HEAVYWEIGHT CONTENDER

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By Stuart Grant with photos by Etienne Fouche

South African heavyweight boxer Kallie Knoetze started his career in 1976 with six consecutive KO wins. And then set off on an 11-fight winning streak into 1979 that saw him rise into the celebrity realm and he took to the silver screen as Rosco Dunn, a corrupt boxer-turned-military sergeant, in the 1982 film Bomber. But for the ʼ80s kids it was his candid camera role in Leon Schuster’s 1986 You Must Be Joking! for which he is remembered. Oh shucks, this is a motoring publication… let’s talk Cortina Bakkies.

An undercover Schuster pull his Valiant wagon up to Die Bek Se Padstal near Brits but when told he can’t retail his chickens in front of it, starts tossing produce onto the floor. Eventually the stall owner arrives – Kallie, sporting a muscle-hugging T-shirt and driving a vehicle befitting of such a man – a Ford Cortina 3000L Bakkie.

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Kallie and the 3000L were South Africa’s pin-up pictures of locally bred muscle. Yes, that’s right: the Cortina Bakkie is a full-blown South African development. The birth of the legend goes back to 1962, when the Ford engineers in Port Elizabeth were tasked with developing a mid-sized utility vehicle. Their first attempt was to convert a German-built Taunus station wagon into a load carrier, but the cost proved exorbitant and wouldn’t sell to the masses. Next up on the experimental list was the MkI Cortina station wagon, but its monocoque proved too weak and the lack of heavy-duty differentials in the range meant the load capacity was too small to carry out real workhorse functions. Over the next seven years they pushed on with eight prototypes based on the Corsair, MkII Cortina station wagon, MkII Cortina sedan and Escort panel van. While some looked promising, the diff issue was still a thorn in the side and the engineers felt that a frame-type chassis, although primitive, was still required.

When, in 1969, Borg-Warner set up an axle-manufacturing plant just down from Ford in Uitenhage, the engineers were able to call on a heavier duty diff that met local manufacturing content regulations, so that conundrum was solved. They were also let in on details of the upcoming Cortina sedan design, so got an early start on penning a rear ladder frame to graft onto the new model. The solution was a frame section that, by means of what Ford called a torquebox, joined to the front half of the MkIII Cortina sedan’s monocoque. In simple speak, the torquebox was a box section running transversely at the back of the cabin and tied the front and rear with numerous braces under the seat.

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Ford launched the 78% local content Cortina Pick-Up in November 1971 and its 750kg payload, car-like interior and performance saw it sweeping the utility vehicle sales charts. Power initially came from a 1600cc Kent 4-cylinder petrol engine, and a 4.1:1 diff ratio ensured the heavy loads could be moved. Having a saloon as a starting point meant that the cabin was relatively spacious and the bench seat moved on rails – that’s why the likes of Kallie’s stature fit in. With the torquebox under the seat it did mean that the squab was raised and headroom reduced though. It also had a harsher ride compared to a sedan version, with the coil-sprung rear setup replaced by a leaf-spring and rubber cone system. The desire for the Mk3 Cortina Bakkie was there and Ford took it one step further by adding a 2.5-litre V6 version to the mix.

By 1975 the MkIV Cortina was becoming a reality and Ford SA set about using this to make an even better bakkie, with a load capacity goal of one tonne. This model was ready by 1977, and although the Kent-powered unit remained as a base vehicle, the Essex 3-litre (2994cc) 6-cylinder replaced the 2.5 as the top tog. Thanks to a 2.6m² double-skinned steel loadbin,the engineers hit the 1 000kg-carrying goal and Ford took the chance to drop the title ‘Pick-Up’ from marketing material and went straight to the point, replacing it with ‘Ford 1-Tonner’.

On a good wicket the firm then soldiered on, face-lifting the 1-tonner in line with the new MkV model in 1980 and hit the export market with some slightly longer-wheelbase models sold under the P100 banner. From 1983 Ford officially added the title ‘Bakkie’ to the party with the arrival of the more refined 3000L Leisure Bakkie. With the higher-specced fittings the 3000L pushed the Ford 1-Tonner into the world of multi-functional tool/weekend toy and the advertising team jumped with images showing the bakkie at play and wording not normally associated with a utility machine.

