Karen on Cars: Sir Patrick and the Cortina coup!

Tom Karen:

The Cortina spanned 3 decades and from its initial launch Ford lead the sales leagues. It was a masterpiece in marketing and design working hand in hand.
The Cortina spanned 3 decades and from its initial launch Ford lead the sales leagues. It was a masterpiece in marketing and design working hand in hand.

When I worked in Ford’s design studio in the fifties the CEO, Sir Patrick Hennesy, was putting in place a hugely talented management team – the result was that Ford went from 14 percent of the UK market to cornering one third almost overnight. To this day Ford cars are still the top sellers.
One of the reasons for this success was that “Sir P” cared passionately about design and had a good nose for it.

When early proposals for the 100E range were presented to him he rejected them because he had a hunch that there was room for something a little more advanced. The designers had to get their heads down once again and the outcome was the Ford Anglia 105E and Prefect. These designs broke away from the rounded shapes current at the time and rival makers had no option than to follow suit.

I was there when the 105E was being hatched, the car with the reverse slope rear window, a feature Sir P had seen in Turin and wanted as part of the design. I still often wonder how many bosses would have stuck their neck out that much? What few people may know is that early prototypes had a rather upright front end that produced unacceptable drag triggering a panic redesign of the front.

Mini celebrations at Longbridge - but back at Dagenham Ford knew BMC were losing money on Mini that was sold owing to its complexity of design and engineering.
Mini celebrations at Longbridge – but back at Dagenham Ford knew BMC were losing money on every standard Mini that was sold owing to its complexity of design and engineering.

The Cortina was of course, the great coup for Ford. Having taken a Mini apart and found it to be over engineered (and under priced) the clever Product Planning people argued that making a big car doesn’t cost that much more than a little one – making a big wheel rather than a small one requires the same number of operations and the extra material content doesn’t have a significant effect on price – and so the Cortina was born, reaching a very wide market and being very profitable.

Since those days the motoring world has become a lot more competitive with plenty of very respectable designs on the market – also some evidence that some makers are trying a bit too hard to be original and in danger of resorting to gimmickry.

The Cortina Mk1 proved that a bigger car need not cost more to develop or build than a smaller one.
The Cortina Mk1 proved that a bigger car need not cost more to develop or build than a smaller one.

So, what can designers do to find a new trend? A clue probably has to do with the way proposed new models are reviewed by management. It was usual to put a full size, ‘see through’ model on a turntable to assess the design. Unless things have changed since my days in the industry, the driver was not always included in the package. This possibly explains why some drivers have their heads barely above the glass line while others are partially hidden behind the B post.

This isn’t very comfortable or flattering as drivers like to see and be seen. My guess is that part of the popularity of big MPVs is that their waist line is near elbow level and the driver assumes a commanding position. It is quite satisfying, incidentally to look down at the road close to you, not just for parking but also to get a pleasing sensation of speed.

There is, of course, another school of thought in favour of high waistlines, cocooning the driver safely in the vehicle. My feeling is that a rewarding route is to see the driver as the focal centre of a vehicle to frame him or her in a flattering way. A lot can be easily done to achieve this and I predict that who ever pioneers this to production will have a lot of success on their hands.


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