Keith ‘Buck’ Harrison is the current custodian of the Ford Consul 315 his father bought new from Macaulay Motors in Invercargill in 1963. One day, the car will be passed on to Buck’s sons, Lee and Dean. Not an unheard-of sort of story, as it’s not the only intergenerational family car in the world. What sets this one apart is the 12,200 miles recorded on its odometer. That’s not second or third time around or more; that’s the first time. That’s 20,600 kilometres travelled since the day in 1963 that it was driven out of Macaulay’s showroom at 90 Dee Street (where it was at that time). Words and Photos: Gordon Campbell
Younger readers may, at this point, say, “Ford what?”. More mature readers will very likely remember the 315 – known as the Consul Classic 315 in Great Britain and without the Classic name in New Zealand – but they may struggle to remember when they last saw one, unless they happen to own one, and they’ll be a tiny minority.
Ford of Britain built the Classic for little more than two years, from 1961 to 1963. It didn’t take over from the MkII Consul 375, being smaller than that car, and it was bigger than the Anglia. Some saw it as a replacement for the Prefect 107E, but Ford envisaged it as a premium mid-sized car that would fill a gap in its range, sitting between the small Anglia and the larger Consul 375, and be a worthy competitor for the likes of the Austin Cambridge and Singer Gazelle. It was the first British car of this size to have quad headlights and disc front brakes. These features, the sturdy stylised body and a well-appointed interior including the availability of leather seats at no extra cost, were pointers to what Ford had in mind. It said, ”The Classic has been designed for world-wide appeal to motorists wanting a well-appointed car of refined appearance with sparkling performance and all-round economy – a car filling the gap between the four-seater 997cc Anglia and the six-seater 1703cc Consul – both of which will continue."
In a rare blunder, Ford rather missed the mark with the Classic. It did, indeed, exude an air of quality, but at the cost of weight, and it was asking too much of the new model’s 1340cc engine to provide the claimed “sparkling performance”. Although its perceived competitors carried similar weight, they had at least 1500cc to move them along and, before long, 1600cc. It was realised too late that the Classic’s body was decidedly over-engineered and therefore overweight, and it wasn’t possible for Ford to get their new 1500cc engine ready in time for the Classic’s launch.
The 1340cc engine was a longer-stroke version of the Anglia unit, which didn’t help in making the Classic’s performance any more sprightly. It was still oversquare and later proved amenable to hotting up, despite its three-bearing crankshaft. The new 1498cc five-bearing engine and fully-synchromesh gearbox destined for the yet-to-beannounced Cortina finally became optional on the Classic in July 1962.
The Classic was available in Standard and Deluxe, although it seems the basic Standard model was seldom ordered. A floor change or column-mounted gear lever could be specified. It was equipped with Ford of Britain’s usual MacPherson strut front suspension and was the first Ford to be fitted with disc front brakes. It could be had with two or, more commonly, four doors, but only the four-door models were assembled at Ford’s factory in Seaview, Wellington, so any two-door examples in New Zealand were private imports and are exceedingly rare.
The Classic was a bit of an orphan and its fate was sealed in September 1962 when the new Cortina was announced. Overnight, the Classic effectively no longer had a place in the market and by September 1963 it had disappeared, although the equally polarising coupé variant, the Capri, continued until July 1964. Strictly speaking, the Classic was replaced in Britain by the Corsair, which used many Cortina components but was a bit more upmarket. We didn’t get the Corsair here, so the Cortina took the 315’s place on our market.
The Mark I Consuls and Zephyrs were marketed as “The ‘5-Star’ Cars” to celebrate their combination of monocoque body, oversquare ohv engine, independent front suspension, hydraulic brakes and “centreslung seating”. Hardly a big deal in the 21st Century and it’s indicative of Ford’s engineering until then that these features were worth making a fuss about. The Classic had those five selling points, albeit with up-to-the-minute disc front brakes, and it’s interesting that it continued to advertise these points with its badges featuring five stars, a symbol that carried over to the steering wheel of the first Cortina.
