Wednesday August 24, 2016
On 21st February 1956 there was only one car that all ambitious skiffle band leaders, rock and roll vocalists and entrepreneurs deemed as essential as two jars of Brylcreem per week.
£969 was a not a small amount of money but it was still a reasonable sum for a vehicle that made the Austin Westminster and the Standard Vanguard look middle aged. Every detail of the Ford Zodiac Mk. II, from the duotone paint to the white wall tyres, was a glorious affront to the sort of motorists who still thought a demob suit was the height of fashion. One memorable sales campaign featured a young chap apparently on the verge of eloping with his new Ford - 'They've discovered each other and they're wonderfully happy’ - as his young lady looked understandably miffed.
The commercial success of the original Ford Consul/Zephyr/Zodiac range made a replacement model a considerable challenge for Dagenham and the Mk.2 version's styling by Colin Neale was a genuine triumph. The 'Three Graces', as Ford liked to refer to the range - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v= - had lines faintly reminiscent of the contemporary Thunderbird but on a scale that was suitable for British roads. The entry level model was the 1.7 litre four-cylinder Consul, a bargain for a mere £781, and for only £91 more a driver could enjoy the enhanced performance of the 2.5 litre Zephyr, as identifiable via longer bonnet and slightly more elegant radiator grille.
Each member of the range, from the Consul to the Zodiac flagship conveyed a sense of affordable Americana, a car as contemporary as a new coffee bar and one that promised an Eastmancolor future. There was a combined ignition/starter, still a talking point for motorists 60 years ago, and the Mk. II was the first British Ford to be offered with fully automatic transmission. This was in place of the standard three on the column and the Borg Warner box was possibly more suited to a Zephyr's slick image than frantic double declutching.
The choice of body styles was a four door saloon, an estate car conversion from E D Abbott of Farnham and the magnificent Convertible. Here was true Hollywood, or at least Pinewood glamour, and with such automotive splendour any cravat wearer could easily overlook the vacuum powered windscreen wipers that actually slowed on application of the throttle.
Britain's first motorway police cars were Zephyr Estates, and a 1956 coach built shooting brake was used to transport guests around Sandringham.
The big Fords enjoyed extensive screen fame; the firstseries of BBC TV's Z-Cars used genuine Lancashire Constabulary Zephyrs and a Zodiac Convertible starred in the risibly bad horror film Dr. Blood's Coffin.
Mention should also be made of the Sid James' Consul in Carry On Camping and the tuned-up Zephyr getaway car in the hilariously inept B-film The Dover Road Mystery.
Changes over the range's six-year life span were comparatively few, for what would have been the purpose in altering the formula? The roof line was lowered in 1959, leading to later models being referred to as 'Lowlines', and front disc brakes became standard equipment two years later. By that time chrome-decorated Ford was regarded as the ideal car for the young professional, who thought a Humber Hawk too staid and considered a PA Series Vauxhall Cresta as spivs’ transport.
And until the Mk. II was replaced by the Mk.III range in the spring of 1962 it always fulfilled Dagenham's promise of providing 'Luxury you deserve - and can afford'.