Theme: Brochures – Ford Zephyr Mk.4

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”.

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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.

1966 Ford (Australia) Falcon XR

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”.

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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.

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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?

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Nothing if not classless. From an Essex street market to the Royal College of Music.


Coping with that White Heat…


16 thoughts on “Theme: Brochures – Ford Zephyr Mk.4”

  1. I admit to being impressed by the cars at launch, until I read the road tests. In 1966, as a teenage ‘designer’ I had just discovered French curves. After the release of the big Fords I decided to have a crack at predicting the Mark 1 Cortina’s successor that might well be in the same vein. However I struggled with my Mark 2 Cortina, finding that French curves were of no use at all.

  2. To today’s eyes, the lavishness of the brochure works against it. The camera closes in and photographs instruments, heater controls, door handles and the printers faithfully reproduce them. To post Golf 4 eyes they might appear like the controls of a cheap kid’s toy, but I can testify that, back then, all that seemed perfectly fine. Sic transit gloria mundi – no, that’s another Ford.

  3. This is a car I’d forgotten about. I see there’s no two-door version. Characterless, isn’t it?
    The brochure is nicely Swiss in its simplicity. I also feel the cars are real, with some dirt under the wheelarches.

  4. I remember the Zephyr to be a horrible car, combining the characterless styling of a Hillman Hunter with highfalutin pretensions. Not to invoke The Gorfe, but the mark 1 Grannie was a much nicer car.

    1. I recall as a youngster being quite impressed by these cars – at that age scale registers quite strongly. I also remember getting a lift in a top of the range Executive model around 1978 and being really impressed – which isn’t difficult when you’re 12 and your dad drives a Chrysler Avenger 1.3 DL.

      But to return to the old Spen King adage, making something look important is no substitute for making something good. I agree with Chris, Granny did it better…

    2. The Zodiac had wow factor when it was new, but that chunky ultra-modern look involved quite a bit of fakery. On the other hand, the blunt-front what-you-see-is-what-you-get base level Zephyr is still astonishing, particularly in black or dark blue.
      The Mark IV model range is displayed at the Tricorn Centre in Portsmouth, and I think the lady is parking the red Zephyr opposite the market square in Rochford, Essex. I must get a copy of this brochure!

  5. Myles Gorfe writes “Surely the Zephyr set the benchmark for big cars – leaving Vauxhall Jaguarc and Mercedes for dead. The Zephyr had tonnes of style and loads of room too. The Granada built on that to great avail”. No wonder Zephyrs are much sought after today.

  6. Zephyr was always a nice name for a car though an odd choice since it’s a word that could easily end up being mispronounced. Though maybe zephyrs were more a part of everyday life back in smoggy Britain. And looking at in in reverse, why do I see reasonably frequently in classified ads : Alpha Romeo for sale?

  7. The Australian Falcoln XR makes an interesting contrast with the Mk4 Zephyr/Zodiac. It is very much the same styling theme in side profile, but its proportions, although not greatly different to the British car, is rather better balanced:

    The treatment of the shut-line between the doors on the Falcoln XR is interesting.

    Thanks, Susan, for drawing my attention to Robertas’ piece, which I hadn’t read previously.

    1. The second of Shannon’s videos about significant industry figures has been released.

      This one features David Ford, who was responsible for product planning at Ford. It features, among others, the Falcon XR and XD – the latter bearing a resemblance to the European MK2 Granada (there are good reasons for that). I think it’s a great series of videos.

    2. The XR is pretty much the 1966 North American Falcon.

      Although the rear door skin looks like the Fairlane’s (and Falcon station wagon).

      It is said that HFII preferred boxy designs because they were cheaper to press, so perhaps that shut line is a reaction from a restless designer. It certainly adds a subliminal interest (how many buyers would have noticed?) and reminds me of another thing….

    3. While we are examining shut lines between doors…

      My all time favorite:

      Pure delight, (don’t you agree, Daniel?) In this case I think they were showing off their incredibly tight tolerances, W123 doesn’t even come close in that regard.

  8. Hi gooddog. Absolutely, I’ve always loved that little ‘twiddle’ in the shut-line between the doors on the W114. I wonder if it might be functional too, in that it allows the rear door rubbing strip to clear the trailing edge of the front door when the rear door is opened?

    Those are very tight shut-lines for the time. I prefer the cleaner side profile of the W114 to the W123:

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