Export or Die.
That short but powerful post-war British expression blazed through my mind upon seeing this exported Ford Consul, a product of Ford of England. While the economic conditions in Great Britain subsequent to World War II are known to have been harsh, it was more than just a war that led up to it. Or maybe it was a war; one just needs to consider which one as Great Britain had been involved in no less than two during the first half of the 20th Century.
Examining this history also helps explain how a modest, base model, left-hand drive Ford from the UK could be found for sale in the middle of North America in 2021.
The ravages of World War II were tremendous for all countries involved, especially those in Europe and Asia. When studying all the events surrounding the war, it doesn’t take long to realize Great Britain had the unenviable outcome of being a victor who lost much.
The repercussions of the war lasted in the UK for a very long time. With severe military losses between 1940 and 1942, such as Dunkirk, and the dire need to change their trajectory in this conflict, the British economy had been focused almost exclusively on production of war material for quite some time when the war concluded. But these events still don’t fully explain the genesis of the bleak conditions the British were enduring subsequent to VE Day.
World War II frequently overshadows many things, due to it being more recent and the horrors being more widespread than what had been endured in the prior war. Thus it’s easy to overlook the lingering affects World War I had on the British economy. Shortly after World War I several observers noted how Britain did not seem like a country having just experienced a military victory as due to the upheaval being experienced in their new, postwar world.
The challenges in Britain subsequent to the Armistice were also societal and political, not just economic. In addition to all men over 21 and women over 30 being given the right to vote in 1918, the work force was quickly transitioning to more white collar jobs, while unemployment hit a record high (for the time) 11.3% in 1921 as manufacturing related to war goods, such as steel, contracted with the transition to peacetime.
Economically, the war had cost Britain the equivalent of 136% of its gross national product and Britain’s place in the world economic hierarchy was slipping.
The Great Depression experienced by the United States during the 1930s was not an isolated event. Reflecting how national economies were intertwined even then, the Great Depression in the United States played a part in Britain experiencing what is commonly called The Slump or The Devil’s Decade. The Slump hit the British shipping industry, as one example, quite hard, with ripple-effects throughout the British economy. Unemployment was high, exports were down due to depressed markets, and it is reported that at one point around 1931 roughly one-quarter of the British were going hungry.
In short, Britain’s economy had never fully rebounded from World War I by the time World War II came along.
In addition to their economic woes, the British Empire had experienced internal unrest during the second war. It was in 1942 the Empire had declined the desires of Mahatma Ghandi and the Indian National Congress for the British to “quit India”. While India did ultimately gain independence in 1947, India’s exit from the Empire was a huge blow in terms of economics and defense, an exit that British sources have described as a hasty, face-saving retreat to prevent further losses within the Empire.
It was also after the end of World War II when many British industries, such as the steel industry, where nationalized. The need for foreign currency to help salvage the economy was paramount, with this foreign currency coming primarily from exports. That’s why the mantra of “export or die” had such magnitude; it was far from being superficial. It was a rallying cry for British industry to produce and continue to stay vibrant as the alternative was obvious, bleak, and quite near.
The mantra was definitely taken to heart by the British automotive industry. While Britain provided 15% of the world’s vehicle exports in 1937, this figure had increased to 52% by 1950. All this discussion of exports leads us to our featured, and exported, Ford Consul.
In what was most likely an expedient move, Ford introduced the Pilot in 1947. Helping to fill the profound need for new cars subsequent to the war, many elements of the Pilot, such as the 2.2 liter flathead V8, were reflections of Ford’s prewar parts inventory.
But Ford was planning for another car, one that was initially displayed at the 1950 Earls Court Motor Show in London. It was ultimately one of three cars Ford used in the family sedan category in the UK. Technologically, it was vastly different than the outgoing Pilot.
Production of the base model Consul and the higher trimmed, six-cylinder Zephyr began in January 1951. The Zephyr Zodiac would be introduced soon thereafter.
The Consul represented many firsts for Ford of England. It was the first Ford having hydraulic brakes (the Pilot had mechanical ones) and the first Ford having a unibody structure. The Consul was also one of the first cars to make use of a McPherson strut front suspension.
Yet other elements of the Consul were quite mundane – although, perhaps, traditional might be a better descriptor. The transmission was a column shifted three-speed manual and the rear suspension was the tried-and-true leaf spring system.
Power for the Consul came from a 1.5 liter overhead-valve four-cylinder making 47 horsepower and 72 lb-ft of torque. With this engine being expected to move 2,480 pounds, the Consul was not a fast car by any metric. However, the highway system (in both the US and UK) was vastly different in the early 1950s. That this Consul took 28 seconds to reach sixty miles per hour, and topped out at 72 miles per hour, wasn’t of tremendous consequence as travel speeds were significantly lower than in present times.
What was important was the Consul returned approximately 26 miles per gallon (Imperial) according to tests of the time.
Some sources have stated the body of the Consul was designed in North America. Whether it was or not, one thing is apparent…
The Consul certainly shared some DNA with the North American 1949 Ford.
Regardless of who designed the exterior, keeping the then current Ford family resemblance was no easy feat for the much smaller Consul, a car just under 13’9″ in overall length. Translating design elements onto a much smaller car is often a recipe for disaster (think 1980 Ford Thunderbird or Lincoln Mark VI) but it was reasonably successful with the Consul.
For perspective, this Consul didn’t appear to be too vastly different in size than the Chevrolet Cobalt parked behind it.
Externally, there is nothing to really distinguish a Consul manufactured in early 1951 from one built at the end of this generation’s production in February 1956. However, the interior gives us a clue.
Early Consuls had a flat dashboard. The instrument pod, as seen here, came about in September 1952 and was incorporated to mimic what was being used on the six-cylinder Zephyrs. So if one were to use model years similarly to what has typically been done in the US, this would make this Consul a 1953 to 1956 model.
But we have one more indicator, literally, that has been quite difficult to pin down for period of use. It hasn’t been impossible, but it has not been corroborated.
This Consul came with trafficators. According to this source for parts numbers, trafficators ceased being used after 1952/1953. So between the instrument cluster and the trafficators we are going with this being a 1953 model!
Incidentally, the vast majority of Ford’s press photos of Consuls, particularly the earlier ones, do not have any visible trafficators on them. So it would appear these were either very well integrated into the B-pillar or an option for some period of time.
A Ford Consul of any iteration is a car I had never had occasion to see at any prior point in my life and I knew nothing about it. Frankly, finding it provided a weird adrenaline rush. This Consul was found in a location that at first blush would not be a haven for old, imported Fords However, like with the “Export or Die” mantra, we ought to look beyond the mere surface.
This Ford was found near the small town of Doolittle. Renamed for Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, who led the 1942 Allied bombing mission on Tokyo, Doolittle sits along I-44 in that twenty-five mile gap between the U.S. Army’s Ft. Leonard Wood and the reasonably well known engineering school formerly named the University of Missouri-Rolla. So between military personnel and college professors, finding this English Ford in the middle of North America isn’t quite so mystifying.
For its home market, this Consul helped turn Ford into a major player in Europe due in part to being economical and sized right. For its export markets, specifically the United States, the Consul provided a distinct alternative to the larger cars indigenous to this Consul’s adopted home.
This particular Consul is remarkably solid and complete. Let’s hope it finds a loving new home.
Found June 2021 near Doolittle, Missouri