The Classic’s unique styling polarises opinion and always has – it tends to be a love or hate thing with no middle ground. Its reverse-rake rear window readily identifies it as the Anglia’s bigger sister, but that’s the only styling feature they have in common. The Colin Neale-designed Classic is often compared with the 1958-1961 Ford Thunderbird ‘Square Bird’ and is considered to have taken styling cues from that car...
The quad headlights with heavy curved eyebrows over each pair of lights certainly have a Thunderbird look, but there’s little else to relate it to its big American cousin. Both cars have rear fins, but the Classic’s are flattened off, rounded and horizontal, more like a 1960 Fairlane/Galaxie, while the T’bird’s are canted and sharp, albeit modest for an American car of the era. One area where it copied American trends was in the side-on proportions. Like the Fairlane/Galaxie, the Classic has a long boot compared to the bonnet, which is really down to the reverserake rear window, with the practical benefit of providing plenty of luggage space.
Like it or not, the Classic 315 was an adventurous and highly individualistic styling exercise. However, as Ford had already learned across the Atlantic with the Edsel, flair and individuality didn’t always equal good market response and sales, and Classic 315 sales were less than modest, partly because of stiff competition from its Cortina stablemate and partly because Ford’s focus quickly moved off the Classic.
William ‘Bill’ Harrison was clearly a fastidious car owner committed to looking after his car at a time when cars weren’t easy to get and were valued, although he took it a little further than most. For example, immediately after buying the Ford, he spent several weeks applying underseal and rust prevention, probably fisholene. He would rarely take the car out on a wet day, using his bicycle instead. The car was always kept in a garage with a cover over it and on fine Sundays, Bill would park it under a large willow tree, out of the sun, and open the doors, boot and bonnet so it could air thoroughly.
Bill died at the age of 68 in 1993. Prior to that, he’d wondered one day whether he would see the odometer click over to 10,000 miles. He didn’t, but as Buck drove the 315 into the cemetery on the day of the funeral, following the Invercargill Fire Brigade’s vintage fire engine carrying his father’s casket, 10,000 came up on the odometer.
Buck inherited the car and the responsibility of caring for it. Before having it transported to his home in Canterbury, he took it back to Macauley Motors and said, “I have a car outside that you might be interested in.” Just about the whole staff came out to inspect the car and they were fascinated. When Buck and his wife Barb travelled to Britain a few years ago, the Haynes Car Museum was high on their list of places to visit. Buck was interested to see there was no Consul Classic/315 in the collection and when he told them about his car, they immediately offered to buy it, an offer that was turned down.
Some years ago the clutch started to slip quite badly, so Buck and Lee removed the gearbox. Buck had been surprised that the clutch had worn out in so few miles and he’d put that down to his father’s habit of always starting off in second gear. When he and Lee fitted the new clutch plate they discovered the clutch hadn’t been adjusted properly, and it appears it had been like that since the car was first delivered. There have been no other mechanical issues with the car. It still has the original sealed beam headlights and Buck has the original wheels fitted with India Rubber-branded tyres. He’s acquired another set of wheels and fitted them with modern radials. He says the improved driving experience is astounding.
On the road, the Ford’s performance is fairly leisurely but not slow, and your brain’s gear selector automatically moves to relaxed cruise mode. The car’s weight produces a refined and comfortable ride, which confirms that Ford at least achieved the premiumquality mid-sized saloon they planned. It sits well on the road, feeling solid and planted, compared to the much lighter and more skittish Anglia and Cortina. There are no rattles or squeaks in this example, and this would be as near to travelling in a new Consul 315 as it’s possible to get.
Buck owns two other pristine Fords – a Cortina Ghia 2.3 and an Escort GT. He was distraught one day when he was driving the Cortina into his garage behind the Consul and his foot slipped, hitting the brake and accelerator at the same time. The Consul was pushed into the workbench and of course the back was damaged as well. The damage was easily repaired but, to his disappointment, the complete front and rear of the car had to be repainted. The doors and roof still have the original paint and it’s not possible to detect any difference between the old and new paint.
Lee and Dean will inherit this classic Consul at some time and will be the third generation of the Harrison family to assume the responsibility of caring for what has become a cherished family heirloom.
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