How Ford's Cortina P100 paved the way for SA's vehicle exports, and birthed the 'Bokkie Bakkie'

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Vehicle exports from South Africa have been a good news story for the country and local automotive industry, with 298 020 units exported in 2021, up from the 271 287 vehicles exported in 2020, while export value increased by R17.1 billion, to R138.3 billion. 

The South African automotive industry's export destinations increased to 152 countries last year, up from 147 destinations in 2020. As part of this growth, Ford of Southern Africa exported the 500 000th locally built Ranger last year. This number is set to increase rapidly with the introduction of the locally-built new Ranger and VW Amarok.

However, while the export of locally produced vehicles is set to reach record-breaking levels within the next few years, the car that pioneered South African vehicle exports has all but been forgotten.

Ford South Africa production line

While vehicles have been assembled locally since 1924, I could find no record of cars being exported from any local assembler or manufacturing plant in any significant volume until the early seventies. 

Even the iconic locally designed GSM Dart, built from 1958 to 1962, was never exported, as overseas models (known as the GSM Delta due to "Dart" being a Chrysler-owned trademark) were manufactured in the United Kingdom by GSM Cars.

The story of the P100

Interestingly, or perhaps not surprisingly, the first vehicle to be exported from South Africa in significant numbers was a one-tonne light commercial pickup or bakkie. Sure enough, it was a Ford.

The Ford P100 pickup as sold in the UK.
The Ford P100 pickup as sold in the UK.

According to Stuart Grant from Classic Car Africa, the history of this vehicle, the Ford P100 as it became known in export guise, started in 1962 when Ford engineers converted a Taunus station wagon into a workhorse. 

However, developing the Taunus-based pickup into a production model proved too expensive. The engineers then looked at the newly launched Ford Cortina as a possible base for such a pickup. 

While not ideal, due to its monocoque construction and the lack of heavy-duty differentials in the range, the engineers still developed a prototype and seven others based on models such as the Corsair, the Cortina Mk 2 station wagon and the Cortina sedan.

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However, while advances were made over eight years, the engineers still felt a ladder-frame chassis was essential, and the differential problem still made the project unviable.

Things changed in 1969 when an axle manufacturing plant was built in Uitenhage (nowadays known as Kariega). According to Grant, the Ford engineers were also given advanced warnings on the next generation Cortina design.

This meant they could develop a ladder-frame pickup around the new vehicle. A frame section was developed and then joined with what was called a torque box to the front cabin of the Cortina Mk 3 sedan's structure. 

READ | Meet the Bokkie bakkie: Ford's immaculate Springbok edition Cortina pickup

The braced torque box added more strength and weight, and the bakkie version was 6.5% heavier than the car model. The rear suspension was changed to a leaf spring and rubber-cone setup, leading to harsher ride quality.  

Springbok Ford Cortina bakkie.
Springbok Ford Cortina bakkie.

As it was named locally, the new Cortina Pick-Up was launched in November 1971. With sedan-like comfort, good performance and the ability to carry 750kg, it was an immediate sales success. 

Initially offered with a 1600cc Kent engine, a 2.5-litre V6 model was launched soon afterwards. Perhaps the best-known derivative of this pickup range is the so-called Bokkie Bakkie – a limited edition derivative painted in the green and gold colours of the Springbok team to coincide with the 1976 All Blacks tour to South Africa.

The Bokkie bakkie undergoes its first roadtrip after its restomods.
The Bokkie bakkie undergoes its first roadtrip after its restomods.

Exports to Europe

Following the success of the Cortina Mk 3 bakkie, the Ford engineers were tasked to produce a more powerful version with a higher load capacity (a full tonne) based on the upcoming Mk 4.

This derivative launched in 1977 with a redesigned cab, using the shorter front doors from the Mk 4 four-door models. And the tried and tested 1600 cc mill but also with the more powerful Essex 3-litre V6 engine, giving it some serious performance. It was now called the Ford 1-Tonner, referencing its loading capacity, and the V6 came with a luxury kit typically only found in sedan models.

The release of the Cortina Mk 5 in 1980 saw the 1-Tonner receive the same front styling upgrades. By now, the Europeans were also interested in this derivative of the Cortina, and in 1982 the refined South African developed pickup was exported to Europe and the UK as the Ford F100 with a slightly longer wheelbase.

The Ford Cortina P100 pickup was a best-seller dur
The Ford Cortina P100 pickup was a best-seller during the late 1970s in the UK.

The chassis and load bed were lengthened for Europe, and even though the P100s arrived while the Cortina Mk 5 was being replaced by the Sierra, it did not dent sales. Interestingly, Ford in Europe considered selling a rebadged Mazda pickup instead of the South African-developed product.

However, this was rejected by Ford in Europe due to concerns over the public's perception of Japanese imports at the time. Thus Apartheid South Africa was seen as less of a liability. Country of origin and outdated styling notwithstanding, the P100 sold well abroad.

In 1986 the "hi cap" was released with a taller roof and door tops and a more upright windscreen. The Cortina-based version of the P100 was sold until 1988, when, ironically, Ford divested from South Africa on political grounds, and a Sierra-based pickup, built in Portugal, was introduced in its place, still using the P100 moniker.

The South African-developed Cortina-based P100 was a very successful model locally and overseas and a true export pioneer for the country. It was sold locally until 1986 when it was (also ironically) replaced by the Mazda-based Ford Courier.

The Sierra-based Ford P100 was built in Portugal a
The Sierra-based Ford P100 was built in Portugal and replaced the SA-built Cortina based P100 in 1988.

Politics notwithstanding, the P100 opened the doors for exports. However, some programmes were not so successful, such as the efforts of Samcor, successor to Ford after the company left the country, to export the local version of the Mazda 323 to the UK as the Sao Penza. Just over 1 000 were sold.

In 1992 Volkswagen South Africa (VWSA) won a contract to export left-hand drive Jettas produced in Uitenhage to China. The three-year export order, initially for 12 500 cars but later increased to 17 220, ended in 1995.

In 1998 BMW South Africa exported 3 000 3-Series models to Britain in the first half of 1998, and from 2003 until 2005, Toyota South Africa exported between 15 000 and 20 000 Corollas to Australia.

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