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Zephyr MK4

Published: 12th Jan 2012 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Zephyr MK4
Zephyr MK4
Zephyr MK4

Model In Depth...

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Ford thought it went upmarket with the all new MkIV Zephyr and Zodiac, but this big cruiser was a ship lost at sea in more ways than one…

Zodiac was ideal for fast families who couldn’t really fi t in a 3-litre Capri

The Mk.IV is such a star that choosing one defi ning screen appearance is nigh impossible. You could start with the transporter full of Zodiacs (and Norman Wisdom) in ‘Press for Time’, the Zephyr 6 owned by the grumpy next door neighbour in the last series of ‘Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em’ or Mr. Bronson from ‘Grange Hill’ being trapped under a Zodiac’s bonnet in ‘Holiday on the Buses’. However, our favourite Mk.IV productions are the BBC play, ‘Coast to Coast’, with Lenny Henry driving a Zodiac Farnham, the Zephyr used to defeat New Zealand fascists in ‘Sleeping Dogs’ and, best of all, the swanky Executive version in ‘Villain’. All together now – “He’s bleeding claret!”. Distinctive styling, independent rear suspension, all round disc brakes, luxury appointments, great comfort with restful cruising… we could be talking about a Jaguar saloon, except this one’s a Ford! But, for all its many good points, the Zephyr (and Zodiac MkIV) was a dismal fl op for a company that was so used to market success.

Launched in 1966 to replace the, still wellloved, fi n-tailed MK3, it’s replacement was all-new and bang-up-to-date. Yet, even at the press launch, there were mutterings that all was not well with the design.

Even before journalists got behind the wheel in North Africa, the car’s styling became a talking point, being strangely all-bonnet and little boot (a theme carried over to the Capri, which was in clay-mould design form by the time the MkIV was introduced). This was decreed by Detroit, which thought that the size of a bonnet was a sign of power and manhood. Fine, but the engines were now of a tight Vee confi guration and so looked lost under the bonnet, especially the puny V4!

The quick answer was to fi t the spare wheel in the gapping void – so increasing the front/ rear weight bias to an understeering 57/3 per cent – and free up boot space which was not as commodious the Mk3. In its day, the Mk4 was a big car, yet today it’s a similar size to a Focus, while the latest Mondeo dwarfs it!

And, what about the odd nose on the Zephyr that featured no grill whatsoever, just large indented crease (see main pic)? So, the MkIV was very much on the back foot before turning a wheel. When it did, there was more bad news. The new Vee engines were not as smooth as the old straight four and sixes they replaced, especially the V4, which was designed with the recently-launched Transit van more in mind.

But, at least the new 128bhp 3-litre V6 was quite a goer in the upmarket Zodiac – which also had the benefi t, styling-wise, of a dummy conventional grill and quad headlamps. Then there was the handling, or lack of it. IRS was still a newish idea back then and the likes of the VW Beetle and Renault Dauphine had done the concept no favours at all but at least they had an excuse … their engines were at the back!

The trouble with the Ford was that it would both understeer and oversteer alarmingly, depending on speed and the complement of passengers. Most road tests were pretty critical of this and one of the most vitriol-fuelled came from Car Mechanics, a monthly more used to fixing cars than driving them. It opened its assessment by saying “In a class where everything is soft and imprecise, the Mk IV earns the dubious distinction of being softer and more imprecise than most”. It also added that “The nicest thing we can say about the steering is that the wheel is in the right place”.

CM wasn’t wrong though; in a rushed attempt to improve the car by September ‘67, Ford revised the suspension, fi tted radial tyres and made the steering a whopping six turns lock-to-lock, to temper a driver’s enthusiasm for hearty cornering; more Softly, Softly than Sweeney for this Z Cars favourite then!

Further tweaks were carried out in October ’69, by which time sales of the big Ford were falling, to the tune of two-thirds less by 1971. The Granada couldn’t come soon enough….

It wasn’t entirely the car’s fault to be fair; buyers now wanted a posher badge than the Blue Oval provided, despite the Zodiac and the even plusher Executive spin-off having more standard kit (radio, power steering, steel sunroof) than a Jag XJ6 for similar money – £1846 by 1970.

Metal for your money

Say what you like about the Mk IV, but by the time it bowed out in 1972 to make way for the vastly superior Consul/Granada range it offered a heck of a lot of second-hand metal for the money. Dodgy handling aside, they were excellent family holdalls, especially the huge estates, that could seat up to six if a bench front seat was fi tted.

Zodiacs became a great alternative to those who couldn’t really afford a 3-litre Capri. They were even more of thrilling handful too, although the most popular MkIV was actually the Zephyr 6, which used the lesser 112bhp, 2.5-litre engine. The plain old Zephyr 4 was never that well liked, due to its sluggish performance and poor economy that never bettered the 2.5 V6, thanks to the car’s 1250kg weight and that asthmatic and none too smooth 82bhp engine where anything over 23mpg was good going.

During the 1970s these Fords sold for just a few hundreds, and for those into the art of banger motoring there wasn’t a better barge to smoke around in. Apart from the Vee engine’s tendency to strip its fi bre timing gear, and the oil pump drive to sheer, the only other gripe for the DIY owner were those rear disc brakes which required a special tool to service.

You’re probably thinking that we’re not great fans of the MkIV – but you’d be wrong! Despite its faults, then and now, there’s something quite appealing about this big Ford, not least the prices they still sell for. That odd styling looks quite crisp today and the well kitted-out Zodiac still feels pretty civilised. As a classic cruiser they can be almost cool, as well as comfy, and it’s fascinating to see that aircraft carrier of a bonnet beat in time with the Vee engine!

With MK3 values rising steadily, the MkIV looks a bargain barge that’s worth saving and savouring. Sadly, most good ones seem to have been snaffl ed by the tuning and customising crew and it’s rare to see a bog standard Zephyr or Zodiac tooling around.

Every dog has its day goes the old saying and we reckon that the Mk IV has yet to have its 24 hours in the classic car world.

When The Car Was The Star

The Mk.IV is such a star that choosing one defi ning screen appearance is nigh impossible. You could start with the transporter full of Zodiacs (and Norman Wisdom) in ‘Press for Time’, the Zephyr 6 owned by the grumpy next door neighbour in the last series of ‘Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em’ or Mr. Bronson from ‘Grange Hill’ being trapped under a Zodiac’s bonnet in ‘Holiday on the Buses’. However, our favourite Mk.IV productions are the BBC play, ‘Coast to Coast’, with Lenny Henry driving a Zodiac Farnham, the Zephyr used to defeat New Zealand fascists in ‘Sleeping Dogs’ and, best of all, the swanky Executive version in ‘Villain’. All together now – “He’s bleeding claret!”.



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