Junkyard Find: 1978 Mercury Zephyr Z-7

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
In 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.
The Z-7 came with plenty of Malaise Era decorative stuff, including “ rich, Corinthian Vinyl” bucket seats, paint stripes, and this disco-style hood ornament.
Mechanically, 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.
The 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!
I 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.
Plenty 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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Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • -Nate -Nate on Jun 04, 2019

    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

  • TomLU86 TomLU86 on Jun 05, 2019

    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.

  • Aja8888 My BIL had one of these years ago. great car!
  • Wjtinfwb Job cuts and EV's... is that a winning strategy? You're locked in to substantial labor expense after the UAW agreement signed a few months ago. And EV's ain't exactly flying off the shelves en masse. Get the new Charger out already, it's been teased more than the Bronco and Supra were combined. Get a real Hybrid option out for the RAM trucks and big Jeeps that consumers will buy. Consider bringing back a Gen 3 Hemi with an aluminum block, direct injection and perhaps a Hybrid option to counter the Toyota debacle and get a jump on GM. Dump the Hornet and build Dodge a version of the Jeep Compass they can actually sell. A Dodge with Alfa bones isn't compelling to either brands fans. Fix the Durango's oil cooler problems to avoid alienating police departments nationwide. Do you want every cop in the US driving an Explorer? Freshen up the Pacifica and get Chrysler a cool sedan or wagon that can create a buzz like the 300 did more than a decade ago. And fix your dealers, they are by a large jackasses. Plenty of opportunity for improvement.
  • 3-On-The-Tree True that’s the worst beat down in history.
  • Jalop1991 Tesla has made getting repairs a real headache for some owners, as the automaker hasn’t allowed them to get work done at third-party shops. That policy has led owners to seek  class-action status against the company,So, move next to the airport then complain about the noise.Got it.
  • Jalop1991 One of the most interesting parts of this situation is that Stellantis, and by extension, the Chrysler Group, is increasingly considered a foreign companyNational Lampoon, May 1981.