Lincoln’s Corsair is new, but the name isn’t

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2020 Lincoln Corsair 3/4 driving Lincoln

Corsair. It’s not a word you commonly hear, but you’ll hear it more soon because Lincoln is using the name on its replacement for the Lincoln MKC compact crossover. While keeping with Lincoln’s nautical and aviation naming convention, the name has been used several times in automotive history by Ford Motor Company and others.

Another word for pirate ship or privateer, Corsair dates from the mid-16th century, and comes from the French and Latin meaning ‘a raid, plunder’ according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The name seems appropriate given Lincoln’s intention of plundering sales from its competitors. World War II history buff will remember the Navy’s F4U Corsair fighter plane, but we’re here to talk road vehicles. Here are the cars that wore the Corsair badge before Lincoln.

1938 Phantom Corsair

1938 Phantom Corsair
1938 Phantom Corsair Matt Lewis

Having dropped out of Yale in 1936, Rust Heinz ( son of ketchup magnate H.J. Heinz) moved to Pasadena, California, to design and build his own car with financing from his aunt and the help of coachbuilders Bohman & Schwartz. Built using a Cord 810 chassis, the Corsair’s aluminum body measured 237 inches long, 57 inches high, and featured a 61.5-inch wide front seat, enough room for a driver and three passengers, including one to the left of the driver. Two passengers fit in the rear, which featured a bar cabinet. Power came from Cord’s 4.7-liter V-8 engine, tweaked to generate 190 horsepower. Priced at a lofty $14,700, or $270,780 in inflation-adjusted 2019 dollars, it appeared in David O. Selznick’s movie “The Young in Heart” starring Paulette Goddard and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., where it was named “The Flying Wombat.” It also appeared at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, but never reached production. The project died when the 25-year-old Heinz did, in a plane crash in July 1939.

1952 Henry J Corsair

1952 Henry J Corsair ad
1952 Henry J Corsair ad

Industrialist Henry J. Kaiser, founder of more than 100 companies, successfully entered the car businesses in 1946. When sales fell in 1950, the company responded by fielding an economy car in 1951, one modestly named after the company’s chairman: Henry J. Ignoring a better design by Howard Darrin, the company chose one created by American Metal Products, a Detroit supplier of frames and springs. Darrin was charged with tarting up the compact before its introduction. It worked: Nearly 82,000 were sold. For 1952, the Henry J Corsair debuted with unique trim, although it did little to stop declining interest as buyers realized that frills such as a rear decklid and interior vents were optional. By 1953, 17,500 left the factory, dwindling to 1,000 the following year. Clearly, Americans didn’t delight in deprivation. By 1954, Kaiser had ended car production, buying Willys-Overland to concentrate on Jeep production. Of all of his companies, only Kaiser Permanente, the first HMO, survives with its founder’s name intact.

1958 Edsel Corsair

1959 Edsel Corsair Skycruiser
1959 Edsel Corsair Skycruiser

By now, most know the story of the Edsel brand, Ford’s attempt to beat General Motors by expanding with a new mid-priced nameplate just as a recession hit. Derided for its design, the Edsel was the work of stylist Robert Jones, who had come to Ford from Packard and was influenced by Packard’s last concept car, the Packard Predictor. Unlike that car (and Jones’ sketch) engineers asked that its slender vertical grille be widened for extra cooling. Ford chairman Ernest Breech (who chose the name Edsel) ordered designers to make the opening even wider and taller. Aesthetics aside, the car suffered from quality glitches because Edsels lacked a dedicated assembly line. Instead, they were squeezed in among other products. For example, at Ford’s Norfolk, Virginia plant, every 60th car built was an Edsel. After doing the same thing 59 times, workers were asked to do something different for just one car, leading to abysmal quality that doomed the Corsair along with the entry-level Ranger, the nicer Pacer, and top-of-the-line Citation.

1963 Ford Consul Corsair

1963 Ford Consul Corsair
1963 Ford Consul Corsair Ford

This British midsize Ford was introduced in 1963 on a stretched Cortina platform wearing a front-end design that oddly mimicked the current Ford Thunderbird. Slotting between the smaller Cortina and larger Zephyr and Zodiac, it was powered by a 60-horsepower 1.5-liter “Kent” four-cylinder engine. A larger 1.7-litre V-4 with 73 horsepower was introduced in 1965, although its 60-degree V angle made it rough and refined; a 90-degree V is considered optimal for smoothness and refinement. In late 1966, a 92-horsepower 2.0-litre “Essex” four with a twin choke Weber carburetor replaced it, but was little improvement. Offered as a four-door sedan, the Corsair was available as a far less popular two-door sedan. A larger Cortina would replace the Consul Corsair in 1970, while a new model, the Escort, would fill the Cortina’s slot while the new Capri debuted to attract enthusiasts.

1989 Ford Corsair

1989 Ford Corsair
1989 Ford Corsair Ford

For 1989, the rear-wheel-drive Nissan Pintara sedan, built and sold in Australia, was replaced by a new front-wheel-drive Pintara, sold in Australia by Ford as the badge-engineered Corsair and known in the U.S. as the Nissan Stanza. Both Corsair and Pintara were powered by a 111-horsepower, 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine or a larger, 128-horsepower 2.4-liter four also used in the Stanza. Both engines mated to a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission. The Australian-built Corsair was offered as a five-door hatchback or four-door sedan in GL or Ghia trim. Options included alloy wheels, fog lights, power windows, power mirrors and rear seat audio jacks. The Corsair replaced the Ford Telstar, a restyled Mazda 626 that debuted in 1983, and built in Australia through 1987. When Nissan closed its Australian factory in 1992, another Telstar replaced the Corsair. Once more based on the Mazda 626, it was imported as the Australian auto industry continued its slow slide to extinction.

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