Caring for a Cortina

A community spirit inspired Lewis Caruana to own his own classic, says Joseph Busuttil from the Old Motors Club

The sleepy village of Mellieħa has always had a reputation of being a classic car hub. Whether it was a farm vehicle, a quarry truck, or a four-wheeler to ferry people around, the villagers took great pride in their means of transport, caring for them and restoring and preserving them for posterity once the vehicles had given up their ghost.

Besides many individuals with their own sole classic car, a number of families started to build up collections. One could mention the mini-museums of quarry owner Joseph Vella and his son Roderick, as well as of the Xuereb baker family, father Anthony and his sons Alfio and Tonio.

At times during the year, the community-spirited villagers get together and organise a classic vehicles fest in the splendid square that highlights the centre of Mellieħa.

It was in this atmosphere that Lewis Caruana grew up.

“My formative years were dominated by classic car sights, some near to home. One uncle had an old Ford Anglia van, while another owned two Ford Escort station wagons – vehicles that are still in the family. Maybe this initiated in me an attraction to the Ford marque,” he explains.

A neighbour had a 1950s Ford Zephyr Mk 11, and when he passed away, the vehicle was bought by a contractor.

“He hardly used it, and it was left idle and deteriorating in a garage for many years. I thought of buying it, but I dilly-dallied and the Xuereb family eventually bought it and restored the classic car to its former glory.”

Not easily discouraged, Caruana soon bought his first classic car, a 1965 Anglia Thames van.

“It was in a very good condition, and needed very little attention. I changed the mudguards, as well as the original sky blue colour to metallic grey. In line with the mid-1980s fashion, I customised it with some airbrush decorations as well as wheel rims.”

The original engine was kept, but when it needed reboring, he replaced it with an Escort 1300cc one.

Wanting to get under the skin of his vehicle, Caruana became a member of the UK Anglia Club to be in a better position to look after and enjoy his classic car to the full.

“Joining this overseas organisation had many benefits, including a regular informative magazine, spare parts offers, as well as networking among similar soul mates.”

The van was kept for eight years before making way to a white, 1978 Ford Escort MkII with square headlamps. Again, it was in a very good condition, and the only change carried out was the installation of revolution wheels in the form a cross, another customised fad of the era. The Escort was used for three years before Caruana sold it.  

One day in 2005, he was reading a newspaper when he saw an advert that caught his attention. There was a Ford Cortina MkII 1300cc for sale, and after enquiries, contact and negotiations, he bought the white 1969 vehicle with black upholstery.

“The four-door Cortina had just one previous owner, with little mileage on the clock as it was hardly used. When he passed away, his family wanted to sell. The vehicle was nearly brand new, and needless to say, all it required was starting the ignition and driving off.”

“Firmly believing that an old car is there to be used”

Caruana waxes lyrical about the smooth performance of the Cortina, the perfect purring engine, the good road holding, and the comfortable ride.  

The Ford Cortina was built by Ford of Britain between 1962 and 1983. It was produced in five generations, from the MkI to the MkV. The model was inspired by the name of the Italian ski resort of Cortina d’Arpezzo, the site of the 1956 Winter Olympics. Designed as a family car, the Cortina was aimed at being economical, cheap to run, and easy and inexpensive to manufacture in Britain. 

The Cortina MkI, designed by Roy Brown in the traditional rear wheel layout, was launched a few weeks before the 1962 London Motor Show. The MkII owned by Caruana was manufactured to a design by Roy Haynes, and came out between the years 1966 and 1970. This model was a little shorter than its predecessor, while extra width and curved side panels provided more interior space. Other improvements featured a smaller turning circle, softer suspension, and self-adjusting brakes and clutch.

Caruana’s glowing review of the Cortina was shared by many period reviewers who also gave full marks to the car’s styling and performance. As a result, it was Britain’s bestselling car for nine out of the 10 years between 1972 and 1981. Nearly three million Cortinas were sold in Britain during its 20 years of existence, besides being very successful in the export market. The sporty Lotus version of the Cortina was a successful rally car in the 1960s and 70s in Europe and North America. While standard Cortinas rarely took part in competitions, the positive publicity generated by the successful Lotus rally performances benefitted Cortina sales in no small way.

Caruana , a carpenter by trade who now lives in Dingli, became a member of the Malta Old Motors Club in 2013 when he participated in a static classic car show at the Malta international airport. He harnesses the Cortina regularly, taking part in events of all sorts as often as possible, and firmly believing that an old car is there to be used. Unfortunately his son James is not keen on classic cars, while his wife Nancy, while accompanying him on countryside drives, is reluctant to join him in club activities.

Reviewing the old motors scene in Malta and Gozo, he says the hobby has now accelerated to a fast rhythm owing to growing enthusiasm. Restoration projects are serious and loyal to the original layout. Barn finds, which were not so difficult to come by, have now nearly disappeared without a trace.

Caruana also observes that locally, many one-car clubs have sprouted in recent years, including the Classic Ford Malta. Although a member of the OMC, he says that sometimes, having been alerted through social media of an event, he drives by and stops at one of the Ford club activities. He notices that the number of Cortinas in Malta has increased significantly, a fact he attributes to two developments.

“First, some have been imported from abroad. Secondly, a number of Cortinas had been garaged for a long time, and when their owners died, the vehicle either passes to a family member who wants to use it, or else sold to people who would put it back on the road.”

Caruana admits that while he is very happy with the Cortina, he yearns for it to be joined by a Ford Escort MkI – alas, he has garage space problems and so this dream has had to be put on hold.   

Related Posts