In the early 1930s, Ford’s lineup was facing some significant deficiencies. Edsel Ford, who had regularly shown a much sharper eye for market trends than his pragmatic father, recognized the tremendous gap between Ford’s Deluxe models and the ultra-exclusive, coachbuilt Lincoln K series. One result of the Great Depression was that fewer buyers were willing or able to incur the expense of a custom coachbuilt car, and Ford needed a mid-range luxury car to meet the demand in this new and important market segment. General Motors had already found great success with the stylish LaSalle, to such a degree that it threatened the very existence of Cadillac. While Ford was a bit late the party, their all-new Lincoln-Zephyr debuted in 1935 as a 1936 model, positioned as the style-leader at Ford Motor Company and their first true mass-production luxury car. The new Zephyr was priced considerably lower than the traditional, coachbuilt K-series, but offered prestige and style in abundance. Edsel chose to power the Zephyr with a newly designed V12 engine, which would offer the prestige of the K-series, but at a far more reasonable price.
In order to keep costs in check, much of the new engine’s architecture was shared with the bread-and-butter Ford “flathead” V8. The silky smooth, 70-degree V12 boasted 110hp from 267 cubic inches, which was updated from 1940 to 292 cubic inches and 120 horsepower. In 1940, the Zephyr would form the basis of the higher-priced, more powerful Continental which would shape Lincoln’s future lineup well into the post-war period.
The Zephyr was as innovative as it was beautiful. The platform was engineered by John Tjaarda, who developed a light and strong structure that was a precursor to modern unitary construction. Edsel Ford teamed up with his enormously talented friend Eugene T. “Bob” Gregorie to design the gorgeous streamlined body, which is characterized by its pronounced prow, waterfall-like grilles and pencil-thin chrome detailing that subtly highlights the curvaceous lines. A masterpiece of the Streamline Moderne School of design, the Zephyr is often credited as the first commercially successful American streamlined car, especially when compared to the relative failure of the Chrysler Airflow. Particularly when in three-window coupe form as presented here, the Lincoln Zephyr is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful mass-produced American automobiles of all time.
This handsome 1940 Lincoln Zephyr is one of just 1,256 examples of the elegant three-window coupe produced. This is a lovely car that was treated to a restoration some time ago, and appears to have enjoyed careful use since. The understated Lincoln Maroon paintwork suits the flowing lines of the Zephyr, and the quality of the finish is excellent, with a deep luster to the single-stage paint. Bodywork is excellent, showing consistent panel fit and crisp detailing. Exterior brightwork consists of a mix of very good original pieces and restored items. The bumpers appear to have been restored and present very good order, while some of the smaller items and stainless steel trim appear original. Factory correct steel wheels wear Zephyr wheel covers and trim rings, and are shod with recent Firestone wide-whitewall tires.
As the sportiest body style of the Zephyr lineup, the three-window coupe allows seating for two or three across the front only, with abundant room for luggage either behind the seat or in the generous trunk. High-quality maroon broadcloth fabric is used on the seats, door cards and headlining. The excellent soft trim appears essentially unworn, and is accented with factory correct gold-plated fittings and hardware. Like the body, the dash is heavily influenced by the Art Deco movement with its clear, simple instrumentation and the finely detailed “waterfall” speaker grille. The trunk is lined with what appears to be original carpet, and it houses the correct spare wheel along with the original jack, and a rarely-seen factory tool kit.
Lincoln’s 292 cubic inch V12 presents in lovely condition, dressed with appropriate clamps, fittings, original oil-bath air cleaner, and an original FoMoCo oil filter canister. The engine runs well, sending its turbine-smooth 120 horsepower through a column-shifted three-speed manual gearbox. Like the engine bay, the undercarriage is also remarkably clean and well sorted. Despite its considerable size, the Zephyr was a surprisingly capable car for its day. Relatively low weight and a rigid body contributed to confident handling and outstanding ride characteristics, while the silky V12 provides ample motivation for high-speed cruising. This particular example is very enjoyable to drive and would be a welcome addition to any collection of streamline or Art Deco-era automobiles.