by Brian Allison
Reading a post on the Facebook page recently about the Cortina cutting out in the rain stirred my own memories of the Cortina in it's various forms.
The immediate thing that springs to mind when I think of the Mk1 Cortina is my first wife. I could perhaps have phrased that better. The first Person maybe, thing, certainly seems to fit one of her successors much more aptly.
Anyway, to get back to the car. It's 1966 and I'm working as a mechanic , been courting a lovely girl called Anne for about a year, and running a rather ratty Minor 1000. We desperately wanted to go to Devon on holiday together, so broached the subject to our parents. As I expected mine agreed readily enough, after all I was 24 yrs. old so they couldn't really say too much about it. In fact the only thing that was said was my father telling me to be careful. I thought I was a pretty good driver and objected strenuously to the comment. I could be a little slow at times in those days.
Anne's parents were a different matter. It had taken a long while to persuade them my intentions were honourable but I'd gradually worn them down, and now got on really well with both her parents and knew just how protective of her they both were, after all, she was only 18 to my 24. The first reaction was a definite no, which after sulks and arguments over a few weeks became a yes, but with the proviso that they saw proof that we had booked single rooms and I promised there would be no "Funny business".
While all this was going on her father took delivery of a brand new Cortina. Very smart looking with it's maroon paintwork, especially so when compared to my Minor parked next to it looking like a runaway from the scrapyard. He was so proud of his new car, so I was not surprised when a couple of weeks later he suggested that all four of us go out for a Sunday afternoon drive, thinking he just wanted to show off to me in his new car. What did surprise me was that he wanted me to drive. We spent a very pleasant afternoon driving around the local beauty spots and I had to admit that compared to my moggie the Cortina was a delight to drive, though to be fair to the minor, I did rein in the more exuberant aspects of my usual driving style.
When we returned home her father had yet another surprise in store. Instead of driving to Devon in the Minor we'd be more comfortable if he loaned us the Cortina. I was amazed! Letting me loose with his pride and joy? Then I figured out his ulterior motive. Having been badgered into risking his daughter's virtue, he wasn't going to risk her life as well in my old banger. Ready to spring to the Minor's defence I said, "Really? That would be fantastic". So all was set fair.
Driving from Yorkshire to Devon before the motorways was a long old haul and tales of horrendous weekend traffic jams on the roads into Devon were legendary. Bearing this in mind we decide that the best idea was to drive overnight hoping to arrive before the jams got too bad.
So 10 o'clock Friday night saw us depart on our adventure. All was quiet on the roads and we were making good time, until we got into Derbyshire - it was like entering a different country. With a flash of lightning closely followed by a crack of thunder the heavens opened and it absolutely poured with rain, and I began to think I knew just how Noah must have felt.
We continued on our southerly course like a ship in a gale until after a few miles the car started losing power and sounding like a 2 cyl. rather than a 4. I had no option but to pull over and stop. The engine stopped too. So it's pouring with rain, dark as a dungeon, middle of nowhere and we're immobile, the only light being the occasional flash of lightning. I knew I'd get soaked if I got out of the car but had no option, so out I got, immediately soaked to the skin I popped the bonnet and once I had it up told Anne to try start the engine, which she did. I was very impressed with what I saw there.
Now I'd read about and seen pictures of the phenomenon known as St. Elmo's Fire where a ship is lit up with electrical discharges around the masts etc. in stormy weather, and here I was witnessing my own private version of it. The sparks flying around under that bonnet were amazing. It didn't take a genius mechanic to know that there was nothing I could do about it until it stopped raining.
Every cloud has a silver lining they say and so it proved. At least we had dry clothes for me to change into. The downside was that without the engine we had no heater and it was becoming decidedly cold, so we had to try and keep warm somehow. That silver lining again.
When the rain did eventually stop I was able to dry out all the ignition system and we were underway again, albeit a few hours behind schedule. At least we got to experience the joy of sitting in the Devon sunshine eating ice cream in that traffic jam for an hour or two.
Next time :- Our intrepid mechanic's encounter with a MK1 Cortina GT.
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