Why you’d want a Ford Consul, Zephyr or Zodiac
Ford of Britain had established a strong following pre-WW2 for its small cars, which combined simple engineering and spacious bodies to put the middle classes on the road in considerably more comfort than the Austin Seven.
The pre-war range was given a token post-war makeover to continue offering the cheapest ‘proper’ cars around, but in the growing market for a more luxurious model competition was hotting up and Ford was in danger of missing out with its aged V8-Pilot.
All this changed at the 1950 Motor Show, as the Blue Oval unveiled the new Consul and Zephyr.
Gone was the old sidevalve V8, replaced by a state-of-the-art oversquare 1508cc ‘four’ and a six-cylinder version with the same bore and stroke (for commonality of internal parts), giving 2262cc.
The Consul was 5mph faster than the V8-Pilot and the Zephyr was an 80mph car.
The styling was modern yet conservative, with European dimensions but making excellent use of the space available.
The result was a comfortable monocoque saloon (or unitary construction, more accurately, because it had a hefty welded-on underframe) with six-seater potential thanks to bench seats front and rear.
The cars were identical behind the bulkhead, but the front end of the six-cylinder was 7in longer than the ‘four’, with the wheelbase 4in longer.
The cars were a revelation on the road, with the first production MacPherson strut front suspension – mounting a tall spring/damper just inboard of the wheel line would never have been possible with a separate chassis.
The rubber-mounted top swivel joint was complex, but made kingpins, trunnions and top wishbones obsolete, with just a lower link required. Braking forces were taken by the anti-roll bar. The new system provided good shock insulation and handling.
Another big step in isolating the occupants from mechanical harshness came with the first hydraulic clutch operation – though the three-speed ’box was a throwback: the higher-revving oversquare layout really needed more gears. The ‘six’ would get an overdrive option late in production, and many have been retrofitted.
Maurice Gatsonides won the 1953 Monte in a Zephyr, beating Jaguar – having posted his kids part-way down the descent on the final test, equipped with buckets of water and instructions to throw them over the front wheels when he passed, to reduce the inevitable brake fade!
Images: James Mann
Ford Consul, Zephyr and Zodiac: what to look for
See above for trouble spots
Engine and front suspension
The first of a long line, these were very modern engines for their time and many components are shared with later models; though visually almost identical, this is a Mk2 ‘six’.
As well as verifying originality, check for rattles and excess oil breathing indicating wear, and for signs of overheating from a silted-up radiator.
The revolutionary front suspension was well-engineered and strong, but wear in the steering box can cause excess play, and cracked mountings.
Drive and gearchange
Period road testers complimented the Fords on their light controls and great combination of a smooth ride and good cornering, though heavily front-biased weight distribution on both the ‘four’ and the ‘six’ caused wheelspin on slippery surfaces and made the tail step out if cornered hard in the wet; radial tyres help.
The three-speed column gearchange should feel reasonably precise, with unbeatable synchro on second and top. This one has a period overdrive.
Zephyr Zodiacs boasted two-tone leather trim, Zephyrs single-tone and Consuls leathercloth.
All can be (expensively) revived by specialists.
All items are mostly difficult to find today, especially chromed Mazak parts and rare details such
as these early 1954 rear lights.
Ford Consul, Zephyr and Zodiac: on the road
Ford was slow to respond to demand for more gears and power.
The Zodiac had a little extra urge, and overdrive eventually arrived, but both these and far more had been available as aftermarket conversions for years from many specialists, especially for the ‘six’.
A period tuning kit adds value, but non-period ‘custom’ work, unless it’s very well done, does not and can be costly to put back to original.
Running-gear parts are widely available new and used, and the conventional design means mechanical work is rarely expensive: concentrate on finding a car with good bodywork and adjust the price if mechanical work is needed.
The convertible hood was an engineering triumph, electro-hydraulically operated from the coupé de ville position to fully down – and could return to that raised position without stopping the car. Make sure it all works and the top material is good – rebuilding can be costly.
Ford controls were all notably light for the time, so expect them to be still. The brakes (large drums combined with small 13in wheels) should feel effective, only suffering fade when really pressing on.
Fortunately, Ford adopted 12V electrics for these cars, but the wipers were still vacuum-operated, albeit boosted a bit by a vacuum pump beneath the fuel pump.
