David Mullen casts an eye over Ford’s ‘Z-Cars’ – the Consul, Zephyr and Zodiac

Cars are bigger these days than they were in the past. For example, the current Focus, Ford’s small-to-medium-sized hatchback, is only a couple of inches shorter and a few inches wider than an early-Sixties Zephyr, the largest car in Ford of Britain’s range at the time.

Cars have grown massively in the last twenty years, thanks to the advent of so many new life-saving technologies. Interior space has not increased accordingly. Apart from seven-seaters, most family cars can seat five people today with everyone belted-up and sitting where they should.

In the past, however, before seatbelts became the norm and safety regulations became as strict, a bigger car meant you could fit-in as many people as you could manage. If you had a small car, like a Ford Anglia or a Morris Minor, you could fit four or five. If you had a bigger car like a Ford Zephyr, six, seven or eight people was common enough, with passengers crammed-in, often sitting on each other’s knees as they went to dances and matches.

Companies like Austin, Fiat and Renault may have been building small cars for big families, but when people were looking for a lift somewhere the chap with the Zephyr was everyone’s friend!

When Ford of Britain launched its Zephyr range in 1950, it was the company’s first all-new large car after the war, as its V8 Pilot had been based on pre-war models. There were two similar cars in the range – the Consul, a four-cylinder, and the Zephyr Six, the name denoting a six-cylinder.

The Zephyr range was thoroughly modern for the time, being Ford of Britain’s first unibody design, rather than using the more old-fashioned body-on-chassis set-up. It was also the first British car to use the MacPherson strut suspension, now the industry norm.

With its 2,262cc six-cylinder engine, the Zephyr Six was slightly faster than the 1.5-litre Consul with a top speed of a tad under 80mph as opposed to 72mph for the Consul. There were convertible versions of both the Consul and Zephyr Six, but the Zephyr’s hood, being the more upmarket, was electrically-operated rather than a pleb’s manual roof on the Consul.
Despite it being built more for comfort than speed, the Zephyr was a surprisingly formidable rally car. In 1953, a Zephyr Six won the Monte Carlo Rally with Dutchman Maurice Gatsonides behind the wheel.

Gatsonides, though a great driver in his own right, is more famous for having invented the much-hated speed camera, the Gatso. He invented it, not for the police to catch speeding motorists, but rather to record his speed in corners in an attempt at faster lap-times!

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own