1936-1948 Lincoln Zephyr

Historically, cars heralded as being "ahead of their time" have usually disappeared before their time. Not the 1936-1948 Lincoln Zephyr. Simply put, it was the most saleable and longest-lived of the pioneering streamlined designs that appeared in the early 1930s, the first genuinely successful car of the modern age.

Cars like the Hupmobile Aerodynamic and Chrysler's Airflow twins folded early because they were too radical for most buyers -- in other words, ugly. But the Zephyr was attractive as well as advanced, and thus far more acceptable to far more buyers than any of its futuristic contemporaries.

Classic Cars Image Gallery

1936 Lincoln Zephyr full view
A vee’d grille and deftly handled details reflected
the best thinking of Edsel Ford and designer Bob
Gregorie -- and made this the best-looking
of the early streamliners. See more classic car pictures.

Despite a questionable engine and anachronistic chassis details, the basic Zephyr design was so good that it lasted better than 10 years, remaining competitive even as late as 1948, Ironically, the Zephyr never achieved sufficient sales volume to put Lincoln in the same league with Cadillac and Packard, which had help from "junior editions" of their own, but it emphatically kept the grand old marque alive at a time when the luxury market had all but died out.

This popularity didn't go unnoticed, and many of the Zephyr's features were quickly picked up by rival producers. In fact, the Zephyr arguably did more than any other single model of the immediate prewar years to shape the automobile as we would come to know it in the postwar era.

The Zephyr was a breakthrough, difficult though that may be to appreciate in this age of "high tech." Of course, the automotive world was a vastly different place a half-century ago, and the Zephyr wafted into it like a breath of fresh air to stir the winds of change.

The Zephyr was created not so much as the trendsetter it so obviously was as the sort of lower-priced, higher-volume product that represented the only path to survival for luxury makes in the Depression.

In a brief history of Lincoln issued in mid-1976 as part of the press kit for the forthcoming Continental Mark V, a Ford Motor Company scribe offered this rationale for the Zephyr's development: "Just as dramatic as the styling improvements of the handcrafted cars of the 1930s was their decline in sales. Improved manufacturing techniques had closed the gap between handcrafted and mass-produced automobiles. With these facts and the improving economy, [company president] Edsel Ford and other Ford executives felt the medium-priced market was ready for a Lincoln."

Actually, they had no choice. From a best-ever total of 8,858 units in calendar 1926, Lincoln production had fallen to just 3,312 cars by model year 1930. Volume picked up slightly for 1931, reaching 3,556 units largely on the strength of the new Model K, an improved version of the original V-8 Model L designed around 1920 by Lincoln Motor Company founder Henry Martyn Leland.

The total rose again for 1932, reaching 3,749 units with introduction of the superlative V-12 Model KB. Then the luxury market bottomed out completely, and Lincoln output sank to just 1,703 for model year 1933.

As historian Leslie R. Henry notes: "The Depression and its aftermath had forced many luxury-car manufacturers to the wall: Duesenberg, Franklin, Peerless, Pierce, Cord, Auburn, and Cunningham all folded during this period. The remaining marques either rode out the lean years on the profits of their popular-priced smaller brothers [Cadillac, for instance] or moved into the production of compromise cars that traded on an honored name [such as Packard]. In Lincoln's case, the big K-series continued to be built until 1940, while an effort was made to attract more buyers and to fill the price gap between the Ford and Lincoln."

1941 Lincoln Zephyr full view
Zephyr styling was so on point that the car lasted more
than 10 years. Here, a rare 1941 convertible coupe.

That effort, begun in 1932, was the genesis of the Zephyr. Learn about the Zephyr's beginnings on the next page.

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1936-1948 Lincoln Zephyr Prototypes

Several coachbuilders had special in-house design staffs that would occasionally build prototypes for volume producers like Ford as a way to influence their thinking and generate new business. The 1936-1948 Lincoln Zephyr prototypes were an example, coming from Briggs Manufacturing Company, which Edsel had contracted to supply Lincoln's standard "factory" body styles.

One of Briggs' employees in the early 1930s was John Tjaarda, a brilliant Dutch-born engineer who had emigrated to the United States in 1923. Tjaarda was fascinated by the possibilities of applying aircraft design and construction principles to cars and had been working on a series of concepts along these lines that he called "Sterkenberg."

