THE LAST PREWAR ZEPHYRS
All 1940 Lincoln-Zephyrs got yet another facelift that included bigger windows, sealed beam headlights — recently introduced and shortly to become standard on all U.S. cars — and a new dashboard with a column shifter and the instrument cluster in front of the driver. To compensate for the Zephyr’s steadily increasing weight and ever-more-powerful competition, the HV-12 was bored out to 292 cu. in. (4,787 cc), bringing output to 120 gross horsepower (89 kW) and 220 lb-ft (298 N-m) of torque. The slow-selling convertible sedan and town sedan were dropped, although there were a few Brunn-bodied town cars, mostly for senior Ford executives.
The 1941 Zephyr differed only in minor details, the most obvious being the relocation of the parking lamps to atop the front fenders. The major mechanical changes were slightly wider wheels, a vacuum-operated power top for the convertible coupe, and the availability of Borg-Warner overdrive, which could be fitted either lieu of or in addition to the two-speed axle. (The usefulness of ordering both was unclear unless you were planning to enter an economy run, as at least one Zephyr owner did in 1941.) The Continental, no longer badged as a Zephyr, also added pushbutton outside door locks, vacuum-operated power windows, and, on cabriolets, a power top.
Since the Model K was now well and truly dead, the Zephyr was no longer a junior car but the mainstream Lincoln. For 1941, Lincoln also added a pair of long-wheelbase Custom models, a sedan and a limousine, loosely comparable to Cadillac’s Series 75 formal cars. Both Customs were 225.3 inches (5,720 mm) long on a 138-inch (3,505mm) wheelbase, created by mixing and matching doors and other components from the standard cars. Total 1941 Custom production amounted to only 650 units, although that was still better than the Model K’s final two years combined.
Lincoln comfortably outsold Cadillac again in 1940, but although Lincoln sales held steady in 1941, Cadillac moved ahead by a comfortable margin. Cadillac’s attractive new styling may have been partly responsible, but a more likely reason was that Cadillac had terminated the LaSalle marque while introducing a comparably priced Cadillac Series 61 line. At the same time, Series 62 prices were cut more by more than $200, making both the Series 61 and 62 lines directly competitive with the Zephyr.
Nonetheless, the Zephyr did beat Packard’s One-Twenty in 1941 despite the Packard’s significantly lower prices, which in some cases undercut a comparable Lincoln’s by $200 or more. Lincoln’s V-12 may have been a sales advantage, whatever the engine’s problems. Cadillac and Packard’s multicylinder engines were all gone by 1941 and rivals like Auburn and Marmon had perished years earlier.
THE FINAL FACELIFT
The 1942 Lincoln line, launched less than 10 weeks before America entered the war already raging in Europe and the Pacific, introduced the final iteration of the original Zephyr design. The bridge-and-truss structure was retained, but the body was extensively revised, enough so that some sources describe it as all-new. The ’42 was substantially longer and wider than before, with larger doors and windows, and its weight increased by as much as 230 lb (104 kg).
The styling made the new Lincolns look even bigger than they were, with boxy fenders, heavier bumpers, and a more conventional profile than before. The earlier Zephyr’s sleek lines were largely gone, and in appearance, the 1942 could easily have been a contemporary GM car. (In fact, some of the clays for the aborted 1941 LaSalle were broadly similar, including an inverted T-shaped grille theme.) We assume that the redesign was driven by commercial pressure, since Gregorie often said that Edsel Ford hated visual bulk and fussy detailing and the 1942 Lincolns had an abundance of both. Admittedly, by 1941 the Zephyr’s original design was six years old and the Streamline Moderne look was a little passé, but the new cars looked less graceful and more ordinary than they actually were.
The revised styling was accompanied by some significant mechanical developments. To cope with the additional weight, the HV-12 was bored out to 305 cu. in. (4,998 cc), giving 130 hp (97 kW) and 235 lb-ft (319 N-m) of torque despite a slight reduction in compression ratio. The previous aluminum heads were traded for cast iron, probably due to new government restrictions on strategic materials, but the engine’s lubrication system was belatedly upgraded with revised oil passages and a more powerful oil pump. While this at least partially mitigated one of the engine’s persistent issues, the bored-out engine’s cylinder walls were now thin enough to create new problems, both on the production line and in service.
