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Buyers guide    |    Review

Ford Zodiac T-shirt

 

 

Ford Zodiac Mk2

The Mk2 Ford Zodiac arrived in 1956. It was an instant sensation. In today's money, the car would have cost around 40,000. But when launched, you could buy one for just under 1,000, or around 1,150 with extras.

Built primarily by Ford of Britain at its Dagenham, Essex plant, the Mk2 Zodiac succeeded the very worthy Mk1 which was launched in 1952 and enjoyed a four-year production run.

 

Zodiac, Zephyr and Consul

 

The Ford Motor Company wisely pitched three versions of the same basic Mk2 platform. The Zodiac was the top of the range executive model. Next came the Mk2 Zephyr variant which was identical in dimensions and was aimed at the middle income buyer. The third variant was the slightly shorter Consul Mk2 catering to the lower end of the market.

However, all three cars were very solid, surefooted, well-built, comfortable and offered an excellent ride for the day. And no one would have been embarrassed to be seen in any of these fabulous cars.

The Mk2 Zodiac and Mk2 Zephyr was equipped with a 2,553cc straight-six, all-iron pushrod engine offering around 85hp with a maximum speed of 90mph. The standard transmission was a manual, column-change, three-speed unit. However, an automatic transmission was an optional extra for those who could afford this mobile decadence.

The slightly lower specification Mk2 Consul featured a 1,703cc straight-four, all-iron, pushrod engine offering 59hp with a maximum speed of just over 80mph. Once again, the basic transmission was three-speed, column change.

 

Ford Zodiac Highline

 

Suspension on all three Mk2 models (Zodiac, Zephyr & Consul) was via MacPherson independent strut at the front, backed by semi-eliptical leaf springs at the rear controlling a live axle. The brakes were drums all round until 1960 when front discs became optional. The following year, front discs were standardised across the range. That same year (1961) servo-assisted braking became an option.

The Zodiac always had the higher specification, notably with two-tone paint, leather seats and additional body trim at the rear. The slightly lower specification Zephyr was sold with vinyl seats, while the Consul enjoyed leather seats and a two tone paint option, but without the additional rear trim.

Fuel economy was, for the day, reasonable at 23mpg for the Zodiac and Zephyr, and perhaps 26mpg for the Consul. Acceleration was never more than adequate, but the considerable torque of the engine (especially the six-cylinder versions) meant that top gear could be engaged at around 20mph and left there all the way up to maximum velocity, and then all the way back down to little more than cycling speed.

There was no synchromesh on first gear, however. Consequently, the change down from second to first demanded a very slow (walking) speed and some careful timing and/or double-declutching. In practice, it's pretty easy. But for the uninitiated, it's a slightly tricky manoeuvre. After a few days behind the wheel, however, it's hardly noticeable, and it's never dangerous or a significant problem. It's just one of the quirks that result from no synchro.

 

Mk2 Zodiac advert

 

Driving the Zodiac

The Ford Zodiac Mk2 starts easily enough on the key. The engine note is a little raw rather than roar, and from cold it seems that you can hear every single pushrod clattering into life. When warm, the engine is quiet enough, and this opening chorus is never an irritation; just an endearing sound of a big, torquey engine waking up.

First gear selects easily from neutral. Just depress the clutch, pull the column lever towards you and gently raise it a few inches, then tell the accelerator who's boss, ease up on the clutch and pull away. It's always smooth and reassuring. By the time you hit 10 or 15mph, you're in second gear (pull the lever down and towards you). And when 20 or 25mph appears on the speedometer, you're ready for third (push the lever away and up).

The steering is light thanks to the large diameter steering wheel. And power steering? Forget it. This is the 1950s and early 1960s. Consequently, there's usually a fair amount of free play when compared to modern cars, so your hands are kept fairly business on sharply winding roads. But generally, on reasonably straight highways, you cruise along effortlessly driving mostly on your palms and enjoying the view over the not unsubstantial bonnet.

The suspension isn't as bouncy as it might seem. Much of the vertical movement is actually the bench seats which are sprung like huge sofas. It's a little odd at first, but you quickly become accustomed to the nautical-like ups and down.

Braking is reasonable without ever being exciting, and when adjusted right, the car stops in a straight line and with plenty of feedback.

 

Ford Consu Mk2l and Ford Zephyr Mk2

 

Maintenance of
the Mk2 "Zody"

The Zodiac engine chatters happily to itself throughout the rev-range. The single carburettor feeds all six cylinders (four cylinders for the Consul). A single exhaust removes the spent gases. But because the carburettor and exhaust are both on the right side of the engine (as viewed from the front of the car), the inefficiency of this pre-crossflow design become apparent on the move.

Yes, the Zodiac was campaigned in continental rallies and did reasonably well. And in classic racing you can still see Zodiacs in anger on the tracks. But these are either modified cars, or cars in tip-top condition, mechanically speaking. Most second-hand examples on the road aren't quite so well prepared and fettled.

Consequently, a worn set of contact breakers, a dirty air filter, worn spark plugs, poor ignition timing adjustment or maladjusted tappets quickly take the edge off the ride. Owners are therefore well-advised to establish a regular maintenance regime, which is straightforward enough and easily handled by the home mechanic. Electronic ignition will greatly improve overall performance, albeit at the risk of some criticism from the really hardcore purists.

