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Want to play cops and robbers with the ultimate police vehicle? Even though prices are rising Mk3s remain a bit of a steal
Pros & Cons
The Germans may have taken over the executive car market in the 21st century, but back in the early Sixties things were very different indeed. High import taxes kept the Europeans out, leaving Ford, Rover and Vauxhall to dominate the affordable luxury car scene. While Rover offered its P4, P5 and P6, Vauxhall dealers were busy shifting Crestas – but none of these had the cachet of Ford’s Zephyr and Zodiac. Maybe it was the Zephyr’s domination of the cult Z-Cars TV show, or perhaps it was that fabulous trans-Atlantic boxy styling; whatever it was, the Zephyr and Zodiac Mk3 defi nitely cut a dash in Sixties Britain.
Half a century on and these Mk3 Fords are now often overlooked, yet they make more sense as a classic to covet than they ever did. Spacious, comfortable, good to drive and easy to maintain, it’s only the (very) occasionally patchy parts supply that lets the Mk3 owner down. But, look around and you can get pretty much anything you need to keep one ticking over, although finding a decent one may prove tricky. In a production run lasting four years, 291,899 were built – most of which have since rotted away. Good ones are now heavily outnumbered by dogs – but there are some real gems out there if you do some detective work. It’s a fair cop when you do.
It was two months after John Glenn became the fi rst American to orbit the earth that the heavily Transatlantic-styled Zephyr 4 (211E), Zephyr 6 (213E) and Zodiac were introduced, in saloon form only initially, replacing the still much loved rock-and-roll Mk2s. Prices started from £956 for the newcomer, which was mechanically very similar to the Mk2, including the 1703cc ‘four’ and the 2553cc ‘six’ engines, but these were usefully higher powered. Come January of the following year, there was also an estate; the very stylish conversion was carried not at the factory but by coachmaker Abbott of Farnham, although it was offered through Ford dealers and carried the full warranty. It was a particularly sleek looking affair, although a high deck height meant that the car wasn’t as practical as it looked.
The first major change occurred almost as the car left the showroom, literally, thanks to the marketing department who demanded a massive boot on the Zephyr to appease the all-important fl eet buyers. They certainly got it, but the fl ip side was surprisingly meagre rear seat room for such a big car – a new Focus dwarfs it! So, the rear fl oor had to be revised to provide two inches more legroom, although an added benefit was a slightly wider rear track.
In September 1963, minor interior trim revisions were announced, and within a month a fl oor-mounted gear change joined the options list. From October 1964, a heater and windscreen washers became standard equipment on the Zephyr 4, then in January 1965 the Zodiac Executive joined the range. From August 1965, overdrive was no longer available on the Zephyr 4, then in January 1966 the oddball Mk4 Zephyr and Zodiac replaced the Mk3 cars, after 106,810 saloons and 13,628 Zephyr 4s were made, slightly less than the 6. Just under 78,000 Zodiacs were produced, but their estates were more popular than the Zeps (1576).
Rock and roll certainly describes the MK3, but in truth it’s no worse than any other 60s big barge. The soft suspension and relatively long wheelbase ensure a soft ride, but it comes at the expense of tidy handling. However, the steering is more precise than you’d expect for the type of car, while the brakes are well up to the job, thanks to servo-assisted discs that were standard on all editions – unlike many of its rivals back then.
There’s a world of difference, though, between the four- and six-cylinder cars; the former feels rather rough and arthritic compared with the larger straight six. It’s no wonder that the survival rate is greatest for the six-pot cars, because you really need six cylinders in the nose if you’re to enjoy driving your Mk3, although it’s still not a particularly fast car. Contemporary road tests had the 68bhp Zephyr 4 clocked at a smidge under 80mph, with the 60 mark coming up in a leisurely 22 seconds (to be fair it was an auto model).
The Zephyr 6 also had its work cut out to top 93mph, even with 98bhp, but acceleration was usefully better (around 16-17 seconds to 60 it was claimed). Indeed Popular Motoring saw 110mph on the clock when testing F00 550 and noted that, at that high speed, “the steering seemed rather light in a crosswind”. Thanks to its better breathing, for 109bhp, the Zodiac Mk 3 could quite easily touch the ton, although economy on all is high teens to mid-20s at best. Overdrive, even available on the Zephyr 4, is well worth opting for, or retro-fi tting, as it makes higher speed cruising easier on the wallet and ears, but so too is an automatic, which works particularly well on the six pot engine and, as Popular Motoring remarked, “Nullifi es any complaints we have regarding pedal positions and (column) gear selection.”
