One family's love-affair with 55-year-old red Ford Corsair

Family cars have been transformed in recent years, with plastics and more electronic brain power than the original moon mission capsule, but for a Southbourne family there is a very special one – a 55-year-old red Ford Corsair.
Car enthusiast Chris Soper and his 55-year-old Ford,Car enthusiast Chris Soper and his 55-year-old Ford,
Car enthusiast Chris Soper and his 55-year-old Ford,

Amid the mobility metamorphosis accelerated by the impending demise of fossil fuel propulsion, Chris Soper’s Corsair 2000E stands proud and gleaming in Tribune red and fires up at a flick of the key – a fine example of the model which is celebrating its 60th anniversary.

And more than a quarter century after I featured Chris and his car in The News, daughter Claire Wills was eager to share with a new audience her dad’s 50-year love affair with a special machine and tracked me down.

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His car with smart black vinyl seats was produced in 1967 but registered on 1 January 1968 as one of the first 2000E models with a two-litre V4 petrol engine and four-speed manual gearchange, the ‘E’ designation acknowledging the new era of Executive models.

The 55-year-old FordThe 55-year-old Ford
The 55-year-old Ford

But to Chris and wife Caroline the Corsair nicknamed ‘Elsie J’ – from the registration plate - has always been a family car, carefully maintained but driven regularly, as well as starring in the family weddings.

Chris, 71 next month, spent 35 years over two stints working on the railways as a signal technician concerned with maintenance and fault-finding, with 11 years at IBM Havant building large frame computers.

When I first met Chris with the car at Beaulieu in 1996, the Corsair had done 48,000 miles and their children were Claire, 16, Craig, 14, and Calvin, five. But now there’s another generation eager to ride in Grandad’s car, even if puzzled by the absence of rear seatbelts in the vehicle made before the lifesavers were mandatory.

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For Chris, the now 58,000-mile Elsie J is the symbol of a half-century love affair with the model, as he bought his first Corsair in 1974 when he was aged 21 and another followed “as a donor for spares”, at a time when rust was the dreaded car-killer.

Chris and Caroline with their children and grandchildrenChris and Caroline with their children and grandchildren
Chris and Caroline with their children and grandchildren

“This one has been rock solid,” he said. “Just a couple of places where rust appeared but although I got spare wings I had new metal put into the originals to maintain the lines and with a respray seven years ago and the chrome refreshed it’s still as good as new.”

Even the black vinyl roof is original and pristine – a rarity. “The previous one rusted through under the vinyl,” he recalled.

Maintaining a classic car can be costly and challenging but Chris says keeping Elsie J under cover and a regular maintenance regime assisted by Lee Green at Chidham Garage in Westbourne has kept the bugs at bay without costing a fortune.

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“When I got the car in 1990 it had had one owner and done 45,000 miles. The engine and gearbox are all original, although soon after I got the car I had the engine stripped down but just for new gaskets, and fitted a new exhaust that’s still solid, although it might need a new silencer box soon.

The engine of the 55-year-old FordThe engine of the 55-year-old Ford
The engine of the 55-year-old Ford

“The only other major components have been a new brake servo and master cylinder, and Cortina callipers for the front brake discs that are still the originals,” he recalled.

“It runs a treat,” he grinned as we drove along the A259 near his home in Main Road, Southbourne. “And I can still average 36mpg on a run.”

For Ford devotee Chris the Corsair has to be cherished while another with a blue oval badge, a modern Mondeo, stands in the drive to fulfil daily duties. One of his first cars was a Mk 1 version of the Cortina, the Corsair’s sibling of which 2.8 million were produced over 20 years (1962-82), compared with the slightly larger Corsair’s modest 300,000. Its name interpreted from “buccaneer, raider or pirate”, the Corsair was produced from 1963 to 1970 when it was replaced by the now bigger Mk3 Cortina, while alongside the smaller Escort ran from 1968 to 2000 before being succeeded by the Focus.

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Today there are only about 230 surviving Corsairs, of which it was last reported just 38 were registered with the MoT test certificate now optional for vehicles of that age, of the 33 million vehicles with MoTs on Britain’s roads. Chairman of the Corsair Owners Club Robert Shand said he was hoping to muster 60 cars for the Corsair’s 60th birthday bash this week but it was proving something of a challenge with fewer cars still running.

Club members Chris and Caroline are regrettably among the absentees at this event as Caroline has had to go into hospital. “But we’ll be back with Elsie J,” she vowed.