Ford Zephyr Mk1

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The Mark 1 Zephyr, state of the art in its day. Brace yourself, here’s some stats – tests in 1951 gave the Mark 1 a top speed of 79.8 mph (that’s a blistering 128.4 km/h – I guess speedometers were pretty accurate back then) and could accelerate from 0–60 in 20.2 seconds. That gave you enough time to find a cool radio station before you reached maximum speed. Of course I exaggerate, there were only three stations to choose from – The Concert Programme (yeah-nah), Radio Sport (cricket in the summer, rugby in the winter) and the local pop station. Wait, there was the horse racing channel too. There you go, we did need the full 20.2 seconds. These cars were built at the main British Ford factory in Dagenham, England but also in Lower Hutt, New Zealand (not many people know that). I could tell you a little about Lower Hutt, but that’s another story. Speaking of stories, when the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II visited New Zealand in 1953, she was photographed watching Zephyrs being built at the Lower Hutt plant – no, she was – and we wonder why she doesn’t swing by New Zealand more often.

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1969 Riley Kestrel 1300

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Funny how perceptions change over time. If anybody had driven one of these to college back in the seventies they would have been laughed out of school. You can hear the conversation – ‘Take my car today son’, ‘No I’m good thanks Mum, I’ll take the bus’. Even parking down the road a bit and walking to the school gate wasn’t worth the risk. 

It was designed by Alec Issigonis who also did the Mini. In it’s design phase, they called it the BMC ADO16 which stood for British Motor Corporation Amalgamated Drawing Office project number 16. No wonder they settled for Riley … oh and Morris and Austin and MG and Wolseley and Vanden Plas and one or two other variations too I think. Change the name and the grill and nobody’ll notice it’s the same car. Wouldn’t catch us out like that now-a-days aye, we’re onto their cunning ploys. Yessirree.

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Ford Prefect 107E

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This is British Ford at it’s very best (debatable I know, but let’s run with it for now). Even into the 1950s, car styling hadn’t really changed in Britain from the sit-up-and-beg look of the 1930s and 1940s (a tad distracted by the war I guess). Then, in 1953, Ford produced this ‘modern’ shape and it was a revelation. These simple, robust cars sold like hot cakes. They had features like hydraulic brakes and independent front suspensions but in true Ford spirit they were sparse inside – heaters and sun visors were extra. The windscreen wipers weren’t extra but were powered by a cheap-to-make vacuum system with one minor flaw – the faster the cars went, the slower the wipers worked. Bit of an issue in Britain I would have thought? But, despite their simplicity, the new Prefect heralded (that’s a wee Triumph joke there) in a new optimism that an austere Britain was only just starting to feel.

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1956 Austin Healey

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Between 1952 and 1972 Austin and Donald Healey Motors produced a series of sports cars, which have become highly collectible. After Donald Healey’s death in 1988 The Times observed: ‘The big Healey’s brutally firm ride, heavy steering and engine so close it would roast a driver’s feet never detracted from the superb, timeless styling and classic proportions.’ Don’t make ’em like that anymore.

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Three classic British cars

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In 1957 Vauxhall presented the all new Velox and Cresta models: to become known as the PA. They were highly desirable cars by the late 1970’s when we started buying up old cars as college kids, with our part-time jobs to finance it. The sought after cars back then were British and Australian, but the American influence didn’t go unnoticed with the wrap-around windscreen and small tail fins – just American enough, maybe. Vauxhall built these cars in our part of the world at plants throughout Australia, and the General Motors New Zealand plant in Petone, north of Wellington. Specially engineered versions of the Velox were built for use by the New Zealand Traffic Police, bless them.

Next one down is the Ford Prefect of the same era. These were assembled here in New Zealand as well and had a rare ‘factory fitted’ heater and plush carpet no less. Optional extras included windscreen washers, radio and leather upholstery to replace the standard PVC, such sophistication. In 1957 The Motor magazine tested a 100E and recorded a top speed of 71 mph (114 km/h) and acceleration from 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 32.2 seconds.

Then down again to the Prefect’s cousin Anglia. A bit American as well with its sweeping nose line and fins at the back. Some have likened it to a mid-fifties Studebaker, in terms of styling influence anyway, or even the early Ford Thunderbird … hmmm. The Anglia sold quite well in Europe but Europe also had a variant called the Anglia Sportsman, which carried its spare tyre on the back, in the United States this was called the ‘continental kit’. Chrome bumper overriders, broad whitewall tyres, and optionally a side stripe kicking up at the end into the tail-lights/fin were also fitted. Those Europeans always were more stylish.

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