When I was a young boy growing up in the UK during the late 1950s/early 1960s (born a few months before the formal cessation of WWII rationing), my father’s best mate, Johnny Hamer (who owned and ran a garage in nearby Timperley), drove around in a splendid Ford Zodiac. Compared to my father’s Morris Minor van, the Ford with its rorty overhead-valve straight-six was truly spectacular. However, we were fortunate to even own a car – the majority of families in our neighbourhood had to make do with motorcycle/side-car combinations or bicycles. As the 1960s progressed, our family car morphed into a more up-to-date Austin Mini and then to a Consul Cortina estate. We still weren’t able to keep up with Johnny though; by the mid-sixties, while we were sliding around on the Cortina’s shiny vinyl seats, Johnny’s three kids were enjoying the decadent luxury of a Zodiac Executive. Mind you, that still didn’t stop their dog from puking in the back of the car while travelling to North Wales for the annual summer holidays. On that occasion we were leading them in our Cortina – it was Johnny’s first trip to Wales, which my father knew well – when the Zodiac suddenly pulled off the road into a handy lay-by. As my father circled back to see what was up, kids and dog were ejected from the Zodiac. We then stood by as the car’s back carpets were ripped out and ditched by the road. Dogs and kids clambered back on board and our journey continued.
All very humorous at the time, but (as a young lad) what I didn’t realise was that I was living through an era when UK’s old motoring guard was being edged aside by Ford, and of course by the end of the decade, the blue oval would completely dominate the British car industry. Ford’s level of market penetration in the UK would also be matched in New Zealand – by the early 1960s, Ford sales exceeded previous market leaders such a Morris, Austin and Vauxhall. Indeed, Fords were also outselling Holdens during that era.
And it all began in October 1950 when Ford unveiled the all-new Consul and Zephyr at the Earls Court Motor Show. As well as the standard four-door saloon, Abbott of Farnham offered a five-door estate version, while Carbodies produced convertibles.
Style and Substance
And it wasn’t just the new Ford’s flashy transatlantic styling that caught motorists’ attention; the cars were also technically advanced for that time. While the majority of mass-produced British cars were still saddled with wheezy side-valve engines, both the Consul and the Zephyr featured overhead-valve engines. As well, both the Consul’s four-cylinder 1508cc and the Zephyr’s six-cylinder 2262cc were ‘over-square’ – their bores exceeding their stroke. This allowed the engines to rev much more freely than the long-stroke plodders my father and most other drivers had become accustomed to driving. Coupled to a three-speed column-change gearbox, the new Fords offered good performance, with the six-cylinder cars capable of achieving a top speed of just under 140km/h.
Ford also advanced existing suspension technology by introducing a strut-type front set-up. These suspension units, later known as MacPherson struts, would soon become the industry standard.
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