Jerry Capizzi’s 1939 Lincoln K Sport Sedan

Jerry Capizzi’s 1939 Lincoln K Sport Sedan

This is the only one of this custom built for 1939, and it is one of two Classic K Lincolns owned by Jerry Capizzi.


By Tim Howley, Continental Comments magazine, March/April 2020

Our front cover car is Jerry Capizzi’s 1939 Willoughby Sport Sedan which was photographed at the 1998 Mid-America National Meet in Itasca, Illinois where it won a Ford Motor Company Trophy. The car was again entered at the 1999 Eastern National Meet in Ellenvillle, New York where it won a Senior 1st.

    The 1939 Lincoln K had its origins in the 1932 Lincoln KA and KB chassis and the 1934 KA and KB V-12 engine which displaced 414 cubic engines. This was really the 1933 KA engine with the bore increased from 3 inches to 3.125 with the stroke remaining at 4.5 inches. Displacement was midway between the old KA and KB engines. This engine delivered the same 150 hp as the KB V-12 and was slightly more economical to operate, as if any K Lincoln was bought for economy. The new engine had aluminum heads, an oil cooler working off the water pump and insert bearings for the first time. The compression ratio was 6.278 to 1 which was high for the day.

This was the last Senior Lincoln engine, the only significant change being the introduction of hydraulic valve lifters and a revised camshaft profile in 1937. Arguably, this engine was actually an improvement over the KB engine.

    In 1935 Lincoln introduced streamlined new bodies which were to last through the end of production, 1939. The radiator cap was moved inside and the greyhound became a permanent ornament.

 There was a new longer radiator shell with a honeycomb mesh grille, more fully crowned fenders, a longer hood with thermostatically controlled shutters, new and longer bullet-shaped headlamps with painted shells, integrated parking lamps and a sloping rear-end treatment.

    The instrument panels were completely redesigned with all instruments clustered in two large dials directly in front of the driver. Seven factory body styles were carried on the 136-inch wheelbase and twelve on the 145-inch wheelbase. Lincoln continued using such custom body builders as Derham, Dietrich, Holbrook, Locke, LeBaron, Murphy, Waterhouse and Willoughby.

    1936 models were little changed from 1935. 1937 models were new again and featured headlamps incorporated into the fenders and a new horizontal styled instrument panel painted to match the body color. 1937 was the last year of major change for the big Lincoln. Edsel Ford, a few years later said, “We did not stop producing luxury cars. People stopped buying them.” Edsel continued offering the K for as long as he could and let the market dictate its fate. 1937 production was a mere 977. No more than 450 Ks were built for 1938 and somewhere between 133 and 233 were built for 1939. A few of these were sold as 1940 models, but there were no changes for 1940, nor were any built in 1940 to my knowledge. So as America and the world moved closer to war the senior Lincoln faded away like the proverbial old soldier.

Willoughby was one of Lincoln’s many custom body builders dating back to the ‘20s. Willoughby stayed with conservative sedans, limousines and town cars. Prior to the K models Willoughby’s offerings were as conservative as Judkins. But with the K Willoughby’s tune changed. While the conservative limousine model was continued to the end it was overshadowed by the new more up to date Willoughby models. In 1934 Willoughby offered a new design, a Sport Sedan on a 145-inch wheelbase. This model was available again in 1935 and 1936 with about 15 cars built. The model had a low profile V-windshield and huge fastback, some would say “whaleback”. The Willoughby Sport Sedan was designed to transport two couples in utter splendor to the opera or theater. To this end there were four individually adjustable armchair seats. Solid Honduras mahogany or walnut was used as window moldings and in the elaborate console separating the rear compartment. Base woods were accented with rather loud and busy veneers and birds-eye maple. The partition cabinetry consisted of a combination writing desk and picnic table with locking wooden cabinets for bar equipment on either side.

    The Willoughby Sport Sedan offered the finest upholsteries with very heavy fabrics. Willoughby Sport Sedans featured some of the finest and most luxurious two-tone upholsteries with the lighter color used for the door panels and headliners. Willoughby color schemes were taupe, deep blue and two shades of sea green. Then in 1937 Willoughby came out with an updated Sport Sedan, much like earlier models but rather more streamlined. It was accompanied by a Sport Coupe. In addition, Willoughby reintroduced their Panel Brougham. It is believed that about 11 of these Sport Sedan bodies were built, painted in white prime, and stored for future sale. Six were sold in 1937, four in 1938. Willoughby went out of business in 1938 and all of its remaining bodies, including the one Sport Sedan were auctioned off. It is believed that Lincoln bought these bodies plus the five passenger coupes and Panel Broughams. It is unknown who bought the Jerry Capizzi car originally. It is certain the Capizzi car was delivered new in New York City. Most likely it was put up on blocks during World War II as it had only 38,000 miles on the odometer when a collector from Connecticut bought it from a Lincoln agency used car lot in 1948. A few years later the car went to Texas where it was used as a fun car for many years. It was found in Duncanville, Texas in 1968 by automotive historian Richard Bums Carson. The car was then bought by Byron, California collector Allan Jones. (Byron is about 50 miles east of Oakland, near Stockton.)