The basic theme was a radical teardrop-shaped body built in unit with a sophisticated chassis featuring all-independent suspension and a rear-mounted engine. W. O. Briggs was the first industrialist to take Tjaarda's ideas seriously, and it was he who suggested the engineer show his sketches and a scale model of the Sterkenberg to Edsel Ford, with the hope of winning a much more substantial contract to supplement the firm's declining Lincoln orders.

Edsel reacted most favorably, and Tjaarda was instructed to come up with a prototype suitable for volume production. This second step toward the Zephyr was carried out in complete secrecy from both Ford and Briggs executives.

The number of Zephyr prototypes has been a subject of much confusion over the years. Tjaarda told Motor Trend magazine in 1954: "Originally we prepared three proposed designs -- one rear-engine car, the same car with the engine in the front, and sort of a first draft of a convertible coupe. Since everyone [at that time] was losing money on convertibles, it was decided not to build them at first."

1941 Lincoln Zephyr rear view
Most of the Zephyr prototypes featured
a rear-engine design.

The rear-engine proposal was a full-size wood mockup, marked by a louvered fastback roof topped by a small dorsal fin. Completed in October 1933, it was displayed in Detroit and New York as part of the company's "Exhibition of Progress" road show and at various Ford dealerships. Though it apparently lacked any sort of running gear, it was described as able to accommodate a V-8 engine and automatic transmission.

This model was also taken to the "Century of Progress" at the Chicago World's Fair in 1934. That same year, a front-engine car created by Ford's own design department was built and shown, done as a two-door on one side, a four-door on the other. Presumably, this is the drivable prototype that Tjaarda has said was built at about the same time as the wood "pushmobile."

He also recalled that two more running front-engine cars were completed while the wood mockup was on tour, but some sources say that at least one of those was rear-engined.

In any case, all the prototypes were eventually destroyed, and the only surviving photographs from this phase of the Zephyr project are of the rear-engine design.

Ford carefully polled the many people who saw the Zephyr-to-be and found most liked the idea of a smaller, less-expensive Lincoln. They also liked the forward-thinking design.

The Zephyr prototypes may be shrouded in mystery, but there's no mystery about the public's response to them. Ford carefully questioned many people who saw the Zephyr-to-be and discovered that most were very receptive to the idea of a smaller, less-expensive Lincoln -- and the forward-thinking design. This convinced management that it was more or less on the right track.

Find details about the Lincoln Zephyr's engine in the next section.

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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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1936-1948 Lincoln Zephyr Styling

Unorthodox though it was, the the Briggs-built 1936-1948 Zephyr prototypes had been well-received, with fully 80 percent of the people Ford questioned expressing approval. But Edsel Ford knew as well as anyone in the industry that "unorthodox" often means "ugly."

1939 Lincoln Zephyr side view
The Zephyr’s streamlined styling translated
very well to open form, as this gorgeous
1939 convertible coupe attests.

Any doubts he may have had about the design were only confirmed in 1934 by poor sales of the new Chrysler and DeSoto Airflow, which had the same sort of abbreviated curved nose and waterfall-type grillework. Accordingly, he instructed Eugene T. "Bob" Gregorie, the 26-year-old head of his newly created design section, to do something about the dumpy proportions of Tjaarda's front-engine car.

Predictably, most of the changes involved the front. The decision to use the new V-12 instead of the shorter V-8 necessitated more length ahead of the firewall, and Gregorie made the most of it.

He drew up a new "ironing board" hood, hinged at the rear to open "alligator" fashion and running straight forward from the base of the windshield. Its pointed prow met a slightly raked, sharply vee'd vertical grille composed of fine horizontal bars and flanked by pontoon fenders mounting faired-in oval headlamps, an idea likely borrowed from recent pierce-Arrows.

Wheelbase was extended to 122 inches, and the prototype's overall body lines were sharpened up somewhat. In final form, the styling suggested graceful motion even with the car at rest, accented by fulsome fenderlines, skirted rear wheel wells, and upward-arcing character lines on either side of the grille, the sole vestige of the prototype's odd drooped snoot.

Gregorie also fashioned the production Zephyr interior, including the instrument panel. Though somewhat more restrained than Tjaarda's original, it did retain its chromed front seat frames, also a feature of early Airflows.

