The Big Fords

The Five Star Cars

Ford's powerhouse flagship, the V8 Pilot, was finally put out to pasture in 1950, with the announcement of new cars to replace it.

Ford Pilot saloon (left) and estate (right)

These replacements (dubbed 'The Five Star Cars'), were Ford's new Consul and Zephyr Six. Initially only saloons and estate cars were to be available, but they were joined in 1951 by a convertible model, built by Carbodies. Abbotts of Farnham were responsible for the estate models.

Ford Consul saloon (left) and convertible (right)

The range was augmented by the ultra-plush Zephyr Zodiac in 1954.

The car was a complete breakaway from anything that had gone before. The body-shell was of monococque construction; all previous models having a body bolted to a chassis. The brakes were hydraulic as opposed to cable operation, the front suspension was MacPherson strut, rather than the transverse leaf on the Pilot. The same old cart springs were used at the back, although there was one at each end of the rear axle, rather than the Pilot's single transverse leaf.

The boot was a revelation, as its sheer size gave it four times the capacity of the Pilot, and although the lid was stubby, it opened wide to allow easy access. The rear panel of the car held the number plate and the fuel filler being mounted alongside, meant the driver could park either side of the fuel pumps to fill up.

The estate car was predominantly the same shell as the saloon, but it included a huge side-hung single rear door. The rear panel that kept the shell torsionally stiff made for a very high loading sill, but to delete it would have meant massive re-engineering costs, so it was left alone.

The window used in the estate cars tailgate was the same item used in the saloon.

Ford Zephyr saloon (left) and Zodiac (right)

The bonnet and front wings of the Consul were shorter, as this only had the smaller engine, and different grilles were used; that in the Consul being square with vertical bars, and the Zephyr's item having a raised 'hump' in the top.

12-volt electrics replaced the old 6-volt equivalent, but the wipers were still powered (just!) by vacuum from the engine. This resulted in the wipers flipping back and forth like things demented at the lights, but hardly able to manage an asthmatic crawl across the screen at 70!

Each car seated six in some comfort, with the rear bench being placed entirely within the wheelbase. This meant that the entire seat width was given over to passengers.

Engines too were new, with the 'baby' Consul powered by a 1508 cc ohv 4-cylinder motor, and the Zephyr and Zodiac using the six-cylinder 2262 cc mill.

Cars with the 2.3 litre engine in standard tune were capable of a very respectable 80 mph, but after people had been fiddling with, they could top the ton!

Gearboxes were all three-speeders with only the six-pot engines offering an automatic option.

Sadly, the handling was much more pedestrian.

Much was made of a two-tone paint job in the 1950's - 60's. Because pre-war cars appeared so drab, and the fact that they were all that was available for a good while after the war, when the newer shapes appeared, the buying public cried out for colour!

All the De Luxe cars had two-tone paint, extra bright-work, and the Zodiac even ran to gold script for its name badges!

The entire range had a crease that ran from just inder the headlight to just above the tail-light, which broke an otherwise slab side up nicely, and which was consideredthe demarcation between upper and lower body.

Across the front, this crease included the gap between the edge of the bonnet and the grille surround. At the rear, the gap was between the edge of the boot lid and the number plate panel.

It was here that the two contrasting colours would meet, seperated by a chrome strip. Some combinations such as maroon lower half on a black body gave the illusion of being top heavy.

The Three Graces

1956 saw the replacement Consul, Zephyr, and Zodiac range, and from the outset, all three models were to be available as saloon, estate and convertible. As before Carbodies chopped the roofs off and Abbots stuck extra bits on, before shoving them back to Ford for building.

The body was 5 inches wider and seven longer than the outgoing model, which only enhanced the already generous cabin space.

Ford Consul Mark 2 saloon and convertible

The Mark 2 models were far less 'American' in style, and looked so much the nicer for it, hence the title 'The Three Graces'.

Models were Consul, Zephyr Six, and Zodiac (NOT Zephyr Zodiac!)

Underneath, all was pretty much as it had been on the previous models, with the MacPherson struts up front, and semi-elliptics at the back.

The four-pot Consul was given a bigger 1703 cc engine, whilst the Zephyr and Zodiac now boast a 2553 cc six. And to help them stop, from 1960 front disc brakes were optional, which became standard the following year.

The standard Zephyr or Zody could attain 90 mph, but again, the likes of Raymond Mays just couldn't leave well alone and managed to get 115 mph out of his Zephyr!

In line with the previous model, the new Consul had a slightly shorter snout, and, peculiarly, slightly different rear fins.

Mark 2 Zephyr convertible (left) and estate (right)

Three further grilles were utilised, Consul had a simple flattish top with curved ends, and a chequerboard pattern. The early Zephyr had a full-width unit with raised centre, and a 'chip-slicer' pattern, whilst the later model used thin horizontal bars. The Zody's grille used the same outline as that on the Zephyr, but with slim horizontal bars in the lower part and elegant vertical bars in the top.

