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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

1959 Ford Zodiac Mk II

The 1959 Ford Zodiac wore its own distinctive grille. 

In September of 1954, the popular Ford Zephyr was given an upscale sister, the Zodiac. These two offerings were the largest in the British Ford lineup. While the body shells were the same, the Zodiac was dressed to the nines, with many glittering goodies included in the base price.  

In the 1950s, the styling studios of all the big American manufacturers were located in Detroit. These fabulous facilities were all given nicknames like, “the stiletto room”. The arrival of monocoque bodyshell technology in the 1940s turned Detroit upside down and gave designers almost total power. Their nemesis was the the folks in engineering, whose hapless job was to turn fanciful designs into drivable reality.  

An aerial view of the Ford Motor Company, Limited in 1959. The manufacturer was located in Dagenham, England.
Post-war Britain and Europe had nothing that even came close to the American facilities.  For example, the clay modelling was done in the USA because of access to a special clay that could easily be re-worked by splashing water on it.  The clay models of the Mk 2 Consul Zephyr and Zodiac were started in Detroit and finished in Dagenham to allow the body engineers to prepare the tooling--as many stampings were limited by the size and power of the presses available at Dagenham.   

Sir Patrick Hennessy was Chairman and CEO of Ford’s British operations. He had a close personal friendship with designer Colin Neale.  The chairmen sent stylist Colin Neale to Detroit in 1954 to work on the clay models for the 1956 Zodiac and Zephyr.  

Built in Ford plants in Windsor and Oakville, Ontario, the 1954 Ford Customline Fordor Sedan was a favourite with consumers. 
As an aside, whenever Colin returned from working in the USA, Sir Pat lent him his personal, Canadian-built Ford. Sir Pat actually came to like the Mk 2 Zodiac so much that he had the very last convertible re-engineered with the powertrain from the new Mk 3 range, and presented it as a parting gift to Neale from Ford. 

The second generation Fords were a hit. By 1959, Ford’s famed Three Graces—the Consul, Zephyr and Zodiac nearly tripled Dagenham’s output as the trio hit their stride as best sellers. Refreshed that year, ad copy bragged that Zodiac was the finest example of ‘striking, clean elegance’. The 1956 to 1959 models were known as “highlines” and the 1960 to 1962 models were known as “lowlines”.

Advertising bragged. "The new ‘low’ look, the new ‘finished’ look—it’s a twofold triumph for Ford. Your new Zodiac has a new, low roof contour, a discreet embellishment of chrome, striking single and dual-tone colour schemes and restyled luxury interior features. Zodiac was ‘the finest expression of Ford achievement: a large luxurious, high- performance motor car, created by modern mass production methods, yet with the finish and attention to detail that speaks of the craftsman’s touch.” If that wasn’t enough, publicity further boasted, "From the finest raw materials, up-to-date techniques, the brains and skill of thousands of Ford workpeople, Ford offer you with pride a car you will be proud to own.” Zodiac’s goal was straightforward: To grace the world’s roads.

The Royal Family was favourably impressed. Queen Elizabeth II bestowed the unit-construction Zodiac with a Royal Warrant, as purveyors of motor vehicles to Her Royal Highness. The Queen Mother gave her own approval by granting a Royal Warrant to the Ford Motor Company Limited.

Zodiac wore a unique face. Four horizontal bars were placed in a rectangle, in sweetly curved frame. A pair of parking lamps flanked the arrangement. Above,  was a short sweet kiss of vertical bars, framed in chrome.   It was often referred to as the ‘harmonica’ grille. The word Zodiac was spelled out in capital letters across the hood.

Headlights were ensconced in either painted (highlines) or chrome bezels (lowlines), topped off with latest American car craze, the Frenched look. Zodiac’s front bumper was a classic blade, graced with bumperettes.

Along the side, the sedan was slab-sided, punctuated with a discrete chrome moulding that began at the front wheel well, rose dramatically to make a sharp “V” that raked—in a straight line—all the way to the taillight. The windshield was tastefully curved into the side. Although lowered, the contoured, generous greenhouse was free of blind spots. Designer Colin Neal said the glass and greenhouse were a downsized version of the American 1952 Ford sedan.

