By on June 3, 2019

1978 Mercury Zephyr Z7 in California wrecking yard, RH view - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsIn between the homely Ford Maverick/Mercury Comet and the punitively sensible Ford Tempo/Mercury Topaz, the folks at Dearborn provided North Americans with the Ford Fairmont and its Mercury sibling, the Zephyr, as reasonably modern rear-wheel-drive compact commuter machines. For those car shoppers wanting to get a bit devilish with their selections, Ford dealers offered the Fairmont Futura coupe, while your local Mercury store had the Zephyr Z-7 coupe.

Here’s a tan-beige-brown Zephyr Z-7 in a Northern California self-service wrecking yard.

1978 Mercury Zephyr Z7 in California wrecking yard, hood ornament - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe Z-7 came with plenty of Malaise Era decorative stuff, including “rich, Corinthian Vinyl” bucket seats, paint stripes, and this disco-style hood ornament.

1978 Mercury Zephyr Z7 in California wrecking yard, engine - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsMechanically, it’s a first-year Fox Platform car, built a year before the Mustang became a Fox. Zephyr buyers could choose between a 2.3-liter straight-four, a 3.3-liter straight-six, and a 5.0-liter V8, rated at 88, 85, and 134 horsepower, respectively (the six offered 154 lb-ft of torque versus the Pinto four’s 118, so it wasn’t quite as miserable a choice as the lackluster horsepower number suggests). This car has the V8.

1978 Mercury Zephyr Z7 in California wrecking yard, 8-track radio - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe top-of-the-line factory audio system for the ’78 Z-7 played 8-track tapes, of course, and it cost a breathtaking $243 (about $1,000 in 2019 dollars). Just the thing for listening to Sweet!

1978 Mercury Zephyr Z7 in California wrecking yard, instrument cluster - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsI thought about pulling the clock for my extensive collection, but the difficulty of disassembling a Malaise Ford’s dash without breaking everything (busting parts in a rare old car is a violation of the Junkyard Code) prevented me from doing so. These cars were designed to be assembled quickly and cheaply, not disassembled later on, so getting to the gauges without shattering countless low-bidder one-way plastic tabs borders on the impossible.

1978 Mercury Zephyr Z7 in California wrecking yard, steering wheel - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsPlenty of good parts remain for the Bay Area Fox coupe restorer.


Melody Anderson suggests that you put a charge in your life, baby, with the Zephyr Z-7 and/or Cougar XR-7.

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65 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1978 Mercury Zephyr Z-7...”


  • avatar
    Vanillasludge

    That “skin graft beige” color ticks all the wrong boxes for me. Does anyone wonder why Japanese car makers were clobbering the domestics in those days?

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Undoubtedly the biggest “B” pillar in automotive history

  • avatar
    thornmark

    From a time when “Ford families” would buy whatever fodder Ford produced.

    Same w/ GM and Chrysler.

    No wonder owner “loyalty” no longer exists. The manufacturers killed it.

    • 0 avatar
      CobraJet

      Back then I used to carpool with a co-worker who had two Pintos, a 74 for him and a 76 for his wife. In 1978 he traded his Pinto for a Mercury Z7 like this one only with a 6 cyl. The exterior color was a dark brown like the bottom of this one, with a tan vinyl roof. The interior was the same as this one. He was excited that Ford recommended oil changes every 10,000 miles. He went exactly 10,000 miles before changing the oil. I doubt he ever even checked the dipstick in all that time. Didn’t seem to hurt it, but I bet the engine had lots of sludge after a few years.

    • 0 avatar
      Superdessucke

      The Fox body survived through 2004 and underpinned some pretty decent cars – Fox Mustang, Continental Mark VII, etc. I wouldn’t put this in the “fodder” category. Actually it was a pretty good effort for Ford at the time, and they sold a lot of them. Far better than the X-Cars that GM foisted upon the public!

