THE CLASSICS Lincoln survived Great Depression with affordable Zephyr

December 14, 2018

With the introduction of the relatively inexpensive Zephyr back in 1936, Lincoln managed not only to survive the Great Depression, but also to thrive.

Business prospects were rosy in 1941 when Lincoln designers lowered the height of the 1942 Zephyr and added a few pounds, bringing the weight up to 3,730 pounds. They gave the car longer and higher fenders. Altogether, the new Zephyr was a significant styling and engineering departure from earlier models.

Unfortunately, World War II got in the way of what promised to be a good sales year. All 1942 civilian car production came to a halt in February, leaving Lincoln with a total production figure for the 1942 model year of 6,547 cars — and that included all models. One of those exclusive Lincolns was a three-window Zephyr coupe with optional electric windshield wipers, an overdrive transmission, and a leather interior. It had a base price of $1,735.

Bernie and Carolyn Wolfson were in the market for such a car. When they saw the relatively rare model offered for sale with a correctly rebuilt 305-cubic-inch V-12 engine, and then discovered it was a war-shortened 1942 model as well, they had to investigate.

Lady Luck was smiling on Wolfson when he called a California friend to inquire whether he was near the location of the advertised car. Not only was the Lincoln in the same community, it was right around the corner. The Wolfsons flew to California to inspect the Lincoln and, because it appeared to be rust-free and was coated in primer, they bought it. After a trucking firm was contracted for a door-to-door delivery, the Wolfsons went home to rural Maryland.

During the next few months, Wolfson completely disassembled his Lincoln Zephyr. Besides 1942 being such a brief production run for all American automobiles, the 1942 Lincolns were distinctive in myriad ways, making nightmares for those involved in restoration. The two-tier horizontal bar grille with nine bars in the upper grille and seven in the lower, wider grille, is a 1942 exclusive. Three chrome bars extend beyond the grille on either side to visually enhance the width.

The long decklid is deceptive in that the ultimate trunk space is 5.25 feet from front to rear with much less usable space. The 7.00-by-15-inch spare tire is mounted horizontally below a shelf to make the usable cargo area flat. Of course, the chrome trunk hinges are exposed on either side of the ridge running the length of the lid, creating both a styling statement and strengthening the wide expanse of steel.

As for the 14-karat-gold-plated trim that had to be restored, Wolfson had to contend with the usual gold knob below the hood ornament, the Lincoln crest, and the 1942 exclusive “12” emblem on the sides of the engine hood. Wolfson carefully ensured the details were correct — from wood graining to gold plating. “I don’t think we could have put it together without the help of the folks in the Zephyr club,” Wolfson said.

The carpeting, leather, and vinyl on the interior all share the same camel color. Wolfson said that after the 1942 Lincolns were built, all the excess steering wheels were sold for what years later became the 1948 Tucker. He traded a parts car for a pristine steering wheel that had been destined for a Tucker.

For all the years Lincoln offered a V-12 engine, only in 1942 was it bored out to 305 cubic inches with a horsepower rating of 130. Wolfson reports that only about 10 percent of the 1942 Zephyr coupes were equipped with side-facing opera seats. He found a friendly Lincoln owner whose car was so equipped. After borrowing the hardware, including the hinges, he had it duplicated in a mirror image.

After the new opera seats were manufactured, Wolfson had them installed in the cozy area behind the front seat. Although the headliner is the same color as the leather seats, it is vinyl, he explains. Vinyl better withstands the heat without sagging. Even though the original V-12 engine had been rebuilt, seven critical internal measurements were slightly off, enough that the engine chewed itself to death in short order. Fortunately, Wolfson was able to locate an authentic replacement. Each cylinder head on the V-12 is molded with Z-E-P-H-Y-R in raised letters — another 1942-only hallmark.

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