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Sunday, January 15, 2012

50th anniversary of Z-Cars Ford Zephyr

50th anniversary of Z-Cars Ford Zephyr

The Ford Zephyr found fame as the star of both the BBC drama series Z-Cars and the actual police force.

Adrian Cottle poses with his Ford Zephyr, which he has equipped to the standard of a Lancashire traffic patrol car Photo: ANDREW CROWLEY

Adrian Cottle in his 1962 Ford Zephyr Photo: ANDREW CROWLEY

Fifty years ago, BBC television premiered a new police drama that simultaneously achieved viewing figures that a current controller can only dream about, enraged a chief constable and made a star of one of Dagenham’s most handsome products.

Z-Cars was to be the Corporation’s ratings weapon for the Sixties and to ensure verisimilitude the BBC approached Col Sir Eric St Johnston, the dynamic chief constable of Lancashire Constabulary. One of the force’s recent initiatives had been the “Crime Patrol”, in which two officers drove an unmarked Ford Zephyr that could cover a large beat far more effectively than a constable on foot, and this was to be the basis of the series.

The Colonel granted the BBC his support in the sincere expectation that Z-Cars would follow the lines of ITV’s No Hiding Place, with gentlemanly CID officers in black Humbers and Wolseleys, his co-operation extending to providing Ford Zephyr Mk2s for the crews of Z-Victor One and Z-Victor Two. However, prior to the transmission of the pilot episode on January 2 1962, St Johnston had already seen a preview and was not terribly amused – the sight of the Zephyr zooming towards the camera may have been a magnificent one but the idea that police officers might have bad habits (and awful table manners) was beyond the pale to the Colonel.

Official Lancashire police support for Z-Cars ended after the first series, resulting in the BBC needing to source a new Z-Victor One and Z-Victor Two. Meanwhile, Dagenham had recently launched the latest, Mk3 incarnation of the Zephyr and Zodiac and were pleased to provide the Corporation with examples of their new car. The new Z-cars were finished in daffodil yellow – which gave extra resonance when being shot on the black and white videotape of the time – and ever afterwards the sight of a Zephyr 6’s canted tail fins would trigger the show’s theme tune in the minds of a generation.

In 1963, the Ford Zephyr was the car of choice of many a provincial force and Ford offered a Police Special version fitted with the higher-powered engine from the upmarket Zodiac, extra wiring looms for official equipment, a laminated windscreen, heavy-duty suspension, nylon tyres, a modified dashboard with a battery cut-off switch, an alternator and even a reinforced front seat. For ease of operation, the Police Special came with a floor-mounted gear lever in place of the standard column shift, while to improve the Zephyr’s lumbering handling some drivers placed concrete breeze-blocks in the boot.

Surviving police Zephyrs are understandably few in number, which is why Adrian Cottle, a car collector, was very intrigued when in 2010 he was offered a black 1963 Zephyr 6 with a Birkenhead registration. Adrian had previously owned a 1964 ex-North Riding police Zephyr but although he “asked around and several people told me that it probably was an ex-Crime Car that served in Liverpool, there is no official documentation that dates back any earlier than 1978”.

Adrian is still trying to trace the car’s history but in the meantime he took two months to re-spray his Zephyr in white. He has also equipped it to the standard of a Lancashire traffic patrol car – the Z-Cars, as with the Crime Cars of that time, were only identifiable via their twin wireless antennae. The result was one of the undoubted stars of last year's Goodwood Revival, although the Zephyr’s real habitat is not the leafy glades of Sussex but a grim windswept docklands, the wipers fighting the drizzle as the crew keep a constant watch for spivs, teds and scallies. BD to Z-Victor One…

Comment: The good old days. I remember it well...

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