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Lincoln Zephyr

Lincoln Zephyr

Oct 21st 2021

About the Lincoln Zephyr

The Lincoln Zephyr was a short lived model, produced only between 1936 and 1941 with the Zephyr name however, continued on until 1948 under the Lincoln name dropping Zephyr from the brand. But during this time, it was one of the best loved luxury vehicles. Unlike other high end cars of the 30s with excessive chrome trimming, the Zephyr relied on the bold lines of its aerodynamic design to stand out.

The word “Zephyr” originates from Zephyrus, who was the Greek god of “the west wind,” a gentle wind that brought a productive spring. But the Lincoln Zephyr likely took its name from a more recent history: railroad locomotives.

Streamlining was the leading design trend of the 1930s. It began with railroad companies looking to improve their efficiency by building locomotives with more aerodynamic designs. At the 1934 World’s Fair, the CB&Q Railroad displayed its new Burlington Zephyr train after a record-breaking journey. The streamlined Zephyr locomotive was the star of the fair.

When Lincoln released their new luxury car late the following year, the Zephyr name fit well with the attractive design. The body was sleek with a teardrop shape, the hood came to an aerodynamic point, and a simple grille curved completed a look that was closer to contemporary locomotives than earlier cars. The Zephyr was one of the first cars using unibody construction and the 1941-48 used pop-out door handles as part of the aerodynamic design.

The drivetrain relied on a powerful V-12 engine for performance that matched the look of the car. This was also a superior engine to the 6-cylinder and V-8 engines in the competing Chrysler Airflow and Cadillac LaSalle.

Despite the popularity of the Lincoln Zephyr, Ford dropped the Zephyr name from the model when production resumed after WWII, and focused entirely on the Lincoln Continental. The Zephyr left a mark and other automakers imitated the look in many of their late 30s and 40s models.

From the futuristic look of the 3-window coupe to the handsome 4 door, the Lincoln Zephyr remains one of the most iconic of the pre-war classic cars.

About the V12

Similar in design to the 90° Ford flathead V8 introduced for 1932, the Lincoln-Zephyr H Series V-12 had a narrower 75° between cylinder banks. The engine used aluminum-alloy heads and cast-steel pistons, as well as two water pumps. It also had a unique distributor with a coil assembly that actually consisted of two coils, one for each cylinder bank.

Initial power output was quoted as 110 horsepower -- a little higher than the target figure -- at 3,900 rpm, a rather high power peak for those days. The torque curve was quite flat, however, with at least 180 pounds/feet available from 3,500 rpm all the way down to 400 rpm, which made for incredible top-gear performance. Though the Zephyr V-12 no more resembled previous Lincoln engines than the ubiquitous V-8 (despite sharing the latter's stroke), it was more like a "12-cylinder Ford" than a classic multi-cylinder powerplant in character. And it was not without problems. The main ones were inadequate crankcase ventilation that caused rapid sludge buildup in sustained low-rpm running, aggravated by poor oil flow, plus too-small water passages that led to overheating, bore warpage, and ring wear. To a degree, some of these maladies were dealt with during the Zephyr's first year, and Ford improved the engine by adopting hydraulic valve lifters for 1938 and cast-iron heads and oiling improvements for 1942. Yet this V-12 never shed its reputation for service troubles, though the postwar versions were actually quite reliable.

The Ford V12 was also used by Allard, Atalanta, and Brough Superior in England. Allard made three V12 cars,[1] using the Ford V8 for all other cars at that time, Brough also made only one V12 as his others were Hudson 6 or 8 powered, and Jensen made one called the HL.

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Thanks to Jerry Richmond for contributing to this article.

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