  • avatar
    CaptainObvious

    My parents had a 78 Fairmont with the the 6 cylinder engine. It was painfully slow – especially climbing up hills. Had a nice ride though and handled well – for the day.
    Pretty stout too. I was learning to drive at the time, heading down a steep hill in second gear, and accidentally overshot drive and put it into reverse – while moving at about 45 miles per hour. I put it quickly into drive – no worse for wear. My mother however aged considerably.

  • avatar
    Steve203

    I had a 78 Z-7, with a 302. First car I ever bought new. What a steaming pile. In the shop every month for two years, before I got rid of it. Ran into the next owner about four months after I dumped it. When he heard I had owned it, the first thing out of his mouth was “you have a lot of trouble with it?” After I recited the litany, I asked “how about you?” He said that, in two months, he had had the carb rebuilt and the a/c had quit.

    When I donated my nearly 50 year collection of car brochures to the Gilmore Museum last year, I kept the materials for the cars I have owned, except for the Zephyr book. The Zephyr book was donated, because I don’t want to remember that thing.

    imho, this Zephyr is where it belonged the day it came off the assembly line.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      You’re lucky he didn’t punch you

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      and today we call a car “unreliable” if the check engine light comes on once within the first 150,000 miles or the touchscreen UI is sluggish.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Not all of them were that bad. I had a 1978 Z-7 6 cylinder and it was very reliable, the only issued I ever had with it was the carburetor, which is perfectly normal for a ~30 year old car with almost 200k. I also had a 1983 Zephyr GS sedan with the 6, also a reliable car I drove across country. Really the only thing it needed for the several years I had it was a water pump and valve cover gasket.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    If Swashbuckling was your thing, this was the only place to get it.

    The V8 was no different than the King Cobra’s, and had about 250 lbs/ft of torque. Less practical gears in the rear end would’ve turned this thing into a beast.

    But there’s nothing on the dash that snaps together (Fox nerd alert). Phillips heads are basically part of the appearances package here. The dome light lens is the only thing that snaps in-place. The dash bezel has just 4 upper screws (you can one in one in the picture closeup), tilt it towards you and it lifts out. Smooth tabs/slots hold the bottom in place. Then just a few 5/16s screw heads hold the instrument cluster in place.

  • avatar
    RedRocket

    The Futura/Z7 looked fairly swoopy when they first came out. I remember sitting in one in the showroom and my head was hard up against the headliner, despite being just 6′ 1″. Maybe I have a long torso. Then later on I had a friend who owned one and sitting in her car was about the same. It was as if Ford designers dropped the roof on this style but forgot to do anything about the seating position.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    That was a actually a fairly popular colour for Fairmonts. Just as earlier in the decade the ‘deep brown’ was popular on LTD’s and Grand Torino Elites.

    Until early this year a Fairmont wagon was a regular site on our neighbourhood.

    For domestics of that era, they were probably a little above average, value wise.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    The absolute low point for American car quality. One thing of note is the modified MacPherson strut front suspension, with the coil spring tucked toward the center, between the lower control arm and crossmember, instead of concentric with the strut.

    And that cardboard 8-Track sleeve? Ah, that brings back memories.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    I was going to say this was the car that Charles Bronson drove in Death Wish II.

    But – after a quick search – found out it was a 1982 Ford Thunderbird. Both fox bodies, but it was the paint color that reminded me of the car.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    One of these would make a great sleeper. Drop in a hot 302 and a built trans, beef up everything underneath but keep it looking like a beater on top. You could blow off a lot of unsuspecting opponents with something that looks as lame as this.

  • avatar
    mikestuff

    Early 80’s, my inlaws had a 4 door version of this Mercury; I forget what it’s name was but it was off white and ugly.
    They decided to take 2 our kids to Disneyland, a 2day drive from Utah through Las Vegas to Anahaeim. The third wasn’t born yet.
    The Mercury broke down somewhere between Las Vegas and Barstow, and luckily there was VERY EXPENSIVE repair garage there–don’t remember what exactly was wrong. They still made it the next day and had a good time, back when Disneyland didn’t take advance planning and a 2nd Mortgage. The boy, ages 9 and 5 then, were very afraid the Ford would break on the way home but luckily the repair held. FIL didn’t keep it long after and by 1984 he had a first year Dodge Caravan. They all loved that one.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    anyone notice this car was “blessed” with the variable venturi carb?