As a pioneer of unit construction, the Zephyr parted company with most other cars of the day including, of course, the senior Lincolns. But it was unique in being the first production car engineered with aircraft-type stress analysis, which actually proved the structural superiority of the integral body/frame.

As Tjaarda explained in his 1954 interview with Motor Trend: "Very careful construction and elimination of material where it was not necessary resulted in the car's light weight. Stiffness of the structure was accomplished by bracing at the spots where the lightest bracketing would be most effective. Therefore, large round corners were used in the door openings. The enormous strength of the glass area was used for bracing the roof by making the windshield and rear window part of the structure."

Weighing some 3,300 pounds at the curb, the Zephyr was around 940 pounds lighter than a comparable Airflow, yet it was much stiffer, and in crash tests could sustain nearly twice the impact loads of conventional body-on-frame cars. So it turned out that the aircraft-inspired Airflow had been built twice as strong -- and heavy -- as it needed to be.

All this talk of airplanes brings up the now-fashionable topic of aerodynamics. The Airflow was shaped at least partly in the wind tunnel while the Zephyr evidently was not, yet the Lincoln actually had a lower coefficient of drag. Neither car had terribly impressive "aero numbers" by today's standards, though both were quite good for the 1930s. The Zephyr's Cd was around 0.45, the Airflow's between 0.50 and 0.53.

1942 Lincoln Zephry interior
Designer Bob Gregorie had a hand in the Zephyr's
interior as well. This 1942 glittery dash
borrowed heavily from Cadillac.

Let's take a closer look at the 1936 Lincoln Zephyr in the next section.

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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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1937 Lincoln Zephyr

The 1937 Lincoln Zephyr breezed in with few changes and much higher sales. Production more than doubled in fact, hitting 29,997 units, which moved Lincoln up to 16th place on the now much shorter industry volume list.

1937 Lincoln Zephyr full view
The rakish rear deck on the 1937 coupe was long,
but trunk space modest.

Two new body styles appeared, a close-coupled three-passenger coupe priced at $1,165 and the $1,425 division-window Town Limousine, of which only 139 were built. The four-door came down $55 and, as before, far outsold the sedan-coupe.

The only styling change of note was chrome for some of the grille bars. Inside was a modernistic new instrument panel, with a vertical extension running down to the transmission hump for housing a radio speaker.

Speedometer and engine gauges were combined in a single large dial in the dash center, flanked each side by a glove locker and ashtray.

All 1937 models were designated Series HB and, like the 1936s, were built mostly by Briggs. Ford did the final assembly, installing drivetrain, adding hood and fenders, plus trimming and painting. Edsel Ford once laughingly told Tjaarda that Briggs might as well build the entire car, as the Zephyr assembly line was only 40 feet long!

1937 Lincoln Zephyr interior view
This 1937 Zephyr has leather upholstery,
not often ordered on closed body styles.

Learn about the 1938 Lincoln Zephyr in the next section.

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1938 Lincoln Zephyr

A fresh face, minor mechanical revisions, and two additional body styles bolstered the 1938 Lincoln Zephyr's appeal. Expanding the Series 86H lineup were a convertible sedan and convertible coupe, the latter appearing in three versions during the year.

1938 Lincoln Zephyr
The 1938 lineup was bolstered with two open models,
a convertible sedan and a convertible coupe.
The latter is shown here, one of 600 built that year.

The first, either a prototype or very early production design, had relatively simple top irons and bows. The second had a different arrangement similar to the one used on all drop-top Zephyrs and Continentals through 1948.

The third, arriving in the spring, had a back seat, something the first two lacked, plus appropriate body changes to accommodate it. Only 600 convertible coupes of all types were built this year. The convertible sedan saw only 461 copies.

Common to all 1938 Zephyrs was revised sheet metal ahead of the A-pillars and a three-inch longer wheel-base, now 125 inches. Accompanying the smoother, more integrated front fenders and the reworked hood was a handsome low-profile split grille, with the more horizontal format that would sweep the industry the following year.

An increase in rear spring base improved ride, the longer wheelbase allowed the engine/transmission assembly to be pushed forward for more front seat room, the transmission housing was lowered, and the gearlever was relocated to the console.

