Several real innovations were introduced during development of the Ford Consul and Zephyr, flagging the way for other companies to follow in the future. Not least among these was the choice of a new type of structure, but the development of a new family engine was also very important.
1951 Ford Consuls were built on a 100-inch
wheelbase, and compact MacPherson struts
were used for the front suspension.
History now tells us that engineer Earle Steele MacPherson had incorporated them all in his Cadet project for GM, schemed up between 1945 and 1947, before he joined Ford and became a rising star in Henry Ford II's hierarchy.
The abandoned Chevrolet Cadet had used a unit-body structure, an over-square ohv engine, a strut-type front suspension, small-diameter road wheels, a three-speed gearbox, brake and clutch pedals suspended from the bulkhead rather than sprouting from the floor, and integral fender/body styling.
It was light and technically advanced -- but too unfamiliar for GM's dinosaurlike management to appreciate. They canceled it, stating that it could not economically be made. MacPherson took his ideas to Ford instead.
The key to the entire project was the choice of a monocoque unit-body layout. In the British motor industry, unit-bodies were relatively new -- the first of all had been the Ten from GM subsidiary Vauxhall in 1937 -- though Morris Motors and Rootes were all ahead of Dagenham at this time.
The other vital ingredient was the use of a new family of engines -- a four cylinder and a closely related inline six. Not only were these to be built on new machinery, but they were to be equipped with overhead-valve gear. This was a worldwide "first" for a Ford product, and it finally brought Ford-UK into line with its major competitors.
There was another famous, and trend-setting, design feature that the rest of the world hastened to follow in the next two decades -- the "MacPherson strut" front suspension. What must have been galling for General Motors was that the man who invented this space-efficient type of independent suspension had worked for them between 1934 and 1947, but his bright ideas had usually been ignored.
What we now know as the MacPherson strut, probably the world's most common form of independent suspension, evolved in the GM Cadet project by combining long tubular shock absorbers with external coil springs, and locating them in tall towers that directed the vertical travel of the wheels and also formed the "king pin" around which the front wheels could turn.
This strut layout was a masterpiece of simplicity, with just three links holding the wheel in place -- the strut itself, the single-piece transverse lower arm, and the antisway bar that doubled as a drag link for the wheel hub.
When the Ford Consul and Zephyr debuted in 1950 -- complete with MacPherson struts -- they caused quite a sensation. Get the full story in the next section.
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