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      “blessed” as in blessed by a satanic priest

      It amazed me that Ford could screw up that concept. The basic concept worked very well in SUs, whose chief faults were throttle bushing wear (and leakage) at high mileage, needle and jet wear (solved by replacing the needles and jets), and the temperature compensating bimetallic spring (not really a big problem). Somehow the VV carb earned an awful reputation atop of Ford engines.

    • 0 avatar
      R Henry

      That VV was the first thing I noticed for sure.

      I am fairly certain I never encountered a VV that worked properly. Surging, wheezing, uneven idling, stinky fouled cat-con rotten egg smells….all were part of the VV carburetor ownership experience.

      Truly, it was unforced errors like these miserable carburetors that soured whole generations of car buyers against the Big Three. Chrysler had the Lean-Burn fiasco, which was just as horrible. Though I have my own venom for GM krap of this era, I must admit their electronic controlled QJets were much, much better than VV or Lean Burn. QJets had great driveability at this time, almost on par with soon to be available TBI in my opinion.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    Listening to Sweet or listening to The Sweet? Glam rock fans know… (I think either is correct, just having a bit of fun with a band that a lot of people have heard their music but not necessarily know their name.)

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    God, what turds these cars were. Took Driver’s Ed in a 6-cylinder Fairmont. No steering feel or centering, no acceleration to speak of. Went to brake for a downhill stop sign — pedal sank to the floor, car cruised right through the stop, and I got an F for the day. Coach Halfwit refused to believe the brakes weren’t working, and either didn’t know or didn’t bother explaining what to do if this occurred.

    We didn’t know how lucky we were though. There’s no Driver’s Ed in school in our area now, so if your parents can’t afford to pay for private driving school, you’re on foot.

    P.S. I drove my buddy’s parents’ Aspen for a bit and realized there actually was something worse than a Fairmont. Drove a Chevy Nova for a while after that and realized there was something better too. But frankly all three were hot Chinatown garbage, and their full-size cousins were even worse. Even the most star-crossed Audi Fox was a heartbreaking work of staggering genius in comparison. The 70s and early 80s were a dark, dark, dark time for American cars.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Fox cars were the bright spot of the era. Sure Japaneses cars were better built, and pricey, but for most of us, Fox cars were the affordable choice, reasonable reliability, simple and easy/cheap to fix/maintain.

      They were a lot of fun with a few upgrades, but they’re gaining cult status with tuners and some collectors. Yes swapping Coyote V8s into Fox Mustangs in an actual thing now. Best of both worlds?

  • avatar
    Fordson

    Fox body was pretty advanced…very roomy and lightweight for its size. This was the first American car with rack & pinion steering…pretty good design, too. Front was modified McPherson strut, which was very current, and rear was a fairly well-designed coil-spring four-bar link, with a Panhard rod, at a time in which virtually all cars of that size class were still using leaf springs.

    For reference, the brand-new Toyota Corona for 1978 also used RWD, four-bar link with Panhard rod, front McPherson strut…and that car was considered a step up from a Fairmont or Zephyr.

    Anyone who doesn’t realize what a quantum leap this car was for driveability and handling and steering precision never actually drove any of the 50s-60s-70s dinosaurs that preceded it.

  • avatar
    Garak

    The rare pickup version looked a lot better.

  • avatar
    CKNSLS Sierra SLT

    I had a ’79 Ford Futura. It was an OK car. Took it on alot of vacation trips.

    It had the 6 cylinder.

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    Garbage start to finish by modern standards – except for the carpet, which appears to be thicker than the stuff in the $55k Audi A4 I rented last fall. Everything about modern cars is better… except carpeting. What’s up with that?

