Ford’s V6 en­gine teamed with Fer­gu­son’s four-wheel drive would have given crooks a real run for their money.

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - News -

It must have been a rev­e­la­tion to traf­fic of­fi­cers in the late 1960s – who’d have been used to rein­ing in Jaguar Mk2s and the Ford Zephyr’s more con­ven­tional rear-driven cousin on slip­pery bends – to have Jensen FF tech­nol­ogy at their dis­posal.

Yet the two were odd com­pan­ions. That’s def­i­nitely the sen­sa­tion when you start slid­ing that enor­mous three-spoke wheel through your fin­ger­tips, be­cause its ex­tra set of walk­ing boots def­i­nitely doesn’t feel like some­thing you’d ex­ploit on tighter turns.

Show it some black and white chevrons and this gen­tle gi­ant slouches onto its Macpher­son struts with a hint of tyre squeal. There’s a lot of body roll as 15ft 6in of Da­gen­ham steel strides into the cor­ner – but push a lit­tle fur­ther and that surefootedness is there. Where you might ex­pect an apolo­getic help­ing of un­der­steer and a shrug of a nor­mal Zephyr’s broad shoul­ders this one just keeps on grip­ping, mak­ing all four of the Fire­stone R-510s work that cru­cial bit longer when you re­ally need it. Fer­gu­son For­mula’s add-ons re­ally do get stuck in when you ask them to – but you have to put your faith in its abil­ity to de­liver the goods when the rest of the Zephyr would rather you calmed down.

The Ford will ac­tu­ally take slip­pery smaller stretches of as­phalt in its stride if you ask it nicely, but it’s out on wider, faster roads where it shines, es­pe­cially at this time of year. The 3.0-litre V6, in par­tic­u­lar, is a col­league any po­lice driver would be happy to work with, with plenty of torque and a smooth de­liv­ery that doesn’t bat­ter you with a harsh en­gine note.

Plant your foot into that vast cave of a footwell and it’s like prod­ding a sleepy go­rilla that dwells at the other end with a stick. It lets out an almighty yawn as six cylin­ders stretch their legs and get to work, de­liv­er­ing the goods but in a way that feels smooth and un­rushed. Ask it to put its back into it and there’s a gen­tle surge as the three-speed auto goes into kick­down and there’s a con­tented growl as the beast be­neath the enor­mous bon­net flexes its mus­cles and heaves out a dol­lop of ac­cel­er­a­tion in one lunge. The torque all comes on song be­fore 3000rpm – there’s a very State­side feel to that V6.

It’s a great of­fice to work in, pro­vided you can re­sist the temp­ta­tion of flick­ing the cen­tre con­sole-mounted switches to get the bells, lights and sirens blar­ing. Even with those chunky D-pil­lars there’s plenty of vis­i­bil­ity, and the gift you get from the Zephyr’s bulk is masses of legroom for of­fi­cers in the front.

All of the in­stru­ments are log­i­cally laid out and easy to see and use through the wheel and the con­trols, in­clud­ing that dash-mounted hand­brake. In fact the only let­down once you’re sat down are the seats them­selves – they’re com­fort­able, but there’s pre­cious lit­tle in the way of side sup­port. Hardly ideal in a po­lice car that’s been up­rated to grip hard and fast.

This Zephyr might not have been the most ef­fec­tive blues ‘n’ twos all-rounder – which prob­a­bly ex­plains why it never pro­gressed fur­ther than the 22 de­vel­op­ment cars handed out to forces across the coun­try – but it pi­o­neered the fa­mil­iar com­bi­na­tion of four-wheel drive, anti-lock brak­ing and a feisty en­gine 20 years be­fore Ford it­self reached the same so­lu­tion with the Sierra Cos­worth. All of to­day’s surefooted pa­trol cars owe a lot to this pro­to­type.

His­tory: How the Zephyr 4x4 won – and lost – the mo­tor­way pa­trol vote

Mo­tor­ways were still a rel­a­tively new phe­nomenom for Bri­tish mo­torists in the late 1960s – and the Home Of­fice was fully aware that the cars be­ing used by the na­tion’s po­lice forces needed to evolve to match the con­di­tions and the higher speeds.

