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Vauxhall Cresta Vs Ford Zephyr

The Space Race Published: 27th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Vauxhall Cresta Vs Ford Zephyr

What The Experts Say...

If anybody has a handle on old family Fords then it’s Roger Chinnery of Essexbased Affordable Classics. Roger specialises in ‘bread-and-butter’ Fords. But he admits that he doesn’t get too many MK Ivs. “They have their good and bad points – the latter being that they are expensive to restore and parts supply isn’t as good as other old Fords. And those inboard rear brakes…”, he says. Roger does admit that they offer a lot of metal for the money, especially a nice Zodiac or Executive.

Vauxhall Cresta Vs Ford Zephyr
Vauxhall Cresta Vs Ford Zephyr
Vauxhall Cresta Vs Ford Zephyr
Vauxhall Cresta Vs Ford Zephyr
Vauxhall Cresta Vs Ford Zephyr
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It wasn’t only the Americans and the Russians who were in a space race during the 1960s, Vauxhall and Ford were also at each other throats to be the winner in the battle of the big car. Both the Cresta and the Zephyr came from the 1950s where fl ashiness and fripperies were the order of the day and they duly provided them in droves. However, by the 1960s tastes had moved on and so had their respective car designs, particularly Ford where the Blue Oval was more than keen to shake off its Dagenham Dustbin reputation and attack the emerging executive market with something classier and more sophisticated than its juke box predecessors. The MK IV Zephyr and Zodiac and Vauxhall’s PC Cresta and Viscount ranges were the fi nal curtain call on these famous names as lowly sales and slipping reputations caused both lines to be dropped in 1972. Today, as classics neither the Ford or Vauxhall have yet to attract the attention of enthusiasts – but this to your advantage because they both make great off-the wall choices and, just like when they were factory fresh, offer a lot of metal for the money.

Which one to buy?

It’s all a question of style

Launched around the same time in the mid 60s, it was the Ford which was the most radical boasting an all new design, including advanced V4 and V6 engines, all round disc brakes and independent rear suspension – heady stuff in those days. In contrast the Cresta was more or less a larger reskin of the old PB strain. Common to both marques remained throwbacks from the 1950s such as bench seats and column change transmissions to enable acceptable six-seater capacity. In terms of styling, US infl uence is clear to see with perhaps the Vauxhall faring the better. The rather odd long bonnet/small boot stance of the MK IV never clicked with buyers like the old finned MK3s did although, today, the simple clean lines of the Ford have a certain something. Not from all angles mind; the curious grille-less frontal treatment (before 1968 when it gained a false one) is still darn ugly! The Zephyr and Zodiac ranges were more comprehensive than the Vauxhalls plus offered a choice of four or six pot power and two trim levels. The Cresta only differed in trim levels with the, now rare spotted, base model sporting a plain poverty single headlight treatment until J-reg. Both lines were supplement by more luxurious offshoots – Zodiac and Executive for Ford and the Viscount from Luton. Confi rming views that the MK IV’s new fangled chassis was woefully underdeveloped from the March 1966 launch, the Ford was constantly revised during its run, starting as early as September 1967 with much needed rear suspension camber changes. This was only part successful and the fatter, grippier tyres also employedmade the steering intolerably heavy. This necessitated the gearing to be revised to make it lighter but resulted in no less than an exhausting arm-twirling six turns lock-to-lock! A further rethink occurred in October 1969 including stiffer dampers. The Vauxhall received little development over its six year run, the most signifi - cant being a switch from the old sluggish two-speed Powerglide auto transmission to the excellent three-speed GM unit in 1970, the same time that the ‘three on a tree’ gearbox was dropped. Power steering (a fairly good set up for its time, too) was standard on the Viscount and an option on the Cresta DeLuxe but rarely specifi ed.Vauxhall upped the power of its wartime Chevrolet 3.3-litre straight six in the PC to 123bhp where as Ford’s 2.5 V6 yielded 112bhp while the wheezy entry model 2-litre V4 gave just 82bhp. A fairer comparison is the 3-litre V6 featured in the Zodiac/Executive posting 128bhp. In conclusion, given their numerous similarities it could fi nally boil down to what car you like the look of best morethan anything else!