Most dramatic was the rear of the Zodiac. History has Colin Neale to thank for that. In Dearborn, he spotted the latest Lincoln Premier prototype, and borrowed the styling for the tail of the Zodiac. A massive, tall, ribbed, chrome insert ran across the lower lip of the trunk, down to the bumper. Its rounded, outer edges towered upward to ensconce a pair of elaborate cathedral taillights. The sassy Zodiac name, flirting at an rakish, upward tilt, kissed the right side of the trunk lid.  The bumper’s endcaps finished in elegant, curvaceous wrap-arounds that were the foundation of the magnificent taillight tower. A pair of bumperettes completed the ensemble.

The spacious cargo area offered .5 cubic metres (18 cubic feet) of room. It was also home to the spare tire and a toolbox.  

To further distinguish itself from the Zephyr, the comfy six-passenger Zodiac was blessed with posh, revamped interiors that included deep gently-sprung, leather-faced seats, PVC grain and new Maze Nylon-weave upholstery materials. The latter two were applied to doors and non-seat panels, in a ‘fabulous range designs and colour’. There were arm rests fore and aft, coat hooks, a vanity mirror, map pocket for the driver, two sun visors and a clock. Front arm rests featured six-position adjustability. Passengers sank their feet into sumptuous, precisely cut astrakhan carpeting. The fittings and furnishings offered luxury treatment for the most fastidious. 

The instrument panel was restyled. The non-reflective facia was capped with safety padding. International design control knobs were introduced and housed in a convenient rectangular cluster. The speedometer maxed out at 100 miles per hour (150 kmh), and was positioned front and centre for the odometer, fuel gauge, temperature gauge, and warning lights for oil pressure and electrical. 

A tasteful ‘embellisher strip’ was home to a windshield washer, choke, windshield wiper, ignition.  Below the classy band, one found vertically mounted ventilation and heater controls. The lowest tier housed a cigar lighter, a pull-out ashtray, a radio and a chrome-handled handbrake. A windshield washer was standard equipment.

Outside, a full compliment of understated chrome mouldings embellished the windows. Even the drip rail was chromium kissed.  Whitewall tires, chrome wheel trim rings were all nice touches. 

 Ford’s Zodiac was powered by Dagenham’s six-cylinder mill, now rated at 2.5 litres (155.8 cubic inches). It registered 64 kiloWatts (86 horsepower), more than ample for the 1 242 kilo (2,738 pound) luxury sedan. The engine worked flawlessly in tandem with Borg-Warner’s three-speed, manual gearbox. For a wee bit more, one could order overdrive. A Borg-Warner three-speed automatic transmission was optional this year. 

Sedan paint jobs differed from convertible choices. Norwich Blue, Newark Grey, Ludlow Green, Durham Beige were all unique to the four-door Zodiac. Half-a-dozen two-tone colour schemes were offered, at a cost. 

Records indicate that two percent of Zodiac’s factory production was dedicated to the long, low and beautifully proportioned convertible. The open cars differed substantially in structure from sedans, and were built to order by Carbodies of Coventry.  “The sports car enthusiast will admire the clean workmanlike lines of the open Zodiac, and envy you your snug winter comfort with the (top) up.” 

The full colour   palette for the open car consisted ofs Black, Dover White, Kenilworth Blue, Guildford Blue, Harlech Green, Brecon Grey, Arundel Lilac, Rougement Red, Conway Yellow and Pembroke Coral. In addition, there were five two-tone paint schemes.

The third Zodiac offering was the Station Wagon or Estate Car. These were also conversions from sedans, usually built to order, primarily by Abbots of Farnham. One domestic source lists the price of the wagon as $3,050 but another makes no mention of the regal hauler’s availability in the Dominion.

Zodiac was exported throughout the British Commonwealth. Further, it was assembled in Australia, New Zealand, Southern Rhodesia and the Union of South Africa. It is estimated that only ten percent of the Zodiacs shipped from Dagenham had left-hand drive vehicles.   

A fully-loaded ride Zodiac’s cost goodies list was miniscule. Offerings were limited to a rear centre armrest, overdrive, automatic transmission, radio and speaker. 

Sales of British and European vehicles exploded by 14% in Canada in 1959, hitting an all-time high of 118,513 units. Imports suddenly accounted for 23.8% of new vehicle sales. 

It was a good year for Zephyr and Zodiac. Ford of Canada lumped the two together when reporting calendar year sales of 4,549 units. That gave the Dagenham duo a respectable 22nd place in the domestic sales pie. 

Patrick Wilson shares his restoration story.

He began to search for a  Zodiac to restore when he arrived in Canada in the early 1970s. He knew that a few had been sold here, but had never seen one on the road. His goal  was to ‘clone’ the car he learnt to drive on in the UK. 

