Storage Yard Classic: Ford Zephyr MK II

(first posted 12/18/2012)   We’ve already seen the Chevrolet Cadet-inspired British Ford Zephyr MK I; now let’s move forward a few years to visit its successor, the MK II. While the previous edition recalled the ’49 Ford, this one’s even more-Americanized styling took its inspiration from post-1952 American Ford sedans.

With over 150,000 produced, the MK I Consul and Zephyr (above) were very successful models for Ford of Britain, but after a five-year run it was time for a serious refresh.

The transatlantic styling was the work of Colin Neale’s team, and it proved to be very popular with the press and the buying public alike. MK II prototypes had been up and running since 1954, extensive testing done throughout 1955, and in 1956 came the official debut. The Consul (above), powered by a 1,703 cc four, was once again the lowest trim level.

One step up the ladder was the Zephyr, which netted its buyer a powerful, newly-enlarged 2,553 cc straight six. The Zodiac (above) was the posh version, with two-tone paint, a revised front grille, distinctive rear styling and other niceties. The Zodiac shared the Zephyr’s six-cylinder engine. Collectively, the models were known as “The Three Graces”.

Again, the only factory-built body style was a four-door saloon. Like the MK I, a convertible conversion by Carbodies was available. Similarly, the five-door estate (wagon) was converted and sold by Abbott of Farnham. These variants were extremely costly when new, and are sought after by collectors today.

Queen Elizabeth II was among many famous owners of an estate car; hers was given a bit of additional height in order to provide the royals with a little extra headroom, presumably for their crowns.

Australia went a different route, producing its own range from CKD (Completely Knocked Down) kits. Sedan, wagon and coupe utility (truck) versions were available straight from the factory.

One of the complaints about the earlier Zephyr had been its sometimes-hairy handling. In order to tame oversteer, the MK II wheelbase was increased by 3” to 107”; also, width increased significantly, to 69” from 64”. Engine performance was improved as well, with increased horsepower (from 68 to 88) and  better fuel economy despite an almost 300 cc boost in displacement. The standard gearbox was still a three-speed manual, but overdrive–or, for the first time, a Borg-Warner automatic–were available. Front disc brakes, available since 1960, became standard the following year.

The aftermarket (at least in the UK) again catered to the Zephyr with go-fast parts like this Aquaplane intake manifold and triple carburetor. Zephyrs also proved popular with such boutique manufacturers as AC, which used its engine in its Ace and Greyhound sports cars. The engine also found its way into the Allard Palm Beach, Britannia GT, Fairthorpe Zeta, Lea-Francis Lynx and, perhaps most famously, the Reliant Sabre and early Reliant Scimitar coupes.

I find this modification rather humorous. The owner apparently spent enough time underhood to add this household-style light. There must be some good British car jokes there, so feel free to let loose.

There are two distinct flavors of Mk II Zephyr; the High Line, and the Low Line. The so-called High Line, produced from 1956-1959, features a more circular instrument cluster and a full horn ring within the steering wheel. In February 1959 Ford, taking a page from the hot rodder’s playbook, chopped the roof line by a couple of inches to create the Low Line. Other changes included added chrome pieces, most noticeably the headlight bezels. Keeping with contemporary trends, the instrument panel became more rectangular and the horn ring semicircular. With a nod to safety, the top of the dash was now padded. Our example is a Low Line, albeit one without the usual two-tone exterior. Actually, its gray paint looks rather like primer.

The three pedals you see indicate the presence of a three-on-the-tree manual gearbox. The interior, like the exterior, is very American-looking. The bits of wood were added by an owner who also installed auxiliary gauges and a radio. The seats on this example were quite mouse-eaten, but all the inedible bits seemed to be intact and accounted for.

The radio is a Sonomatic, taken from a 1960s Buick. It must have been installed quite a long time ago, when adding an AM-only radio was worth the trouble. While I quite like how the station selection buttons spell B-U-I-C-K, I nevertheless suspect that theme works better in an actual Buick.

These British Fords sold reasonably well in North America, but were rendered superfluous by the 1960 Ford Falcon; as a result, we would not see the 1962 Mk III version. Oddly, the prominently-featured yellow Consul semi-convertible in the above ad never was offered anywhere.

An early MK II travels down the assembly line. Worldwide Zephyr/Zodiac production totaled up to 301,417 units of all body styles.