1936 Lincoln Zephyr

Officially designated Series H, the 1936 Lincoln Zephyr bowed in November 1935 in two body styles, a four-door fastback sedan listing at $1,320 and a two-door counterpart called the "sedan coupe," priced at $1,275. The newcomer was inevitably compared with the languishing Airflows, yet it sold in numbers previously unheard of at Lincoln.

At 14,994 units, the Zephyr accounted for better than four-fifths of Lincoln's total 1936 model year output of 16,528 cars, which compared with its paltry 1,434 of 1935. All by itself, the little Lincoln lifted Ford Motor Company's finest from 22nd to 18th place in the industry production rankings, the first time the marque had ever broken into the top 20.

1936 Lincoln Zephyr rear view
The Zephyr bowed in November 1935 in two- and
four-door fastback sedan body styles.

Targeted mainly against Cadillac's companion LaSalle and the Packard One Twenty, the new-wave Zephyr was invariably compared with Chrysler's slow-selling Airflow models, yet its volume was unheard of for a Lincoln.

Like the Tjaarda-designed prototypes, the production Zephyr was wonderfully roomy inside. Front seat passengers sat up close to the windshield for extraordinary visibility, thanks to a shallow dashboard that dropped straight down from the cowl, and there was ample space for six.

Directly in front of the driver were two instrument dials, one for the speedometer, the other for engine gauges and a clock, with choke and throttle controls and a cigar lighter spotted below.

Upholstery choices were limited to a broadcloth in taupe and Beford cord or leather in tan, but the materials were of high quality, as expected of a Lincoln. (By the way, leather would be available throughout this basic design's 12-year lifespan, though it was always a low-demand item for closed body styles and thus quite rare today.)

The Zephyr arrived with an awkward feature, the so-called "Winchester Mystery House" trunklid. Lifting the lid on a 1936 revealed nothing but the spare tire bolted to an upright rear body brace, trunk access being from inside the car via a hinged, fold-down rear seatback.

In April 1936 a $30 dealer-installed conversion kit was offered that laid the spare flat on the floor to provide easier, external access, but it involved reworking the structure around the trunk, so few cars likely got this modification.

A better solution appeared in July as another extra, which put the spare in its original position but attached to a bracket that swung down and out. It's not known whether any 1936s were so equipped, but all 1937-1939 models were.

Despite its weight-saving unit construction, the Zephyr did not have an exceptional power-to-weight ratio, reflecting the mild specific output of its V-12 engine. This explains the rather short 4.33:1 final drive ratio, chosen to enhance low-end acceleration at some sacrifice in all-out speed.

But if not a high-performance machine even by mid-1930s standards, the Zephyr was decently quick. In a contemporary road test, Britain's automotive weekly The Motor reported: "At Brooklands track we found the car capable of 90 mph and it reached 62 mph on the middle gear of its three-speed gearbox."

The magazine's test car ran the 0-60 mph sprint in 14 seconds through the gears, scaled 10-60 mph in 17 seconds with top gear only, and did 10-40 mph in 6 seconds in second gear.

"For main-road cruising," said the editors, "a very comfortable speed is 75 mph where conditions permit. The engine is then running at about half throttle, with plenty of reserve for acceleration or hills."

Surprisingly, the suspension and brakes earned praise despite their antiquated specification. Typical fuel consumption was 16-18 miles per gallon, very good all things considered.

1936 Lincoln Zephyr interior view
The roomy interior of the 1936 Lincoln Zephyr
featured chrome seat frames.

See the next section for details on the 1937 Lincoln Zephyr.

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