De Luxe models sported chrome panels down each side of the big rear window, chrome head- and tail- light surrounds, and windscreen trims. The Zodiac added chrome work to the panel under the boot lid.

Mark 2 Zodiac saloon (left) and estate (right)

Inside, the De Luxe models showed their NylonWeave uphostery, as opposed to the PVC of lesser models, although leather was still an option.

Police forces up and down the country used the Zephyr Six (both saloon and estate) as both general load luggers and Jag-chasers.

Room for three adults on each of the bench seats, and the umbrella hand brake and column gear-change kept the front seat area relatively clutter-free.

The two-tone option was still with us, but the blend had changed a little, and was limited to De Luxe models only.

Two-toning on Consuls, was restricted to a different coloured roof.

On the other models, the chrome waist strip was still present, but the trim on the De Luxe models featured a 'dog-leg' at the front, which angled down and backwards to the front wheelarch, while the rear simply terminated at the tail-lights, which were mounted high in the wings.

More pastel colours were used, which made the cars even more easy on the eye.

The estate cars had their own variation, with another chrome stripe which started off at the top of the rear tail-lights, ran under the windows to the front wing, crossed the car just under the windscreen, and back along the other side. In this way, some cars could have the roof, bonnet top, and side stripe in one colour, whilst the window surrounds and lower body were another colour.

The ones that got away were the two-door coupe, which was very similar to the convertible model but without the risk of rain down the neck in the typical English climate, and the Zodiac Z115. The factory was already at full output, so no room could be made for other low-volume models, and an accident involving one of the Z115 test models, spelt the end of the project.

Later cars had a lower, flatter roof-line which made them even more sleek.

The jukebox era

The success of The Three Graces meant that any new model had a tough act to follow.

The Mark 3 cars made their appearance in 1962. The Consul name had been earmarked for a new range of medium-size cars, so the four cylinder model was known simply as Zephyr 4, in addition to the Zephyr 6 and Zodiac.

The jukebox era was well established by now, and, due to the fact that they were lower and longer, the new series seemed twice as wide as the old model. They were also kitted out with rear wings that could slice bacon.

The body was all new, although the floorpan was based on the dimensions of the older model.

The shell was no wider, but the use of curved side windows allowed more shoulder room.

The previosly abbreviated front end for the four-pot engines was deleted, and instead, different grilles and tail trims were to be used to distinguish each model.

The Zephyr 4 had a simple vertically barred grille between the single headlamps, the Zephyr 6 had a full-width grille incorporating single headlamps, and the Zodiac used twin headlamps inside a Zephyr 6 grille.

At the back, the Zephyr 4 simply had the script 'Zephyr 4' on the bootlid, the Zephyr 6 had both a 6 and a broad chrome strip with 5 stars along the lower edge of the bootlid, while the Zodiac had a full-width chrome panel under the lid and larger tail-lights. Later Zodiacs also had reversing lights.

The estate models were again engineered by Abbots of Farnham, but there were to be no more convertibles. This time, the tailgates were top-hung, instead of side hung as in previous models.

Gone too were the chrome side strips and two-tone paint of the earlier cars.

Mark 3 Zephyr saloon and estate

Ford finally got rid of those bluddy awful vacuum wipers, which meant that the cars could then be driven at speeds of over 50 mph in the rain!

Due to the changes made to gearbox, final drive, and some heavy duty engine work, the Zephyr 6 could top the ton. The Zodiac initially, because of the extra weight, and the engine being in the same state of tune couldn't! So dual carburettors were slapped on, and now the Zody could outpace it's own twin sister!

It also meant that either car could chase, and catch, the villain in his Jaguar!

All models got a proper 4-speed gearbox, still with column gear-change, but drivers didn't have to scream the engine before changing up! Also available on all models was an automatic option. Even on the Zephyr 4. previously, no such option was available for the Consul.

The Zody also boasted overdrive, which was only fitted to the Zephyr 6 as an option.

Mark 3 Zodiac saloon

All models were still fitted with huge bench seats fore and aft, but the covering could now be cloth, which although may not have prevented the rear passengers sliding to the opposite side of the car during 'enthusiastic' cornering, would certainly slow the migration down!

Despite being the plushest model, the Zodiac ended up having less interior space because the seat cushions were so much thicker. Headroom was an inch less, and big armrest/door pulls also reduced the width.

The increased rake of the windscreen, and the lower roofline made Ford fit the seat a little further back, and thicker seats made drivers move the bench backwards a little more, so the rear passengers may have felt quite claustrophobic.