YOUR GREAT BACKDOOR TO THE GREAT OUTDOORS
There’s a whole new go-anywhere driving experience waiting for you in your Ford 3000 Leisure Bakkie. A vehicle that combines practical utility, gutsy performance and luxurious comfort. The unique 3-litre 6-cylinder engine unleashes effortless power, yet is unrivalled for all-round economy. Wherever you’re going, or towing. Heads will turn to take in the two-tone paint, the styled steel road wheels and the bumper-mounted driving lamps. And eyes will open wide at the cab interior. Woodgrain fascia and door cappings, full loop-pile carpeting, Bristol/Sanford cloth bench seat and full instrumentation.

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With such a glowing report and my childhood memories intact I walked around this pristine, unmolested example – but chose to leave my old Standard 8 Judron rugby shorts at home. The first impression was just how muscular the load carrier looked – this thanks to the stockier period-correct after-market Smiths wheels, sleek tonneau cover, slight bonnet bulge and additional driving lights. The two-tone paint scheme with lower half in white also goes a long way to sporting up the bakkie. Once inside the cabin the woodtrim, full complement of gauges, soft-touch dashboard and car-like upholstery have you almost forgetting it’s a pick-up. In fact, if it wasn’t for the bench seat I was seated on, the sight over the padded steering wheel, dash and long bonnet could have fooled me into thinking I was in an imported 1980s Capri. This feeling of sportiness was further enhanced by the 6-pot exhaust note that barked out the tailpipe when the key was cranked. 

Clutch action is car-like and the bakkie rolls off the line at a leisurely pace. Jump on the loud pedal and the rear wheels break traction without a fuss. This, while immense fun, points to the one of only two real gripes users had – the rear leaf spring setup is calculated to carry a tonne, with the result that the back bin skips and jumps over the smallest of road irregularity when running around unladen. Regardless, the bakkie could scare off a few mid-ʼ80s sportscars with the zero to 100km/h coming up in just under 12 seconds – it is no surprise that Kallie’s red/white 3000L was on Die Bek se Padstal scene so quickly. Schuster got lucky though as the tightness of the boxer’s shorts must have restricted movement enough to keep him from getting a ‘warm klap’. In a similar vein, the tight 4-speed gearbox stopped the Leisure from dishing out a few punches in the top speed department – maxing out at 170km/h. Actually anything over 110km/h gets a little busy inside the cabin, and this soon became the second gripe, but it was remedied towards the end of the production run when an extra cog was added.

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After two days of blasting around Johannesburg and even heading out to the North West Province for that full Kallie experience, I handed over the keys to the current owner. I hadn’t been able to bring myself to load any garden rubbish into the bin, fearing that I might damage the untarnished factory-optioned woven rubber mat, but did feel safe in the knowledge that I had done enough to make a call as to whether or not a Cortina 3000L or any other 1980s pick-up can be called a classic.

While old doesn’t necessarily qualify as classic, recent international auction results indicate that pristine examples of the permed-hair, disco-balling generation bakkie/truck/pick-up/ute are all the rage. But the golden rules are originality, condition, rarity, desirability and a touch of celeb status – often earned from the model having some on-screen action, or being the choice of a famous musician, sportsman or actor. The 3000L ticks all but the rarity box here, but with the nature of the workhorse/weekend toy’s lifestyle, most of the 30-odd-year-olds are either tired, damaged or been splashed with some purple paint. An original one today is a rare beast indeed and when they come up for sale like this they move fast – the pictured version sold within hours of being advertised recently. It is easy to see why, with full books, spare keys, like-new upholstery, an untouched moulded roof-lining, shining factory paint (and even the run-in jets supplied by the dealer when new), the first certificate of registration document and the fact that it still had its factory-branded headlight glass.

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So yes, the right 3000L Leisure Bakkie is a classic, fighting hard against the international heavyweights as the classic utility vehicle to have.    

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