A quick look at the Ford Consul Classic will leave even the most knowledgable car enthusiast confused. Here is an early-Sixties Ford that looks nothing like anything else on British roads, let alone the Ford range. This is the crux of what made the Consul Classic and Capri such an intriguing machine - and a sales disaster.
The Consul Classic was introduced in 1961 as a stop-gap. Ford knew the Cortina and Corsair were coming but needed something eye-catching to keep the public interested while it put the finishing touches to Ford’s next generation. As a result, the Consul was doomed before it left the production line. It was never intended to last. It also represents one of the few times Ford got it spectacularly wrong. For a company renowned in Britain for being the M&S of car manufacturers - continually providing well-judged and satisfying products without really breaking the mould - the Consul threw all caution to the wind. One look at the styling and it's not hard to see how. The Consul looks like a shrunken Galaxie, more at home on Route 66 than the M25 - the Capri particularly. And this was the Consul’s problem. British buyers weren’t ready for such a brazenly American family car. Although the Capri spiced up the range with more power and a sleek body that made the Ford look infinitely more exotic than any other family car on the market, the car was a commercial flop, canned within two years of launch. As a result of lack of sales, rust and a general lack of love, there aren’t many Consul Classic and Capris left. However they have become sought after in recent years as enthusiasts have begun to appreciate the Ford’s futuristic looks and rarity.
One of the key reasons why so few Consul’s remain is rust. Even by Sixties standards, the Ford suffered badly with bodywork corrosion. While Ford tried to rust proof it, the technology wasn’t there and the Consul rotted horribly. While many cars have since been restored and rust-proofed, you need to check all the usual spots thoroughly. Inspect both inside and outside of the wheel arches, the bottoms of the doors and along the sills. If possible, use a magnet to check for rot underneath the car. Also check along the a-pillars and the windscreen surrounds for evidence of bubbling. Have a look at the drain tubes that run from the rear quarter windows to the chassis rails. These can become clogged, forcing the water to seep through the panels.
Thankfully there’s less to worry about with the engine. The Consul used the venerable Kent engine that was used in everything from saloons to racing cars in the Sixties and Seventies. Spare parts are easy to come by for the mechanicals, most of it is loosely shared with other Fords of the time - such as the Cortina mk1. Make sure the engine is running smoothly on idle and that the engine bay looks in good order. It often says a lot about the condition of the engine beneath.
The Consul came with different transmissions depending on what car you’re looking at. The 1340cc engined models were fitted with a non-synchro first gear, four-speed gearbox that originated in the Anglia 105E. The 1500cc was equipped with an all-synchro transmission sometimes referred to as the ‘Bullet Box’. Because the Consul was far from the most powerful car, correct gear ratios are crucial to getting the most out of the performance. The ‘bullet box’ is therefore the most sought after.
Inspect the suspension closely. Some front suspension parts - including the track control arms and struts - are unique to the Classic and Capri. As a result they can be difficult to come by and expensive once you do, so make sure the running gear is in good working order. Many Consuls have been broken up for parts over the years, with Anglia owners taking these unique parts off the Consul to customise their cars with, making parts even more scarce.
The Consul Classic and Capri did not suffer from the kind of electrical gremlins that newer cars do, and there’s little to go wrong. Nevertheless, check the lights, indicators and dials are all working properly. Make sure the engine turns over quickly and smoothly.
Watch out for signs of excess wear and tear. While you should expect the seats to be slightly worn (particularly on the bolsters), make sure there are no rips in the upholstery and that the trim is present and correct.
Although the styling is space age, the performance and handling is not. With less than 100 hp, don’t expect the Ford to press you back into the seat with its grunt. The Consul was always underpowered for its size and looks, so don’t worry if the car is less than inspiring to drive. However the ride quality and road holding are typical Ford, and should inspire confidence when pushing on. Listen out for any unusual knocks and rattles from the suspension and make sure the car isn’t leaning low on one side or crabbing. The engine should run smoothly on idle and generally feel refined. If it is overly harsh then there’s something wrong.
Consul Classics and Capris have steadily risen in value over recent years. The combination of the Ford’s rarity (unusual for a mainstream car), its relative obscurity and an increase in interest from enthusiasts has boosted prices. You can pick up a restoration project for around £3,000. While this is steep for a car of its lineage and abilities, the Consul’s increasing value justifies the investment in a project car. A decent road-going example will set you back anything from £4,000 to £10,000 depending on whether it’s a Classic or the more desirable Capri. A well-maintained car will cost between £10,000 to £25,000. The wide range of values is again due to the Classic/Capri choice, the condition of the rare and unique running gear (such as the suspension) and the choice of gearbox. Prices rocket for a best of breed example. You’re looking at up to £30,000.
The Consul’s real costs are attached to the unique suspension parts and damage its rust issues can cause. Finding replacement suspension parts can be difficult and pricey (in some areas downright impossible), so ensure you’ve checked these parts thoroughly before buying. Look out for any bodged rust repairs, especially now the cars are rocketing in value. Some owners are a little too hasty when it comes to selling on their below-par cars for big bucks.
The Ford Consul Classic and Capri remains as enigmatic as it was when it was first launched in 1961. For some it represents one of Ford’s boldest designs and a reminder that car makers used to take brave, exciting gambles and stick out from the crowd. Others see the Consul as a commercial disaster and a filler between the Anglia 105E and the Cortina. Either way, it raises strong emotions - which is exactly what a classic car should do. Buy now and you’ve got a rare piece of Ford history on your hands, and a lifetime of attention from passers-by.
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