Driving the new Ford Zodiac III

Over 100 mph and good acceleration allied to the former merits of this American-sponsored 6-cylinder 2-litre, £1,070 car

The new cars which Ford of Dagenham have brought out to replace the old Consul/Zephyr/Zodiac range were described last month, and I remarked that although driving them fast round Silverstone was great fun, I preferred to wait until I had tried the new Fords on the road before offering comment on their performance and behaviour.

Dagenham responded nobly and soon I was driving about in a striking-looking Ford Zodiac III. So there I was, sitting on a Cox seat frame, steering through a Burman steering box, vision through the screen maintained by Trico blades and washers, looking rearward by grace of a Jemca mirror, the ride damped by Armstrong shock-absorbers controlling Woodhead springs, the crankshaft turning in Glacier bearings, the foot pedals pivoting in Glacier DV dry bushes, the bonnet closed by Salter springs and quietness imparted by Pressed Felts Ltd.—that is, if I have read aright the flood of advertising that accompanied announcements of this latest Ford. Unfortunately, the wind-swept blonde that Smiths Motor Accessory Division consider an appropriate companion in a Zodiac III was not supplied with the test car….

Turning to more serious things, for the latest Ford commands respectful analysis, the overall impression I have formed is that no-one who knew the older Zephyr models pretty intimately could mistake the Mk III for any other car. There is the same impression conveyed by the 6-cylinder push-rod-ohv 21/2-litre power unit of ample power developed without fuss, stress or temperament, quietly, but to the accompaniment of an exhaust beat and a sibilant sigh from the Zenith carburetter that is somehow reminiscent of earlier Ford and Lincoln V-engines.

There is, perhaps, not quite the same effortless top-gear performance of the former Zodiac and Zephyr cars, because the new 4-speed gearbox has resulted in a top gear ratio of 3.55 to 1, so that. although speed can, for instance, be increased from 30 to 50 mph in just over 10 sec, or from a useful 50 to 70 mph in 12.1 sec without shifting, for really brisk pick-up the third gear of 5.01 to 1 is better employed. In this ratio the time required for these speed increases is reduced to 6.1 and 8.1 sec, respectively.

No one is going to quibble about the effectiveness of the performance available from this 2,553 cc, £1,0703/4 motor-car; 109 (net) bhp at 4,800 rpm, and a kerb-weight of 25 cwt combine to give 0-60 mph acceleration in 14.4 sec, or the ability to reach 80 mph from rest in 25.0 sec, and maxima in the four gears of 39, 57, 83 and 100 mph, Achieved easily, all without recourse to overdrive (which, however, is available for an extra £58 8s 9d). On a Motorway top speed will, in fact, climb to an honest 102-103 mph.

Couple this performance with good equipment and lines that are generally admired, high tail-fins giving a slight “dart” effect and the overall appearance being restrained, yet a visual reminder that Ford is essentially an American institution and the Dagenham factory US owned, and the result is an impressive automobile.

Where I consider serious mistakes have been made, which may restrict sales of this Zodiac III, is in providing very restricted leg room in the back of a car which is large and should therefore be spacious, and in retaining the rather vague controllability of earlier Zephyr/Zodiac Fords in this claimed—brand-new 1962 model.

With the front-bench seat set where the majority of drivers are going to set it—well back—entry to the rear compartment is seriously impaired and knee and foot room ridiculously restricted to an extent that a conservative weekly contemporary refers to as “one rather considerable short-coming! “. The Zodiac’s luggage boot is enormous—at the expense of turning what should be a spacious six-seater into a comfortable 3-seater! (Even this needs qualification, because the centrally seated rear-compartment occupant finds the seat-cushion depth very thin). Dagenham made a similar error in designing the Consul Classic and it is sad to find them repeating it in these larger new cars.

