The first car styled by Bob Gregorie, the Lincoln-Zephyr was one of the most innovative designs of the 1930s. Initially only available as a sedan, it combined the brilliance of a monocoque aerodynamic body and luxurious appointments with some more basic elements inherited from Ford.
Its 110 bhp, 75-degree, 267.3 cubic-inch side-valve V-12 engine was basically a stretched Ford V-8, with 4-main bearings, poured connecting rod bearings and a 2-barrel carburetor. Brakes were mechanically activated, and solid axles with transverse leaf springs were used front and rear, with a torque tube driveline. The aluminum-head engine was to prove fragile and hydraulic brakes would not arrive until 1939.
The Zephyr was clearly aimed at Packard’s new mass-produced Junior 120 eight-cylinder sedan, but it never connected in the same way. Packard got a jump on Lincoln with its 1935 120 which offered seven body styles and sold 24,994 examples. In 1936 the 120 racked up 55,042 sales in nine body styles. By contrast, the Zephyr’s 1936 first year sales totaled 14,994 units and would never exceed the top sales figure of 29,293 vehicles in 1937.
However, the Zephyr had some intriguing innovations. The unibody construction was a first in the U.S., and the Zephyr could carry six passengers in comfort. It had a low center of gravity and 50/50 weight balance. The one-piece alligator hood was counterbalanced. The car also had safety glass throughout, teardrop headlights, “aircraft style” seats with chrome frames, Broadcloth or Bedford cord and a leather interior option. The dash was fully instrumented and conduit-routed wiring featured circuit breakers instead of fuses.
The 1936 Lincoln-Zephyr was available as a four-door Sedan ($1320/12,272 sold); and two-door Sedan ($1275/1,114). In addition, 908 right-hand drive four-door Sedans were sold. A two-speed Columbia rear axle was optional. For 1937 the Zephyr offered a new three-passenger Coupe, but most popular was the six-passenger four-door Sedan ($1265/23,159 sold) followed by the three-passenger two-door Coupe ($1165/5199); six-passenger, two-door Coupe Sedan ($1245/1500); and six-passenger, four-door Town Limousine ($1425/139).
For 1938, the Lincoln-Zephyr was significantly restyled. The hood now sloped down to the front bumper and divided two grilles with horizontal bars. Front and rear fenders were elongated, teardrop headlights smoothed into fenders. Metal surrounds to seats were removed, an 18-inch banjo wheel was fitted. A complicated central gearshift hinted at the column shift due next year. The Zephyr’s wheelbase was extended to 125 inches and six body styles were offered, including two- and four-door convertibles. This was the last year the Lincoln-Zephyr used Ford’s16-inch wheels with the wide 10.25-inch bolt pattern. Despite the changes and additional models, sales for 1938 declined to 19,751.
Most important change for 1939 was the arrival of the first Edsel Ford Lincoln Continental Convertible. His personal car was the only one built in 1939, but the model would be part of the Lincoln-Zephyr lineup next year. The most welcome advance in 1939 was the belated arrival of four-wheel hydraulic brakes. Twin grilles were now butterfly shaped with vertical bars. Lower panels concealed running boards and both bumpers were reshaped with the front one split to assist engine cooling. Options included a heater, radio, wind wings, whitewall tires, and fitted luggage. Lincoln-Zephyr sales rose slightly in 1939 to 22,578 units.
The Zephyr bodyshell was larger for 1940 and would be used until 1949 (though the Zephyr name did not survive after the war). The V-12 engine was enlarged to 292 cid and compression increased to 7.2:1 which boosted power to 120 bhp. A column change gearshift was introduced, and front sway bar added.
But the most significant announcement was the launch of Edsel Ford’s Continental as a Lincoln-Zephyr model for one year only before it became its own line in 1941. Despite small production numbers, it would be a halo car for the brand, costing $1000 more than any other Zephyr. Sharing the same wheelbase as the Zephyr, the Continental was three inches lower and had a hood seven inches longer than other Zephyrs. Available as a Coupe or power-top Convertible the 1940 Continental gained a rear spare tire cover, rubber rear fender shield, and the gold instrument panel from the Zephyr limousine. In all, 10 Lincoln Zephyr body styles were offered for 1940, led by the Continentals. Lincoln-Zephyr sales stayed level at 22,046.
Ford expanded the Mercury range in 1941. The giant Lincoln Model K was discontinued, and two extended Zephyr models were offered as Lincoln Customs, with a 138-inch wheelbase. The Continentals became their own line, and the base Zephyr was reduced to six body styles. The new grilles had a bright surround, and parking lights were mounted on the front fenders. Borg-Warner overdrive was optional and power convertible tops were standard. 1941 production totaled 21,994 units.
The year 1942 saw civilian production end in January 31, following the U.S. entry into WW2. Lincoln models anticipated postwar trends, being longer and wider with horizontal accents. Grilles were now horizontal in two levels. The Lincoln V-12 was bumped to 306 cid and 130 bhp. Cast iron heads replaced the troublesome aluminum ones and a short-lived two-speed Liquimatic transmission combined overdrive with a fluid coupling and semi-automatic gearbox. Total 1942 Lincoln-Zephyr production was only 1236 units, and total 1942 Lincoln sales were only 6547.