Rub of the green: Ford Cortina MkV Ghia
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Mark Wilson’s 1980 Ford Cortina MkV Ghia cost him $100, he says, though that’s not the whole story. He won $3500 on a Rugby World Cup bet, and used that to buy the car, a year ago.
The UK-assembled Ghia is fitted with a 2.3-litre V6 engine.
“When we got it, it didn’t run very well — it used to conk out at traffic lights. We bought it thinking it was in really great condition, but the seller had set the idle really high, which was hiding a lot of problems, and it would ‘hunt’ at the lights.”
Yes, this Cortina is an auto — a three-speed. It has to be, as the 21-year-old University of Waikato business management student lives with cerebral palsy, and is not licensed to drive a manual.
When Mark found the car had problems, he enlisted his petrolhead dad, Glenn, and now has a tendency to call it “our car”.
They had thought the “surging” was caused by the inlet manifold so replaced it, but it turned out to be due to the original carb, so Mark bought a Holley, and that sorted out the problem.
Meantime, there were “endless bills from mechanics”. They had intended to do the job themselves, but in the end it got beyond them.
Every time they thought they’d located and fixed the problem, it would pop back up. “I got quite disheartened,” Mark says.
Fortunately, replacing the carburettor fixed quite a few issues, “And it gave the car a bit more pep, which is a nice bonus.”
Mark says it’s lucky a neighbour is a former panel beater, and keen mechanic, “If it wasn’t for Harry, we’d be lost, he’s always at home, tu-tuing over one of our cars. Mum reckons a different rego demand arrives every month.”
The aim is to keep the car as standard as possible. The interior is all factory apart from the steering-wheel knob Mark needs as a condition of his licence.
And then there’s the colour ... It was metallic blue with a black vinyl roof when he bought it, and sported original Cortina Ghia wheels, but with a character from the film Cars in mind, he painted it Kermit Green.
He also bought these mag wheels, with new tyres, for less than $500. These old-school period rims are quite rare: and, yes, he’s kept the originals.
By then he realised the car was a stand-out as is, and it didn’t need any more theming.
“At that point we hadn’t realised how valuable the model was — it’s an English import and apparently there aren’t that many around. Still, the goal was to turn heads, and that’s what it does, so I’m very happy.”
It certainly does attract attention. Our photo shoot was constantly interrupted by queries as to whether the car was for sale.
Because Mark’s a student, “Dad has been very good with the funding to get it going properly” but his everyday car remains his Honda Integra, as the Cortina is thirsty.
“They weren’t built for economy back then — and I can go for two weeks in the Honda without a top-up.”
The Cortina is for fun — hence his drive over from Tauranga to attend the North Shore All Ford Day — and to raise funds for charity on the annual Trillian Trek road rally in aid of Kiwi kids. The furthest afield it’s been is Northland.
Mark enjoys driving it. “It’s not a race car, and it’s getting old now so I just cruise.”
Young men with classic cars seem few and far between, but Mark’s not your usual ‘boy racer’. He’s the only person I’ve met who could drive before he could walk or talk — his parents having been told he never would.
His dad bought him a 50cc kart and he was racing it at 5 years old, a year before he was walking and talking. “Dad was determined to get me driving, even way back then.
“Driving gives me so much independence, it makes me the same as everyone else,” something he discovered when he got his licence at 15, in a Mazda Astina, before buying a Toyota Altezza at 16, “with a big exhaust.”
“Everyone loves how it sounds — I thought it might have a hole in the pipe, but it got its WoF.”
Clearly Mark will never be happy with an everyday runabout.
“Cars make a statement, and they’re a talking point. Mind you, my being able to drive can be a bit of a talking point.”
Would he sell it? “Everything’s for sale,” he says, laughing. “When it had all the problems I was ready to get rid of it, but Dad had a vision and I’m glad we persevered. What I’ve got now is pretty damn cool.”