Big but not necessarily better, Ford’s late 60’s Zephyr brochure lays out its stall.
The cover is bereft of the expected seductive image of the car it describes. There is only blackness, a small head-and-shoulders photo of a well-groomed, confident looking individual and the title, “Motoring for the 15,000 a year man”. 15,000 miles that is, not Pounds Sterling, but the implication is there. Even £5000 per annum would have been a top-rank salary in 1970, when this brochure rolled off the presses of Alabaster, Passmore and Sons Ltd in Maidstone.
The high-earning, high mileage individual might have felt undervalued if his board did not grant him at least a 3 litre Zodiac, if not the new Ford flagship simply titled “Executive”.
The 1966 model year was a big year for 15½ feet long Fords, starting with the third generation Falcon in the USA. The big British Fords joined the charge in early 1966, with the Australian XR Falcon, which closely followed the design of its US market counterpart, arriving later in the year.
Despite matching the Falcons to a fraction of an inch in most dimensions, the new Zephyr and Zodiac had nothing in common with them, except that a leading player in the development of the first generation Falcon had moved to Brentwood, Essex to lead Project Panda, the codename for the mid-‘60s big British Fords.
While the Americans and Australians sunned themselves at Miami and Bondi, a new Britain was being formed in the white heat of the scientific revolution, or so Harold Wilson told us. Dearborn-raised Harley Copp, newly installed Vice President, Engineering, Ford of Britain took this to heart – not only did the new Big Fords have V4 and V6 power, they also had disc brakes on all wheels and independent rear suspension, the last two features never before seen on a series production Ford.
The long-nose short-tail “Mustang look” promoted as a feature of the third generation Falcons was taken to a greater extreme with the Zephyr / Zodiac, whose designers took the liberty of increasing the wheelbase by four inches (102mm) over the pattern 111 inches.
Despite the engine being centred over the front axle line, there was room to accommodate the spare wheel ahead of the powertrain, with air being ducted to the radiator from an under-bumper air intake.
This very prescient feature allowed Copp’s team to dispense with the normal over-bumper radiator grille on the entry-level Zephyrs. This made them look rather mean, like a cheap rear-engined car. The answer was to go for the Zephyr Deluxe, which not only had a full-width, but non-functional grille, but also a Lincoln-like bonnet “gunsight”.
Gentler times: “With power-steering (optional at extra cost) you can slip it into places that drivers of some other cars wouldn’t think worth the effort. And so can the wife.”
I can claim some experience of the Zephyr in its heyday. My uncle was in every sense an ‘executive’ but his company only provided him with a blank-faced, bench-seated Zephyr V6. It was by far the biggest car I had travelled in, and it seemed improbably smooth and quiet compared with my family’s Minor 1000. An indicated 100mph seemed utterly without drama, probably down to an optimistic speedometer.
Reading road tests from the time many years later, the critics were less impressed. The range’s handling deficiencies were well known, and despite IRS, ride quality was not rated highly. I also recall that my uncle’s Zephyr was no paragon of quality and reliability, with a particular predilection for breaking springs. Its replacement was the less expansive, but better sorted Austin 1800.
The base Zephyr had bench seats and a column gearchange, the Deluxe interior is positively aspirational.
What’s the message here? An affluent young couple visiting their modernist dream house, or a design team sorting out a thorny problem with ground levels at a school extension?
Nothing if not classless. From an Essex street market to the Royal College of Music.
Coping with that White Heat…