Storage Field Classic: Ford Zephyr Mark 1 – Ford Builds The Chevrolet Cadet

Last week we looked at the first-generation F-series Vauxhall Victor. Today, we’ll look at another British saloon, this one from the Blue Oval boys. Although it appears quite modest–its styling might even be considered dumpy–the Zodiac/Zephyr was in fact the first mass-produced car to use a now-nearly ubiquitous front suspension design.

Our Ford Zephyr story starts (where else?) with a Chevrolet,  specifically the Chevrolet Cadet. Designed by Earl MacPherson, the Cadet prototype initially used his novel, long-tube shock design at both front and rear. Eventually, the independent rear suspension was tossed for a leaf-sprung live axle for cost reasons, but the front struts stayed. But at the time, American car makers could sell everything they could crank out, so GM saw no need to approve the innovative Cadet. As a result, design engineer Earl MacPherson packed up his struts and headed over to Ford.

Generally speaking, Ford’s postwar offerings in the UK featured outdated design and styling. Although the Brits had been on the winning side of World War II, they were a nation heavily in debt and eager to generate income from exporting goods. That in mind, Ford set out to design the most contemporary cars possible. From that objective were born the four-cylinder Consul and the six cylinder Zephyr. The two cars shared an all-new chassis, suspension and drive train, but their styling was clearly American-inspired.

The Consul was rather plain, but the Zephyr’s styling rather resembles an American ’49 Ford with a little Aston Martin tossed in.

Like the Cadet, the Zehpyr used a unit body with integrated fenders, an OHV inline six, a strut front suspension and smaller-diameter wheels (14″ for the Zephyr, and 13″ for the Cadet). That was pretty heady stuff for a company that had been recently been cranking out flathead engines and separate chassis with transverse leaf springs. Indeed, Ford had suddenly shot from the bottom of the class to almost the top, and the Consul and Zephyr caused quite a stir at their 1950 debut.

Today, it’s no big deal for two versions of the same basic car to have different wheelbases, but separate 100- and 104-inch wheelbases for the Consul and Zephyr, respectively was then quite a novelty. From the firewall aft, the Consul and Zephyr shared virtually the same body, but the Zephyr’s nose was stretched to accommodate its 2,262 cc, 60-hp inline six. In stock form, it got the Zephyr up to a top speed of 80 mph, but after the British tuning industry latched onto it came several aftermarket “hot” versions capable of 100 mph. In Britain, the Zephyr enjoyed a reputation for  lively performance, as well as for horrid oversteer.

The interior was a bit plain. A single housing contained all the gauges, which made the  conversion from right- to left-hand drive relatively simple–an important consideration for any vehicle destined for export. Oddly enough, the hood release on this left-hand drive car wasn’t moved over; it’s located in the passenger-side foot well. The large Bakelite steering wheel is rather charming, though.

One distinctly old-fashioned feature is semaphore turn signals.

This Zephyr wears a very faded Heninger Toyota sticker below the deck lid. Heninger has been a dealer in Calgary since 1957, which probably makes this one at least a two- owner car. Will it find yet another? It’s hard to tell,  as the body is quite solid but the interior rather mouse-eaten and rough. I’ll bet this one’s been off the road a long time.