1936-1948 Lincoln Zephyr Engine

Although the prototypes proved to be on the right track, there were still many basic matters to settle, such as the 1936-1948 Lincoln Zephyr engine. Only 50 percent of those polled indicated any interest in rear-engine placement. That was enough for Henry, although Edsel also felt the public wasn't quite ready for such an unusual feature.

The old man insisted on making the car even more conventional and, as always, he got his way. The Zephyr thus emerged not only with the familiar front-engine/rear-drive layout but with Ford's traditional transverse leaf springs and solid axles front and rear -- and, of course, Henry's cherished mechanical brakes.

The engine location had been decided, but what sort of engine to use? The short, somewhat stubby nose of Tjaarda's original body design implied a V-8 because of its greater compactness compared to Lincoln's existing V-12. The 1931 Model K V-8 was deemed too old, so the new car was initially planned for a modified version of the simple Ford flathead unit, producing about 100 horsepower.

1939 Lincoln Zephyr engine view
The Zephyr's V-12 was built with many
Ford V-8 components.

But Edsel decided eight cylinders wasn't enough for a Lincoln, even a medium-priced one, and decreed a new V-12 for reasons of "prestige" and superior mechanical smoothness. His father didn't object but, ever the frugal tycoon, dictated the new engine be built with as many Ford V-8 components as possible.

The task was assigned to veteran chief engineer Frank Johnson. The result was a 267-cid unit with aluminum-alloy heads and a cast-iron block that angled the cylinder banks at 75 degrees, plus four main bearings, steel pistons, and undersquare bore/ stroke dimensions of 2.75 by 3.75 inches.

Power output was quoted as 110 horsepower -- a little higher than the target figure -- at 3,900 rpm, a rather high power peak for those days. The torque curve was quite flat, however, with at least 180 pounds/feet available from 3,500 rpm all the way down to 400 rpm, which made for incredible top-gear performance.

Though the Zephyr V-12 no more resembled previous Lincoln engines than the ubiquitous V-8 (despite sharing the latter's stroke), it was more like a "12-cylinder Ford" than a classic multi-cylinder powerplant in character. And it was not without problems.

The main ones were inadequate crankcase ventilation that caused rapid sludge buildup in sustained low-rpm running, aggravated by poor oil flow, plus too-small water passages that led to overheating, bore warpage, and ring wear.

To a degree, some of these maladies were dealt with during the Zephyr's first year, and Ford improved the engine by adopting hydraulic valve lifters for 1938 and cast-iron heads and oiling improvements for 1942. Yet this V-12 never shed its reputation for service troubles, though the postwar versions were actually quite reliable.

Check out the next page for details on Lincoln Zephyr styling.

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