By on March 13, 2020

Today’s Rare Ride put me immediately in mind of the Austin Cambridge featured in this series last year. Both were intended primarily for British customers, and both have a similar upright sedan shape which seemingly made so many British cars of the Fifties look exactly the same.

Let’s take a look at some basic Euro Ford transportation that was grandfather to the Cortina.

Ford’s European arm, keen on breaking into the lucrative family car market after World War II, developed an all-new car to replace the fairly dated and limited production V8 Pilot model (the company’s mid-market sedan since 1947). Rounded bathtub styling was the order of the day, and downsizing was in fashion in Europe. Smaller in all dimensions than the Pilot, the Consul was the most basic version of the three-prong sedan attack Ford launched in Europe in 1951. All three implemented modern unibody construction, a first-ever for Ford in Europe.

The star of the show was the Zephyr, which featured more chrome and comfort, plus inline-six engines. Zephyr was quickly eclipsed by an upmarket sibling in 1953, the Zephyr Zodiac, after Ford made sure its new model was a sales success.

Consul remained at the bottom of the range for its entire existence, reflecting to passers-by that one really couldn’t afford the Zephyr. “CONSUL” was in block lettering above the grille. Consul was available in sedan, cabriolet (1953 onward), and wagon guises. Of the trio, the sedan was far and away the sales success. Restricted to an inline-four engine of 1.5 liters, the powerplant was an all-new, modern design. Overhead valves and a hydraulic clutch were among the notable improvements, paired to an old three-speed manual. And there was plenty of time to consider those upcoming gear shifts. Sixty miles per hour arrived in 28 seconds, and the Consul eventually reached a top speed of 72 mph.

The easy-does-it speeds were assisted by another modernization: MacPherson independent suspension at the front, which was a first for any British car.

Consul’s first generation ran through 1956, at which point it was replaced by the Mark II Consul — a car that was quite a bit larger, rode on a longer wheelbase, and brought in some American Ford design cues. In 1962 the Zephyr became a large car, while the Consul name transformed into a line of base model small cars: Consul Classic, Consul Capri, and the Consul Cortina. The name faded from view in the late Sixties, only to return one final time when it represented the base model Granada — a very important car in its own right.

Today’s Consul is a 1954 example. In largely original condition, the base model nature of the Consul line makes its preservation all the more unique. It’s for sale in Bristol presently, for $12,800.

[Images: seller]

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17 Comments on “Rare Rides: A Ford Consul From 1954 – Little Beige Bathtub...”


  • avatar
    R Henry

    A shrunken shoebox. Not a good look with today’s eyes.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I remember a version of this car available in the US during the 50’s and it was referred to as the English Ford.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Link for the US and Canada English Ford.
    https://www.enfostuff.com/history/A_Brief_History_of_English_Fords_in_North_America.html
    I remember seeing the Ford Prefect 100E and the Anglia.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Geeze, I remember these and the rest of the odd looking shoe box shaped LBC’s in the 1950’s .

    All were O.K. cars, kinda snug for average Americans even then but all gave stellar fuel economy, usually passing 30MPG in town no less .

    Like with all British vehicles of that time period, even if they used their best efforts it was mostly 1930’s technology and saddled by completely indifferent build quality and amazingly high routine maintenance needs .

    Once you took your new LBC apart and fettled it they *could* be made into very nice drivers .

    Of course, me being a BMC enthusiast (nutter) means anything I say here is suspect as I think daily driving one to – day is a good thing .

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      conundrum

      UK Fords weren’t Austins, thank goodness. The designers of the engine were the same crew who came up with Ford’s 215/223 inline six in the US. It’s just a miniature version with a 3 1/8 inch bore and 3 inch stroke. GM used exactly the same bore and stroke for its four cylinder UK Vauxhall Victor which came out in late 1956 – near enough a copy ohv pushrod engine six years later. Both were oversquare in the modern idiom, not British steam chuffers.

