Junkyard Find: 1978 Mercury Zephyr Z-7

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find 1978 mercury zephyr z 7
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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  • -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.

  • Kat Laneaux What's the benefits of this as opposed to the Ford or Nissan. Will the mileage be better than the 19 city, 24 hwy? Will it cost less than the average of $60,000? Will it be a hybrid?
  • Johnster Minor quibble. The down-sized full-sized 1980-only Continental (which was available with Town Car and Town Coupe trims) gave up its name in 1981 and became the Town Car. The name "Town Coupe" was never used after the 1980 model year. The 1981 Lincoln Town Car was available with a 2-door body style, but the 2-door Lincoln Town Car was discontinued and not offered for the 1982 model year and never returned to the Lincoln lineup.
  • Zipper69 Some discreet dwebadging and this will pass for a $95k Lucid Air...
  • Zipper69 Does it REALLY have to be a four door?Surely a truly compact vehicle could stick with the half-door access with jump seats for short term passengers.
  • ToolGuy See kids, you can keep your old car in good condition.