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Caffeine & Gasoline® Car Feature: Robert Shick’s 1964 Ford Cortina GT Mk 1

We’d seen the Cortina prowling previous Caffeine & Gasoline shows but the cosmic tumblers never aligned. That all changed May 3rd. We spotted the owner, Robert Shick of Dupont, WA, when he was showing someone the engine. The more we saw, the more we were enamored with the British Blue Oval. This car’s feel-good story starts on eBay.

With a connection to Lotus and motor racing and a very distinctive look, the Ford Cortina is an underground classic. The Cortina is a popular UK-built model produced from 1962 to 1982 in two-door saloon, four-door sedan, and estate (wagon) configurations. The production run spanned five generations but the initial Mark 1 cars from 1962 to 1966 are the most desirable. These cars get a good deal of their street cred from a famous sibling, the Ford Cortina Lotus and its renowned white with green-slash-down-the-side paint scheme. The big deviation between Ford and Lotus versions is under the hood. Namely the Lotus’ tasty twin-cam engine. Originally developed for the Lotus Elan, the 1,557cc four produces 105 horsepower. The mortal Cortina got a single-cam 1,500cc four cylinder rated at 75 horsepower.

Robert is a veteran who served in the Army maintaining helicopters from 1987 to 2012. He was deployed to the Middle East on several occasions and we thank him for his service. After retiring from the military he got back into cars, eventually finding himself face-to-computer screen with the old Ford on eBay. “I love the design of the car… it’s visually pleasing,” says Robert. “It has a little BMW 2002 in it, some Type 3 VW in the front with the headlight arrangement. I also just like the size, I am a big fan of mid ’60s econoboxes.” Robert also praised the hint of a tail fin at the rear of the car.

When he bought the Ford in 2014 it had already been decked out with the Lotus tribute paint job. “For the most part the car was as-advertised on eBay… It wasn’t too bad,” quipped Robert. “But it had been a long time since I’d been in the old car world. I had water-cooled VWs in my youth and a ’69 911 about 15 years ago that I went through but it had been a long time since I had messed with an old car. The way the guy advertised it I was expecting something that performed a bit differently, a bit better, but that was more just me not being around old cars for a while.”

Robert says the challenge was the passage of time. “Basically everything mechanical on it was 50 years old… the exhaust system, front suspension, strut inserts, bushings… stuff like that. The cooling system was hurting so I got an aluminum racing radiator and upgraded to an electric fan which totally solved all the cooling issues. The car sat really tail low. The previous owner had lowered it two inches all around but it looked bad so I spent a lot of time and effort trying to get that all sorted out to where it rode the way I wanted it to ride. It had 185/60 tires on it so I went to wider 205s so it handles a bit better and looked fuller in the wheel well. I did a lot of aesthetic stuff. Period fog lights in the front, the turn signals are European-spec in front and back, coco floor mats in the interior, and a lot of detailing.”

“I do some of the work, the most extensive thing I do is adjust the valves, that’s about it. I have been taking it to Brooklands British Car in Tacoma. Those guys are awesome, they have reasonable rates for outstanding work. They reworked the carburetor which requires special tools and in-depth knowledge; a novice can get in there and do more harm than good.”

Wheels are important. They can make or break the look of a car. The Cortina’s wheels are standouts. They are ATS Style A alloys, made in Germany and popular with many ’60s and ’70s sports cars from the likes of Porsche, BMW, Audi, VW, and Datsun. Robert likes his shoes. “I know Minilites are popular on these cars, and they’re fine,” says Robert. “These ATS’ are apparently hard to find and the look really works so I’m just not going to mess with it. It’s period correct and it’s different.” The Style A’s measure 13 x 5.5 and have been wrapped with Toyo treaded racing tires.

One of the things we really like about the Ford is that it sees the road on a regular basis. “I drive the car 3,000 to 5,000 miles a year. I really drive it. This last season it rained too much but in the two prior years I’ve really been able to hit the road. I am down in Olympia, Lacey, Tacoma, and University Place, that’s kind of my stomping grounds. Whenever the weather is decent I don’t hesitate taking her out.”

“With the components I mentioned that were swapped out or updated it is not so bad to drive on the freeway. It was a little sketchy for a while. The car is really at home doing 50 or 60 mph. It’s comfortable. If I start heading north of 60 the motor will be at 4,500 rpm… the gear shifter will rattle, there’s some vibration going on, it tells you what’s up. The car will do 75 but it won’t be happy about it. With the carb work, the engine is running great but the car is slow… it’s only got a 75-horsepower engine so you do the math.”

“In the long term I would like to drop some dual side-draft Webers on, add a hotter cam and better valves, and take it to the 125-horsepower range. I’d also like to change the gearing out back so it’s a little bit more comfortable at freeway speeds. There are a bunch of shows in Canada and Portland I’d like to go to and it would be better to cruise at 70 or 75 mph without worry.”

Robert says he has been a little surprised with the Cortina’s popularity. “Anybody that sees it just comes up and talks to you. I’ve never experienced that before. I can’t tell you how many people come up to me and say, ‘I am not a car person but I have to say I like that car.'” Well, we are car people and we like that car too. Keep up the good work, Robert.

See our gallery of Cortina images on Flickr here.

Have fun in your garage!

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