1957 Ford Consul II
1957 Ford Consul II. Click image to enlarge

Story and photo by Bill Vance

When the Ford Motor Company started sending its “captive imports” to North America from England in the late 1940s they were pretty basic cars. The two-door Anglia and the four-door Prefect had engineering that was left over from the 1930s. Tiny long-stroke, side-valve fours, mechanical brakes, and solid front axlessuspended on transverse leaf springs were marginal for our driving conditions. They did, however, give good fuel economy.

That changed in 1950 with the introduction of the new four-cylinder Consul and six-cylinder Zephyr models. They were thoroughly modern designs which have the distinction of introducing the world to the MacPherson strut front suspension. They also had suspended brake and clutch pedals, a feature that would spread through the industry. The consul was influenced by American styling, and was a pleasant and satisfying car to drive in spite of its modest 47 horsepower.

In 1956 Ford replaced the Consul with the Consul II, which appeared even more Americanized than the first one. It looked for all the world like a slightly smaller American Ford of a few years earlier. There was also a sister six-cylinder Zephyr, and a more luxurious Zodiac. They all came as a four-door sedan, two-door convertible or station wagon.

The Consul II had unit construction and a full envelope body with horizontal lines, slightly hooded headlamps and vestigial tailfins. Its large windows provided good visibility and its wide, cross-hatched grille somewhat resembled that of the Ford Thunderbird. Overall it was an attractive and well proportioned car.

When Road & Track magazine tested the Consul II sedan in February 1957 they were very pleased with its overall packaging and compact size. As they noted, “What Dearborn doesn’t have, Dagenham does.” Dagenham was Ford’s large assembly plant in Dagenham, Essex, near London, that had opened in 1932. Dearborn, Michigan is Ford’s U.S. headquarters.

R & T liked the fact that the Consul II could be “an extremely practical car for moderate income Americans that could serve either as a full-status family sedan, or a light, economical second car for more affluent households.”

The Consul II had a wheelbase of 2,654 mm (104.5 in.), and an overall length of 4,369 m (172 in.), which made it smaller than any American car, although the revived 1958 American Motors Rambler American had a 2,540 mm (100 in.) wheelbase, and the 1959 Studebaker Lark would only be 4,445 mm (175 in.) long.

The Consul II stood in stark contrast to the American Ford, which the company proudly proclaimed was “over 17 feet long” (204 in., or 5,182 mm). In spite of this the Consul II could seat up to six people in reasonable comfort, and carry their luggage in its ample trunk. The 1,152 kg (2,540 lb) sedan rode on small 5.90-13 inch tires.

Power came from an oversquare (larger bore than stroke) 1.7-litre, overhead valve inline four-cylinder engine that developed 59 horsepower. It drove the rear wheels through a column shifted, three-speed manual transmission.

The testers found the crisp handling a welcome change from its American counterparts, reporting “a high degree of controllability and obedience over a wide range of road surfaces.”

Performance was moderate but adequate, with R&T recording zero to 96 km/h (60 mph) in 22.5 seconds and a top speed of 126 km/h (78.6 mph). Although they reported that “maintaining 70 mph (113 km/h) for highway cruising is no problem,” with the Consul II, it was really putting quite a strain on the engine, requiring it to spin at 4,200 rpm. It certainly cried out for a fourth gear, or overdrive, which would eventually become available.

The Consul II continued until 1961 with relatively few changes over its six year run. It did receive optional disc brakes in 1961, but otherwise stayed pretty well the same mechanically. It was replaced for 1962 by a new Consul with sculpted sides, four headlamps, small tailfins and a reverse slanting rear window. Overall, it lacked the balance and uncluttered look of the Consul II.

As the sale of smaller imported cars increased, the Big Three American auto manufacturers eventually recognized that there were many motorists that needed and wanted smaller, better handling, more economical cars. To meet this need they introduced their compacts for 1960. Ford’s was the Falcon, and thematically it followed the Consul II.

The Falcon was a spare, clean design with unit construction, an overhead valve engine in the front, although it was an inline six not a four, and a three-speed manual transmission sending power to the rear wheels. Now Dearborn also offered what Dagenham did, a sensible car for those who eschewed the huge, thirsty, V8 powered cars that had become a Detroit staple.

It would not be much of a stretch to conclude that Detroit was influenced by Dagenham’s Consul II. And if the Consul II did nothing more than that, it performed a valuable function by helping lead North America into more practically sized cars. That’s as good a reason as any for remembering those appealing English Fords, especially the Consul II.

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