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Ford Zephyr MkII

Published: 1st Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Buyer Beware

  • The basic monocoque is over-engineered and very strong, so you might be lucky and stumble across an original car in pretty sound condition. More likely though, you will need to assess the quality of earlier repairs, or the level of rolling restoration needed.
  • Front wings suffer from excessive rust around the wheelarches and lights, although repair panels are readily available.
  • Bonnets can rust along the double skin where they curve downwards.
  • Rust can break through the lower doorskins and around the rear wheelarches.
  • Sills need checking along their whole length, as well as the closing end plates and on into the chassis outriggers.
  • Front hangers for the rear springs are best checked by lifting the rear seat, but the rear hangers can be examined from underneath.
  • Front brake cylinders for drum-equipped cars are getting hard to find. The rear cylinders are a different size to those on disc-braked models, but the difference is negligible.
  • The butterfly spindle on the Zenith carb will become worn at high mileages, but units can be refurbished and even replaced with NOS.
  • Vinyl dashes on the Low-lines can become cracked or shrink if exposed to too much sunshine over the years.
  • Oil leaking from the crankcase breather on the pushrod inspection cover or excessive fuming from the oil filler cap suggest the engine is worn - expect this from around 80,000 miles.
  • Smoke from the exhaust might also indicate a worn engine, or it might be caused by a perished seal in the fuel/vacuum pump.
  • Noisy tappets might just need adjusting, or they might be starved of oil if the supply pipe is blocked or its rubber O-ring has perished.
  • A sloppy gearchange could just be down to worn linkage bushes, but if you need to move the lever towards reverse before it’ll go into second, then the selector levers are worn.
  • A combination of vague steering, bad handling and unwanted vibration points towards worn suspension bushes (easily repaired).

Fast Facts

  • Driving: 3/5

    Typical 1950s – steady as you go but quite satisfying

  • Usability: 3/5

    Roomy and comfortable. Delightful convertibles are coveted

  • Maintaining: 4/5

    Strong aftermarket and specialist support - simple DIY hardware

  • Owning: 4/5

    Cheap to run for parts but some spares are hard to come by

  • Value: 4/5

    Top cars can be dear and there’s a lot of overpriced dross about

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If you are into rock-n-roll, then you have to be into the MkII Zephyr and Zodiac from Ford. But Simon Goldsworthy discovers there is much more to these mini Yanks than a vibrant social scene and living the American dream

Ford’s initial post-war offerings in the UK were pretty dismal: the out-dated and crude sit-upand-beg Anglias and Prefects or the overly extravagant V8 Pilot. All that changed at a stroke in 1950 when a thoroughly modern monocoque was designed in conjunction with Briggs Motor Bodies, to utilise the new fangled McPherson Strut independent front suspension they were shown in America. Initially released as the four-cylinder Consul to fill a gapingmid-range hole in the company’s line-up, a six-cylinder Zephyr variant joined the ranks in 1952 to replace the upmarket V8 Pilot. This was joined by the Zephyr Zodiac the following year, basically a Zodiac with even more glamour and glitz. The range was a huge success in the marketplace,helped no doubt by considerable success in rallying such as Maurice Gatsonides’ (he of Gatso fame…) victory in the Monte Carlo Rally in 1953 in a Zephyr. It was still a strong seller well when Ford replaced it with the MkII in 1956. Longer, wider and more powerful than the original, these MkIIs were full six-seaters and even more flamboyantly styled. They were objects of desire amongst the younger generation with its newfound fascination with the American dream, but few could turn that dream in reality. Instead the Zephyr and Zodiac sold to well-heeled middle-class professionals, only in their classic afterlife becoming an achievable goal amongst those whose lifestyle centred around the rock-‘n’-roll years. The MkII bowed out in 1962, to be replaced with the all-together more conservative MkIII with razor-edge styling, good cars in their own right but forever in the shadow of their more glamorous forbears.

Which model to buy?

The first Mk IIs are now called Highlines, following a facelift in February 1959. As well as trim changes, adjustments to the sheet metal also resulted in a lower roofline and a new Lowline nickname. Early Highline cars had visually fantastic seats, but their squabs are flatter than later versions. Covers were vinyl on Zephyrs, posh leather on the Zodiac. Highlines had an arguably more stylish dash, metal with a vinyl covering, a half moon dial and green illumination. Lowlines got padded vinyl and an elongated speedo. The market for extras was huge, and period accessories such as visors, spotlights and radiator muffs are both highly desirable and so priced accordingly. Approved estates car conversions were carried out on saloon bodies by ED Abbott of Farnham and approved by Ford. These are now stylish and practical load luggers. More glamorous was the Zephyr convertible that was available from the start (a Zodiac equivalent didn’t arrive until later in the year). These are the ultimate models to go for, costing as a result up to twice as much as the saloons. There was even a pick-up for the Australian market, a few of which have since found their way into the UK

Behind the wheel?