    • 0 avatar
      AdamOfAus

      I hear that. My dad’s mazda6 has absolutely horrible carpet. A good vacuum has trouble getting anything out of it and it is wearing out fast. Mum’s Sportage is a bit better. My 95 Ford Fairmont had excellent carpet. Plush and easy to maintain. My 2002 5 series is also very good.

      • 0 avatar
        PeriSoft

        Yep. I’ve got a 2015 Hyundai Genesis now, and while the carpet isn’t bad (way better than the aforementioned Audi) it doesn’t hold a candle to the stuff in my old 2005 Saab 9-5. Every other material in the Genesis is head and shoulders beyond the Saab… except the rugs. The 1993 Ford Escort my wife and I had when we were first married wasn’t too bad on the carpet side; my parents’ 2015 Impreza looks like it’s lined with felt from the JoAnn Fabric bargain aisle. Maybe carmakers did some studies that showed that people don’t notice carpet quality, or something? But it seems like a big bean to not count until the mid 2000s. Odd.

  • avatar
    The_Guru

    MMMMMM Melody Anderson.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I drove a number of these with the I6s. Poor acceleration and they would shake and rattle. A Chevy Nova was a much better car. Even my Dad’s 62 Chevy II 300 was a far superior car in every way. This car is where it belongs in the junkyard.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Ouch ~ so much hate here, I thought Fox bodies were supposed to be the shiznit .

    When new this color scheme was all the rage, I never understood why .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    The Fairmont came out during peak malaise, 9 months before oil crisis II (summer 1979) and the recession that followed.

    It was a big hit sales-wise. I think it’s debut year, Ford sold over 400k (not counting Zephyr).

    For the era, it was a good car.

    Others here have compared it to the Nova. I learned to drive on a 75 Nova (Pontiac Ventura) and a 80 Fairmont 4-cyl, 4-speed.

    It’s debatable whether the Nova was the better car. I think they were both good cars.

    I’d say the Nova was the best of the ‘old-school’ compacts (Nova, Dart/Valiant, Aspen/Volare, and Granada/Maverick).

    My parents both preferred the Ventura. My father referred to the Fairmont as “the tin can”. My mom thought it was cheap (our Ventura was not an SJ, but it was nicely trimmed outside and in).

    The Ventura steering ‘felt’ better to me–firmer. As far as cornering, I thought the both cornered about the same–the Fairmont a tad faster.

    The Ventura felt more solid. A lot more solid.

    The Ventura was a tad quicker–even with the emasculated 110hp Olds V8.

    The Ventura always started, idled, and ran flawlessly. Shifts were imperceptible. The Fairmont had a fast idle when cold that was annoying…and some hot days was hard to start.

    Our Fairmont was not in the shop a lot. It needed the rear axle replaced (warranty) when the rear wheels could not be removed to put on snow tires. By the time the dealer did it, winter was half over, so my dad decided the “radials” (1st car so equipped) were fine. It needed a new clutch at 40k (blamed on me learning), a water pump around 50k, and an ignition module at 60k as I recall (we kept the car for 80k and 6 years). The Ventura was in the shop less.

    So the Nova wins, right? Not so fast…

    But, the Fairmont had a roomier back seat, more legroom, for me and my brother. It had a bigger trunk. And, in 1980, with gas over $1 per gallon, it got about 22 mpg overall, 30 highway (on premium, it knocked), vs 15 mpg overall.

    So, for a family of four, which was better?

    I admit, most people had automatics, either six OR the 2.3 4-cyl auto (these were all over), so the six/auto may not have had nearly the same fuel economy advantage–and it was slow (Consumer Reports did test and auto 4 and found acceleration was very close–maybe a tad quicker)

    When our Ventura trans started to slip (1st real problem), rather than fix an 11-yr old car with 95k, my dad gave it to a friend for $300 and bought a used….Fairmont, with a 6-cyl auto, and higher trim level.

    Now, THAT Fairmont, I didn’t care for. I thought the six/auto was anemic (so did my mom), and even with a nicer trim line interior, it still felt cheap.


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