The August Bank Holiday week-end meant, for the Editor, not excursions to places of amusement or basking on seaside beaches, but motoring to and from the motor-race venues. For this he was relieved to have the loan from the Ford Motor Company, of Dagenham, of a Zephyr Zodiac. Most expensive model of Ford’s Five-Star range, the Zodiac has all mod. cons. and is smartly finished in a two-colour scheme with white-walled tyres. We were soon affectionately referring to it as “Zsa Zsa Zodiac,” because it is that sort of car.
The mod. cons. which Ford has added to its largest and most powerful model include just those additions which made all the difference to the pleasure of motoring, whether in city traffic or on the open road. There is (as an extra), a first-class Ecko radio with front and rear-located speakers, the latter with its own tone-control. Open a little panel on the set and you can tune-in any one of a great number of stations; you then shut the flap and have instant pre-selection, from a single knob, of any three stations. The tone is excellent and interference at a minimum. In a select residential side-road above Denham (preparatory to an afternoon with the Vintage Aeroplane Club at Dr. Bickerton’s delightful grass aerodrome) we heard how Gonzalez swept into the lend in the Ferrari in the German G.P. and, later on that Sunday, parked on heathland beside the main railway line from London to the West Country, we let Raymond Baxter describe Fangio’s brilliant victory for Mercédès-Benz. All credit to the B.B.C. Officials at home that they let the programme run-over until Hawthorn was safely over the line in second place.
The Zodiac has a good heater and demisters, screen-washers, dual vizors with mirror in that for the passenger, a Smith’s roof-clock (which seemed to have lost a few r.p.m.), armrests to its spacious bench-seats, which are upholstered to match the body, a big parcels-shelf below the ornate dash (but no door pockets or cubby-hole), a drawer-type ash-tray, and convenient tea light, while its lighting arrangements are supplemented by a spot-lamp, a Lucas “flamethrower” and a reversing-lamp. Other luxury items include pile floor carpet, wool headlining, lockable petrol-filler cap, toolbox in the luggage boot and durable rear reflectors. Instrumentation is in the modern manner; the speedometer possesses a total mileage recorder but no trip reading, and there is a proper ammeter, which is just as well in view of the load the battery has to carry, and a fuel gauge. Otherwise, lights tell of pressure and ampere failures should these occur. There is a “popout” cigar-lighter and the dual screen-wipers are suction-operated; we prefer the electrical sort.
Visibility front and back is excellent, with flexibly-mounted wing mirrors as ”sights,” but the screen pillars cause blind spots. Comfort is of a high order and it is unnecessary to add that the Zodiac is a spacious car; the rapacity of the luggage boot, too, is enormous and exceedingly useful, the spare wheel in this case being literally lost within. The front-seat squab tends to dig the kidneys somewhat and the back seat offers a reclining posture, but the upholstery is pleasantly soft.
Turning to the chassis, the suspension is spongy, permitting roll when cornering and curtseys when anchoring, yet it does not entirely mask bad road surfaces, which promote some up-and-down movement and cause the road wheels to pitter-patter. This supple springing has its effect on roadholding, a bump encountered on a bend putting the car slightly “off course,” while heavy braking can deflect the steering a shade. Under these circumstances slightly higher-geared steering would be appreciated. As it is, the wheel, the spokes of which are masked by a half horn-ring, asks a shade over 2 1/2 turns luck-to-luck; moreover, the turning circle cannot be called generous. The steering has the modern “dead” characteristic, but is light, not spongy, and has considerable castor-action. Vibration is transmitted via the column and more so to the steering-column gear-shift lever.
The brakes make a slight squeal, are more powerful than they seem to be, but not entirely fade-free, and are a bit fierce for emergency use on rain-lubricated roads. The central umbrella-handle is only slightly awkward.
The gear-lever extends on the left from a rather untidy aperture in the steering-column tunnel and is a thought indecisive, and heavily spring-loaded to the first and unguarded reverse-gear position. It is, however, rigid of its kind, with quite a short travel. The clutch pedal is heavy to depress. These observations apart, the Ford Zodiac is the essence of easy, swift travel. The over-square 2 1/2-litre six-cylinder engine, virtually inaudible at idling r.p.m., wafts this quite large, slab-fronted saloon along at 60-70 m.p.h. with no apparent effort, the noise level still so low that the jangle of the ignition-key tag can prove irritating! Acceleration, even in top gear, is exceedingly useful for traffic negotiation, and normal maxima in the first and second ratios of the three-speed gearbox are 30 and 50 m.p.h.. respectively. All this carries with a fuel consumption of rather better than 23 m.p.g.
The Zodiac we had for test proved completely anxiety-free in 674 hurried miles — just to uphold the journalistic-boast that “we never so much as opened the bonnet” we refrained from glancing at the machinery beneath the hood, which wasn’t opened from the Friday to the Tuesday.
The car is conspicuous, it is true, and if we metaphorically donned a corduroy cap and took a blonde to drive the Singer Roadster tested last month, this Ford Zodiac seemed to call for a half-gallon sombrero, horn-rimmed spectacles (these we already have), and a cigar, with Zsa Zsa Gabor beside us. But effortless transport is the keynote of Dagenham’s most costly car. Enthusiastic drivers may note the considerable distance between driver and windscreen (which reflects something of the ornate, dash), the suppleness of the suspension, the forward-weight distribution, and a tendency for the back wheels to spin and judder; yet the Zephyr, of which the Zodiac is merely a more-completely-equipped edition, was sufficiently fast and sure-treaded to win the 1953 Monte Carlo Rally.
For an 80-m.p.h. car the fuel consumption is reasonable and the purchase price especially so. You are apt to regard the Zodiac, for which few conceivable “extras” are required, as a £1,000 vehicle, but, in fact, the price is only £851 and half-a-dollar, inclusive or p.t. The only concessions the car tested made to this low cost was a rattle in the driver’s door and a rather stiff window in the same door.
There was also a carburation flat-spot at about 30 m.p.h. when accelerating, but the engine was otherwise entirely vice-free and a prompt starter from cold.
As if to remind its that this was travel at its most modern, a futuristic flying insect had alighted on the place where cars once kept their water-fillers. And such motoring is now many people’s glass of beer, as we were reminded when, going to the Crystal Palace race meeting on the August Bank Holiday, we encountered Tony Rolt’s Ford Zephyr and heard Jim Mayers explaining that Ford transport suits him very well. Racing drivers should know, so we have no compunction in recommending the Zodiac and Zephyr to those who seek this class of motoring. They are about the best cars in their respective price classes. — W. B.
The Ford Zephyr Zodiac Saloon
Engine: six cylinders, 79.37 by 76.2 mm., 2,262 cc., push-rod o.h.v. 7.5 to 1 compression ratio; 68 b.h.p. at 4,000 r.p.m.
Gear ratios: First, 12.61 to 1; Second 7.297 to 1; Top: 4.444 to 1.
Tyres: 6.40-13 India whitewall Air Cushion on bolt-on steel, disc wheels.
Weight: 23 cwt. and 2 qtr., without passengers but with approx. 2 gallons of fuel.
Steering ratio: 2 1/2 turns lock-to-lock.
Fuel capacity: Nine gallons; range approx., 208 miles
Wheelbase: 8 ft. 8 ins.
Track: Front, 4 ft. 2 in.; Rear, 4 ft. 1 in.
Dimensions: 14 ft. 3.86 in. by 5 ft. 3 in. by 5 ft. 0.75 in.
Price: £600 (£851 2s. 6d. with p.t.).
Makers: Ford Motor Co. Ltd., Dagenham, Essex.