Ian Smith – Mk1 Zephyr Zodiac

Here’s my story of how I became interested, and eventually owned, a Mk 1 Zodiac.

It all started in 1965 when I was ten years old. I knew my parents were getting a car, but had no idea what it was. My brother was working in a local garage and apparently someone was selling a good car for only £30 which had just had a new bumper. As a ten year old I had a great interest in anything to do with cars, if I saw a car with its bonnet up I would have to get a look at the engine, even though most of the cars in the surrounding streets of my South London home were pretty ordinary. There were a few late fifties Hillman Minxes, a Morris Oxford Series 3, a Standard Vanguard and various small sidevalve Fords, however my walk to school was more interesting, there being a V8 Pilot and a Humber Super Snipe of about 1953 vintage, two cars I much admired.

Imagine my delight then, when turning the corner coming home from school, to see a black 1955 Zephyr Zodiac Mk 1 parked outside my house. I’d never taken a lot of notice of Mk 1s before that day. I remember knowing I like the look of the Zephyrs more than the Consuls, their longer bonnets and wider wheels giving them a more powerful look. Nowadays black Zodiacs are quite rare, but at the time I never gave it a second thought. The down side was of course that it used to get dusty very quickly, so that was the excuse to get out bucket, sponge and leather and give her a good clean. The interior was two shades of grey leather, the dash metallic grey and the smell inside remained locked in my mind until I bought my own Zodiac in 2003.

Sadly I can’t remember the registration or have any photos of her, but I do have some good memories like opening the bonnet by pulling very hard on that chrome handle with hood marked on it and seeing not a lowly black sidevalve four but a bright red overhead valve straight six, cool……! The only things missing on our Zodiac were the spot and fog lamps and no whitewalls on the tyres. There was nothing I could do about the lamps, but the tyres I could. My brother at that time had a B reg GT200 Lambretta, for which he had bought a tin of Holts whitewall tyre paint, which after painting the tyres of his scooter left just enough for the Zodiac. I don’t know what the neighbours thought, but as far as I was concerned she looked great.

As for riding in it, my most vivid memory is sitting in the front passenger seat with my older brother driving and going flat out in second gear in a South London side street, naughty but nice. The MOT came and she needed a new steering box which I think cost £12. My family only kept the Zodiac for about six months, but it made a lasting impression on me to the extent that I always promised myself that someday I would own one, hence in September 2003 after a long search I found KRJ 735, a Bristol Fawn and Dorchester Grey, January 1956 Zephyr Zodiac.

For the past two years I have had much pleasure in improving and driving the Zodiac as much as possible. As bought she had radial tyres, which may give better grip, but in my opinion do nothing for the correct looks of the car so the first job was to fit five new Dunlop 6.40x13s and strip and repaint the wheels. She now looked right and also had much lighter steering. Numerous other jobs have been undertaken such as re-rubbering all wheel cylinders, all new ball joints, new hoses, new thermostat (missing) and a strip and rebuild of the heater box which had lots of bits broken or missing. Many thanks to John Blythe of Goldendays for finding many hard to get parts.

KRJ 735 is not completely standard. She has a six branch tubular exhaust manifold and a 3.545:1 diff from a Mk3 with modified half shafts, giving about 20 mph per 1000 rpm which makes fast roads more relaxing, the downside being slower acceleration although she still pulls strongly in first and second gear. The interior is as far as I can tell all original and in fairly good condition although the front seat could do with recolouring. A temperature gauge and rev counter have been fitted.

There are still more jobs to do. A period style rubber battery is probably the next purchase to make the under bonnet scene more original and the discovery of some chrome rim embellishers would be nice (some chance) or maybe I’ll find a rubber boot mat at the next autojumble (pigs and flying come to mind!).