It wil pull from walking pace in second and 20mph in top, meaning you can cruise

When Ford were designing the Zephyr/Zodiac range, they were greatly helped by the British government’s long-overdue abandonment of the taxation system that favoured long-stroke plodders. Freed from these restrictions, Ford designed an over-square engine that was both powerful and durable. And sounded great. The Zodiac is a large and bulky car, so it never feels particularly fast. Although they can be modified to be formidable race and rally cars, in standard trim there is enough body roll and understeer through the corners to encourage a (very) slow-in, fast-out style of driving although in the wet it can be brilliantly tail happy! The flip side is that the long suspension travel and substantial weight riding on the suspension allows the cars to soak up road imperfections to give a supremely comfortable ride that still impresses, especially when travelling with a full complement of happy passengers, although that said many cars wil be running on tired suspensions (so budget for new dampers and springs). Clutches tend to be heavy on most cars. The threespeed gearbox has no synchromesh on first, so is effectively a two-speed unit on the move. But with such a torquey engine this is no hardship, and it will pull happily from walking pace in third and 20-25mph in top meaning you can cruise through villages and then simply put your foot down when you get out of the 30mph zone without needing to stir the pair of cogs. This is no bad thing given that the column change is fairly slow with a long throw between ratios, especially with 40 years of wear and tear to introduce slack into the involved linkage run. Don’t dismiss the automatics - they are far from sluggish and will probably out-perform a car whose worn column change baulks an inexperienced driver. Mind you, with an automatic’s lack of engine braking, you really need the disc brakes up front rather than drums for peace of mind. All cars will happily cruise at 60-70mph in top, but overdrive is a big bonus on manual cars both for restful motorway cruising and for economy, the latter which won’t be terribly good it has to be said especially if the carb is a bit worn. Steering boxes are surprisingly positive, and low gearing makes them feel surprisingly light but a little twirly, especially after the 1957 revisions. Things do wear in time, but there should not be loads of slop at the wheel either. The overall feel is transformed by fitting radial tyres, which don’t suffer from crossplies’ tendency to get thrown off course by cats eyes, lorry ruts and white lines plus the improved grip is a real safety bonus. And as for the brakes, the wide drums on early cars are powerful and not prone to fade, although neglect can cause them to pull to one side. They do give a firm pedal though, while the front discs that became optional from 1960 came with a servo, which makes the pedal feel softer and more modern.

The daily option?

The Mk IIs are stylish performers that can be used today without holding other road users up

With the performance gains that manufacturers have wrung from even their smallest econo-models in recent decades, there is always a risk of family classics feeling slow and vulnerable on today’s roads. The way to avoid that is to buy what was considered a big car in its day, plenty of ccs and a couple of extra cylinders making up for the lack of refinement. Zephyr/Zodiacs certainly fit that bill, with the 0-60mph dash taking a respectable 17.1 seconds and 70mph coming up from rest in 25 seconds. If that is not enough for you, then there are plenty of tuning goodies still available – from six branch manifolds (the standard exhaust manifold design is laughably restricted), through to triple SU conversions and exotic (and now quite rare) Raymond Mays six port alloy cylinder heads. Even then, some power-hungry owners are disappointed and opt to travel the V8 conversion route. They should relax into the standard car instead, as one equipped with overdrive will cruise at 80mph quietly (although wind noise might inspire you to stay a little lower) and still feel steady when pushing the needle off the top of the 100mph speedo. It is the corners that date the design more, inducing both belly roll and tramping. Although crossplies look better in the wheelarches, switching to radials is really the way to go for a car that is used regularly. On the inside, the cabin is light and airy with plenty of glass area for good visibility. The column gearchange and under-dash handbrake means that there are acres of elbow room up front for two, and room for three if needed. Headroom is never an issue front or rear, and lanky drivers should be able to get comfortable without eliciting protests from rear seat passengers. There is ample room in the saloons for six people, but the convertibles are better suited to just four or at a squeeze five occupants (who will no doubt enjoy the experience).

Ease of ownership?

The engine is a decent OHV lump that is reliable andlong-lived, but very easy to work on if things do go wrong. Matters are helped by an engine bay which is positively cavernous. There is more than one club catering to the model and any of them can point you towards the network of specialists who work hard to provide the parts you’ll need to stay on the road. As a result, mechanical spares are generally easy to get and not too expensive, although trim and interior is harder to find. Complete panels are rare, although repair panels are available, as are fibreglass alternatives. Most surviving cars are now used just for high days and holidays, especially those loaded with period gizmos (they are expensive, and can be thief magnets if the car is used on a regular basis and continually left parked in unprotected areas). These cars were designed for families at a time when households were large both in size and girth, so the generous interior space offered means you can share the fun with all concerned. But don’t underestimate just how big these Fords really are - they will be a bit of a squeeze in your average single garage, and certainly won’t leave much room over for working on them or for storing household junk.



Ford introduces new EOTA range; the four-cylinder Consul and six-cylinder Zodiac, are scaled down versions of Ford USA’s new ‘three box design’ for 1949 featuring new McPherson Strut independent suspension.


MkII is introduced, five inches wider, seven inches longer and riding on a wheelbase stretched by three inches. Engine’s bore and stroke also grew, capacity on the six-cylinder versions growing from 2262cc to 2553cc. Automatic option now available.



Gearchange reverted to external linkage but gets neat cover. Range facelifted in February; changes are mostly limited to brightwork and interior, plus a flatter roofline profile. Servo assisted front disc brakes become a (useful!) £29 option.


Disc brakes become standard fitment from June 1961, along with sealed beam headlights. Razor-edge styling of the MkIII takes over in 1962, badged as Zephyr 4, Zephyr 6 and Zodiac

We Reckon...

The MkII Zephyr/Zodiac are stylish performers that can be used today without holding other road users up. They are big enough to share the pleasure with friends, and this social side is a big part of ownership. You don't have to be into rockn- roll to buy a MkII, but it does help. Retro-meets and 50s/60s weekends are a big side of the Zodiac lifestyle, making them one of the few saloon cars of this period that appeal to young and old alike. Not only is this good for the future of the model, but it also ensures that the emphasis amongst owners is on having fun with their cars. Leopard skin seat covers, anyone?

Classic Motoring

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