      Note that the Austin “equivalent” B Series engine was a long stroke design of 3 1/2 inches with a bore of only 2 7/8 inches for 1489 cc. The Austin had pushrods, intake and exhaust ports all on one side, for some ungodly reason known only to the mind of CEO Leonard Lord, and eventually became the 1798 cc MGB engine, first in 3 main bearing, later 5 main bearing version. By then Ford had gone on to what became known later as the Kent engines from the 105E engine of ’59, which made any Austin/BMC engine of the ’60s look like the dinosaurs they were.

      The Consul and Zephyr were the first volume production cars to have MacPherson strut front suspension when they came to market in England in late 1950. They also had a really solid unibody, which a look at that engine bay above will show. Rust was its only enemy, besides its looks. But the 1950 Ford was no charmer and broadly similar to look at.

      The Consul Mark Two came out in for 1957, and they jacked the bore to 3 1/4 inches for 1703 cc up from 1508 in the Mk 1.

      I know this stuff off by heart, because my father bought a Consul Mk II in 1959, and had no major problems in six years and 92,000 miles in Nova Scotia. We then had many dirt/gravel roads too. No engine, clutch, transmission problems whatsoever. Built like a tank, as the Aussies and Kiwis know as well from exports there. The Zephyr made the 1960 Falcon look like it was made of tissue paper, and the weight difference was a good 300 pounds, nearly all structure. Overbuilt, like the 1958 T-Bird because unit bodies were a new thing for Henry. Ford stopped importing the Zephyr/Zodiac into Canada in 1961, because those silly Canucks bought them in lieu of Falcons. My father’s Consul got its oil and filter changes and lubes sort of on time, but my father was a doc with two clinics forty miles apart to visit twice a week, and no four lane highways then!

      The people two doors down in our rural area had a ’55 Buick, and the 55 inch back seat width was the same as the ’59 Consul. It took me and my three brothers line across. Yes, I was a car nut to become engineer even then, interested in data and specs.

      Austins/BMC stuff were, by comparison, rubbish. (Add in any Standard, Triumph and Hillman and Sunbeam you want – all poor stuff). Dad traded his Consul in on an Austin 1800 in 1965, and that thing was an unmitigated disaster from beginning to end – rust, would NOT start below 8 deg F and Hydolastic suspension that sagged. After four years he gave it away, a hulk that sometimes moved on warmer days. My mother heaved a sigh of relief – she no longer had to lend her ’65 Volvo 544 B18 to Dad on cold days, leaving her marooned four miles from town and fuming.

      Nope, those old fifties English Fords were not 1930’s technology at all, and pretty darn good honest cars. They were not made for four lane highways, though, with high revs needed for cruising. Maybe that’s why they never caught on in the States, although they were imported for a while. Looking back, I see them as an experiment Ford made to prove out both unibodies and MacP struts, in hiding, as it were. They just used England as the proving ground, knowing how conservative US tastes were at the time, except for flash and V8s.

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        Certainly not a mid sizer in the U.S. of A. ! .

        As I said before : those whom understood how to maintain and properly use an LBC enjoyed them apart from the usually weak heaters .

        My favorite LBC is my 1959 Nash Metropolitan FHC, I was very well pleased when I repaired the original SMITHS heater, it blows good hot air .

        Of course I no longer live where it gets seriously cold, maybe into the mid 40’s in the Desert .

        -Nate

  • avatar
    Uncle Mellow

    Back in the day, this was a mid-sized car. Styling was done be Ford of America. The wagon and the convertible were coachbuilt conversions and pretty rare.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    Corey, there were two lines of smaller and cheaper English Fords than this Consul through the 1950s. All powered by a slug of a prewar side-valve 1172 cc four cylinder that struggled to move itself. This Consul was upper midrange in the market for its time.

    The update for 1960 for smaller Fords was the 997 cc Anglia 105E engine and four speed transmission instead of three, which engine I noted above became known years later as the Kent in five main bearing form. Without the 997 cc unit and tuning, Cosworth would never have gotten off the ground with its first 88hp Formula Junior single seat race engine for Lotus and others. Bore and stroke were 3 3/16 inches by 1 29/32 inches (80.96 x 48.42 mm), and it revved like crazy. My Mother had a ’60 and a ’64 Super until she decided to get a ’65 Volvo 544 – as she said, a real car. That beast moved along ll right – had no trouble with 318 Plymouth full size – I took one on as a dare on a backroad challenge when I was but a young lad. There then followed a Fairlane 260 V8. I trust the Mounties don’t prosecute for speeding and racing violations over fifty years later!

