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Ford Zodiac

Ford Zodiac Published: 24th Jun 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Ford Zodiac
Ford Zodiac
Ford Zodiac
Ford Zodiac
Ford Zodiac
Ford Zodiac
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Stuart recalls impressive performances of a Vauxhall Velox and Ford Zodiac on two of the last great Yugoslav rallies

Covering rallies for Autocar in the 1960s was always fun, and none were more arduous than the great Yugoslav rallies organised by the Belgian Automobile Club. The first of these I was asked to cover was in 1963 but I had a fairly humble car for the journey – a big comfy Vauxhall Velox (Mk III) saloon, known as the PB series, with a lusty 2.6-litre six-cylinder engine. There was quite a punishing schedule, with huge distances to be covered, made possible by using the Yugoslavian autoput on which, with care, one could cruise at 85-90mph – those were the days.

Accompanied by photographer Mike Barnes, we drove out to Liège and watched scrutineering next day, and then set off ahead of the start, down to Munich, and the following day took the all-tooshort stretch of Autobahn to Salzburg and then across Austria in torrential rain.

We didn’t have much in the way of equipment, and the Velox was completely standard, although I took the precaution of carrying a gallon tin of oil and three jerricans for petrol to supplement the Velox’s inadequate 10½-gallon fuel tank. This took the total capacity to 22 gallons (100 litres), and although it was much cheaper in Yugoslavia (3.7p per litre!), I made sure that everything was full as we left Austria.

OVER (DRIVE) AND OUT!

I was pleased that I had at least insisted on a Velox equipped with the optional Laycock de Normanville overdrive, but halfway to Belgrade there was a sudden momentary dimming of the headlamps, as the overdrive switch burnt out, followed by a change in engine note. I said to Mike, “we’ve lost the overdrive.” We pulled in and I used a piece of wire to by-pass the overdrive switch, which put it back into action for 100 miles, then it suddenly failed again. We had to continue without it, and the petrol now started going through rapidly as a result. The car had been doing about 22mpg, but now the figure dropped to 18mpg.

With the fuel gauge at the bottom of its scale I pulled into a rough parking area to swill in another ten gallons from the tins – but when I pressed the boot release the whole lock tumbler fell out and the boot remained closed. Three burly Yugoslav lorry drivers working on the engine of their lorry, by the light of an inspection lamp, were quick to understand our problem.

One of them returned to the lorry and came back with a huge screwdriver. One sharp jerk with this made the lid spring open. I couldn’t spare any dinars, but they were all very glad to receive a few German Marks!

Only a month earlier, Skopje had been struck by a devastating earthquake but the plans for the Spa-Sofia-Liège rally were not going to be affected by a little matter of an earthquake, so the rally still passed through Skopje.

The road from Skopje south towards Titograd was quite terrible, and although we took it carefully in bottom gear, the Velox PB lurched and plunged on its suspension. We had no sump guard or underbody protection like the rally cars, but we only bottomed badly once thankfully.

The rally cars were suffering as a result of trying to go too fast to keep on schedule, and by evening the hotel at Titograd was full of rally crews who had retired as a result.

Well stacked with pictures and rally stories we left the competitors at Titograd and bounced our way back to Skopje where we were able to join the new autoput to Belgrade. Night was falling as we checked into the Hotel Metropol for “dinner and a room with bath – but for only two hours”. We were both pretty weary, having had no real rest for 48 hours other than brief shut-eye on the back seat. We felt much better after our brief halt, for which the bill was only just over £2 each.

After Ljubljana we rejoined the rally route which now crossed the frontier into Italy, and as we drove into the service and control point at Gorizia I spotted a Hillman Minx with a banner on the side showing the magic words ‘Laycock overdrive service’ and dashed across to ask if they could help us. They quickly jacked the Velox up and worked like demons on their backs in the dust, fitted a new solenoid, and replaced the control switch. It was great to have the overdrive working again as the gearbox was a three-speed.

