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Home > Featured Auto Makes > Lincoln  (Part  1)

Lincoln   Part 1: 1917-1925

By John Bentley

Revised by Jeremy Wilson

Designed exclusively for the wealthy car owner, the Lincoln almost failed until Ford took over.

A manufacturer of luxury vehicles since August 1917, the Lincoln Motor Company of Detroit finally went bankrupt early in 1922, when production slumped to only 150 cars. Founded by Henry M. Leland, designer of the Cadillac, who later was joined by his son, Wilfred, this firm had man­aged to keep its head above water until 1921, though total output in five years had not exceeded 3,000 cars; but inferior body styling offset the excellent mechanical design, and Lin­coln found competition too intense in the high-priced bracket.

On February 4, 1922, the Ford Motor Co. bought up Lincoln assets lock, stock and barrel, at a receiver’s sale, for $8,000,000--which went to pay off some of the creditors.

Ford made no immediate change, either in the chassis or the V-8 L-head engine which was rated at 36.4 SAE hp and produced 90 hp at 2,800 rpm. An unusual and desirable fea­ture of this power unit was the 60° angle between the cylinder blocks. This produced “out-of-step” firing and broke up the synchronous vibration inherent in the “in-step” 90° jobs of the day.

Restyled bodywork, however, coupled with price cuts and the magic Ford prestige, boosted sales to 5,512 cars during the remaining 10 months of 1922. Whereas the 1921 Leland-built Lincolns covered a price range of $4,600 to $6,000, Ford intro­duced a Permanent Top Seven-Passenger Touring Car for $3,300 and charged the old prices only for special custom bodies by Judkins, Fleetwood and York--the seven-pas­senger limousine by Judkins on the 136-inch wheelbase chas­sis, for example, being priced at $6,000.

In evolving Lincoln design, that brilliant pioneer, Leland, had overlooked none of the mechanical features that the wealthy owner and commissioner of fine automobiles might have a right to expect, and these, after Ford management took over, remained unchanged. They included a condenser which took care of the radiator’s overflow in case the engine got too hot; an elec­trically heated retort on the carburetor to speed-up cold starting; thermostatically controlled radiator shutters (pioneered by Columbia) to control radiator water tem­perature; an air compressor driven through the transmission for tire inflation service; and an intake manifold cast with three sep­arate passages, the top one being used for the return of cooling water, the middle one as the intake manifold proper and the lower one to channel out exhaust gases. This arrangement kept the fuel-air mix­ture at the proper temperature and assured the best running conditions at all times. For 1923, a very complete range of body styles featured six models built by the Lin­coln Co. These included two- and three-window, four-door sedans and an open phaeton--all four-passenger jobs; a two-passenger roadster, a touring sedan and a limousine, both seating seven. The highest priced of this line cost $5,200. In addition, there were a sedan, limousine, cabriolet and town car by Fleetwood and a cabriolet by Brunn. Prices for this range went up to $7,200, but in spite of the se­lected and limited appeal, Lincoln sales rose by about 45 per cent to 7,875 cars and the company operated at a profit.

By 1924, big Lincoln touring jobs known as Police Flyers were used as special squad cars by the police forces of numerous cities. Not all were new that year, but most were equipped with four-wheel brakes at least a year or two ahead of the production ver­sions sold to the public. Because of their speed, acceleration, roadability and stop­ping power, these Lincolns usually were assigned the tricky and dangerous job of bandit chasing. A contemporary Detroit reporter described one of these chases in some detail, dwelling enthusiastically on the car’s speed. “Our car swung out into traffic with a surge of power that seemed fairly to lift it off the ground and was doing forty in second gear! Leaning forward, I watched the speedometer flash up to sixty--sixty-five! Traffic thinned, buildings became more scattered; images blurred as the mighty motor settled to its work with a pulsing, rhythmic song of power. Seventy--seventy-five--eighty!” Soon after this, the bandit gave up “with a last futile burst of speed.”

These Police Flyers would do better than 83 mph and had a bullet-proof windshield seven-eighths of an inch thick with a spot­light on either side. An automatic windshield wiper was provided for the driver and a hand-wiper for the passenger. Police whistles were coupled to the exhaust system and there were two gun racks, each carrying a sawed-off shot­gun in a handy position.

Despite the high initial price, several extras listed in the Lincoln catalog could be purchased by those who wanted just that extra bit of distinction. For instance, a nickeled radiator shell cost $25 more; natural wood wheels, varnished instead of painted, were $15 extra; or you could have a set of six Rudge-Whitworth center-lock wire-wheels for another $100, including the special hubs. For those who preferred Disteel steel disc-wheels, these were avail­able at an additional $60.

It was not Lincoln policy to go in for yearly model changes as a customer-catching stunt. Such a policy would have proved disastrous among the limited num­ber of conservative and discriminating Lincoln buyers who cherished their auto­mobiles and sometimes bought them in pairs with different bodywork. On the contrary, Ford took a leaf from the Rolls-Royce notebook and even the Lincoln ra­diator was retained for another decade, when the Lincoln Zephyr appeared as the first low-priced 12-cylinder car.

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