The chromed front seat frames gave way to a soft-edged cushion, and front seatbacks gained sponge-rubber top sections with robe-cord assist straps just below on the back sides. As mentioned, the V-12 was switched to hydraulic valve lifters, and there was a new combustion chamber shape, though rated output was unchanged.

A deep recession this year blunted sales throughout the industry, and despite its extensive changes the Zephyr declined in model year production to 19,111 units. However, that was still some 5,500 more than LaSalle managed and, having fallen behind the previous year, Lincoln again moved ahead of the junior Cadillac in the volume race.

By this time, of course, Zephyr and total Lincoln sales were virtually one and the same, demand for the coach-built senior models having dwindled to near nothing.

1938 Lincoln Zephyr interior view
The dash was quite elaborate in 1938.

See details on the next year's model, 1939, on the next page.

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1939 Lincoln Zephyr

The big news for the 1939 Lincoln Zephyr Series 96H was hydraulic brakes, long overdue at Ford Motor Company and a feature on all its cars this year. The same body styles returned with a number of appearance alterations, though the new models didn't look all that different from the 1938s at first glance.

There were new pressings for hood, front fenders, and prow, plus a new hood ornament and side trim and new-design headlamp lenses. The front bumper was cut away in the center to accent a reshaped, vertical-bar grille, and the vestigial running boards, perhaps the most dated styling feature of the original Zephyr, were covered by skirts for a smoother look.

1938 Lincoln Zephyr rear view
The epitome of streamlined 1930s styling, the Zephyr
was arguably the best-looking car of its type.

Interiors were spruced up with a new dash stamping and gauges plus a wider trim selection. Closed models were now offered with an expensive custom broadcloth option available in maroon, blue, gray, or tan, with color-keyed instrument panel, window moldings, and control knobs.

The leather-lined open cars could now be ordered with gray, red, or brown hide as well as tan, and there was a new extra-cost trim combining leather in any of these colors with tan whipcord fabric.

Production recovered slightly to reach 20,905 units. It might have been higher had it not been for the arrival of an intramural competitor, the new medium-price Mercury. Another of Edsel's ideas, it offered similar styling and more speed for less money. Predictably, it outsold the Zephyr, recording 75,000 units for the model year, a better than three-to-one margin.

1939 Lincoln Zephyr interior view
A “hidden” storage area in the 1939 Zephyr
was provided under the back seat.

Check out the next page for information on the 1940 Lincoln Zephyr.

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1940 Lincoln Zephyr

The 1940 Lincoln Zephyr faced another sibling rival that year, only this was more a rival for class than customers. It was, of course, the exquisitely styled Continental, which had originated in 1938-1939 as a Zephyr-based custom built for the company president.

Edsel had taken the car to Florida on his annual winter vacation, and it garnered more than 200 enthusiastic inquiries about when it would be offered for sale.

1941 Lincoln Zephyr front view
The all-new 1940 bodyshell received minor styling
refinements, as shown on this superb 1941 club coupe.

The production Continental arrived barely a year later. It was longer than the Zephyr and, because of the considerable body leading involved, heavier, so its handling was never quite up to Zephyr's. Nevertheless, the Continental completely stole the show with its masterful styling.

Which is too bad, because the 1940 Series 06H was the best Zephyr yet. Though it looked much like the 1939, it boasted a brand-new unit body/chassis without running boards, which allowed the bodysides to move outward for a corresponding gain in seat width.

Other improvements included sealed-beam headlamps, larger windows, a bigger trunk with the spare on the floor where it belonged, and a more conventional dash sans console, with column-mount gearshift and the large combination instrument dial placed directly ahead of the steering wheel.

The main mechanical change was a bore increase for the V-12, which brought displacement up to 292 cid and horsepower to 120. The convertible sedan was dropped and a smart new semi-fastback five-seat club coupe replaced the fastback sedan-coupe.

Model year production again inched upward, reaching 21,765 units. That included 700 two-door Zephyr convertibles, twice the number of open Continentals built this year, though the number of survivors is just the opposite today.

Interestingly, the 1940 Continental carried only Zephyr script, as the model was originally intended as simply a limited-production offering in the Zephyr line. Few people at Ford ever dreamed it would be a star in its own right.

