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1940 Lincoln Continental

Originally published in the First Quarter 1995 issue of Continental Comments (Issue # 203).

In 1965 Jesse H. Haines wrote a complete history of the early Lincoln Continental. Reprinted here (with editing plus additions, insights and corrections) are Part IV, Continental Comments #77 and Part V, Continental Comments #78, which cover the 1940 models.

In going over Jesse Haines original article, Dave Cole notes that Jesse’s articles were written before the factory records were found and checked by competent scholars, including the late Jim Baker, The Jesse Haines articles, which appeared in a series over several issues of Continental Comments, contain a number of details later proven to be wrong, although it was the most definitive work on the subject up to the time he wrote them. Therefore, in this article we are including Dave Cole’s notations on a number of statements made by Haines in 1965.

Part IV, from Continental Comments #77.
Edsel Ford had work begun on the first Lincoln Continental in September, 1938. It was completed in February, 1939, and immediately work was started on the second 1939 Lincoln Continental, which served as the prototype for a possible production model.

In April, 1939, before the second car was completed, Edsel Ford decided to produce 1940 Lincoln Continentals and introduce them in October, 1939, along with the rest of the Lincoln-Zephyr line. The second Lincoln Continental was completed in June, 1939.

Martin Regitko, who worked for E.T. Gregorie in the Design Department was responsible for transforming the styling drawings and full-size clay models into full-size body drawings. Regitko has written, “In April, 1939, the 1940 Lincoln-Zephr engineering was practically completed. Mr. Ford and Mr. Crecelius (in charge of Lincoln body engineering) talked about building 50 jobs. Several days late  we received orders to proceed with styling drafting based on the 1940 Lincoln-Zephyr sheet metal using as many parts as possible. Around the last of May, 1939 we had all the styling drawings completed and turned into Production Engineering.”

The Design Department headed by Gregorie styled the Ford passenger cars, trucks, Mercurys and Lincoln-Zephyrs. All clay models were produced in the same area. Since these models had no chassis, the wheels did not support the cars, and thus blocks and stands were needed to support the body and bumpers.

The “Continental Cabriolet” body style was aptly named. The name suggests European flair, sophistication, style and luxury. The car was intended as the style leader of the line, and a means of attracting customers into the show rooms. It would also be the most expensive 1940 Lincoln-Zephyr.

Work rushed forward on the 1940 Lincoln Continental Cabriolets. Both Gregorie and Regitko note that the first Lincoln Continental moved forward toward production through the usual Lincoln Zephyr organizational structure; thus no single individual was responsible for development.

In Dearborn on September 15, 1939, the General Sales Manager of Ford, J.R. Davis, gave the dealers an advance viewing of the 1940 models. Before World War II, there were no separate Ford, Mercury or Lincoln dealers. Perhaps the first 1940 Lincoln Continental was seen then. (Editor’s note from Dave Cole: No 1940 Lincoln Continental had been completed at this date.)

The 1940 Lincoln-Zephyrs went on sale October 2. The race to produce the 1940 Lincoln Continental missed by only a few days. The first production Lincoln Continental, serial H-86268, was assembled and photographed October 3, and shipped October 6 to Chester, Pennsylvania. (Note from Dave Cole: It was later learned that the first car finished was not completed until October 3, and it was a show car, not a production model. H-86268 was not this car. The Lincoln Continental displayed at the Astor Hotel Ford show was H-85825, a Sand Tan prototype car that Jim Baker owned in the mid Sixties. The ownership o f this car started Baker on all o f the research which uncovered so much new information.)

Automotive Industries, October 15, 1939 described the Lincoln Zephyr changes as follows: “Bodies are entirely new and more roomy. There is 22% more glass area in the bodies. The windshield is deeper and has 104 square inches more glass area. Windows are wider and deeper and the large rear window is of one-piece, tempered glass and conforms to the curvature of the body rear panel. The V-12 L-head has a bore of 27/s” and a stroke of 33/ 4” , giving 292 cubic inches displacement. (1939 was 267) It is rated at 120 hp. @ 3,900 rpm. and uses aluminum heads with a compression ratio of 6.7:1. A lower hood, extending farther forward, and a new grille and ornament markedly change the frontal appearance . The grille is that pioneered by Lincoln-Zephyr two years ago. Interiors are completely restyled. Seats are chair height and running boards have been eliminated . A club coupe and Continental Cabriolet have been added to the line. Tops which operate automatically are supplied in the convertible coupe and Continental Cabriolet. Leather in a choice of five colors, or a combination of leather and whipcord, in the convertibles, is available . In the new Continental Cabriolet the hood is seven inches longer, and three inches lower, which changes the styling materially. In the coupe, two opera seats may be factory installed.

