Long Player

Words: Dave Smith | photography: Alice Fairhead

Some projects get done and sold on quickly; some evolve over the years. At 33 and counting, this one’s definitely a …

There’s a big trap to fall into when you’re building your project: what if the finished product doesn’t quite match what you had in your head to begin with? It can be pretty disheartening, especially after a long build, but second time’s a charm…

That’s how it went for Phil Robinson, a mechanic and MoT tester from Norwich, with his ’63 Cortina. “I bought it as a rolling shell around 1986,” says Phil. “I cut the front end off, fitted a tubular framework and a fibreglass flip front, slotted in a 3.0 Essex V6, a Capri rear axle and a Viva independent front suspension set-up. I was almost ready to get it started up when a mate of mine looked at the Essex and said ‘You want an eight in there, mate.’ He was right, I did, so I pulled the V6 and fitted a Ford 302. The ‘glass front wouldn’t fit over the V8, so I took it off and replaced it with new steel panels – you could still get new steel panels cheap back then!

“I built a roll cage, fitted Escort seats and got it on the road in about 1994 or 1995. We used to go to the NASC Nats down in Essex, and we entered the burnout competition a few times, but it just wasn’t right. I never had any money to spend on it, and it just wasn’t what I wanted – the axle was too wide, and it just didn’t feel right.

“Then I started building a Pop. I’d always fancied one, so I built this one up from a scrap shell, painted it bright orange, and as soon as it was on the road, I took the Cortina off the road. I started out just planning to narrow the axle – I got a Volvo 240 axle, my friend and I took 14 inches out of the casing and had the shafts resplined by a local engineering firm. It did have MkII Cortina wide arches on, so I cut those out and fitted MkI arches, stretched slightly, then mounted the axle on Capri 3.0 leaf springs.

“Then I started to get a bit carried away. I’d always hated the old Viva steering column, so I binned that and fitted a new stainless column. Then I binned the home-made headers, fitted a set of shorty block-hugger headers and a new compact starter motor, and built a new exhaust from there. Julian Secker, a superb fabrication guy who is sadly no longer with us, made most of a new cage that went from the front bumper to the back bumper and really tied everything together. I had to trim the front valance to fit the radiator, and the front arches have been moved forward ever so slightly on the wings.

“I got the seats from a Hyundai Coupe, and had to cut and shape the rear bench to fit around the wheel tubs – that’s the first time I’d had a go at something like that. The fuel tank is a Morris Oxford tank, narrowed to fit between the tubs. It was painted by a guy just up the road, Josh, who had it for three weeks and made a really nice job of it. It’s the same colour as it was previously, Golden Yellow, which I think is just a base yellow.

“I had to get it finished before June last year, because I had to take my daughter to her prom in it! I took her and a couple of her friends, who had to climb through a roll cage into a narrow back seat in full prom dresses…! My first trip out with the car was to the NSRA Fun Run at Great Yarmouth, where it drew quite a bit of attention.

“Nothing would ever make me part with this car. It was the car that drove Diane and myself from the church on our wedding day, and Diane’s put up with a lot over the years… I still have the Pop, and that’s cheap to keep, cheap to run, cheap to insure and so on. The Cortina’s good fun, but it’s certainly not cheap to run, so I keep that for whenever I feel like something different with a bit more oomph than a four-pot Pop. It has no power steering, so it can be a bit heavy at low speeds, but it’s not noisy or rattly and it just glides along. It’s comfortable, and I really enjoy driving it, so I’ll just keep driving and enjoying it and doing all the local shows. One day I might take it to Santa Pod, but I’m not that brave yet…!”

1963 Ford Cortina

  • Ford 302 V8
  • Holley 600cfm carburettor
  • Shorty headers
  • Alloy radiator from the swap meet
  • Ford C4 three-speed auto
  • Volvo 240 axle, narrowed
  • Vauxhall Viva HC front suspension and steering
  • Stainless column
  • Viva front discs, Volvo rear discs
  • Viva servo and master cylinder
  • Line-lock
  • Hyundai Coupe seats
  • Ford Consul Capri dash
  • Tacho on the column
  • Austin/Morris Farina fuel tank
  • Boot mounted battery and washer bottle
  • Slot Mag wheels, 6×13″ front, 10×15″ rear
  • Tyres, 175/70R13 front, 265/60R15 rear