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    The slightly familiar nature of the styling of these combined with their diminutive size always has me picturing a period correct V8 transplant.

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    My father had one of these, in the 1950s. I remember ‘helping’ him push-start it in the morning. He said it had a bad battery. The Consul was only around for a few months. Dad went through a number of cars then until he got a better job. Then he was a Studebaker man for years until he heard the company was having trouble. Gave up on the idea of an Avanti and got a Sunbeam Tiger.

    • 0 avatar

      Both are beautiful cars. I mean Avanti and Sunbeam Tiger.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      @ pwrwrench – Very tangential, but it sounds like your dad would’ve enjoyed a ’38-’40 Humber Super Snipe: http://www.transport-museum.com/visiting/humber_super_snipe.aspx. Barney Roos had a short but very successful stint with the Rootes Group in the ’30s, and the Super Snipe could be construed as Humber’s successful take on Studebaker ideas, particularly its inline 6. And then Roos followed up on that by returning to the US and reworking Willys-Overland’s rather lacking Whippet 4-cylinder into the very successful Go-Devil engine.

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    Featherston: The Consul was something to get around for the amount of money at the time.
    Yeah the Tiger was kool, but it was there for a few years. There were some troubles. It never ran well from the beginning and I recall going along to the hole in the wall dealer when my dad kept asking them about the spark plugs. They claimed that they checked them, but later dad took the Tiger where he bought most of his gasoline. He and the station owner took out the left rear plug. The ground electrode was bent over touching the center one. Replaced one plug and it ran fine until the carb leaked enough after shut off one day that it caught fire in the garage. Insurance paid for the repairs, but it was soon traded in on the first year Alfa Duetto Spider. That stayed around for more than a decade.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      @ pwrwrench – My aunt and her late husband had a Tiger. They had it from the late ’90s to the mid ’10s. I’d guess they were the third owners. Theirs was finicky and always seemed to fall somewhat shy of nice driver condition. I only got a close look at it once, but the “cramped engine bay, tough to service” reputation did not seem like hype.

      I’d be inclined to say, “Well, 30-plus-year-old car, cut it some slack,” but from the early ’80s to the early ’90s they’d owned a ’66 Stingray. That car underwent a mechanical refresh, was used for two or three years (including track use), underwent a cosmetic refresh, and was rock solid for the next half decade. In other words, I don’t think their Tiger’s issues were all on the owners.

      Neat cars in theory and to have in the dream garage, but spending my own money I’d rather have something else from the era or, if a convertible is the goal, a nice one-owner Miata, Corvette, or Mustang.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Great discussion.

    We tend to forget that in the 1950’s the UK was the world’s #1 exporter of autos.

    And Ford dominated sales in the UK in sedans and vans for many, many years.

    As a Commonwealth nation, Canada purchased far more UK imports than did the USA.

    Rootes Motors set-up an assembly facility on Scarboro’s Golden Mile and that building still exists.

    My Old Man purchased one of the first Mini’s in Canada (strange to see someone his size getting out of that vehicle). It was an unmitigated disaster and he soon swapped it for a VW Beetle, leading to us having at least one VW in our family for over 20 years.

    At one point among my social circle in the early/mid 70’s we had a Cortina, an Envoy Epic, a Vauxhall Viva, and when they were re-introduced to Canada a Mini. There were also a significant number of Mercury/Ford Capris.

    In North American terms the Cortina, and the Epic were ‘dogs’ regarding performance. We once raced the two of them and we still joke that a kid on a bicycle would have passed them.

    I still get a chuckle when watching old British police TV series (The Sweeney) and see Cortinas in car chases.

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    We did have some good times with the Tiger. My brother got some driving lessons. Seems like not the easiest car to learn clutch and shifting on, but he did OK.
    We did some stunts. Since my brother was older he got the front seat. When it was cold he would button up his navy coat over his head and pull his right hand into the sleeve resting on the top of the door. Got many shocked looks from people on the sidewalks and other drivers. It looked like something out of those ancient British monster movies.

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