Compared to 1939, the Lincoln-Zephyr line added two models, the Club Coupe and the Continental Cabriolet, and discontinued the Convertible Sedan. The factory delivered prices and weights were:

Coupe $1,360 3,375#
Club Coupe $1,400 3,465#
Convertible Coupe $1,770 3,635#
Sedan $1,400 3,565#
Town Limousine $1,740 3,575#
Continental Cabriolet $2,840 3,615#

Part V, from Continental Comments #78.
1940 Ford, Mercury and L in co ln – Zephyr models were formally introduced by Edsel Ford on October 2, 1939 at the Ford Rotunda in Dearborn and at dealers everywhere. The National Automobile Show was held in New York from October 15 to 22. Not yet a member o f the Automobile Manufacturers Association, Ford exhibited separately at a lavish display , designed by Walter Dorwin Teague, at the nearby ballroom of the Astor Hotel. Edsel Ford visited the showing on October 17. A Lincoln Continental Cabriolet was prominently displayed against a background based on the “Road of Tomorrow”, a dominant feature of the Ford exhibit at the New York World’s Fair.

For the 1940 auto industry models, the two outstanding developments were the introduction of sealed beam headlights and improved safety glass. In general, bodies were longer, wider and roomier. Running boards disappeared on some cars, were optional on others. Hoods were broader and lower, and headlamps were mounted in the fenders. More radiator grilles were diecast. Front fenders were more massive. Bodies were lower, seats were wider. Practically all cars had the shift lever on the steering column. Directional signals were standard on some, optional on others, but not available on Lincoln-Zephyr. The Borg-Warner transmission overdrive was optional on many cars, while Oldsmobile continued with Hydramatic, the first mass produced automatic transmission. Lincoln-Zephyr offered the optional Columbia overdrive rear end. Suspension improvements continued, with almost all having independent front suspension, except Ford, Mercury and Lincoln Zephyr which continued with conventional leaf springs.

In styling, the 1940 Lincoln-Zephyr had the first completely new body since 1936. The styling was graceful, and a logical development o f the 1938-39 models. The rest of the industry had generally swung to a more massive frontend look, with the major exception of LaSalle and Cadillac.

At $2,840, the Lincoln-Zephyr Continental Cabriolet was one of the highest priced cars available for 1940. The only cars  more expensive were a few Cadillac models, the Packard 180, and the Darrin Convertible Victoria, for $3,800, built on the Packard 120 chassis.

During the 1940 model year, numerous minor changes were made in the Lincoln Continental. In exterior features, these in included the license light assembly, bottom moldings, tire cover, gravel guards, and rear splash shield. While much information can be gained from photographs available from Ford Photographic Department, it is not completely reliable in regard to dating. Often the negatives were filed and dated the same day the pictures were developed. But occasionally they were filed months later. Therefore the follow in g analysis on the Lincoln Continental production changes is based partly on factual records and partly on speculative deductions. (Note from Dave Cole: On October 3, photographs were filed, not of the first production model but of the prototype that went to the Astor Hotel. These pictures were retouched, filed on October 10, and quickly released to the press. Two cars were hand-built for the auto shows in October, 1939. Actual production of Lincoln Continentals did not begin until December. 23 more were built between December 13 and December 29, 1939 giving us a total of 25 Lincoln Continentals built in 1939. All were Cabriolets.)

The early 1940 Lincoln Continentals lacked a number of features used in later production. Missing were bottom moldings, tire cover, rear splash shield, and gravel guards. Shortly after production began bottom moldings were added. These were not the type finally used, but were narrower and not bent to follow the contour of the fender as well as the later moldings. By the middle of December the tire cover had been added. The early style bottom moldings were retained.

During January, 1940 the bottom moldings were changed to the wider and contoured type. Also, a splash shield was added at the rear bumper. (According to Dave Cole this paragraph is entirely erroneous in view of what we have learned since mid 1965.)

(Dave Cole adds this to the above two paragraphs: Stainless steel trim along the bottom edge of the body and fenders was absent when 06H56-1 (same car as serial number H-85825) was photographed in early October on the front porch at the Lincoln factory, but by the time it was displayed at the Astor Hotel later that month, the narrow trim had been added. The first production 1940 Lincoln Continental, Body #3, was bought by movie star Jackie Cooper. It is pictured on the cover [reproduced at bottom of this article] from striking the back fenders and chipping the paint, are the only items on Jesse Haines list that have not yet been pinned down as to date.)

