I didn’t set out to own a Mk 1, I drifted into it…
It started around 1971 when I traded my Mini van for a 1962 Consul (Carribean Turquoise with white roof). Through the next few years I had a selection of cars including Mk 1 Cortinas, a Mk 2 Cortina Lotus and a Mk 2 Jaguar, but kept coming back to Mk 2 Consuls. During this period I was a member of a local motor club. Amongst the various bits and pieces which members used to trade was a drag racing prepared Mk 3 Zephyr engine, complete with reworked Raymond Mays head and all receipts for preparation, which I managed to swap for some assorted Consul parts.
It was 1975 and I started looking for a home for the engine. A local paper yielded a 1955 Zephyr convertible, complete, but very rusty for £25. When my friend arrived with his trailer to collect the car, he announced that he knew it, as it had belonged to the service manager of the local Vauxhall garage when he had worked there. Examination of the original log book revealed that WPD 592 had its original engine and was purchased new from a garage in Guildford which was, along with all registered addresses within 10 miles of my house.
The intention had been to cobble up the sills and bodywork, but having got the car home and running, I thought it deserved better, so it was parked in a lock up, where it still resides.
Knowing I had the convertible, a friend introduced me to a builder who was using a very tatty Mk 1 Consul he called Gertie, as his van – he took me for a ride and I sat on a bag of cement on the front seat. I did a straight swap for the Mk 2 Consul Farnham estate I was running at the time. I don’t know who got the better deal, as the estate had had the sills crudely patched by a mate and when I started chipping at the filler in the gutter, I found that the front of the roof had separated from the body by about half an inch. I never drove Gertie on the road, but kept her for quite a few years before I sold her for restoration. Does 311 FHX still exist?
During 1976 I spotted a modified Zephyr saloon with spares, including a new front wing which I needed for the convertible, for sale in Exchange and Mart for £200. It turned out that the car was being sold by a number plate dealer who had bought it for its original registration, 10 APA. On inspection, the car was very solid, although slightly scruffy with light front end damage where a lorry had backed into it a couple of weeks earlier. A week or so later I drove the car home and 778 JGU as it now was became my everyday transport. Early in 1977 I saw an advertisement for the newly formed owners club, joined (member number 23 I think) and took part in the inaugural London-Brighton run. A few weeks later, on the Queen’s Silver Jubilee weekend, the car carried my wife to and from hospital when she had our first daughter. In the autumn, having just bought our house, a car braked hard in front of me and I ran into it, damaging the bumper, grille and bonnet and pushing the radiator on to the fan. The car was towed home and stored in an assortment of conditions both in and out of doors.
Fast forward to Christmas 2003, my daughter announced her engagement and set a wedding date of the following Christmas. I had always said that when she married I would take her to the church in the convertible, but as it had been untouched for 25 years I needed to establish if this was a realistic idea.
I began by rejoining the Club and contacting Emlyn Bowdler who agreed to come and assess the car. When the convertible was pulled from the garage it seemed obvious that there would not be enough time to restore it, a view with which Emlyn agreed when he came down in February. During his visit he had a quick look at the saloon which was almost invisible under piles of junk and my son’s go kart.
After a discussion, it was agreed that I would get the car running and overhaul the hydraulics, after which I would take it to Stourbridge and if he thought it possible, leave it with Emlyn for him to restore the bodywork in time for the wedding.
Now it was decision time. The car when I bought it was fitted with a Mk 3 engine, gearbox and back axle, the trim had been painted black with reclining front seats, possibly from a Mk 4. Although the original column gear change had been retained, the handbrake was floor mounted to the right of the driver’s seat. Over the years I had collected the running gear to return it to its original specification, but now it came to it, it seemed more interesting to leave the seventies modifications pretty much as they were.
A couple of hours work in February saw the engine running, the car was then exhumed from the garage, all hydraulic cylinders were honed, rubbers renewed and metal pipes remade all for £20 courtesy of a friend, flexi pipes sourced and replaced and then the vehicle moved under its own power for the first time in over 25 years. Time was spent cleaning, greasing and removing the heavy galvanised front wheel arch liners which had been fitted some time in its past.
Early June saw me towing the Zephyr to Weldem Restorations in Stourbridge along with anything I thought might be useful. On our arrival, Emlyn commented that it looked as if I’d been banger racing. The body had a lot of deep surface rust and many small dents, but the only panels that were not saveable were the rear valance, one rear wing and driver’’ side floor pan. I had for many years been storing a bonnet, front panel and grille to replace the damaged items, but these were deemed to be in need of too much work to make them serviceable. I had just discovered Ebay and was lucky to source a better bonnet, along with another front panel and grille which whilst better was still not good enough and replaced with a brand new item from John Blythe which I had spotted at the autumn Buckingham meet. I was also fortunate to find hub caps, a bonnet mascot, back lights, exhaust manifold and brake shoes via the internet. Zodiac Motor Services supplied a complete serviceable red interior and reasonable front bumper.
