Weiand blown, 347-cube 1970 Ford Cortina

Paul Rockes’s 500hp Ford V8-powered Cortina is a car with hidden talents

Photographers: Nathan Jacobs

IF THEY sound good and go fast, I love ’em!” says Paul Rockes, the bloke jangling the keys to this great-sounding and fast – we’ll tell you why shortly – MkII Cortina. And no matter what colour you bleed – red, blue or otherwise – you really have to clink beer glasses with Paul on that one.

This Cortina’s tale begins years prior to any actual spanner-spinning or angle grinding. “I’ve been playing with cars since I was 15,” Paul explains. “A mate of mine had a Cortina years ago and it was a quick little car. At the same time, I had a nitrous-fed 350ci EH Holden wagon, and no matter how hard I pedalled it, I could not catch that Cortina! That was when I decided: One day I will build one of those.”

The time came in 2005 when Paul spotted a potential project. “It was a plain old 1970 model,” he says. ”I spotted it parked in a driveway while I was out doing a delivery for work. I knocked on the door but there was no answer. I tucked a business card under the door saying: ‘If you ever want to sell, give us a call’.

“Anyway, I was leaning on a bench one day at work (Paul’s a manager at Bendigo Hire – free plug!) and a bloke wanders in and says he’s here to see me about the car. It took a while for me to realise he meant the Cortina. Anyway, we agreed on a price and I collected it straight after work.”

The little lost Cortina was from a deceased estate, but with some juice and a fresh box of zaps, it started with little effort. Press ‘play’ now for spooky music: the car came from the same street where Paul was born and raised in Rochester, Victoria.

“Overall it was in good nick,” he says. “That night when I got it home, I took it for a run around the block. Then almost straight away, I pulled out the engine and ’box and took it to a mate’s workshop, where we began about 15 months of part-time work.”

The car was first built with a 302ci V8 engine. “It was a Mexican-block 302 with a lot of goodies in it,” Paul explains. “It was used by Leigh Watkins to win the AUSCAR series at Calder in the mid-2000s. When I first built the car, I used a manual, a T5 five-speed. But I broke a couple of clutches and I got sick of changing them.”

The high-fiver was duly replaced by a C4 Ford auto. The rest of the powertrain, too, has evolved. “I soon got used to the power, so I wanted to build another engine,” Paul says. “I had grand plans of a 500-horse 347-cube stroker, so I spoke to an engine builder here in Bendigo, Baden Ansell, and he said: ‘If you really want power, you need supercharging.’”

One thing led to another, which eventually led to a guy in Chicago, USA: Jim Woods.

“All he does, with his wife and two sons in a little boutique business, FordStrokers, is build Fords,” Paul reveals. “I contacted him and he asked for the weight and the gearing and what I wanted. This was when the Aussie dollar was really high – so I took advantage of it.”

With the short block delivered to Oz, Baden torqued-down the two AFR alloy heads that Paul had also imported, and installed the little Weiand blower.

“I had a donor bonnet,” Paul says, “as I figured with the blower, I’d need a hole in the bonnet, as we expected the bay to be short and narrow. But, lo and behold, the engine fitted without any fouling.”

Speaking of bonnets, Paul is kicking himself now for meddling with the original bonnet that was on the Cortina the night he towed it home. “Under the bonnet was its complete service history, written in black Texta – dates, spark-plug gaps, the whole lot! I’m kicking myself for painting over that.”

With an extensively reinforced bodyshell, the stroker V8, and extra equipment such as larger four-wheel discs where puny drums once rolled, the Cortina is not a featherweight any more. “It’s 1300kg; it’s Commodore weight,” Paul says. But with Bendigo Specialist Brakes helping with a set of VY Commodore twin-piston front and Falcon EA rear discs (on a trimmed nine-inch axle), tucked behind those late-model ex-Falcon police-spec rims, there’s no problems with making the show go slow. The whole front end is Commodore, with a narrowed VK-era crossmember and steering rack replacing the Cortina hardware. And, plenty of road miles is proof that the leaf-with-links rear end works well, too.

The plan was always to remain subtle with the muscle, so the original nanna-spec cream colour was retained, but with a back-to-basics repaint by Matt ‘Hoota’ Hendy following some minor rust repairs. Sure, it’s a sleeper, but Paul couldn’t resist adding the ’70s-style orange speed stripe.

The seats were pulled from a Hyundai and covered in cow, while Paul drops his gaze to a mix of original, Auto Meter and Speco gauges. Those ‘old’s cool’ number plates? They were on Paul’s Holden FX, his first car, which his best mate Bugsy borrowed, crashed and died in 40 years ago. “Yeah, that wasn’t a very good night for me,” he says. With the Cortina complete, Paul’s next project is building a tribute FX.

“I wanted it to be a sleeper and a true street car,” says Paul of his Cortina. “I didn’t want it to be a drag car with number plates. I didn’t want to drive it for 30 seconds per month, or trailer it anywhere. I like to drive to an event, have fun, then drive it home. I wanted to be able to drive it for hours every weekend. It was built with tall gearing, driveability, reliability and stopability.”

Objective met: “Three times I’ve driven it to Summernats,” Paul says. “There are plenty of blokes that spend lots of time looking at their Camaros, or whatever in the rear vision mirror of their tow car!”