Shortly after Lincoln Continental Cabriolet production began, work was started on the Lincoln Continental Coupe. The chief designer of the Lincoln Continental, E.T. Gregorie, recalls that the clay model of the Coupe was a production Cabriolet body to which the Coupe roof was added above the belt line. Thus, the Coupe may be properly considered to be a “hardtop convertible” since it did, in fact, replace the soft top with a hard top on a convertible body. Although the Lincoln Continental was not the first hardtop, it was certainly the most influential predecessor of the popular hardtop of the ’50s and ’60s.

The differences between the Cabriolet and Coupe were relatively minor. Other than the top, the most obvious differences were in the windshield and doors. The attractive stainless steel framing of the doors has an interesting history. This style was used on the Cadillac 60 Special from 1938, and the Mercury Club Coupe from 1939. In a recent letter E.T. Gregorie observed, “The Lincoln Continental Coupe was an adaption of the convertible, and logically the channel frame windows sent along with it. Where production was small the channel frame was less costly than a full door stamping as used on the high volume sedans.

It also provided a sporty custom effect as well. The use of the channel frame window was probably more of a production convenience than a styling effect and, lacking the rigidity of the full stamped door, required careful fitting to eliminate leaks and rattles. The use of channel frame windows on the Cadillac 60 was probably for the same reason as it, too, was more or less a limited production job.”

In regard to rigidity, the Lincoln Continental Coupe has the advantage of retaining the center post behind the door, as well is the full door frame, which are absent in the hardtop style introduced in the 1949 Buick, Oldsmobile and Cadillac.

The license light was changed in March, 1940. The support for the early type attached to the body, did not touch the rear bumper. These were apparently the same as used on the two 1939 Continentals. The later type bolted directly to the bumper. The heads were the same. (Note from Dave Cole: The speculation about the license light is not accurate in all details. It is true that the early 1940 bracket does not touch the bumper and is fastened to the underside of the body instead, but it is not like the 1939 as a hinged joint was added. The production 1940 used a different design from that seen on the two pre-production cars, too. This later type DID bolt to the bumper, as stated, but some of the other statements made there are incorrect.)

An important milestone in Lincoln-Zephyr history arrived on March 13, 1940, when the 100,000th was produced. A Lincoln Continental Cabriolet was chosen for the publicity honor.

A few weeks later, rubber gravel guards were added, and the 1940 Lincoln Continental was in the final form as seen in most existing specimens. (Dave Cole noted earlier that the dates that the gravel guards were added has never been pinned down.)

(Notes from Dave Cole: The 1940 Lincoln Continental Coupe went on sale in May, 1940, and it was in production for only about six weeks, May 23 to July 10. Yet, in that time, 54 Coupes were built as opposed to 25 Cabriolets, so even in the last six weeks of 1940 production Coupes outnumbered Cabriolets by about two to one!)

Because of the late start in producing them, only 54 of the Coupes were made. Production of the Cabriolets was 350. Note that the Lincoln Continental continued to be considered as a special bodied Lincoln-Zephyr. Nowhere on any 1940 Lincoln Continental does the world “Continental” appear.

Editor’s note: It has been suggested by some members that we reprint old articles and Tech Tips from Continental Comments in the Sixties, the so called “Golden Age” of collecting early Lincoln Continentals. The preceding article with all the notes from Dave Cole shows why we are so reluctant to do this. At the time these articles were written it was the best knowledge we had. But so much has been learned since that these are now very dated, and unless carefully post scripted as Dave Cole has done here, tend to give our members erroneous information.

The original Lincoln Continental Advertisement

On the following page [below] we are reprinting the first ad for the Lincoln Continental. It appeared in magazines in May, 1940. The exquisite painting is by the legendary vintage-auto illustrator Leslie Saalburg who worked for Lincoln throughout the  Thirties and later freelanced. The premier issue of Automobile Quarterly featured eight of his paintings.

This particular advertisement is one of the most beautiful color presentations of the early Lincoln Continental. It would seem that the setting for the car is on the West Coast, probably at or near Pebble Beach, California. It is interesting to note that nowhere does the ad’s copy refer to the new Continental nor is the car called a Lincoln Continental.

We thank Ken Goode of Bennington, Vermont for sharing this historic Lincoln ad with us.

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