Classic Car Reviews  

Ford Zephyr/Zodiac Mk4 (1966 - 1972)

Last updated 18 January 2014

Individual looks, roomy interior, Zodiacs available with 3.0-litre V6
Crazy steering and handling, only partially saved by modern tyres

Introduction

The 1966 Zephyr and Zodiac should have been good. They topped a range that offered something for everyone – Anglia, Cortina, Corsair pretty much covered all bases in the mass market, and although the mid-sized Corsair wasn’t exactly racing out of the showroom, it was selling well enough not to be too embarrassed by the raging success of the Anglia 105E and Cortina Mk1. In that climate of success, 1962′s Project Panda, which began to take shape as the next generation Zephyr and Zodiac, was bound to do well.

The all-new car (it shared very little with its predecessor) was designed around Ford’s new V-series four- and six-cylinder Essex engines, and was to be longer and wider than before. The styling would be bold, too – and like the Corsair, it would reflect American thinking, not just in terms of dimensions, but also detail.

Roy Haynes – who would go on to oversee the Cortina Mk2, and then the Morris Marina for British Leyland – was involved in the design process, although the generous proportions, Mustang-apeing looks, and exceedingly long bonnet were the brainchild of ex-Detroit man, chief engineer Harley Copp. According to Ford’s figures at the time, the drag co-efficient was 0.47, an industry average performance, but a 10 per cent improvement over the Mk3.

To ensure that the vast expanse of space under the bonnet was filled, Copp suggested the spare wheel was moved forward. His suggestion that it could be mounted between the engine and the radiator certainly improved boot space, but also helped give the car strange weight distribution. Even before the launch, there was disquiet within the Ford engineering team that the Zephyr 3008E had some ‘interesting’ handling traits.

The late fitment of anti-roll bars in the run up to the launch went some way to improving the ride/handling balance of Ford of Great Britain’s first car with independent semi-trailing arm rear suspension, but it would prove to be far from enough.

The Zephyr (3008E) and Zodiac (3012E) Mk4 range was unveiled in the Spring of 1966. As before, the top Zodiac models were treated to six-cylinder power, while the junior (in price) Zephyr came with a choice of 1996cc V4 power, and a 2495cc V6. The 2994cc Essex engine fitted to the later Granada and Capri was used exclusively in the Zodiac and Executive in the UK, although certain export Zephyrs also received the larger power unit.

Standard equipment across the range included an adjustable steering column, that spare wheel in the engine compartment, a heater and Aeroflow ventilation. On the plusher Zodiac, you also got electric window washers, two-speed wipers, a cigar lighter, rev counter, clock, ammeter, and reversing lights as standard. It was generously equipped – just hat the market wanted.

Weeks after the initial unveiling, journalists were treated to an exotic launch in North Africa. Perhaps the location helped the motoring writers see past the dynamic uncertainties, because initial reports were far from unfavourable – with some surprise being expressed at the styling and proportions.

It wasn’t until the first full UK road tests were published that it became clear that all was not well in the Ford camp. For a start, the new engines weren’t as smooth as those they replaced – and although the V6′s gravelly, slightly coarse note was acceptable in 2.5-litre form, that V4 used in the entry level Zephyrs, was really quite an unhappy beast.

On the positive side, Motor praised the Zodiac’s performance (0-60mph in 11 seconds and a maximum speed of 105mph) and interior space. ‘The rear seat will easily take three people,’ it stated. ‘And the legroom is generous.’ As for performance. ‘acceleration is certainly a outstanding feature of this new Zodiac’.

Ford reacted swiftly to extensive press criticism about the ride and handling. In September 1967, it fitted radial-ply tyres on the V6 cars to improve grip, and this went some way to improving the more nose-heavy car. In addition, power steering found its way into the Zodiac and Executive models, while the unassisted cars had to make do with exceptionally labourious gearing. In the launch cars, that was set at 5.5 turns from lock-to-lock, but in order to improve steering weight (and no doubt discourage spirited driving), this was raised to an eye-opening 6.4 turns!

You couldn’t accuse Ford of not developing the Zephyr and Zodiac, then. And it was the same with the model range, as well as the engineering that underpinned them. Just months after the launch of the saloons, Ford unveiled the five-door estate version at the 1966 London Motor Show. As before, the shooting brake was actually converted by coachbuilders ED Abbott, and created by adding bespoke panels to partially finished cars supplied by Ford at its facility in Farnham.

At the top of the range, the Executive was added as a trim level above the Zodiac – as was the case with the Cortina (1600E) and Corsair (2000E). Like the standard Zodiac, the Executive featured stylish quad headlights, but in addition to this, it also boasted optional automatic transmission (or overdrive manual), power steering, sunroof, reclining front seats, walnut fascia, full instrumentation, carpeting throughout, reversing lights, fog lamps, and a boost in power to 136bhp – and all at a Jaguar XJ6-rivalling price of around £1600.

During its six-year production run, around 150,000 Zephyr and Zodiac Mk4s were built. The long-held view that the Z-cars were a commercial flop would seem to be untrue – after all, the Austin 3 Litre managed a mere 9992 cars during its four-year life, while the golden 2000s from Rover and took nigh-on 15 years to notch up their 300,000-plus sales.

However, they were an engineering failure, and their troubled life directly led to Ford continuing down the pan-European route for its executive cars, with a single car – the Granada – being created to replace the Z-cars and their German counterparts, the P7 series.

Next: Specifications

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