What’s the best to drive?

Cresta is on a run

In terms of surefootedness the Vauxhall is the winner thanks to its conventional but more predictable chassis. The MK IV gained a poor reputation for tail-happiness from launch that even numerous mods failed to fully rectify. Anybody coming out of a modern and slipping behind the wheel of this Ford would be horrifi ed at its roll angles, the never-ending steering turns and some alarming oversteer antics latent in this motorised ocean liner. However that said, driven within its confi nes the Ford is quite okay and to be fair the Vauxhall is no sports car either! Whatever car you go for, drive it smoothly and sedately and relax – but push one around like a Mondeo and you’ll soon come unstuck. Talking of Mondeos, while the MK IV looks massive it’s actually slightly less in length than the Cresta at 15’ 5’’ although at just under 6ft wide is considerably wider. However the latest, excellent Ford dwarfs them both showing just how big modern family cars are these days! The Vauxhall was no mean performer in its day being faster to 50mph than a Porsche 356 no less and hitting 60 in under 12 seconds – splendid for its era. A good many suffered a three-speed manual ‘box but thanks to the low rev torque of that big-six, you rarely feel short changed if you excuse the pun. Indeed, an Autocar road test in 1967 said it preferred a three-speed (with optional overdrive) over a conventional four on the fl oor (again overdrive was optional) due to the wider-spaced ratios which allowed second to amble from walking pace and yet take the car up to the legal limit. Top speed was an equally impressive 103mph and only matched by the Zodiac. The 2.5 alternative found in Zephyrs feels far less vivid (0-60mph in 14.7 seconds according to Motor). On any car you’ll be lucky to see better than 20 mpg or perhaps 25mpg on a gentle run. Comfort? Well in theory the Ford’s superior rear suspension should have the edge but on the road there’s little to split this pair of bouncy castles. Where the real difference may be felt is in the seating department as many Crestas were blighted by front bench seats with all the attendant disadvantages. In terms of appointments, there’s not much in it – perhaps the Ford has the better standard of trim. Overall the Vauxhall is the nicer, more drivable car with better handling if not roadholding, although much depends on the overall state of the running gear after all these years and, as we said, if you’re after pin sharp precision then you’d be better off with an XJ6.

Owning and running

Ford all the way

It’s not that the Vauxhall is harder to service and maintain that the Ford nicks this section. In fact Luton’s limo is probright ably simpler because the Cresta doesn’t demand special tools to work on the rear brakes unlike the MK IV. No, the Cresta’s real problem (just like most old Vauxhalls really) is parts obtainability. Sure, you can source 90 per cent of what you need but that fi nal 10 per cent – you know the stuff that turns a nice resto into a great one – are like hens teeth (something we always came up against with out project Viscount some years ago -ed). Not that parts supply for the unpopular Ford are that plentiful mind, but with a better network of specialists and owners clubs, you stand a much better chance of restoring one to factory standards if you look hard enough. Rust is the sworn foe of the Zephyr and Cresta and the later did little to dispel the notion that Vauxhalls are rot boxes! Mechanically its engine is more durable though; Ford Vee engines always suffered from ailments such as oil pump drive failings, blown head gaskets and timing gear breakages. Also parts for these arebecoming harder to obtain although there’s plenty of later Granada MK2 units which can be substituted if you wish. We understand that the straight six, taken from later Vauxhall Carlton/Senators can be dropped in Crestas with similar ingenuity.

And The Winner Is...

While these big bangers aren’t everybody’s classic cup of tea, they do offer a lot of Detroit-inspired metal for the money. Really you’d be hard pressed to spend more than £3000 for a top model and perhaps half this for a decent example. Ignoring the posher Zodiac and Viscount offshoots (diffi cult, because the former in particular is much preferred) we’d tend to look at the Vauxhall more favourably. The engine is gutsier, the roly-poly handling that little bit more stable and the looks are more acceptable to many. One magazine summed up the MK IV thus: “In a class where everything is s soft and imprecise the MK IV earns the dubious distinction of being more softer and imprecise than most”. Yet there’s something about the Ford that we reckon will elevate it into something approaching proper classic status one day even if we can’t put our fi nger on why.

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