Meanwhile, Emlyn was slaving away, welding the sills and jacking points, which had previously been bolted on, stripping the body to bare metal and painstakingly removing all the dents and rust. A continual problem had been removing the back wheels, these had the centres outset to the rim so as not to foul the wings due to the wider axle, but the wheels still had to be forced between the wing and brake drum. Over the years the wings had become distorted and one had been pulled from its mounting. Emlyn overcame this by cutting the bottom of the wings and making small removable spats, a really neat and subtle solution.
During October, with time getting short, we agreed I would collect the car on November 14th, which would give me a month to have the new headlining and carpets fitted, front and rear screens replaced and sort out all the trim, lights and electrics before the MOT test and the wedding on December 18th. After an awful journey we arrived in Stourbridge mid afternoon on the appointed day to find Emlyn still franticly trying to finish something that bore no resemblance to the rusty, mangled wreck I had taken to him. It looked fantastic and it was mine!
By the time we had loaded it was about 7pm before we set off for home. A quick stop at the services on the M40 turned to disaster as the fan belt broke on the exit slip road, but a very busy AA man agreed to help us if we could go to the northbound services. We just made it with the engine dying, making us coast to a halt in the entrance to the lorry park. As we were waiting, a foreign lorry, whose driver could not understand we were immobile, left by the entrance and there was a bang and the whole car shook, the driver shrugged and drove off. My stomach was churning as I walked back, expecting to find the Zephyr badly damaged. As luck would have it, he had just missed the car and hit the trailer, smashing a light. Eventually the AA arrived, and we were under way again, arriving home about 4am. After putting the Zephyr away it was five before I got to bed, but I had to return the hired trailer at 8am, 20 miles away before going to work.
I had intended to take a few days off work to make inroads into finishing the car, but was unable to do so due to the hospitalisation of a colleague, so I was into late nights. The trimmer was due to retire at Christmas, but took on the headlining, subcontracting the carpets to his son, both of whom came and did their fitting in my garage over the next couple of weeks. When he arrived, I discovered that the screen rubbers I bought years before were missing a rubber insert strip. A few panic ‘phone calls and the missing piece was on its way. I had now managed to get a couple of days off so as soon as the screens were fitted, I booked an MOT for Friday 10th December, two days away.
Work continued right up to the time of the MOT test and the car embarked on its longest run for 27 years. As we hit the road, the ride seemed rough and noisy, but we reached the test station uneventfully. I have never been so nervous during a test and my heart sank when I heard the word ‘fail’. The examiner called me over and showed me the rear shock absorbers, which were barely attached to the chassis. Thinking about it later, I realised that we had removed the metal rear arch liners which had been mounted on these bolts and in the rush to finish the car, had forgotten to retighten them. A quick trip home to replace and tighten the bolts and the ride was improved instantly and an MOT certificate obtained. Not bad as nothing mechanical had been changed.
Despite assurances by the DVLA and the Post Office, I anticipated problems taxing the car, but was pleasantly surprised to be issued a disc in a couple of minutes. Fully road legal with a week to go I now found the clutch slipping badly. A call to Classic Ford Parts and a drive to Bracknell on Saturday morning found a new clutch assembly. Having had four weeks solid work and with much to do for the following weeks, I couldn’t face dropping the gearbox and I threw myself on the mercy of a local transmission specialist that I know and they came up trumps, replacing the clutch on the Saturday afternoon. During the run up to the wedding, the seats had to be removed whilst the carpets were fitted and everything I could think of under the bonnet replaced.
December 18th dawned bright and fine. After a good polish and adding ribbons we were off to the church and then on to the reception where the Zephyr was admired by many of the guests. During the evening the weather turned to torrential rain and at around midnight the car would not run to take the bride and groom to their hotel. Suspecting damp in the electrics the Zephyr was abandoned overnight, but when I returned on Sunday I discovered a bolt missing from the throttle linkage. When this was replaced it ran perfectly and was driven home.
From the start of the project the aim was to get to the reception and we made it, so I shouldn’t complain.
My Zephyr is not a standard vehicle and my aim has been to keep it as close as possible to the vehicle I bought in 1976, the only difference being the interior trim. Work continues on the many jobs needed to finish it, but despite the engine being tired and rattling, we have managed a run to Brighton and many local trips where the car draws admiring looks.
Many thanks to all who had a hand in the restoration, especially Emlyn Bowdler for his skill and patience.
Now to save up for the convertible!