Editor’s note: David Krumboltz’s regular column is on hiatus until further notice due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In its place, we’re running some of Dave’s favorite past columns. This one originally ran in March 2017.
Presented as a 1936 model, Ford Motor Co. introduced the Lincoln Zephyr on November 2, 1935. These were tough economic times, and the country was still suffering through the Great Depression. The standard Lincoln, called the K-Series, was very pricey at about $4,000, or about $71,600 in today’s dollars, and sales were slow.
When the name Edsel Ford is mentioned, many think of the Edsel car, a huge failure by Ford Motor Co. But Edsel Ford was a pretty innovative individual and had to be a pretty good salesman to convince his stubborn father, Henry, first, to buy the Lincoln Motor Co. in 1922 and later to bring out the completely new Lincoln. He knew a jazzy name was needed. Zephyr comes from the Greek word zephyrus, or the god of west wind, and was already used with the famous Burlington Zephyr Express train, which had hit a speed of 112 mph in 1934.
“Edsel Ford was really pushing this to get a more moderately priced car and get something that was more modern-looking,” says Lafayette resident Peter Frazier, the owner of this issue’s car.
The body design, done by John Tjaarda of Briggs Body Corp., had a lower windshield and “V”-shaped grill, giving it better aerodynamics than the controversial Chrysler Airflow models of that era. Lincoln’s competition, Packard and Cadillac, already introduced lower-priced luxury models called the Packard 120 and the Cadillac LaSalle. The Lincoln Zephyr was priced at $1,275 to $1,320 ($22,810 to $23,615 in today’s dollars), about one-third the cost of the K-Series Lincoln, and they sold 15,000 the first year, which was about 80% of all Lincoln sales. It is not uncommon for car collectors to want a car from the “good old days,” a reminder of their first car or a parent’s or grandparent’s car.
“I was born in 1939,” said Frazier, “and I wanted to buy a 1939 car. The only cars I considered were this or the Packard. This was a modern-looking car. General Motors still had the bug headlights in 1939, and they hadn’t changed the look from the 1937-1938 models.”
This Lincoln Zephyr had the headlights in the fenders in a more aerodynamic look, with concealed running boards behind the doors.
“About 12 years ago, I found a guy in Cleveland, Ohio that had done a ground-up restoration. I think he just sort of ran out of gas, and he wanted to sell the car. My son and I were going (east) to visit a couple of baseball stadiums. I went by and saw this car, and I thought it was perfect.”
To Frazier the car had been about 98% restored in period-correct fashion.
“There was about 2% where it wasn’t quite finished or he didn’t do it quite right,” he said.
It has plush pleated maroon leather bench seats. Even though it is a very big car in exterior size, it is really a four-passenger car, as the car is much narrower inside that modern cars. It sits on a 125-inch wheelbase and is about 17 feet long. Frazier bought this beautiful maroon 1939 Lincoln Zephyr convertible for $40,000 and had it shipped to California. He has a friend who is an expert in classic Cadillacs and Lincolns and thinks this is now a 92-point car. He also assisted to get this Lincoln Zephyr in the shape that it is.
“The (other) eight points would be very expensive to correct,” Frazier said, “and they are not significant.”
This car is powered by a 267.3-cubic-inch V12 engine rated at 110 horsepower. It has a three-speed manual transmission with an overdrive added in the restoration stage. The column shift was just starting to replace the floor shift, but with this car it’s sort of a hybrid. The floor shift is hidden behind a dash-to-floor cover with the shift lever coming out on the left side of the cover. This frees up much of the floor area, and the driver shifts in the standard “H” pattern.
“This is not a perfect car,” the owner stated, “It’s a driver, and that’s all I wanted. We’ve driven it around quite a bit.”
The only significant expense since acquisition has been a new radiator for about $1,000. He estimates the current market value at somewhere between $60,000 and $80,000.
“There were only 640 Lincoln Zephyr convertibles made, and in the Lincoln Zephyr Owners Club (national), there are only 12.”
The convertible top is manual, and it takes two people to raise or lower it. But that’s not a problem for Peter Frazier. He put the top down 12 years ago and has left it down, as it is always garaged and driven only on nice days. But one thing that he can’t restore from the “good old days,” is the price of gas. In 1939 the price of gas was 10 cents a gallon.
Have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at MOBopoly@yahoo.com. To view more photos of this and other issues’ vehicles or to read more of Dave’s columns, visit mercurynews.com/author/david-krumboltz.