The car was painted black, who knows when. When Jones decided to do a complete restoration under the black paint he found a creamy light green. Factory records revealed that the car was originally delivered with the chassis and body painted “Palm Beach Gray” which was a light gray-green. But under this color was found a darker green on both the body and chassis, and this matched another factory color called “Laurel Green”. In all probability Lincoln took the body from Willoughby in white prime and painted it and the chassis in the darker green. Quite likely the original buyer specified the lighter green so the body and chassis were repainted. Lincoln factory records in the Ford Archives show the car as body type 421, 12-7808, color Palm Beach Gray and Trim labeled Special. The number 421 is the Willoughby Sport Sedan as designated by Lincoln. The Special meant in this case wool broadcloth upholstery with contrasting leather piping and Super Wilton carpeting. The cushions of the seats are eider-down-filled making them more like sofas than car seats. Both the front and back seats are adjustable. The bottom and back seat cushions are split. The back seat back cushion folds down for access to the trunk. When the back seats are adjusted out, it’s like sitting in a recliner. A switch just below the rear window allows the trunk light to be turned on. The trunk light also comes on when the deck lid is opened.

This car of course has the famous Willoughby Sport Sedan mahogany partition cabinet/console with its writing desk and a cabinet on each side. “His” and “Her” vanity cases are incorporated into the quarter panels and have indirect lighting and beveled mirrors. While many other Willoughby Sport Sedans were trimmed with bird’s eye maple, this car has only mahogany inlays in a mahogany background. The door and window moldings are also finished in mahogany with mahogany inlays making this interior a bit conservative by Willoughby Sport Sedan standards.

    The car has dual side-mounted tires which were an option on even the Willoughby after 1937. There is also space for a spare tire in the trunk presumably because the side-mounted tires were primarily decorative and the tires were extremely hard to remove from their cases without scratching the paint. The trunk is fully carpeted. Tail lights share their housing with the brake lights and also act as backup lights via a special switch which is activated when the car is put in reverse. Parking lights are behind large lenses in the front fenders, just above the headlights.

    I saw this car in about 1975 in Byron, California when Jones was in the process of restoring it. Ray Warshawsky bought the car from Ray Jones in the ‘70s. The Blackhawk Collection in California bought it from Warshawsky at an auction, and Capizzi bought it from Blackhawk. This lofty Lincoln is now 61 years old, and because the K Lincoln had no changes after 1937 it looks even older. The car harkens back to the beginning of World War II when Hitler took Austria and Poland and the Big Band era was in full swing. But more likely this car carried its occupants in top hats and tails to an opening night on Broadway or to the Metropolitan Opera.

Driving Impressions

Quite frankly this is a car which is more enjoyed in the back seat sipping champagne from a bucket of ice in the vanity than from behind the gigantic steering wheel. The instrument panel is almost stark and the entire interior seems so conservative even by 1939 standards.
The car is not difficult to steer in town due to its 17-inch steering wheel and slow turning ratio, but parking at a curb between cars is best left to a Greyhound Silversides bus driver. The car moves like silk through the gears and is a pleasure to drive on the highway at 65 mph. While rear vision is poor and even the front fenders are barely visible, the driver has a fine view of the Lincoln greyhound hood ornament which was designed by Gorham silversmiths.
The straight front axle and half elliptical springs front and rear will not let you forget that this is a car engineered in a much earlier era. Coupled with these is a frame better suited for a Mack truck, huge brake drums, mechanical brakes and a ride not at all up to the 145-inch wheelbase. The chassis engineering is pure Henry Ford and Edsel saw no reason to change it because he knew that this type of car was going the way of the steam locomotive.
Although I hate to say it, the handling and riding qualities of this car are not up to those of a 1939 Cadillac V-16 or Packard V-12 although the utter quiet and performance of the engine is most impressive. The engine thunders to life at the push of a button and then becomes quieter than a night in a monastery. It also slows down to about 10 mph and moves up to 70 without moving out of high gear. The engine runs extremely cool, the temperature gauge not even getting up to one quarter. The steering is positive but slow. The brakes, while mechanical, are power assisted and the power is adjustable by a small knob on the dash just above the steering column.
Also the antiquity of the car, even by 1939 standards, makes it fun to drive for those who appreciate the finer qualities of the overbuilt and overstuffed grand classic cars. The driver or chauffeur sits very high and he can adjust his seat fore and aft as he pleases. A 1939 Lincoln-Zephyr handles and rides much better. Obviously, Edsel Ford knew where the industry was going.