Mike Barnes had to travel on by rail to do the pictures for a GP, so I left him at Trieste station, and headed off alone across Austria. At Liège, I called at rally headquarters and caught up with final news and collected the results sheets. Before heading back to London with the pictures, I walked round the parc fermé and examined all the finishers. There were only 20 of them, and I made notes of the body condition of each one, which were included in the results list at the end of my 2000-word story of the rally. Only ten of them had no visible body damage! It had been one of the most demanding rallies ever, with over 100 cars scattered about in various stages of destruction in the wilds of Yugoslavia. The German crew Böhringer and Kaiser won the rally in their Mercedes-Benz 230SL, and Erik Carlsson and co-driver Palm were second in a Saab 841, which was also one of the few cars undamaged.

The Velox had served very well indeed, covering 3213 miles in six days of hard driving often over terrible roads. There were still two pints of oil left in the tin, which meant that it had done 4000mpg on oil, which was good for the 1960s. On the return trip with the overdrive back in action the economy had improved to a decent 22.5mpg.

 

SIGN OF THE ZODIAC

The following year, 1964, I covered the same rally in a Ford Zodiac, this time with Geoff Riden as photographer. The organisers seemed determined to make the 1964 Rally so demanding that no one would be able to finish unpenalised, and cars dropped out all over Yugoslavia. At the end of four days and nights of almost non-stop motoring, only 21 of the original 106 starters made it to the finish at Liège.

In Italy the route took in some of the famous Alpine passes on the way to Yugoslavia. Eric Bohringer in the Mercedes-Benz 230SL, which had won the previous year, lost 45 minutes replacing a faulty dynamo and the Finnish driver Rauno Aaltonen with Tony Ambrose in an Austin- Healey 3000 MkII went into the lead.

By taking short cuts and avoiding sections of the route, which we knew would be very slow, we managed to keep pace with the event and our Zodiac performed impressively well. As in the previous year, we carried jerricans in the boot to reduce time wasted looking for refuelling points, and unlike last year’s Velox, the Zodiac needed no engine oil to be added. The Zodiac had a six-cylinder engine of 2555cc, and on Road Test it had given a top speed of a very respectable 94mph. Whenever possible I cruised it at around 90mph on the quite accurate speedometer, so it was not too bad for those days that its overall fuel consumption was 21.5mpg. It had Borg Warner overdrive with a special kickdown to cut it out when needed, and there was frequent use of the kick-down switch, operated by pressing the accelerator right down (rather like an automatic), to gain extra power and lower gear for overtaking. I had remembered something forgotten last year: a pillow, which made it much easier for the off-duty driver to get some sleep on the back seat.

We joined the rally cars driving into Bulgaria’s capital Sofia and were waved in although we had no paper work or visas. Tearing along to keep up with them on the route north of Albania we experienced the only moment of trouble with the Zodiac. It started misfiring, and wouldn’t do 90 any more; 70-75 was flat out. We could ill-afford the time, but reluctantly we stopped, expecting to find some form of fuel starvation and were busy checking the petrol pipes when I noticed that the rubber of the heater pipe was soft and smoking slightly at the point where it lay alongside the lead from the coil to the distributor. The high tension current had been arcing through the insulation and into the water in the heater pipe.

We then hurried on to the finish at Liège and were delighted to find that Britain had done well in this most demanding Rally, with Aaltonen and Ambrose winners in the Austin-Healey 3000, while Pat Moss-Carlsson won the Ladies’ Prize with Elizabeth Nystrom in a Saab 96. Sadly, this was to be the last great motoring adventure in Yugoslavia; the authorities had had enough of cars hurtling along roads open to the public and through towns and villages at enormous speeds in clouds of dust. The successor to the Marathon de la Route would be transferred to the Nürburgring, but there it also proved very exciting.

The Zodiac had been excellent and covered 3718 miles in six days. Twice in the week it had exceeded 1000 miles in 24 hours, yet it was just a standard model which had already served a year as a demonstrator in Ford’s export department. Old cars weren’t always unreliable…



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