ZODIAC

OF THE

New Zealand Classic Car - - Feature Car - Words: Ash­ley Webb Re­search: Al­lan Wal­ton Pho­tos: Adam Croy

While the Zephyr/zodiac sedans proved ad­e­quate for most fam­i­lies — with or with­out the oblig­a­tory car­a­van, boat, or trailer in tow — rare es­tate ver­sions pro­vided more than enough space for the grow­ing fam­ily.

As those with longer mem­o­ries will know, the MKII Zephyr and Zodiac sedans were as­sem­bled in New Zealand from com­plete-knock-down (CKD) kits, and, as strin­gent im­port li­cens­ing re­stricted sup­ply, the es­tate ver­sions of th­ese pop­u­lar Fords were im­ported fully built from the UK and were al­ways a rare sight on Kiwi roads.

Coach-built

The MKII model Zephyr/zodiac de­buted in 1956 along­side its smaller-en­gined cousin, the MKII Consul. Fol­low­ing the same tra­di­tion as the pre­vi­ous model, the Zodiac was Ford’s flag­ship ve­hi­cle and boasted lux­ury fea­tures such as leather up­hol­stery, two-tone paint schemes and ‘gold’-plated badges. Un­der the bon­net, the en­gine as used in the MKI cars was in­creased in ca­pac­ity from 2262cc to 2553cc for ex­tra power.

Apart from the sedan, both the Zephyr and Zodiac MKIIS were also avail­able as a con­vert­ible or as an es­tate — the lat­ter ac­tu­ally sa­loons that had been con­verted by ED Ab­bott Ltd, more fa­mil­iarly known as ‘Ab­bott of Farn­ham’.

This Bri­tish coach­build­ing com­pany, based in Farn­ham, Sur­rey, con­verted many Con­suls, Ze­phyrs, and Zo­di­acs to es­tate mod­els. The end re­sult proved pop­u­lar among fam­i­lies and trades­peo­ple alike, es­pe­cially as the cars ended up with a cav­ernous boot ca­pac­ity that ex­ceeded an im­pres­sive 1.86 cu­bic me­tres with the rear seat in the folded-down po­si­tion.

Ab­bott of Farn­ham’s long-stand­ing rep­u­ta­tion for build­ing com­mer­cial ve­hi­cles be­gan in 1929 with Ed­ward Dixon Ab­bott, who had pre­vi­ously worked for Wolse­ley and as Lon­don sales man­ager for the coach­build­ing con­cern of Page and Hunt. When

that com­pany went un­der in 1929, he took over its premises at Farn­ham and es­tab­lished ED Ab­bott Ltd.

A rea­son­ably full or­der book re­sulted in a steady pro­duc­tion run of com­mer­cial ve­hi­cles that kept the busi­ness afloat dur­ing the worst days of the De­pres­sion. In ad­di­tion, a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of pro­duc­tion was un­der sub­con­tract to mo­tor-ve­hi­cle man­u­fac­tur­ers.

Ab­bott’s strat­egy of pro­mot­ing his busi­ness each year at the Lon­don Mo­tor Show from 1931 on­wards paid div­i­dends, and, just three years later, in 1934, he se­cured a ma­jor con­tract from Lagonda to build bod­ies for its new Rapier, as well as ac­quir­ing work from AFN Ltd for coach­work on the im­ported BMW chas­sis it as­sem­bled and badged as a Frazer NashBMW.

Fol­low­ing the end of World War II, Ab­bott re­sumed nor­mal busi­ness, in­clud­ing bodywork for the Sun­beam-tal­bot 2.0-litre drop­head coupé and the Healey Ab­bott. In ad­di­tion, the com­pany built spe­cial bod­ies for Jowett, Bent­ley, Jaguar, and Lanch­ester prior to re­ceiv­ing con­firmed or­ders from Ford for es­tate ver­sions of its Consul and Zephyr mod­els. Ford kept Ab­bott busy dur­ing the late 1950s and early 1960s, but, as the days of the spe­cial­ist coach­builder be­came num­bered, or­ders slowly de­clined, and Ab­bott fi­nally closed its doors in 1972.

