The 1936 Lincoln Zephyr - A Significant Transitional Design

The 1936 Lincoln Zephyr was a big gamble by Ford. Lincoln sales were sagging due to the Depression. The streamlined "teardrop" design was a huge success (and was even carried into the logo at left).

by Society Staff -
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The Lincoln-Zephyr was conceived by Edsel Ford and designed by Eugene (Bob) Gregorie. Introduced on November 2, 1935, as a 1936 model, the Lincoln Zephyr was extremely modern with a low raked windscreen, integrated fenders, and streamlined aerodynamic design, which influenced the name "zephyr", derived from the Greek word "Zephyrus", or the god of the west wind.

It was the first successful streamlined car - after the Chrysler Airflow met market resistance. More significantly, the Zephyr's rounded, streamlined lines changed how automobiles would look going forward, and much of its engineering would change how Ford built cars in the 60s.

What is little known was that the Lincoln-Zephyr had a lower coefficient of drag than the Airflow, due in part to the prow-like front grille on the Zephyr. This was Gregorie's, reflection of the then popularity of leisure speedboats like the famous Chris-Craft. In its first year, 15,000 were sold, accounting for 80% of Lincoln's total sales.

The Lincoln-Zephyr was both one of the most handsome American cars of the thirties and one of the most revolutionary. The word "teardrop" might be applicable to its overall form (and the early logo included a teardrop around the Zephyr name. The taillights, fender skirts and grille emblem reflected this design element. The sloping rear deck, curved side window corners, simple grille form with horizontal bars in combination with headlights fully molded into the front fenders were successfully coordinated in an appearance that gave life to the expression "streamlined".

The dramatic exterior appearance of the Zephyr was mirrored by its interior. Twin circular dials containing the oil temperature, fuel, battery gauges and the speedometer was reminiscent of earlier Lincolns. In the dash center was a circular ash tray and directly beneath two large dials were the controls for the instrument panel light, throttle, choke and cigarette lighter. The dual windshield wipers were operated by a button just above the ash tray. The starter button was to the driver's left while the steering wheel hub contained the switch controlling the exterior lights. A steering wheel/ignition lock was installed on the steering column, something that would return in the late 1960s.

The Zephyr's pleated upholstery was available in taupe broadcloth or tan Bedford cord. Leather was offered as an option. The body-chassis design format of the Zephyr was integral body-frame (unitized) construction and included an all-steel roof, the first offered by Ford Motor Company. Suspension was by transverse springs with solid front and rear axles.

To power the Lincoln-Zephyr, a V-12 was developed from the popular Ford V-8. In essence the Zephyr engine was a 75 degree version of the Ford V-8 with four additional cylinders added. Twin water pumps were used as was a single down-draft carburetor. Other key features included alloy steel pistons, aluminum cylinder heads and a one piece block casting.

There were two models offered, however a right-hand drive model was available in the 4 door sedan for British consumption. The model was assembled at the Lincoln Motor Company Plant in Detroit, Michigan.

The Lincoln-Zephyr succeeded in reigniting sales at Lincoln dealerships in the late 1930s. In 1938 a Convertible Coupe and a Convertible Sedan was added. In 1940 the Coupe-Sedan was replaced by the Club Coupe and the Convertible Sedan was discontinued. Later - from the 1941 until the 1949 model year, all Lincolns would be Zephyr-based - though post-war the "Lincoln Zephyr" name was removed.

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