Ventilation is great on the Zodiac, Zephyr and Consul. On a hot day, just open the quarter-lights, crank down the rear passenger door windows, close the front windows and blow the heat away. On cold days the heater is effective. On wet days you can enjoy the irregular slap of the vacuum windscreen wipers that struggle to shift at all on hard acceleration, but switch like crazy on the overrun. Interesting.

 

Ford Zephyr Lowline

 

Zodiac bodywork

Pretty much all examples have some rust; all, that is, except the concours examples that barely recognise the world outside of their garages. If you want to find the rust at a glance, check anywhere around the lower  2-3 inches of the bodywork paying particular attention to the sills, the front wings and the bottoms of the doors.

But the ferrous-oxide also loves front valances, windscreen pillars, suspension tops, the occasional footwell and the spare wheel well. And check behind the headlights too. Plenty of those are thick with filler and blown-over with a rattle can.

It's all fixable, mind. The wings unbolt, and if they're not rusty anywhere, they could be aftermarket fibre glass items (which might also explain why they don't fit quite right and have uneven shut lines).

There are still quite a lot of Zodiac spare parts on the market including screens, door glass, engines and gearboxes. Some of the trim is, however, very scarce. And items such as instruments, clocks and original radios fetch a high price. But if you buy a Mk2 and want to keep it on the road, you can do so without much trouble.

 

Ford Zodiac brochure

 

Zodiac Highline
or Lowline?

There are two versions of the Mk2 Zodiac. The Highline was the original body style. It arrived in 1956 and stayed in production until 1959. Identifying points include the hemispherical speedometer display and painted headlamp bezels. Also the front grille is styled slightly different to the later grille (you just need to study a few to recognise the difference).

The Lowline arrived in 1959 with around 1.5 inches taken off the top, hence the name. Note that this reduction doesn't refer to shorter A, B and C pillars. It's simply that the crown of the roof is flatter. Also, the speedometer housing is more rectangular. The Mk2 Lowline stayed in product until 1962 when it was superseded by the MK3 Zodiac (and Mk3 Zephyr, but no Mk3 Consul).

Which is better? The Highline or the Lowline? Neither. Or both. Either model is very cool and stylish, so it all comes down to personal choice. Certainly, the Highline is much rarer which can (in theory) command a higher price. On the other hand, most Zodiac owners feel that the Lowline looks just a little more ... well, low.

 

 

Zodiac Convertible
& Estate

These are rare examples of the beast with the ragtops commanding the top money. The convertibles were built by Carbodies in Coventry, West Midlands. The design was such that the roof could be power-operated or manually-operated. A two-stage features was also part of the deal whereby a halfway "de-ville" option could be selected.

Abbots of Farnham built the estates. Actually, the Ford Motor Company supplied the body shells and Abbotts converted them. The extra rear load space isn't impressive, and the styling wasn't improved. But there is a quirky charm to the "Farnhams", and they can fetch (or at least ask) big money.

Although most standard Mk2s were manufactured at Dagenham, Essex, UK, the cars were also assembled in Australia (as Utes, or utilities), New Zealand, and South Africa.

 

Zodiac brochure M2 Lowline

 

Zodiac features

The really great thing about these wonderful Dagenham Fords is that they offer a lazy, relaxed ride. You can't really throw them around much (unless you're a sharp rally driver with a handy mechanic/navigator), and you wouldn't want to.

Nice touches include the bonnet that stays raised on counter-balanced springs permitting very easy engine access. Also, the fuel filler cap behind the flip-down number plate means that you can easily fill up at petrol stations regardless of which side of the pumps you find yourself. And note that the front indicator lenses are glass (as opposed to plastic) as is the screen water bottle.

There are arm-rests on both the front and rear seats, and the door arm-rests have some adjustability. Better still, because of the column change, you can slide in and out of the car from either side without problems (the central arm-rests hinge upward).

Meanwhile, if you know five people, you can squeeze them all into a Zodiac while you take the wheel. At least, you could back in the 1950s and 1960s. But modern folk tend to require slightly more acreage. So it's now a four seater.

You're advised to check around the internet and the classic car mags for the current Zodiac prices. There are plenty of very rough examples around asking some silly money. So beware. There are also plenty of cars that have been heavily dressed up to look superficially okay, but are harbouring dark red flaking secrets.

Overall, these are simply great classic cars that are fun to drive, cheap to insure, comfortable to be in, gentle on the eye, and easy to live with. But they will demand regular upkeep. There are, by the way, no headrests or seatbelts as standard. That said, both can be retro-fitted if required, and there are some "classic" headrests out there somewhere that wouldn't be too out-of-keeping with a Zody.

Lastly don't forget to take a look at my Mk2 Ford Zodiac T-shirt. It's not as cool as the car, but it's a decent slice of cotton priced at just 18.99.

FORD ZODIAC
T-SHIRT

 

Useful Ford Consul,
Zephyr, Zodiac club links:

www.mk2consulzephyrzodiacownersclub.co.uk
 

 

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Legal stuff

 

All Willy de Custard T-shirt, sweatshirt & hoodie designs are produced by me right here in the UK. I have no connection with any other group, organisation, company, manufacturer, institution, body, retailer or fly-by-night-merchant. Willy de Custard T-shirts are not available anywhere else unless they're being pirated. If you've got any copyright concerns, disputes, threats or similar, fire off an email and I'll deal with it pronto. Designed & printed in Great Britain. Forget globalisation. This is your independent T-shirt, sweatshirt & hoodie shop.

 

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