In spite of the small wheels, the steering lock is poor and the steering box was one of the more old-fashioned features, with multiple links and an idler to wear as well: budget to rebuild the system if there’s excessive play.
Ford Consul, Zephyr and Zodiac price guide
- Show/rebuilt: £10k (£22k)/£15k/£20k (£30k)
- Average: £4500 (£14k)/£6k/£8k (£18k)
- Restoration: £1k (£5k)/£2k/£2500 (£7500)
Ford Consul, Zephyr and Zodiac history
1950 Oct Ford Consul (47bhp) and Zephyr (68bhp) saloons launched at Earls Court
1951 Jan Consul on sale in UK; Zephyr Feb
1951 Oct Zephyr Six convertible shown on Carbodies’ stand
1952 Sep ‘Flat dash’ replaced by curved cowled panel with shelf below; Zephyr convertible enters production, with three-position hood
1953 Oct Zephyr Zodiac joins the range: 71bhp high-compression engine, two-tone paint and trim, whitewalls, features include screenwash and reversing light; also Consul convertible and Abbott of Farnham Estate
1954 Nov Modified block casting for new flywheel and clutch
1955 Aug Borg-Warner overdrive optional
1956 Feb Mk1 replaced by Mk2
The owner’s view
“I learnt to drive in a Consul,” recalls John Ball, “and I’ve always wanted a Zodiac. I couldn’t afford them back in the day, so when I retired I bought one – and now I’ve got four!
“A red Zephyr came first, then this Zodiac, then a Consul to restore and finally a black Zodiac, which is my next project.
“My Consul had been with one owner since 1960 – it was in really bad condition, I had to jig it behind the spring hangers at the back. The club does a lot of parts, including properly pressed floorpans.
“I finished it in time for the previous owner’s 100th birthday and took him for a run in it: he was like a kid at Christmas!
“This Zodiac wasn’t too bad, only needing a small amount of welding, plus rechroming and I’ve fitted a new radiator and brakes. The rare original rear lights were in a box.”
MORRIS OXFORD/SIX MO/MS
Expensive, especially in six-cylinder form, the Morris struggled for sales – not aided by looking like the smaller Minor, and the Oxford’s gutless sidevalve.
Sold 1948-’54• No. built 172,360 • Price now £3-8000
VAUXHALL WYVERN/VELOX/CRESTA E
Vauxhall showed Ford the way to go with a larger, more Transatlantic-looking saloon that flew out of the showrooms. Its tendency to rust means few survive.
Sold 1951-’57 • No. built 545,388 • Price now £6-12,000
Ford Consul, Zephyr and Zodiac: the Classic & Sports Car verdict
With strong club, enthusiast and specialist support, more Mk1s are returning to the road and rising values mean that proper restoration is becoming worthwhile, though some still get heavily customised.
Many have been bodged over the years, and rot can be extensive and tricky to eradicate, so inspect any potential purchase carefully and buy the best. Missing original trim is more of a problem than a later engine.
- Sturdy body, modern engine and suspension and quality fittings mean the Consul, Zephyr and Zodiac remain usable
- Delightful convertibles
- Rampant rot has claimed many, and it can be hard to spot bodged restoration work
- Detail trim items, especially chrome, are scarce
Ford Consul, Zephyr and Zodiac specifications
- Sold/number built 1950-’56/231,481
- Construction steel monocoque
- Engine all-iron, overhead-valve 1508cc ‘four’ or 2262cc ‘six’, with single Zenith carburettor
- Max power 47bhp @ 4400rpm to 71bhp @ 4200rpm
- Max torque 72lb ft @ 2400rpm to 108lb ft @ 2000rpm
- Transmission three-speed, two-synchro manual, RWD; optional overdrive on six-cylinder cars from 1955
- Suspension: front independent, by MacPherson struts, anti-roll bar rear live axle, semi-elliptic springs, lever-arm dampers
- Steering Burman worm and peg
- Brakes Girling 9in (229mm) drums
- Length 14ft 3¾in (4366mm)
- Width 5ft 4in (1626mm)
- Height 4ft 11½in (1511mm)
- Wheelbase 8ft 8in (2642mm)
- Weight 2436-2660lb (1107-1209kg)
- 0-60mph 27.2-20.2 secs
- Top speed 73-80mph
- Mpg 20-30
- Price new £732/829/1054 (1952, Consul/Zephyr/Zephyr Convertible)