Ford Zephyr: Magnificent Mk1 alive and well
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The MK1 was what all the boys wanted - some still have them
Laurie Swan bought this remarkably original 1955 Ford Mk1 Zephyr around 2010, from the South Island, and drove it to his home north of Auckland.
"We had a Zephyr when we were young, most of us young guys did. Hooning around the North Shore ... I could never afford a convertible -- they were the sought-after vehicles," he says. "When I was a young guy you'd see a convertible and oh, the drool, but only the rich guys could afford them."
Life had got in the way of that early dream and his later ownership - he owned one for about four years, selling it six months ago.
"You get married and you can't afford toys. I did have a Mk1 - I was a panelbeater and used to buy written-off cars in the pre-VIN days. Do it up, drive it for six months and sell it when the next one is ready - you end up with free motoring."
He's had a few older cars, "I've had a few Chevs, would you believe, I had a 37 and a 39 coupe, we used to go down to the Art Deco weekend in Napier, for about 10 years. We used to leave home at 5am, meet the others at Bombay for breakfast and it would take the rest of the day, even cruising at 90, 95km/h."
What prompted him to buy this Zephyr? Laurie reckons he's trying to relive his youth - his wife, Carol, has a good giggle at that. "You try to remember what you had when you were young," Laurie says, "though my first car was a Morris 8 and that was my first classic, too, but I quickly realised it wasn't me, so I went to the Chevs."
But back to this Zephyr, and it was basically in this wonderful condition when he acquired it. "I had it cut and polished and I put an overdrive in it as it better handles the open road. I rust-proofed it all, but there's no rust in it. It's had one repaint in its life, but not by me."
It also has radial tyres now, to make it safer, and a modern radio - it was never fitted with one.
Otherwise it's standard, down to the carpets, and any extras that weren't fitted from the factory - the sun visor, rear louvres, monsoon shields and the like, were all Zephyr options when it was first sold. That includes the windscreen heater. That's the metal bar fixed to the base of the windscreen, just above the steering wheel - effectively a single-bar heater warming the glass. It would have needed it, being a South Island car, especially since it doesn't otherwise have a heater, as Laurie discovered on day one.
"When I picked it up from Takaka, the hill was closed for snow, it was snow all the way, a heck of a trip in the dark, and the only road not closed for snow was the Paraparas and there was that much ice on it that it was white knuckles until Taumarunui ... "
The trip wasn't without incident. On one corner, "I came around and it slid one way, then the other -- a lady had already come off the road."
The Zephyr has no problem keeping up with traffic on long trips; it's powered by the standard 2.2-litre six-cylinder motor with 51kW at 4000rpm and 152Nm of torque at 2000rpm, to propel a 1153kg car, pulled up by hydraulic brakes, "Drum brakes, and not very good. Well they are, when it was made they were fine, but in the continuing story modern traffic you have to be more careful," he admits.
"They were the first of the vehicles without a separate chassis. They were the family car, for mum, dad and the three kids, but you put it next to a Honda Civic now and it looks tiny."
Laurie does all the maintenance on it, and "We're lucky that the Zephyr club has a big used parts store, so if anything happens, there's good access to parts." He already has the original manual, a great read as it describes such cutting-edge fitments as the "new wrap-around bumpers" and the "mechanically magnificent" powertrain ...
Perhaps that was what prompted the police to order this model for a while. "They had a bloody big radar on the back, about the size of a washing machine bowl."
Our short drive proved how comfy the Zephyr is: the seats are nicely sprung, the engine emitting a pleasant, understated burble, and it's immaculate, so much so it's hard to believe how much of it is original -- even the 62-year-old carpets under the mats still look good.
"We're just guardians of the car. You just keep it tidy for the next person," Laurie says, before Carol corrects him - "I thought you wanted to be buried in it!"
Looking at how solid it still is, I think it might outlive us all.
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