Also this year, Brunn offered special Town Limousine and Town Car coachwork for the Zephyr chassis, the latter with open chauffeur's compartment. Both had smaller tails and more squared-up rooflines, which seemed incongruous with the aerodynamic Zephyr styling.

Only about 10 of these cars were built through 1941, most delivered to members of the Ford family or company executives.

To learn about the 1941 Lincoln Zephyr, see the next section.

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1941 Lincoln Zephyr

Lincoln's 1941 lineup consisted of three model groups: the Series 16H 1941 Lincoln Zephyr, the Continental coupe and cabriolet (now bearing appropriate badges), and the 138-inch-wheelbase Series 168H Custom sedan and limousine. The last were meant to carry on the coachbuilt tradition of the now-discontinued K-series, but they were pure Zephyr at heart.

1941 Lincoln Zephyr full view
Zephyr became Lincoln’s sole model line for 1941,
following the demise of the coachbuilt K-series of 1940.

Both had more arched rooflines and employed club coupe front doors and elongated rear doors built from regular four-door sedan panels. There wasn't much call for the Customs: only 355 sedans and 295 limos were completed for the model year.

The volume models got minor changes to bumpers, grilles, and headlamp rims. Parking lamps now sat atop the front fenders, where they doubled as turn signals, and the hood release was moved from the hood ornament to a control inside the car.

There were minor suspension tweaks, including longer, wider springs that gave slower ride motions. Convertibles acquired electrically powered top mechanisms, and a new deluxe radio with a foot switch for changing stations became available at extra cost.

Another new option was Borg-Warner overdrive, an alternative to the two-speed Columbia rear axle offered since 1936. A very few cars were built with both units, including the Custom that won the 1941 Gilmore Economy Run (a similarly equipped standard Zephyr was also entered).

Lincoln began a long decline in both sales and market share in 1941. Much of this has been blamed on the V-12, but there were other, more significant factors. For one thing, Lincoln had a weaker dealer network than its main rivals (Ford dealers sold Zephyrs in some parts of the country), a situation that wouldn't be rectified until Lincoln-Mercury Division was formed at the close of World War II.

Also, many medium-price makes had caught up with the Zephyr by now, fielding newer, more appealing models. Buick, Oldsmobile, DeSoto, Chrysler, even Hudson all notched sales gains for 1941, most at the Zephyr's expense.

But the real problem was Cadillac, which shrewdly dropped its middle-class LaSalle this year in favor of the similarly priced Series 61, offering true luxury-car prestige for less cash than a comparable Zephyr.

Also, Cadillac boasted more trim and body style choices, improved steering, new no-shift Hydra-Matic Drive, bold new styling, and a smoother, quieter, more powerful V-8.

With all this, Cadillac nearly doubled its model year output over the combined 1940 total, while Lincoln actually dropped by more than 2,500 units.

Check out the next section for details on the final years of the Lincoln Zephyr.

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1946, 1947, 1948 Lincoln Zephyr

The Zephyr name wouldn't survive World War II, but the car would. Along with the Continental coupe and cabriolet, the 1942 Zephyr returned for 1946, 1947 and 1948 pending the arrival of all-new models for 1949. Simply called Lincoln, it bore few changes.

Most were retrograde: no long-wheelbase offerings, fewer body styles, a gaudy die-cast grille with Cadillac-style egg-crate, a return to the 1941 engine bore, five fewer horsepower. There was nothing novel or even odd about the no-name Zephyrs, but they fared tolerably well in the burgeoning postwar seller's market.

1947 Lincoln Zephyr front view
The Zephyr returned after World War II but without
the Zephyr name. Shown is a 1947 four-door sedan.

Sandwiched as it is between the magnificent coachbuilt Lincolns that preceded it and the breathtaking Continental it sired, the Zephyr was once all but ignored by enthusiasts and branded an also-ran by critics.

Yet apart from sales in some years and that trouble-prone engine, this car can only be judged a success. As we've seen, it saved Lincoln from the ravages of the Depression while making streamlined design truly acceptable to the great mass of American buyers. It also has distinction as the only V-12 car in the medium-price field and as a design that stood the test of time remarkably well.

As for performance, a properly restored Zephyr can still surprise even the most skeptical with its utter silence, silky smoothness, and relaxed cruising ability.

