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Ford Cortina GT - 1966 model

Broadcast date : 28th January 2007

In the early 1960's South Africa, along with the rest of the world was gripped by motoring fever, with performance cars and motorsport achieving cult status.

A company that was very much at the vanguard of this movement was Ford, and the model that brought performance motoring within reach of the family man was the Cortina GT.

GT stands for Gran Turismo, previously hallowed ground populated by the likes of Ferrari and Maserati. The upstart Cortina began a controversy that raged for years about its legitimacy to the title, and Car rode that emotional wave for all it was worth.

Itís taken Ford over forty years to match that euphoria created by the original GT, with its Focus ST. Car Magazine rated it as their performance car of 2006, and enthusiasts agree.

A dedicated Ford ST club has been formed in Gauteng, and STs are mopping up at legal street-race events all over the country.

Just as the modern ST has distinct styling cues to identify its prowess, the Mark one Cortina GT was also recognised by the informed enthusiast.

The chrome strips down the side, the GT badges on the flanks, and the lowered suspension were cues that this was a Ford to be treated with respect.

This 1966 model is owned by Cape Town racer Malcolm Uytenbogaardt, and itís a road-race classic, fitted with twin side-draught Webers, a cross-flow Kent motor, and rock-hard suspension that makes it demanding on the road.

Malcolm has added all the period go-faster items like a wood-rim steering wheel, but left the rest of the interior stock, as many racecars were back in the sixties.

That Koos Swanepoel signature on the dash is the most important piece of equipment for arch enthusiast Malcolm.

Koos Swanepoel became a national hero, winning the very first SA Saloon Car title in a Lotus Cortina, an even more specialised Ford that was only available here for racing.

His victory put him in the company of the likes of Formula one master Jim Clark, who won the British saloon car Championship that same year in 1964.

Koos raced for the Cape-based Meissner team, and its inventive head Willie Meissner set about turning the South African Lotus Cortina into the fastest Cortina in the world, Lotus or otherwise.

Willie Meissner was rated, along with Johannesburg-based Basil van Rooyen, as the tuning supremo at that time.

The late Willie Meissner also played a big part in developing Carís road test programme in the 1960s, when the rather cumbersome fifth wheel devices were used to accurately measure speed.

Car used to test on roads similar to this one in the wheat fields north-west of Cape Town although, presumably, the roads were a lot smoother then.

That original Cortina was rated at 83 horsepower or 62 kiloWatts. It wasnít the fastest car on sale, but on a bang-for-your-buck basis, it was king.

The blacked out grille and wide wheels on Malcolmís GT were all styling cues that emulated the Lotus Cortina raced by Koos, and every GT owner with any kind street cred carried out these mods to his baby.

Half a century into Carís ever-evolving quest to tell it like it is, road-testing equipment is now GPS based, and makes life for its test team a lot easier.

Speeds have moved up more than a notch too.

Just for the record, the original Cortina GT accelerated to 60 mph - just shy of a 100 km/h - in 12,9 seconds.

Top speed was 92,5 mph - or a 148 km/h.

Malcomís modified GT is a lot quicker, its 100 kilowatt motor giving it a sub 10-second 0-100.

But itís still not in the Focus ST league, which in the hands of current Car test team member Sudhir Matai, recorded a 7,5 second 0-100, and a top speed of 237 km/h.

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