Despite the majority of Zephyrs having a bench front seat, and four-speed column gearchange, this big Ford is a comfortable cruiser. Most Zodiacs have four-on-the-fl oor and bucket seating, but the change quality isn’t appreciably better than the good column shift, and it denies proper six-seater carrying capacity. On all, the saloon’s boot is almost over generous, unlike rear legroom which, even after the urgent factory mods, was still moderate at best; “There seems no excuse for this on such a large car… on long journeys passengers get fi dgety,” Popular Motoring remarked, but did add that the steering wheel was “ideally placed.” Now what the heck does that mean?
Mods really major around what you want from your big Ford. Handling is naturally soft and these big heavy cars wear out their lever arm dampers and springs, so a thorough overhaul could well work wonders, as do good modern radial tyres. The big six can be stretched to around 2.7-litres if you can fi nd the pistons, although biggest benefit has to be improving the incredibly restrictive breathing; twin or triple carb conversions, from the likes of Raymond Mays or Aquaplane, were very popular and work well; there’s a fair number of these fl oating around still. Less plentiful are the special alloy Raymond Mays cylinder heads which can sell for £1000 if in good order (many aren’t and need expensive overhauling). A similar set up for the four-cylinder engine can sell for two grand would you believe! The spacious engine bay lends itself to the later Ford V6 or even a V8.
If a car hasn’t overdrive fi tting, then it’s worthwhile scouting for the box as it makes cruising more restful, as well as frugal. We’d also invest in an uprated radiator to quell any fears of overheating and install electronic ignition. Finally, did you know that the MK3 shares a common part with the GT40? It’s the heater vent grille!
It’s the Zodiac that everyone wants, as it looks the nicest and has the most power and for a given condition they’re worth around a third more than Zephyr 4s. Restoration projects start at around £600, whichever the model, while a decent Zephyr 4/6 is worth £1600. An equivalent Zephyr 6 is £2000 while a Zodiac would be worth £2500. Values creep up to £3000, £4000 and £5000 respectively for nice cars – but the best examples have been known to change hands for approaching fi ve fi gures. Despite their rarity, stylish estates aren’t sought after and are worth a bit less than an equivalent saloon.
What To Look For
- The Zephyr and Zodiac are rot-prone, so scrutinise every square inch of the panelwork – whether visible or underneath.
- One of the trickiest areas to restore is the lower rear corner of the back door shut, an area where several panels meet and as a result it can be awkward getting everything to line up properly.
- Also difficult to repair is the heater box air intake, which rots and weakens the bulkhead; don’t underestimate the diffi culty in putting this right. Even trickier to fi x is the bonnet hinge mounting area; repair this badly and none of the front end panels will line up properly.
- Sills, wheelarches plus the front and rear valances dissolve, as do the door bottoms when the drain holes block up, rotting from the inside out.
- Corrosion is pretty much guaranteed in the trailing edge and lower rear corners of the front wings. After a while the wings separate from the rest of the car, and they start fl apping about if allowed to get really bad – but by the time things have got to this stage, it’ll be obvious and the rest of the car will be looking the worse for wear as well.
- Lift the bonnet and look at the top of the front inner wings, where the MacPherson struts are attached. A well-known Ford weak spot, it’s also an MoT failure point. Repair panels are available and they’re not especially tricky to weld into place accurately – but it’s still an extra cost to consider. Also look further back on the inner wings, where the bonnet springs attach – this is an area that’s often badly corroded.
- The metal around the headlamps is less rust-prone than most Fords of this era, but the underside needs careful inspection so get the car onto a ramp before you buy it.
- The floorpans corrode because they’re attacked from both sides; the metal gets battered from underneath, but the screen seals also leak, allowing water into the cabin so the floorpans rust underneath the carpeting. It’s the same with the boot seals; they harden or perish and the boot fi lls up with water, rotting the fuel tank and floors.
- Six-cylinder engines generally live longer than their four-pot counterparts, as they lead less stressful lives. However, you still have to do the usual checks because all these powerplants can suffer from worn piston rings, valve gear and bearings.