However, a styling ploy, which included estate model rear doors, slimmer 'C' pillars, and an extra rear quarter-light, allowed more light (and thus the illusion of more space) into the back of the car.

Mechanically, the Mark 3 models were almost identical to the Mark 2 series, and many components were carried over. The MacPherson strut front suspension, due to a much lower bonnet line, had shorter struts, mounted at a greater angle.

Later on, a slightly wider rear axle allowed a re-designed rear seat to be fitted.

In the last 18 months of production, Ford again raided their options catalogue, and threw everything at the Zodiac. This model was the Zodiac Executive, and it had everything.

Available as saloon only, the Executive was also fitted with individual reclining front seats, and a radio as standard.

Codename 'Panda'

Ford launched the Mark 4 series, codenamed 'Panda', in 1966.

Model range included Zephyr (V4), Zephyr V6, Zodiac, and Executive. Both the Zephyrs and the Zody were available as saloon or estate (again by Abbotts of Farnham), while the Executive could be had only as a saloon.

Mark 4 Zephyr saloon and estate

The body-shell was all-new; gone were the sleek lines and wide fins of the Mark 3, gone were the handsome elegant lines of the Mark 2, but in were a different kind of line.

Gone too was the notion that this was a family car, The Zephyr and Zodiac had entered the arena of the luxury car. The Executive even had power-steering which also appeared on the Zody's options list.

These new models were handsome in a brutal kind of way.

For once, there were only two bodies, the saloon and the estate, which even though well-crafted by Abbotts, still looked like an afterthought, especially given the clean lines of the outgoing cars.

Everything about the new models was bold. The styling was bold almost to the point of brashness, and there was a distinct no-frills attitude in its stance.

The new car had a large almost dead flat bonnet, leading to a steeply raked front screen. The broad roof ended in a reverse curve that swept down over an abbreviated bootlid to a short tail.

The sides were gently curved, and a broad waistband kicked distinctively up over the rear wheels.

Inside, the low-slung seats of the Mark 3 had given way to a sumptuous three-piece suite of seating that wouldn't have looked out of place in a gentlemans club. The Executive added a burr walnut trimmed dashboard, which the Zody eventually picked up, but the Zody was never to gain the walnut door cappings of the plusher car.

Not all was sweetness and light though, many prospective customers looked at the new range and murmured 'Too big.'. But the only real competitition was the soon to be deleted Austins Cambridge and Westminster, the Vauxhall Cresta and Viscount, and the Humber Super Snipe. The Opel Diplomat made a few rare visits from Germany, but not enough to trouble the big Fords.

Under a bonnet big enough to land a helicopter on was a series of brand spanking new 'Vee' engines, from the 2.0 litre V4 in the Zephyr, 2.5 litre V6 in the Zephyr V6 to the 3.0 litre V6 of the Zodiac and Executive. The oddity being that a V6 engine is only as long as a straight 4. So the spare wheel was mounted under the bonnet.

Although the boot lid looks stumpy, especially in comparison to the outgoing model, it hides a 20 cubic foot boot!

Only the names were carried on from the outgoing cars; standard Zephyrs had a single headlamps with a simple trim inside a painted shell with the word Zephyr on it; the De Luxe Zephyrs had a wide chrome dummy grille flanked by single headlamps, the Zodiac added twin headlamps, and the Executive boasted front fog lamps too.

At the back, Zephyrs had bare, painted metal between the taillights whereas Zodiacs and Executives displayed a full width reflector adorned with chrome trim.

Underneath, the clean sheet required new rear suspension and transmissions.

Aft of the new 'Vee' engines was either a new manual gearbox, or the American Ford C4 auto unit. All models could be specified with either column or floor shift.

A short propshaft fed the power to a completely different axle setup with drive shafts.

The front suspension was now of a redesigned MacPherson strut, but the rear now enjoyed a trailing arm and coil setup. Unfortunately, if the car was driven very fast into corners with no rear passengers, could result in the gentle understeer turning into massive oversteer. In turn, this could result in the car flipping over.

Changes to the rear camber geometry and the fitting of radial ply tyres cured the problem.

Brakes too were upgraded, with discs appearing on all four wheels. One disadvantage was that the exposed linkage was susceptible to damage from road grit.

Once again, police forces around the UK made much use of the big Fords, both as fast patrol cars and load luggers.


Ford replaced the British Zephyr, Zodiac and Executive models, and several German Taunus models, with the new Consul/Granada range in 1971.

For people that can remember these cars during their heyday, it is difficult not look nostalgically back, and think fondly of 'Z-Cars'.

The impact that Z-Cars had on Ford sales was noteworthy; as both Mark 2 and 3 series cars featured heavily throughout the programmes' life, it seemed that Ford couldn't have come up with a better advert!


RIYAN Productions