The Mk2 Ford Zodiac is a beautiful car, make no mistake. Car & Classic’s Editor, Chris, used to own one and despite the fact it was ten years ago, he still goes on about it. But looking at the Mk2 Zodiac, we can’t say we blame him. This was a top-of the line car for the 1960s. Think of it as the Mondeo Vignale of its time. A familiar shape, but crammed with more luxury than you can point a stick at. Yes, the Zodiac was very nice indeed.
It was Ford’s flagship car of the time for two reasons. Firstly, it was the most exquisite offering from Ford as a whole. Secondly, it was the king of the ‘Three Graces’ as Ford called them. If you’re not familiar, the term Three Graces referred to the three cars within this range. There was the Consul, powered by a four-cylinder engine. There was then the Zephyr, which was a little bit longer, had a bit more chrome, and also had a straight-six engine and then there was the Zodiac. This took the Zephyr and added more chrome, better trim and some other visual touches. Mechanically it was pretty much the same as the Zephyr. In fact, all three cars were similar, so you can take the info from this guide and apply it to them in most cases.
Get a good Mk2 Zodiac and you’ll be very happy indeed. The best one to go for is a post ‘61 ‘lowline’ model. The age means you get front disc brakes as standard, while the ‘lowline’ refers to a lower roof skin that really does make the car look sleeker. The lowline also got a far more elegant horizontal speedometer opposed to the highline’s ‘bubble’ arrangement. But of course, before you go running to find one with a fist full of fivers, there are five things you need to know.
1) Body and Chassis
Old Fords simply love to dissolve. When they were new, they came with nothing in the way of rust-proofing from the factory. It was down to the dealer to protect the underside, and even then, it was only if the customer chose to have it done. With that in mind, you can never be too careful when looking at an old Zodiac. The age of the car alone means there have been decades during which all manner of horrific, corner-cutting ‘repairs’ could have been carried out.
Prime rust spots are the front rings, the roof seams, the boot floor, the chassis rails, jacking points, doors, bonnet (specifically the corners), rear arches and also the floor. So pretty much all of it, then. The Zodiac’s big problem was the lack of arch liners. This meant road dirt and salt could build up with ease up into the arches and into the wings, especially around the headlight bowls. The same applies to the rear arches and rear valance. The bonnet is simply a water trap in the corners by the lights. Floors were a victim of not being rust-proofed, so as soon as the paint was scratched it was game over. Chassis rails were the same, as were jacking points, all of which could hold water that would then rot out.
The interior of an Mk2 Zodiac is a lovely place to be. You have the tuck and roll seats, the dash adorned with polished metal, and lots of chrome trim throughout. The good news is that it’s all pretty hardy stuff, so is more than capable of surviving through to today whilst still being functional. The bad news is that all the metal stuff and switchgear is unobtanium. If you go to view a Zodiac and any of it is missing, it’s going to be a headache trying to replace it. You might get lucky online but failing that you’re going to be sifting through autojumbles aplenty in a bid to find what’s missing.
Happily, it’s not so bad when it comes to the trim. Companies like Aldridge Trimming will be able to furnish you with everything you need to renew the upholstery. Seat covers, carpets, door cards, headliner, rear parcel shelf – they can do the lot. However, it won’t be cheap. You can easily run to £2,000 just on upholstery. With that in mind, it’s worth seeing if you can restore or revive any of the existing trim. Most independent upholsterers will be happy to have a look.
The Mk2 Zodiac might be prone to rust, but to make up for it, it’s a damn tough machine when it comes to the oily bits. The 2,553cc straight-six engine isn’t the fastest, but it is hardy. Construction comes in the form of a cast iron head and block, pushrod-operated valves and timing chain rather than a belt. From the factory, the engine can be expected to return 80-100k before any serious problems arise. If that happens, it will most likely be worn piston-rings and/or bearings. Parts are out there, and rebuilding the engine is simple enough, however, it is a labour-intensive job, as you’d expect. Timing chains should last the life of the car, but it never hurts to check for any stretch or slack, especially on cars with higher mileage.
The main thing a Mk2 Zodiac engine needs is modernising. The viscous fan is hopeless, so it’s best to get shot in favour of an electric one. Same for the unusual ‘hockey stick’ exhaust manifold, which is essentially a bit of pipe with six holes in it, that then bends through 180 degrees at the front of the engine before feeding out to the rear. A custom-made manifold would be welcomed. Also, on the modernising theme, see if it’s been converted to run on unleaded. If not, it something you’re going to need to have done at a cost of around £4-500. Oh, and electronic ignition is never a bad way to go, and can be bought and fitted for around £150.
4) Suspension and steering
Leaf on the back and coil spring on the front, it’s pretty standard stuff for a car of this age. The suspension is hardy, but it’s not immune to the ravages of time. You need to check the condition of the front shocks. Bounce the car. Does it wobble about for an age, or does it settle quickly? If the former, the shocks are past their best. Shocks are no longer available, so replacement is going to be in the form of a modern equivalent.
Rear leaf springs can sag over the years, and the hangers can rust out and deform, so check the car sits right. Also, check all the suspension has been regularly greased – Ford insisted it be done every 1,000 miles over 14 different points.
As for the steering, there’s no power assistance. That said, the steering should still be light as well as being accurate. In a perfect word, you should have no more than an inch of play in the wheel. Furthermore, the car should go from lock-to-lock easily. If it seems more difficult part way through, or of there seems to be excessive play in the wheel, the chances are the steering box has been over-adjusted to take out any slack. This kills the box, unfortunately. You’re going to be looking at a reconditioned box which will set you back around £250.
Again, as with the rest of the mechanical stuff, the brakes are pretty durable. Pre-May ’61 cars had drums all round as standard, whereas later cars had the option of solid discs up front. Parts are still available for both systems, so renewing and refreshing the brakes shouldn’t be an issue. You just need to do the usual checks of making sure you have a decent pedal and also look for signs of leaks, as the cylinders can fail, especially if the car has been laid up for a long time.
The only difficulty you may face with the brakes will come from bleeding them. It’s not a case of doing it once – expect to have to do it twice or even three times to get a really good, firm pedal. Also, check the condition of the lines going into the fluid reservoir, as they may have been damaged in the past whilst other work was being undertaken.