Some notes on the Ford Zephyr 4 Automatic
The fact that I drove a smart red, 6.40 x 13 Goodyear Whitewall-shod Ford Zephyr 4—the 1,703 c.c. 4-cylinder Zephyr—with an automatic gearbox last August came about because, impressed by the smoothness of change of the “Torque-Rite” transmission on the Chrysler Valiant V200, I wondered whether Britain offered an equally good automatic transmission. Ford of Dagenham offered me a Zephyr 4 with Borg-Warner torque converter in order to find out.
As to whether the Chrysler or the Ford has the better automation, I still find it hard to say. The 3-speed transmission of Chrysler’s compact functions with commendable smoothness and it is possible to hold 1st and 2nd gear if required. Ford’s box can only be held in “L” and does not function quite so sweetly, but then it is coupled to a 1.7-litre 4-cylinder engine, whereas the 6-cylinder Chrysler has a swept volume of 3,687 c.c.
Of the honesty and usefulness of this Zephyr, however, I am firmly convinced. It is in the character of the old Austin 20 of revered vintage memory, inasmuch as there are both 4- and 6-cylinder versions. The Zephyr 6 (in de luxe Zodiac III form) I dealt with in Motor Sport in June 1962.
Whereas many English cars of this spaciousness come into the category of semi-luxury vehicles, with wood-veneering and leather upholstery, the rugged Ford Zephyr 4 is far more in the style of an average American automobile, intended to be useful rather than rank as a treasured possession, to be made to work for its keep instead of being cosseted, the kind of car you let the dog ride in, washing away the mud-marks afterwards rather than wash-and-polish twice daily and generally fuss over.
The two wide bench seats, comfortable enough but not luxurious, were upholstered in two-tone Vinyl (hide is available, however) and had no centre arm-rests. The lockable luggage boot is enormous (21 3/4 cu. ft.). The controls are simple but elfective-l.h. lever for the L, D, N, R, P positions of the gremlin-box, r.h. stalk for indicators, with a headlamp-flasher knob (praise-be, Dagenham!) at its extremity. A treadle accelerator pedal, and a dummy ditto on which to rest the left foot which also acts as the lamps dipper. A single knob suffices for interior lamp (in the front compartment, which leaves the back-seat occupants a bit in the shade), rheostat instrument lighting and exterior lamps, which, a good point, also controls the gear-indicator illumination. Similar knobs control the variable-speed, very effective screen-wipers and choke. Two clearly marked eared knobs look after heat or cold air to screen and car interior, and on a lower deck as it were, are the heater-fan switch with warning light and ash-tray. A hooded, wide-arc 120 m.p.h. speedometer, rather vague to read, is flanked by a steady reading fuel gauge and temperature gauge. The total mileometer has a decimal reading. There is a rather dicey parking light switch that can cause you to drive on o/s lamp only if it is used while in motion, although the engine cannot be started with it on—a temporary foil to a novice car thief! Those, and the usual, non-dazzling, warning lights, a pull out from the facia handbrake, and a full horn-ring, are the main controls.
Although it wasn’t leather-upholstered, this Zephyr 4 had imitation walnut stripping for facia and subsidiary control panel, but dark hued and narrow, therefore unobtrusive, as in a Mercedes-Benz.
Internal door handles beneath the arm-rests, out of the way of fidgets, but too stiff… a useful rear-view mirror (so essential in the Marples’ Age), soft vizors (no mirror), and sill interior door locks are useful items of this practical, no-nonsense Ford.
The fuel filler is concealed behind the spring-loaded rear number plate. The screen pillars are rather thick but well raked, otherwise visibility is excellent. I have described the car in normal trim—there are lots of extras available, such as log and spotlamps, reversing lamp, folding centre arm-rest, roof rack, etc.
This is a big car, a decent 6-seater, in spite of the wide transmission hump, for the 1.7-litre 82.5 x 79.5 mm. engine to pull. Once in its stride, however, the 4-cylinder engine becomes pleasantly smooth and there is ample performance (0-60 m.p.h. in 23 sec., a s.s. 1/4-mile in the same time) up to an easy cruising gait of 80 m.p.h. The accelerator kick-down is unduly heavy, but when used it postpones upward gear-changes to 40 and 65 m.p.h., (they otherwise occur at about 5 and 15 m.p.h.), while selecting “L” between 5 m.p.h. and 60 m.p.h. engages 2nd gear and holds it. Kick-down below approx. 20 m.p.h. has the same effect on bottom gear, providing maximum engine braking on the over-run. Simple and effective! Inspite of all S. Moss and the late Mike Hawthorn have said in advocating fully-automatic transmission I prefer to be master of my gear-changes. But for traflic driving the saving in left leg wear and tear is well worthwhile and I maintain that any driver who claims he could have averted an incident had he been able to remain longer in a given gear than Mr. Borg-Warner permitted him, drives unduly close to the accident.
As to whether “things happening” beneath the floor use too much petrol, I can only remark that this big Ford gave an overall consumption of premium fuel equal to 27.4 m.p.g. That included every condition of normal motoring, including rush-hour London. The range from full to empty tank was a useful 360 miles. Being rather busy while I had this Ford I didn’t open the bonnet until the last day, when, after 1,350 miles, the dip-stick proclaimed that the sump was still full of oil.
Starting from cold called for rather a lot of choke, yet there was too much choke with the knob locked out, and from cold stalling intruded—resulting in an embarrassing few moments, going from D to N to D and turning the ignition key, outside the Law Courts. Otherwise, not a complaint, unless that the thief-proof 1/4-lights were stiff to close against their rubbers and their catches sharp to operate. In the several rainstorms of August only a few drops of water entered the interior by the scuttle, the heater is very powerful, the Ford radio clear of tone, the headlamp beam only average. The brakes, with vacuum servo actuated 9 1/2 in. discs at the front, worked very well indeed.
The ride is a bit lively, nothing to enthuse over, but comfortable, with roll well controlled, but the back axle does try to lift or wag the Zephyr’s tail. The steering is notably light, the lock excellent, with brisk castor return, and the high-set wheel is unobtrusive against the long bonnet of the Zephyr. Road irregularities are felt through the wheel and bad surfaces cause some shake. The wheel takes four turns lock to lock, not counting free play.
The doors shut nicely for this sort of car and interior stowage, on the very deep left-hand under-facia shelf and wide back shelf and in the lockable cubby-hole, is commendably generous.
To sum up, the Ford Zephyr 4 is a thoroughly sensible, practical car of adequate performance. I can readily understand why it has made so many friends (although to me it is an old-fashioned design) especially at the modest price, even in Automatic form, of £869 7s. 6d. (or only £32 12s. 6d. more than the normal gearbox Zephyr 6, which is admittedly smoother and more accelerative).
Those who see sense in the practical American automobile but want something easier to park and with the 73 1/2 b.h.p. of the Zephyr 4 rather than 200 b.h.p., will, I think, agree that this Ford is a useful, very worthwhile proposition.—W.B.