- Engines tend to sound tappety, even when in rude health; unless things are alarmingly noisy, assume all is at least reasonably well. The biggest problem is a worn camshaft; the lobes wear when the seal for the oil feed pipe comes off. It’s easy to fi x if caught in time, but once the camshaft has worn it gets more involved (and hence more costly) as the engine has to come out.
- A top end rebuild isn’t costly or diffi cult – it’s rebuilding the bottom end that’s expensive. If the lower half of the engine is particularly noisy, it’s likely that big bills are looming; listen out especially for rumbling because of worn bearings.
- Finish off by looking for oil leaks from the rear of the engine. There’s a rope-type seal for the back of the crankshaft and it’s a pain getting it to seal properly – which is why it frequently leaks.
- Auto and manual gearboxes are strong, but the tortuous linkages of the fl oor-change manual ‘box can make it a real chore to use, while the auto rarely lasts more than 100,000 miles before it needs a rebuild. Expect to pay £300 to have a manual gearbox rebuilt, and up to double this for an auto. If a manual ‘box is fi tted, it’s worth having overdrive, which was an optional extra. The standard fourth gear is too low for modern motorway conditions.
- There’s a steering box, which is durable as long as it hasn’t been allowed to leak and run dry. The system isn’t as vague as some rival offerings, but while the box itself doesn’t wear too badly, the drag links and idlers can – which leads to sloppy steering. Finding replacement parts to sharpen things up can be a real pain, so make sure you’re not going to have to find any bits in the near future. Also bear in mind that there are three types of drag links and idlers, while the six-cylinder cars were fi tted with a different box compared with the four-pot editions – and none of these parts are interchangeable.
- The suspension systems are durable, with the MacPherson struts at the front being especially long-lived. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the leaf springs at the back, which sag after a while. That’s why you need to ensure the car’s belly isn’t dragging along the ground.
- With discs at the front and drums at the rear, the Mk3’s anchors are up to the job rather than ultra-efficient. It’s getting ever harder to fi nd parts, but the discs can be skimmed as they’re so thick. Rear wheel cylinders £50+ each when available, so be especially sure that the ones fi tted aren’t leaking.
- There were two types of servo fi tted; remote and bulkhead-mounted. The latter items are durable but the remote ones can be unreliable as their seals disintegrate and allow the brake fl uid to drain into the vacuum reservoir; rebuilding them is best left to a professional, who will charge you around £150 for the privilege.
- It’s the usual story where both interior and exterior trim are concerned; make sure it’s all present and undamaged because fi nding decent original replacements is pretty much impossible these days.
- Remanufacturing the interior trim is tricky because the panels feature a metal insert bonded into the top and the material is heat shrunk into place.
- The dash surround is also a problem; it cracks badly and can’t be repaired. However, repro items are available from New Zealand, for around £300 including the postage.
Three Of A Kind
Vauxhall Velox/Cresta PBIf trans-Atlantic styling is your thing, but you don’t want a Z car, the Vauxhall could be just the ticket. There are no four-cylinder engines, but you can choose from 2651cc or 3294cc straightsixes. All cars are reasonably well equipped, with overdrive and autos available too.
BMC FarinaA direct rival to the Ford, you can choose from four or six-cylinder engines, the latter offering plenty of smoothness and lots of class if rather dull styling. The six-pot cars are well appointed too, and with values and specifi cations much the same as the Ford’s, these are well worth a look.
Rover P6Much more stylish than the Ford, the P6 came with a choice of four or eight-cylinder powerplants, the former offering real bargain classic motoring as it’s the V8 that everyone homes in on. Well built, safe, well supported and good to drive, the P6 makes a huge amount of sense whatever your budget.
Once largely overlooked, the Mk3 range is now fi nding new fans, and rightly so as this big Ford has a lot to offer just like it did 50 years ago. Finding a good one takes time, and it may be that you begin to wonder if it’s worth it. In the case of the Zephyr 4, it probably isn’t, unless you want something particularly unusual, or you fi nd one that’s exceptionally good. Much better to go for at least a Zephyr 6, if not a Zodiac; the latter is by far the most common of the lot, so you’ll track one down far more easily. If you want a classic Q car, then the Mk3 could be just the ticket – officer.
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