Even more problematic was Liquamatic, Lincoln’s hastily concocted response to GM’s Hydra-Matic, which had been introduced as an option for Cadillacs in 1941. Introduced in October 1941 and also offered on 1942 Mercurys, Liquamatic was a semiautomatic transmission combining a conventional clutch with a fluid coupling and an electrically controlled, vacuum-operated three-speed gearbox rigged to allow automatic shifts between second and third. On Lincolns, this was combined with Borg-Warner overdrive, giving, depending on your perspective, either three or six forward speeds. (Theoretically, the overdrive would function in all forward gears, but in practice, you got no more than two shifts either up or down.) Low gear could only be selected manually.
As with comparable semiautomatic setups offered by other manufacturers in this period, Liquamatic was a belt-and-braces arrangement whose complexity outweighed its convenience. It was also expensive, listing for $189 where Cadillac buyers could specify the fully automatic Hydra-Matic for only $135. Worse, Liquamatic was underdeveloped and unreliable. Only a few hundred were sold, and dealers converted many back to conventional transmissions with overdrive. Surviving examples are now very rare.
Had it not been for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Liquamatic’s problems might eventually have been sorted, but civilian automotive production was halted by federal order in early 1942. The last prewar Lincolns were completed on January 31. As a result, Lincoln production totaled only about 6,500 units for the model year, including 336 Continentals.
Development of a next-generation Lincoln began around 1941 and continued on and off after the war began and Ford converted to military production. According to Bob Gregorie, the eventual postwar Mercury designs closely reflect the styling themes originally planned for Lincoln, which included both fastback rooflines and integrated fenders. There was also to be a closer relationship between Lincoln and Mercury in both styling and structure, including the introduction of a junior Lincoln intended to fill the gap between the two brands.
Most of the design work was done by the spring of 1943, but the development was interrupted by the illness and death of Edsel Ford, who passed away on May 26 at the age of 49. Gregorie was subsequently fired and the plans he and Edsel had originally envisioned for the postwar cars underwent many changes under the company’s new administration.
Lincoln returned to civilian production in September 1945. For the most part, the 1946 Lincolns were warmed-over 1942 models with minor styling changes, although the three-window coupes and long-wheelbase Customs were dropped, perhaps to streamline production — materials were still in short supply, so it made sense to concentrate on the most popular styles. The engine reverted to its 1941 displacement and compression ratio, now giving 125 hp (93 kW) and 214 lb-ft (290 N-m) of torque. Durability was apparently still not the V-12’s strong suit, so there were further changes to the oil system a few months into production.
Another casualty of the war was the Zephyr name, which was used by Ford in other markets, but didn’t resurface in the U.S. until 1978 — and then for Mercury, not Lincoln. We’re not sure why; Gregorie said the original plan called for the Lincoln-Zephyr name to be applied to the new junior Lincoln. Standard 1946 cars were simply called “Lincoln,” although the Continental remained available in both coupe and cabriolet form. Also discarded on postwar cars was the Liquamatic transmission. Lincoln wouldn’t have a fully automatic transmission until 1950, and even then, they had to rely on GM Hydra-Matics until 1955.
Still, in the immediate postwar sales rush, none of that made a lot of difference. Buyers, desperate for new cars and flush with cash, didn’t even balk at prices that were now over 40% higher than before the war. Sales for 1946 were more than 16,000 units and probably would have been higher if Lincoln-Mercury (the two brands were formally combined into a single division in late 1945) had been able to build more cars. As it was, Ford was hampered by materials shortages, outside labor problems, and production quotas. Sales for 1947 topped 21,000, about the same as Lincoln’s prewar volume, and a further 7,769 cars were built for the short 1948 model year. Production ended in early 1948 as Lincoln prepared for the launch of the all-new 1949 models, which bowed on April 22.
The 1949 Lincolns ended up being considerably more orthodox than the Zephyr. As late as the summer of 1946, plans still called for unit construction and a V-12 engine, but both were eventually dropped in favor of conventional body-on-frame construction and a big 90-degree V-8, the scaled-up flathead Ford engine also used in heavy-duty Ford trucks. As with other new Fords, Lincoln’s transverse leaf springs and solid axles were dropped in favor of independent front suspension and Hotchkiss drive. The new models were no prizes aesthetically and suffered a multitude of teething problems, but sold reasonably well anyway. However, it would be many years before Lincoln again presented any great sales threat to Cadillac or started any industry trends.