Then control—the trend is pronounced understeer but there is a good deal of roll, to the extent of introducing mild roll-oversteer on fast corners, while there is also considerable up and down motion over only moderately unsmooth surfaces. The steering, quite light for parking and commendably so at speed, is vague, calls for 4-turns lock-to-lock with only a moderate turning circle, with some sponge in addition, and quite appreciable movement about the straight-ahead position results in very little effect on directional control. Admittedly there is strong castor return action to this steering, and the servo-operated Girling 93/4 in front disc brakes in conjunction with 9 X 21/4 in rear drums give impeccable retardation with only the mildest pedal lag, but the Ford Zodiac III, widely proclaimed as a 100 mph car, is one that I want to drive at “the ton” only on very wide, open roads. The back axle is still located by long, curved leaf springs although it now has to transmit not 85 but 109 bhp. This rigid axle dithers over bumps and tends to divert the car in extreme cases but does not appear to transmit judder to the body shell.

The clutch pedal has rather too much free travel and the gears are changed by the old-type Ford lh stalk lever that has long movements, is rather harsh, has a small travel across the gate (it is spring loaded towards the higher ratio’s) and is too close to the steering wheel rim when in 2nd gear. There is, however, synchromesh on all ratios, including the 11.23 to 1 bottom gear, and reverse is easy to engage, if again rather harshly, by lifting the lever beyond the 3rd gear position. But after the silky Taunus gear change I cannot enthuse over the Dagenham version.

The bench front seat on the test car was of a shiny, very pliable new plastic material that must be first-cousin to a beach-ball in feel and resiliency. Consequently, you sink well in and remain reasonably comfortable, although the seat is too low for a driver of average height, the near-side front of the bonnet being invisible. This upholstery is certainly no substitute for real leather, which is available for an extra £33 13s 9d.

Another shortcoming concerns reflection from the wide padded screen sill in the lower halt of the double-curvature windscreen, which is evident in daylight and also at night and could result in eye-strain and consequent fatigue on long runs. Objects carried on the generous back-shelf likewise reflect in the sloping back window. Ford seem determined to dazzle the driver, for his vizor has a vanity mirror to match that in milady’s vizor, and regarding one’s face while driving is hardly a contribution to road safety!

In matters of detail there are many good aspects. The facia is in the sort of grained walnut that grows in metal presses; the effect is rather horrid, but the hooded instrument panel standing proud of the lower control panel is quite impressive. In this you have a 120 mph ribbon speedometer, slightly difficult to comprehend, total and trip with decimal very clear distance recorders, and, flanking the speedometer, completely uncalibrated petrol gauge and water thermometer. The petrol gauge needle is of the slowly-rising electrically actuated variety, which, relying on one’s visual simulation of a scale, indicates too conservatively.

On the right of the steering-wheel is the direction flashers’ stalk with a sleeve at its extremity for flashing the headlamps (full-beam) in daylight. Unfortunately, this sleeve rotates so that the finger tends to roll off it when operating the indicators; I prefer lamps flashing by flicking the stalk upwards.

In the centre of the facia is a hidden ash-tray of dimensions to suit even Robert Glenton, the vertical lid of which flips up when a button under the facia is depressed; there is a less elaborate ashtray for the back-seat passengers. Above this there is a panel, where a radio could go, embellished with a golden snake, which someone explained was meant as a “Z” for Zodiac. The rest of the upper facia before the passenger is upholstered padding but on the “lower deck”, as it were, is a very spacious drawer, which opens by depressing a lockable button, there being a handle with which to shut it. There is an excellent arrangement, providing it does not drop onto the passengers’ knees. The lock, however, was useless against a strong tug. It is less easy for a driver to use than an open cubby hole, but both front doors possess useful pockets.