Having owned several British cars in Canada, In 1995, he joined the newly formed and Internet savvy group, The British Saloon Car Club of Canada.  To his delight, he was a member for only a very short time when not one, but of his dream cars surfaced. He snapped them both up, in the same week.  

One Zodiac was a very rusty, low-mileage parts car. The other was a well used, rust-free car that had spent time in Texas. Every effort was made to keep the restoration of rust-free car to numbers matching.  Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was as easy as pie to obtain Zodiac parts on the Internet. Even if a vendor did not have a website - names and addresses of individuals were invaluable.  

So, Patrick began the painstaking restoration.  Rust was removed and sills replaced. Fenders reworked, using as much metal and as little filler as possible. The drivetrain was completely dismantled and checked. The 2553cc six-cylinder mill was rebored and totally refurbished. The differential was upgraded to a 3.56:1 ratio for quieter cruising. A new OEM clutch was found and installed. Dual circuit brakes and seat belts were safety upgrades that he deemed necessary because this car was going to be driven everywhere. 

Patrick points out that one of the advantages of "Clone Restorations" vs "Shrines" is that a clone can be driven freely, without fear of losing something precious. If he had shipped his original Zodiac from the UK, it would have been placed in the "Shrine" category.  

Over a period of seven year, the  Zodiac came back to life. It was finally proclaimed roadworthy in July 2005. Since then it has covered many a highway and byway, even a trip to the States to visit its UK stylist, Colin Neale, who relocated to the USA in 1958.  Going for a drive with the car’s creator and learning how it was conceived and built is something that he will never forget. The restoration was so thorough and detailed, Neale could not tell that the Zodiac was a clone. He commented that the car's upholstery materials were of higher quality than original. Sadly, Colin passed away last year just few weeks shy of his 90th birthday. As a tribute to the designer,  Patrick took his car to pieces in 2017, and gave it a minor refurbish, to freshen it up.  

People always want to know what the Zodiac is like to drive. Patrick reports that acceleration is decent, to more than keep up with modern traffic. The upgraded 3.56:1 differential, aka “Z-car diff”, does not compromise the car’s hill climbing ability and he later learned that the last few 1959 Mk 2 Zodiacs were equipped with this differential. Cruising speed is a decent GPS verified 100 KPH (65 MPH) with  144 KPH (90 MPH) on tap, if needed.  Raymond Mays made tuning equipment that would push these cars past the 160 KPH (100 MPH) mark but these conversions cannot be installed on left-hand drive Zodiacs because the steering box obstructs the multi-pipe header system.  Insurance is very reasonable. His 22-year old daughter has no problem driving this nearly 60-year old car and has mastered the column shift despite having no synchromesh on 1st gear!

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01. An aerial view of the Ford Motor Company, Limited in 1959. The manufacturer was located in Dagenham, England.

02. The Ford Zodiac found favour with Queen Elizabeth II.

03. Wheelbase for the Ford Zodiac was 2 718 millimetres (107 inches). Rear suspension was longitudinal, asymmetrical semi-elliptic springs coupled to hydraulic, double-action shock absorbers.

04. The overall length of the Ford Zodiac four-door sedan was 4 586 millimetres (180.6 inches). 

05. The Zodiac’s instrument panel was redesigned for 1959. A classy touch was variable lighting for dials and gauges.

06. Advertising invited folks to step inside and sit back. The Zodiac cabin had ample room for the longest legs, the broadest shoulders and headroom for the tallest.

07. The 1959 Ford Zodiac wore its own distinctive grille. 

08.  Canadians could drive home in the snazzy, five-passenger Ford Zodiac convertible for $2,795. 

09. The six-cylinder engine was thrifty. Average fuel consumption was 14.3 litres per 100 kilometres (19.8 miles per Imperial gallon).

10. Ford-Monarch dealers introduced Francophones to ’The newest luxury car in Canada—the astonishing Zodiac Mark II’. 

11. This Ford publicity shot features two glamour girls.  

12. Fully restored, this 1959 Ford Zodiac is Patrick Wilson’s pride and joy.

13. In the beginning, there was rust. The Ford needed to be cured of road cancer.

Visit my old car website at: The Oilspot Eh!
Visit my old car website at: The Oilspot Eh!
Visit my old car website at: The Oilspot Eh!
© James C. Mays 2017 All rights reserved.

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