It may be gone with the wind, but the Zephyr will never be forgotten. Breakthroughs are like that, you know.

Learn how the Zephyr fares on the collectible car scene on the next page.

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The Collectible Lincoln Zephyr

Despite its predictive design, high sales success, and obvious historical importance, the Lincoln Zephyr took many years to win acceptance as a collector car. Giving the collectible Lincoln Zephyr respect and, in fact, saving it from extinction was largely the doing of the Lincoln Zephyr Owners Club.

Before this group was founded in 1968, many Zephyrs were either scrapped by the uncaring and uninformed, or ended up as parts cars for restoration of a Continental, the Zephyr's more glamorous offspring that was one of the first cars of the 1940s to earn Classic status.

Once apparently fated for extinction, the Zephyr is recognized today as an eminently desirable car apart from the Continentals and is no longer an endangered species.

As you'd expect, the most readily available Zephyrs today are the ones that were most numerous to begin with: the four-door sedan of all years and the 1937-1941 three-passenger coupe. We're talking in relative terms, though, and "available" does not mean "low-priced" in this case.

A prewar sedan can easily bring more than $10,000 in show condition, a comparable postwar example more than $8,000. These figures reflect the high costs of restoring such a car nowadays as much as the Zephyr's popularity as a collectible.

The most sought-after single model is the 1939 convertible sedan, with the 1938 a close second. Only 763 of these flagships were built, of which only a half-dozen or so are known to survive today.

The 1938 convertible coupe is equally rare; again, only about six are still with us. In fact, the survival rate for Zephyr convertible coupes of all years is probably no more than 1 percent of original production, compared with about 50 percent for prewar open Continentals.

1939 Lincoln Zephyr convertible coupe rear view
The 1938 Lincoln Zephyr convertible coupe
is a rare find, indeed.

Sedan-coupes are also scarce, with only about one or two apparent survivors from each of the four model years. Surprisingly, a fair number of export models with right-hand drive still exist, and they've turned up all over the world. The British, in particular, had far more appreciation for the car than we Americans.

Another Zephyr rarity is the 1937-1938 Town Limousine. Interestingly, this model was listed by the factory for 1936, though it's questionable any were built that year. It also appears on the 1939-1940 charts, but no production figures are available.

The special Brunn-bodied Town Car is not shown in Ford records either, probably because it was a conversion of the standard sedan. However, the existence of one 1938 example indicates that it was built at a very early date.

A good many 1940-1941 models have survived, probably because they were first owned by company officials who recognized the significance of these extra special cars and gave them extra special care.

Zephyrs seldom change hands any more, due mainly to the relatively low number of survivors and their advancing age. When one is sold, it's usually done privately, though the cars are seen at auction. For this reason, it's difficult to peg prices firmly.

Parts availability for these cars has never been a serious problem, and there are Zephyr specialists scattered around the country, offering a variety of items. Of special note is Narragansett Reproductions (Woodville Road, P.O. Box 51, Wood River Junction, RI 02894), a mail order house that manufactures and sells wiring harnesses and restoration aids.

Various collectors have remanufactured small components on a limited basis, including steering wheels and assorted trim pieces. Engine parts are in good to excellent supply from a number of collector-car sources, but prices are high due to limited demand. There are currently about 3,000 Zephyr and Continental owners worldwide.

Find specifications for the Lincoln Zephyr in our final section.

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1936-1948 Lincoln Zephyr Specifications

The Lincoln Zephyr has gone down in history as the first real success of the modern age. It was truly ahead of its time. See below for specifications of the 1936-1942 Lincoln Zephyr.

Lincoln Zephyr Production 1936-1948

sedan 4d 13,180 23,15914,520
14,469 4,418
sedan coupe 1,814 1,500800

coupe 3P
972 1,236
Town Sedan/Limo

conv coupe

conv sedan


club coupe

3,500 178 253
Custom sedan

355 47
Custom limo

295 66

Note: 1946-1948 production not available by body style. Total production was as follows: 1946 -- 16,179; 1947 -- 19,981; 1948 -- 6,470. Above figures do not include Continental models. (Source: The Encyclopedia of American Cars 1930-1980, Richard M. Langworth and the Auto Editors of CONSUMER GUIDE© 1984)

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