Zephyr zeal

The owner of our fea­tured 1960 Ford Zodiac MKII Farn­ham Es­tate, Paul Roberts, first be­came in­volved with Ze­phyrs in 1967 when he was just 16 years old — hardly sur­pris­ing, as Ze­phyrs were, in­deed, ex­tremely pop­u­lar in New Zealand dur­ing the swing­ing ’60s.

At the time, Paul’s brother had de­cided that he wanted to buy a Zephyr MKI con­vert­ible. Shortly af­ter that de­ci­sion had been made, Paul was vis­it­ing a friend when he spot­ted a per­son across the road wash­ing his Zephyr con­vert­ible. When the Ford was sparkly clean, a ‘for sale’ sign was placed on the car’s wind­screen. Paul in­stantly shot across the road and, on be­half of his brother, asked to use the Zephyr owner’s phone. Sub­se­quently, Paul’s brother pur­chased the beau­ti­ful blue-and-white Zephyr con­vert­ible — the seller com­ment­ing that it’d been the fastest he had ever sold

a car, the ink be­ing still wet on the for-sale no­tice.

Hav­ing bro­kered that sale for his brother, Paul didn’t ac­tu­ally get be­hind the wheel of his own rag-top Zephyr un­til about 1970, when an op­por­tu­nity came purely by chance. As it tran­spired, a work col­league was re­turn­ing to the UK with her hus­band and asked if any­one was look­ing to pur­chase their car. Paul asked what the car was, purely out of cu­rios­ity, only to be told it was MKI Zephyr con­vert­ible. With­out hes­i­ta­tion, he was lucky enough to ne­go­ti­ate a good deal whereby they could use the car right up to their de­par­ture for the UK, and, in re­turn, he would pay less than the ask­ing price for it. A win-win for all.

Signs of the Zodiac

Paul has owned sev­eral Ze­phyrs and Zo­di­acs since that time — the list of cars he and his brother have owned be­tween them is quite im­pres­sive and in­cludes 14 Ford MKI Zephyr con­vert­ibles, five MKI sedans, two MKII con­vert­ibles, three MKII sedans, and one es­tate. Paul has also owned two MKII Zo­di­acs as well as hav­ing been an ac­tive mem­ber of the Auck­land Consul, Zephyr and Zodiac Club (Inc.) for about 30 years. Dur­ing that time, he has made a lot of good friends in the Zephyr world, both here and over­seas, some of who have be­come close fam­ily friends.

Look­ing back over the years, Paul re­calls that the best car he ever owned was a Zodiac MKI with only 21,000 miles (33,796km) on the clock. He pur­chased that car in 1986 and, af­ter 21 years of own­er­ship, even­tu­ally sold it with just 32,000 miles (51,499km) show­ing on the odome­ter.

An­other one of Paul’s cars, a MKI con­vert­ible, was also an ex­tremely orig­i­nal ex­am­ple — at least un­til a tow truck hit the back of it. Ac­cord­ing to Paul, the Ford was never the same af­ter the ac­ci­dent.

His green Zodiac MKIII was also a lovely car, still ba­si­cally orig­i­nal when he pur­chased it, and op­tioned-up with au­to­matic trans­mis­sion. How­ever, as it was more ex­pen­sive to run than the fam­ily Holden Premier V8, it was sold.

Of all the Zephyr/zodiac vari­ants built, the only one to have ever eluded Paul’s own­er­ship is the Zodiac MKIV — so it was hardly sur­pris­ing when we learned that he is look­ing at one with a view to adding it to his sta­ble. The car in ques­tion has been re-pow­ered with a

ED Ab­bott Ltd built spe­cial bod­ies for a num­ber of car man­u­fac­tur­ers — here are a few of our favourites

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