Looking for both space and style? Then this big Ford could be perfect.
While not exactly quick, the Zodiac’s straight-six provides acceptable performance with plenty in reserve for comfortable motorway cruising. Faster roads also demonstrate one of its other attributes, namely a smooth ride – thank the long wheelbase and soft suspension for that.
It feels less comfortable in the twisties though as body roll and imprecise steering combine to make throwing the big Ford around something of a chore, and enthusiastic driving will soon degenerate into tyre-squealing understeer. The standard front disc brakes mean it also stops well. Where this car really scores though is inside. Although the capacious boot squeezed rear passenger space, there is plenty of room up front, the driving position is sound.
Ford Zodiac MkIII
Power (bhp@rpm) 109bhp@4800rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 140lb ft@2400rpm
Top speed 100mph
Gearbox 4-spd manual/3-spd auto
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
It’s no great surprise that corrosion is a major factor with the Zodiac, so the best advice is to check every panel. The wheel arches, door bottoms, and valances all suffer as do the front wings, particularly the lower rear corners, which can come adrift in the worst cases. The bottom of the rear wings can become pretty flaky too, so you’ll need to check the lower corner of the door aperture where the wing meets the sill. More serious is rot around the bulkhead, the front strut top mounts (including beneath the wings), and around the bonnet hinges. The latter can be a tricky repair, so don’t ignore problems here. There’s plenty of chrome on a Zodiac too, and the condition needs careful checking as replacement parts aren’t always easy to find – factor in the cost of any re-conditioning when assessing the asking price.
Don’t be swayed by a shiny exterior. It really is worth getting the car on a ramp before parting with any money as extensive rust repairs will swallow plenty of cash. You need to check the chassis legs – particularly those either side of the engine and above the rear axle – and outriggers thoroughly. The floorpan of the cabin and boot are known rot-spots too, leaky screen seals contributing to the problem.
The straight-six unit is under-stressed, so general engine wear is likely to be the biggest issue. Excessive oil smoke from the exhaust can mean piston rings or cylinder bores in need of attention, while a rumble from the bottom of the engine indicates worn bearings. Valve-gear can get noisy, while lack of lubrication accelerates camshaft wear, and it’s worth checking when the timing chain was last changed as these will stretch over time. Expect the odd oil leak, often from the rear crankshaft seal, while worn carburettor spindles cause poor running. Subtle upgrades such as electronic ignition or uprated cooling system parts are worth having. The straightforward design means overhauling a tired engine is a DIY task, so finding one with a solid body is more important.
Listen out for noisy manual gearboxes and crunchy gearchanges caused by worn synchromesh. There was a choice of column or floor-mounted shift and worn linkages can cause an obstructive shift. Check the over-drive works if fitted too. Automatic ’boxes are considered bullet-proof but check to see if the fluid looks clear. Differentials can whine at high mileages and it’s also worth checking for leaking pinion oil seals, or failed half-shaft seals that have allowed oil to contaminate the rear brakes.
Apart from tired MacPherson struts and sagging leaf springs, there is little to worry about suspension-wise. The steering box rarely gives trouble as long as the oil hasn’t been allowed to leak away but worn linkages will cause vagueness at the helm. Bear in mind that a variety of parts were used on Zephyrs/Zodiacs at the time which aren’t interchangeable. Watch for juddering brake discs and leaking rear wheel cylinders although brake parts are cheap so refurbishing a tired set-up is straightforward. Failed seals can allow brake fluid to leak into the remote-mounted servo, meaning a specialist re-build is required.
There’s plenty of upholstery and carpeting in the big cabin, so reviving one that’s too far gone will cost. In addition factor in that some trim parts are becoming rare and difficult to source. Sun damage leads to cracking of the dash top and unless you can find a secondhand part, you’re looking at a few hundred pounds for a replacement from abroad. Finding an example with a tidy interior is best then, otherwise haggle accordingly.
Rotten examples are costly to put right, so don’t rush into buying without some careful checking. Be patient though as good ones are out there, and affordable prices along with sensible running costs make this classic 1960s Ford a hugely appealing proposition. Stylish looks and that spacious cabin are the icing on the cake as far as we’re concerned.