It recog­nised that a high per­for­mance road car with a four-wheel drive sys­tem would be ideal for the task, and ap­proached sev­eral man­u­fac­tur­ers for help. While 4WD ex­per­tise wasn’t hard to find – Coven­try-based Fer­gu­son For­mula had al­ready im­ple­mented the tech­nol­ogy suc­cess­fully for Jensen in the 1966 FF – find­ing car­mak­ers who were happy to al­low their ve­hi­cles to be mod­i­fied while re­tain­ing a war­ranty was trick­ier. Ford was the only one will­ing to work with the Home Of­fice’s re­quire­ments, sup­ply­ing 22 Ze­phyrs for de­vel­op­ment.

Our test car is the first of the batch, and went straight from Ford’s Da­gen­ham fac­tory in Novem­ber 1968 to Fer­gu­son’s works for five months.

Among the mod­i­fi­ca­tions was a re­vised in­ner front wing, while the top wish­bone, coil springs and shock ab­sorbers were Ford Mus­tang units sup­plied by Ford’s US divi­sion. A new en­gine sup­port had to be fab­ri­cated to al­low the Es­sex V6 to be raised and moved across the bon­net slightly to make room for a front axle dif­fer­en­tial unit. The trans­mis­sion tun­nel was also en­larged to ac­com­mo­date the trans­fer box, to which the Dun­lop Maxaret sen­sor for the ABS sys­tem was at­tached.

The Zephyr re-emerged the fol­low­ing April and was dis­patched to the Trans­port Road Re­search Lab­o­ra­to­ries in Berk­shire, where it was put through its paces on its test track and skid­pan. A four-way haz­ard flasher was added af­ter th­ese tests – the first car in the world to re­ceive the fea­ture.

It was demon­strated to rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the po­lice forces who’d orig­i­nally re­quested the Home Of­fice looked into such a car – and they loved it. Af­ter that, the 21 other de­vel­op­ment cars that Fer­gu­son had been work­ing on were handed over – with some pomp and cer­e­mony – by for­mer rac­ing driver Tony Rolt, the com­pany’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor.

While our test car also spent some lim­ited time on ac­tive po­lice du­ties the vast ma­jor­ity of its miles were car­ried out at TRRL’s test track, be­fore be­ing put into stor­age in 1974.

So why was the four-wheel drive Zephyr’s promis­ing po­lice ca­reer cut short? Blame Land Rover. Barely a year af­ter the 4WD Z-car an­other surefooted con­tender ar­rived; the Range Rover of­fered sim­i­lar per­for­mance from its 3.5-litre V8, but it was more prac­ti­cal, had a more com­mand­ing driv­ing po­si­tion and the added bonus of be­ing able to head off the beaten track.

Per­haps un­sur­pris­ingly po­lice forces flocked to Soli­hull’s new ar­rival and made it one of their favoured mo­tor­way hacks for the next two decades.

Ford pro­vided 22 Ze­phyrs for Fer­gu­son For­mula to con­vert into 4x4 po­lice cars, but while most served with forces across the UK this pro­to­type spent the ma­jor­ity of its time on the test track.

Ford al­lowed its cars to be mod­i­fied to Home Of­fice re­quire­ments, and this was de­vel­oped for high-speed du­ties.

There’s plenty of room in the in­te­rior and all the con­trols are log­i­cally laid out, but those vinyl seats don’t of­fer much sup­port.

The 3.0-litre Es­sex V6 had to raised and re­mounted to ac­com­mo­date the 4x4 and ABS com­po­nents un­der the bon­net.

Three-speed au­to­matic ’box feels smooth and un­rushed.

Odome­ter shows very few miles, most on the test track.

Harry Fer­gu­son Re­search put its stamp firmly on the Zephyr.

Pro­duc­tion cars would have had much bet­ter la­belling...

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