanted to create a family-sized car that was economical, cheap to maintain and inexpensive to produce. Initially it was supposed to be called the Ford Consul 325, but was later inspired by the name of the Italian ski resort Cortina d'Ampezzo, site of the 1956 Winter Olympics. Initially available in 2 and 4-door sedan form with a 1.2 litre engine (Standard, Deluxe), various trims appeared later on with larger 1.5 litre engines (Super, GT). A wagon version was introduced in 1963 as well.

The Cortina Lotus was also conceived back in 1961, when Colin Chapman desired to build his own engines for Lotus. He recruited Harry Mundy, a close friend and Keith Duckworth from the Cosworth company to develop a larger, high-performance engine. Walter Hayes, the public relations executive from Ford, requested for these engines to be fitted to 1000 Ford saloons for Group 2 homologation. Ford supplied the body shells while Lotus handled the mechanical and cosmetic changes. Main differences between the Lotus version and the regular ones were a drastically altered rear suspension that made the car stiffer to drive, use of lightweight alloy panels for the doors, bonnet and boot and Lotus badges on the rear wings of the car. All of the Lotus versions were painted white with a green stripe, although as it can be seen (on the regular sedan) it does not necessarily mean that a Cortina in this style is a Lotus one. In 1964, Cortinas underwent a facelift, most notably a full-width grille, disc fron brakes and Aeroflow ventilation indicated by air vents on the C-pillars.

This December 1963 Cortina Lotus was powered by a 1558 cc Lotus-Ford Twin-Cam i4 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 176 km/h with an acceleration of 9.5 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 4275 mm long and weighed only 842 kg, with a fuel consumption of 12 litres/100 km. The regular 1962 Cortina sedan was powered by a 1198 cc Ford Kent i4 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of only 124 km/h with an acceleration of 22 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 4270 mm long and weighed 814 kg, with a fuel consumption of 9.3 litres/100 km

Production of the Cortina Mk 1 ended in 1966 with a total of 933,143 made. Among them, there were 3,306 Mk 1 Lotus units, with around 2,600 in RHD. Both Cortinas are undergoing restoration and have not seen the road much, although both are owned by different owners. Cortinas of both kinds were sold back in 1963 by Ford of Malaya, where some were also assembled there. The regular 4-door Cortina Deluxe cost $5,995 while the Cortina Lotus was almost twice that at $10,920. One unit was also raced in a local hill climb event in 1963 too. Reviews praised its large seats and boot space with decent performance, although some had a gripe with the front right pillar that obstructed one's view momentarily when the car made a sharp turn. On the other hand, the Cortina Lotus was even lauded as 'one of the world's fastest family saloons'. 

Cortinas used to be the most common car in the UK and it was also prevalent in Singapore. It is therefore somewhat surprising that they are the only ones left here. However, having these survivors around is already a big deal and I hipe you can see them some day!

14 November 2020

More than an old car #158: Nissan Figaro


Japanese cars have always been an ubiquitous sight, but let's narrow it down: looking at the cars from the 90s, Nissan takes a decent percentage. Then, we come to the unique models just like this 1991 Nissan Figaro

Introduced at the 1989 Tokyo Motor Show and made available to the public in 1991, its name is derived from the titular hero in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. Based off the 1st-generation Nissan Micra/March, it was the 3rd car in a special projects group known later as the 'Pike cars'. 'Pike cars' generally refer to Japanese cars that have classic designs, from its shape to the grilles and headlights. Production numbers are usually limited in order to suppress the development budget used in modifying these cars. 

Nissan used the marketing tagline 'Back to the Future' and the concept was to be 'unusual in everyday life'. The Figaro was a fixed-profile convertible, that is, the sides remained fixed while the fabric soft-top could be retracted, along with a solid panel and a rear window equipped with a defroster. Examples of such cars with this particular design include the Citroen 2CV and the Fiat 500. Available only in 4 colours, it represented the 4 seasons: namely Emerald Green (spring), Pale Aqua (summer), Topaz Mist (autumn) and Lapis Gray (winter). Nissan planned to make only 8,000 initially, but strong demand led to them rolling out additional units. Demand was so competitive that prospective buyers had to enter in a lottery to even stand a chance. 

Standard equipment included ivory leather seats with contrasting piping, air conditioning, CD player, chrome and Bakelite-style knobs, soft-feel paint on the dashboard top, chrome-trimmed speedometer with smaller inset gauges for fuel and engine temperature; and chrome-trimmed tachometer with inset clock. The Figaro was powered by a 987 cc MA10ET turbo i4 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 160 km/h with an acceleration of 12.9 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 3740 mm long and weighed 810 kg, with a fuel consumption of 8.4 litres/100 km.

Production also ended in 1991, although excess stock was sold up till December 1992. Out of the 20,073 units made, 5,632 of them were in Emerald Green including this particular car. All of them were initially only available in RHD, although recently there are around 18 cars that have been converted to LHD. More colours were included via aftermarket customisation, such as pink, red and orange. 

Based on its identification number, this unit was 1 of 551 in this colour produced in July 1991. I am aware of the one other unit in Pale Aqua as it seems to be more commonly spotted than the one in the post. Interestingly, it has a relatively low mileage of 79,760 km. which is a further clue that it hardly goes on the road! Figaros were never sold officially in Singapore, although it remains very popular in the UK with around 3,000 on the roads. To be honest, I did not know of this unit's existence until recently, and it was by sheer chance that I saw it parking far off during a morning run. Coincidentally, our local newspaper published a feature on the 2 Figaros here, both owned by sisters. This unit was acquired in 1994 and cost about S$120,000, which is still a sizeable sum of money.

Both Figaros in Singapore are apparently single-owner cars, and it remains to be seen whether they will be put up for sale. It was amazing to see such a unicorn up close, and would you not smile at such at this cute little guy? I have not seen it again at that spot even though live near the area, perhaps you may be the lucky one to see this unicorn!