Ford Zephyr Mark I review

By: John Wright

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Ford of England created a groundbreaking classic of its own thanks to a disgruntled Chevrolet engineer...

Ford Zephyr Mark I review
Wright-off: Ford Zephyr Mark



In May 1945, GM announced its intention to build a smaller Chevrolet and work began almost immediately. The chief engineer was Earl MacPherson, later to become famous for the eponymous MacPherson strut.

The car was to be built on a 108-inch (2740mm) wheelbase and would weigh 2000 pounds (907kg). It was to be called the Chevrolet Cadet.

The Cadet was to embrace some radical technology. MacPherson had a special kind of independent front suspension in mind and also planned to use 12-inch wheels to emphasise the car’s low-slung three-box design.

Power was to come from a 2.0-litre overhead-valve six-cylinder engine. Significantly, the decision had already been taken to use an engine of similar configuration in the forthcoming ‘Australian car’. The idea of building a smaller Chevrolet – having been shelved in 1938 – appears to have gained momentum from the findings of the engineering team charged with developing what was to become the 48-215 Holden.

But on 15 May 1947, the Cadet program was cancelled because the post-war boom meant GM could sell every full-size car it could build and there were bigger profits to be made on those. Frustrated by this situation, MacPherson accepted an overture from Harold Youngren of Ford.

MacPherson got his car after all. It was the Ford Consul/Zephyr. The unique front suspension took his name, and is widely used to this day. The wheelbase was just four inches shorter than the proposed Cadet, the wheels an inch larger in diameter and the three-box styling followed the themes sketched by Frank Hershey at GM.

Without question, the 1951 Ford Consul and Zephyr were among the most modern cars of their time. They certainly made the first Holden look like the pre-war design it (mostly) was. The Holden’s ancestry was the Experimental Light Car 195-Y-15 from 1938.

When the Ford – whether the four-cylinder Consul or the six-cylinder Zephyr – was parked beside the 48-215, the latter looked as outdated as the FB Holden would look alongside the first Ford Falcon.

The Zephyr became the Holden’s closest rival and would remain so until September 1960, when Ford Australia introduced its locally manufactured XK Falcon. Both cars had modern six-cylinder engines.

While the low-slung English Fords did not cope as well as the Holden away from the cities, they did have much better handling and stability. Incredibly, Dutchman Maurice Gatsonides – now better known as the inventor of the speed camera – drove a Zephyr to outright victory in the 1953 Monte Carlo Rally.

The Consul was gutless and the Zephyr always cost some £30 more than a Holden Special. But these stylish new cars with their proud ‘Ford of England’ badging took some Detroit genius to the world in more convenient and efficient packaging.

And, of course, they were the first cars in the world to use MacPherson struts.




More reviews:

> Aussie originals: Ford Customline

> Buyer's guide: Ford Fairlane (1959)

> Buyer's guide: Ford V8 (1932-48)


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