The venerable Ford Mondeo finally comes to the end of its production run in 2022. We won't just be bidding a fond farewell to the Mondeo but we'll also take a respectful bow in memory of an unbroken 60-year lineage of Ford's most popular family saloons which first appeared back in 1962.
When Mondeo production finally ends later this year, it will be replaced by yet another trendy looking, SUV-like creation.
The final demise of the Mondeo will come at a bitter-sweet moment in history, almost exactly 60 years since the Mondeo's distant ancestor, the Cortina MK1 first saw the light of day. With the Cortina's introduction, a whole new generation of drivers began an enduring love affair with this new concept of affordable, easy to own family Fords.
The Ford Cortina MK1 was first imagined in 1960. The concept was developed at a rapid pace in order to meet the demands of a brand new class of UK car buyers. The project was handled by Ford’s highly intuitive product development guru Patrick Hennessey.
The Cortina MK1 paved the way for a brand new concept of compact yet spacious family cars. Initially, there were two 'Kent' engine options, dare I say an under-powered 1.2 and a slightly beefier and less asthmatic 1.5-litre variant. The Cortina MK1's came with manual gearboxes but nevertheless provided a beautifully user-friendly driving experience with easy, slick gear changes (a Ford trait that endures to this day).
The practical, big-booted Cortina swiftly became the apple of aspirational drivers' eyes. It was also prized by fleet managers who recognised the low running costs. People also adored its fashionable styling as well as its user friendliness.
In 1966 we saw the first of the Cortina MK2's. Mechanically, not a huge departure from the original; more a slab-sided style rejigging. The basic 1.2 engine increased to 1.3-litres and the range expanded to include the much-coveted Cortina 1600E (the absolute King of Dad Cars). Over a million MK2's were sold, establishing Ford as the undisputed leaders in this increasingly lucrative mid-market.
The Cortina brand really established itself when it evolved into the MK3 in 1970. The MK3 offered a more extensive range of engine options. A longer wheelbase provided roomier interiors. The MK3 actually felt and looked all-new. However, despite the new Cortina's considerable size, the Basic model still had 1.3-litre engines. Top end models however offered a new 2.0-litre (Pinto) option.
Glossy Cortina brochures now read like a fine menu. Customers could browse from a low specced Base, L, XL, GT or GXL models. Buyers really bought into this concept because the deeper they read into the brochure, the more goodies came as standard. This was excellent marketing. What was slapped onto the boot lid now really mattered!
But time stands still for no Ford. In 1976 the MK4 Cortina was unveiled. An aspirational customer base constantly craved something fresh, new and cutting edge. This meant that in the space of 16 years, the Cortina had seen 4 new models as well as countless face lifts along the way. However, the MK4's shared a familiar platform to its predecessor and were fitted with much the same engines as the outgoing model. But the MK4's enjoyed a smart restyle as Ford brought yet another fresh new twist to the Cortina story.
The MK4 model range had a familiar ring about it too ranging from the Base, L, GL, S and Ghia. There was an additional 2.3-litre Ghia (V6 Cologne) range topper too. This was a superbly smooth luxury car with exceptional levels of comfort and refinement. In a nutshell, the MK4 delivered all the Cortina's usual winning traits - and some.
The final incarnation of the Cortina came in facelift form just three years after the MK4 launch date when the Cortina 80 was rolled out. This final upgrade took the Cortina through to production's end in1982. This prompted an entire generation of drivers to mourn the loss of an absolute icon. This was the car that helped realise the ambitions of thousands of people during the 60s and 70s finally being put out to grass.
It would take a brave soul indeed to change Cortina's winning formula. Bob Lutz was the man charged with this daunting task. He wanted an advanced and aerodynamic car to help shift the sector into the 1980s. The styling was overseen by Uwe Bahnsen, an advocate of fastback designs. The Sierra was launched in September 1982.
The styling was a huge departure compared to the conservative Cortina MK4. The Sierra came in hatchback or estate guise with no saloon variant available initially. Interiors featured an ultra-modern wrap-around 'cockpit' style dashboard with back-lit gauges and a trip computer on some models.
Over the channel, the Sierra sold very well, outselling the Cortina by four-to-one! In the UK however, the Cortina love affair bloomed on. The radical Sierra styling failed to ignite any real enthusiasm. It even earned the nickname ‘jellymould’ as UK sales slumped.
It took a major facelift to counter all the criticisms. In 1987 the second-generation Sierra arrived with a much improved front-end design. We finally even got a saloon variant known as the Sierra Sapphire. The facelift turned around the car's fortunes. The sales drought was reversed and the beleaguered model finally came of age after a wobbly start.
Arrival of Mondeo
Sierra production ended in 1993 and the Mondeo arrived. Drivers soon realised that the Mondeo was something special. Ford had pulled out all the stops to ensure that it would be an instant success after enduring burned fingers during Sierra's early days.
The problem was suddenly a very different one for Ford. No one realised back in 1993 that the company car era, as we'd known it, was drawing to a close. Cash allowances replaced company car lists. It suddenly became an era of choice. Where once reps were told they could have a Cortina; now BMWs, Audis and Mercedes-Benz were attainable. The Mondeo, despite its many superlatives, couldn't compete.
By the time the Mondeo MK4 and MK5's came out, Ford was producing a car that many gurus declared "felt German". Indeed, the latest Mondeos have poise, handsome looks, a quality finish, unparalleled spaciousness and specby the bucketful. I should know because I've owned three Mondeo estate cars of my own and loved all of them.
But sales figures don't lie. Figures continued to tumble. By 2020, fewer than 2000 Mondeos were sold in the UK. That's a long way short of the Cortina’s finest hour in 1978 when 194,000 were sold in the UK.
Perhaps all this is just a sign of the times? Another moment in history when something fundamental vanishes from our lives. But, we still have the memories and even the old family photos. Many of us will look back wistfully and perhaps raise a glass to a beloved absent friend. A friend who brought freedom and independence to so many millions.