the view through the windshield
Zephyr: The Car That Saved Lincoln

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While much has been written (by me and many others) about the current woes of the Lincoln brand, there was a time when the marque was in serious danger of being discontinued.

Introduced in the 1920s, Lincoln thrived as a maker of mostly custom-bodied luxury cars - aided by a healthy infusion of Ford capital. But the economic depression of 1930s severely wounded all luxury car makers, especially Lincoln, which had no mid-priced production model to offer.

By 1935, annual sales of the big, expensive Lincoln K Series models (with prices starting at $4,200 - eight times as much as a Ford coupe) had fallen to a mere 830 cars and Lincoln brand was on the brink of extinction. The Zephyr - a much needed addition to the line - saved Lincoln.

When the Lincoln Zephyr was first introduced in November 1935 as a 1936 model, it was hailed by automotive critics as the first good-looking aerodynamic U.S. production car. (The 1934 Chrysler was first with aerodynamics, but most people thought it was stone ugly.)

Reportedly, the model's name came from the famous Burlington Zephyr streamlined passenger train of the period.

The Lincoln Zephyr had a 267 cubic inch V12 engine with 110 horsepower with a two-barrel carb.

Ads of the period claimed 14 to 18 miles per gallon fuel economy and 0 to 60 times of 16 seconds. Zephyrs weighed about 3,400 pounds and rode on 7:00 x 16 tires.

In 1937, Lincoln added two additional models to the Zephyr line - a town limousine and a 3 passenger coupe shown above. Zephyrs received only minor changes for the 1937 model year - a mildly-revised grille, side louvers to help cooling, revised front bumpers with a less-pronounced center dip and a new instrument panel with a center console.

The '37 models used the same engine as in 1936. All Zephyrs rode on a 122 inch wheelbase and were 210 inches long. The coupe cost $1,165. The town limo was the most expensive Zephyr at $1,425.

Lincoln Zephyr production soared for 1937; almost 30,000 units were produced during the model year. The two-door sedan was the most popular model; however 5,199 coupes were also produced.

In the 1940 movie serial, 'The Green Hornet', the title character drove Black Beauty - a mildly-customized 1937 Lincoln Zephyr three-window coupe with bubble front skirts featuring painted scallops.

The Zephyr proved itself to be a worthy competitor in the medium-priced field, stealing sales from LaSalle, Packard, Nash and Buick. Concerns about the death of the Lincoln name with the impending demise of the big K Series were swept away by Zephyr's success.

The first Lincoln Continental was derived from the Zephyr and shared many components. When people discuss fine old Lincolns of the prewar era, they always manage to talk about the handsome early Continentals but often fail to mention the Zephyr.

That's a shame, because Lincoln Zephyrs are classics in their own right and they still look handsome today. And - without the success of the mission-critical Zephyr - there never would have been a Continental. (originally posted 9/14/07)

Remember When: 1937
car blogIn 1937, Hitler repudiated the Versailles Treaty. Italy conquered Ethiopia. Japan expanded her hold on China. In Russia, Stalin's purges escalated.

In the U.S., FDR began his second term and pressed for reorganization of the Supreme Court. He appointed Joseph P. Kennedy as special envoy to Great Britain. In that country, George VI ascended to the throne as King. The abdicated King, now the Duke of Windsor, married American commoner Wallace Simpson.

In aviation, Amelia Erhart disappeared and the Hindenberg Zeppelin exploded. The Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg empire collapsed. Hudson Motor Co. discontinued the low-priced Terraplane. The Automobile Department of the Toyoda Loom Works was made an independent business unit under the name Toyota.

New ideas included supermarket shopping carts, blood banks, nylon and knock-knock jokes. Movies this year included Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs and A Star Is Born. Songs for 1937 include The Lady Is A Tramp, One O'clock Jump, and Thanks For The Memory.

Among the famous people born in 1937 were Bill Cosby, Jane Fonda, Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford. Deaths in '37 included composer George Gershwin, actress Jean Harlow and industrialist John D. Rockefeller.

The Yankees won the World Series, defeating the New York Giants.

initially posted 9/14/07, illustration copyright 1992, 1995, 2007 Joseph M. Sherlock

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