The very excellent heater and ventilator have twin raised plated rotary controls, clearly marked and selective—this aspect of the Zodiac III leaves nothing to be desired. The fan has a bright indicator lamp. There is an accurate electric clock, standing: proud of the facia; it contrasts untidily with the deeply-recessed, aforesaid fuel gauge and thermometer. In the instrument panel itself are the usual warning lights for oil, main-beam, ignition and indicators. A single knob, very conveniently placed for the right hand, pulls out to select side/headlamps and turns to control, first rheostat panel-lighting, then the front, very bright, interior lamp; rotating in the opposite (anti-clockwise) direction to the similar lights-control on a Vauxhall. There is a somewhat insensitive foot lamps-dimmer. There is a separate’ less bright have lamp for the back passengers; both lamps have courtesy action when the appropriate doors are opened. The bonnet-release toggle for the self-supporting bonnet works easily and is convenient to the driver’s right-hand; the bonnet safety-catch is well contrived. There is a full horn-ring, with slightly disconcerting lost-motion, and the noisy window-winding handles (21/2 turns front, 2 rear) are high set on the doors, which have armrests with the interior door handles under their leading edges, in the modern manner. Sill door interior locks and an exterior lock rigidly in the driver’s door all function well. Both bench seats have broad, folding arm-rests. Curved door windows are a feature and the front 1/4-lights have locking pips but no rain-gutters; alas, they do not close so as to entirely eliminate wind roar, but they do open outwards to give an extractor effect. The frameless rear 1/4-lights open for further air extraction. The pedal positioning was either planned by a unpractical driver or the production boys got at them! The pedals are at an odd angle and too close to the floor, although, to be fair, acclimatisation was swift. A very good pull-out and twist hand brake lever protrudes from the facia convenient to the left-hand. There is a choke knob that can be locked out also with the left-hand.

In action the Ford Zodiac ill is quiet as to body rattles and mechanical noise and only the subdued sounds of induction and exhaust gas flow and a little road noise intrude. Although the 6.40 x 13 Goodyear Whitewall tyres looked soggy and I subsequently blew them up to higher pressures, no squeal had been induced.

The 12-volt 57-amp/hour battery lives up front in the o/s of the engine compartment and lights 50/37-watt outer and 37-watt inner headlamps. These give a fine driving light but too sharp a cut off for a 100 mph car. There is only one fuse. Parking lamps, selected from a flick-switch matching that for the heater fan, are standard, as is a screen washer worked, rather reluctantly, by pumping the knob controlling the allegedly variable-speed electric-wipers. A cigarette lighter and coat hooks are provided. Incidentally, the Ford name is played down, only “Zodiac” being found on bonnet and boot-lids.

The boot-lid can be opened without the key on this Essex-Ford, the lid rising rather abruptly on its own. The central petrol filler cap (unsecured) is found by pulling down the back number plate; this needs encouragement before it springs up, and one gas station (girl pump attendant) left us numberless at the rear.

The fuel tank is said to hold 121/2-gallons but the range worked out at a very useful 289 miles, which suggests over 14 gallons, as subsequent consumption checks gave figures ranging from exactly 20 to 21.8 mpg, whether pottering about, cruising fast, or crossing London to encounter those five-minute hold-ups (on Putney Bridge for example) that all Ernest Marples’ good works have failed to disentangle. The overall figure after 575 miles was 21.3 mpg. The spare wheel rides upright in the n/s corner of the boot, under a protective cover. After 500 miles of not by any means full-throttle driving, the oil level had fallen close to the danger level and a quart of Castrol was needed to restore it. The car was then 4,000 miles old. Greasing (of 12 points) can be postponed for 5,000 miles (but why not complete elimination, as on the Taunus ?).

To sum up, this is the old Zodiac in new clothing, rather than a completely revolutionary new Ford. The former merits of plenty of power from a flexible smooth engine, space (at all events in the front compartment), good braking and more than a touch of Americana have been retained, so that the Ford Zodiac III will appeal to those who like a big lazy-running, softly-sprung car. The increased power and 4-speed transmission (Borg-Warner fully automatic transmission is also available) now make the Zodiac an accelerative 1000 mph car and while the control characteristics are not entirely in keeping, there is no denying the value for money, at £778 (£1,070 15s 3d, after paying purchase tax.) After all, a. 3-litre Rover, for instance, costs £1,772.  -WB.

Volvo matters

Tim Carson, popular Secretary of the VSCC, points out that while it is true that he is running a Volvo with great satisfaction, he retains his 31/2-litre Derby-Bentley, as each car has its different merits. Incidentally. he gets a regular 30 mpg from his Volvo, and on a recent journey to Cornwall this improved to 34 mpg. Carson uses the heavier rear coil-springs, as fitted to Swedish police Volvos, which reduce body-sway and give a more vintage ride. And while on the subject of these meticulously manufactured. cars, the higher-output engine is, of course, the B18 and not the B12 as quoted more than once in last month’s article.