Car History Year 1936
Date: Sunday, September 26 @ 23:22:01 UTC
In October 1936, the first 300-mile international road race was held at New York's Roosevelt Raceway at Westbury on Long Island. The track had been built on the site of the airfield from which Charles Lindbergh had taken off on his daring solo transatlantic flight in 1927, and the racers were vying for the George Vanderbilt Cup. It was ultimately won by Italian Tazio Nuvolari in a Scuderia Ferrari Alfa Romeo. The highest-placed American finisher, however, was Mauri Rose, who took eighth place in an Offenhauser-powered Miller car.
Rose's placing was not much for American sports fans to cheer about but, earlier in the year, they had good reason to be happy. Black athlete, Jesse Owens, triumphed at the Olympic Games in Berlin, much to the chagrin of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi followers. Their racist doctrine could not contemplate the success of anyone other than a blonde, blue-eyed aryan and Hitler stormed out rather than present Owens with his gold medal.
It would not be long before the Nazi hordes would be storming through Europe, but such a prospect would be far from the minds of Americans that year. US car buyers, particularly in the luxury market, would be considering the new streamlined Lincoln Zephyr. This radical design employed a novel method of construction and was technically advanced in many ways.
The Zephyr began life outside the Ford
Motor Co., being conceived by John
Tjaarda, a stylist at Briggs Manufacturing
Co. Briggs built bodies for Ford, and the new design was intended as a project to sell to Ford. An early prototype was constructed in 1934, but it was far too radical for production. Although it was powered by a Ford flathead V8, this was mounted in the rear with a swing-axle final drive sprung by a transverse leaf spring. The cost of making this set-up work, plus the likely buyer resistance to such an unusual arrangement, even if it were backed by the
Ford name, made the idea a non-starter.
However, the overall streamlined shape of the car appealed to Edsel Ford, who felt that it had possibilities as a front-engined car. Edsel had been responsible for transforming the fortunes of Lincoln during the Twenties and early Thirties. When he took charge of the division in 1922, Lincoln had only recently been saved from receivership by his father,
Henry Ford, and was building expensive, old-fashioned cars. Under Edsel, the company soon began producing some of the most beautiful automobiles ever created.
Henry Ford believed that a car should be engineered first, with the bodywork designed to suit. But Edsel had other ideas.
He placed good styling first and foremost, so much so that he authorized the creation of Ford's first styling department under the direction of Eugene T. Gregory. The latter was now given the task of refining Tjaarda's design to allow for the installation of an engine and radiator at the front of the car.
In the original, rear-engined design, the nose of the car had been very narrow and pointed; Gregory managed to widen this sufficiently to accommodate the engine, radiator and radiator grille, while retaining the sense of a narrow, pointed nose. The result was a beautiful, streamlined body, based on a 122 inch wheelbase, that was quite unique for its day. Much use was made of the teardrop shape, not just in the overall style of the body, but also in individual features, such as tail lights, fender skirts, and grill emblem.
The uniqueness of the car's styling was matched by its method of construction. Even in its rear-engined prototype guise at Briggs, the car had featured unibody construction, the body panels being welded together with various strengthening members to produce a strong structure that had no need of a separate chassis. The fabric roof insert, found on all other closed Ford cars at the time, was also disposed of and the Zephyr had a solid steel roof panel in its place.
The narrow tapering nose of the Zephyr needed a small, narrow engine. At the time, all Lincolns were powered by V12 engines, and it was felt that the new car would have to be similarly equipped to be considered a Lincoln. However, the existing powerplant was too large for the sleek design, so Lincoln's chief engineer, Frank Johnson, designed a new engine to suit the car. While this was based on Ford's successful flathead V8, it naturally had four extra cylinders. To achieve the narrow profile, the cylinder banks were angled at 75° (they were set at 90° in the V8). The one-piece, cast-iron block was fitted with aluminum cylinder heads and alloy steel pistons. With a bore and stroke of 2 and 3 inches respectively, the new V12 displaced 267.3 cu.in. and produced 110 horsepower at 3900rpm.
Backing the engine was a three-speed manual transmission with floorshift. This was connected to a torque-tube drive, which was standard Ford practice.
While the engine and bodywork were completely new, some aspects of the car were definitely behind the times. Not only was the Zephyr equipped with mechanical brakes on all four wheels, but its suspension system was also outdated: transverse leaf springs were fitted at front and rear with solid axles. While the mechanical brakes would be replaced by Bendix hydraulic units in 1939, the transverse springs would soldier on for some time to come. Even the new engine received a lot of criticism, particularly concerning the lubrication system. To ensure that the engine ran reliably, owners were advised to change the oil every 1000 miles. Some engines never made it to the 30,000 mile mark before expiring.
Although sales were slow when the first Zephyrs appeared in November 1935, they soon picked up, and total production for the year came to 15,000 cars, a big improvement on Lincoln's performance for the previous year, which totaled 1,400 cars. No doubt, its revolutionary styling produced some initial resistance, but the Zephyr was wel! priced, at a fraction of the cost of earlier coach-built models offered by the company.
When the Zephyr went into production, Briggs built most of the car, while Lincoln carried out final assembly work, such as fitting the engine, transmission and suspension along with the hood and fenders, then painting and trimming the cars. However, this arrangement was terminated shortly after the car was introduced. When the Zephyr needed updating for 1937, this was handled by Ford's styling department, who made subtle changes to the design that not only significantly improved the car's appearance, but also kept costs to a minimum by utilizing most of the original tooling.
The Lincoln Zephyr would continue to be updated and restyled until 1949. Throughout, it remained a sleek, streamlined design in keeping with the original. In 1940 the gearshift moved to the now fashionable position on the steering column and various other improvements had been made.
Two years earlier. The old Lincoln K series was nearing the end of its life and Edsel Ford was enjoying a trip to Europe. On his return, he requested E. T. "Bob" Gregory to style a custom body for him that was to be "strictly continental." Gregory decided on the Lincoln as a basis for this car and produced a striking convertible.
The new car was shown to the public in October 1939 as the Lincoln Zephyr Continental Cabriolet and subsequently went into production. A coupe was added in 1940 and the name Zephyr was subsequently dropped from the model's designation.
LINCOLN ZEPHYR SERIES H
75 degree V12 - cast iron block
267.3 cu. ins
Bore and stroke
2 3/4 x 3/34 ins.
2 door sedan;4 door sedan
No. of seats
3,289 Ibs - 3,349 Ibs
90 degree V8 - cast iron block
221 cu. ins
Bore and stroke
1/16 x 3/34 ins.
Roadster; Phaeton; Cabriolet; Sedans + convertible sedans; Station wagon
No. of seats
2,561 Ibs - 3,020 Ibs
REO FLYING CLOUD
Cast iron - 6 cylinders in line
228 cu. ins
Bore and stroke
3 3/8 x 4 1/4ins.
Coach; Sedan; DeLuxe sedan; DeLuxe brougham
No. of seats
$795 - 845
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