by Dave Cole
Originally published in the Summer 1980 issue of Continental Comments (Issue # 141).
Certainly, every Lincoln Continental owner knows how that fine motor car got its start. The story of how Edsel Ford, the then president of the Ford Motor Company, commissioned his designers to build him a special convertible coupe based on the finest European designs of the late 1930s, which resulted in the first Lincoln Continental Cabriolet of 1939, has been retold countless times in the pages of this magazine over the last twentyfive years. Also, it is fairly well known among Continentalists that Edsel Ford owned a 1941 Continental Cabriolet at the time of his death in 1943, and that that car is now on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. But it is virtually unrecognized that Edsel Ford also owned, for probably a year or so, one of the early 1940 Continental Cabriolets. The Lincoln assembly plant record cards on file at the Ford archives do, however, include a card that describes Edsel’s second Continental. Let’s take a look at it and see just what information that card contains.
There’s no mistake about whose car it was. Right across the top of the card it says “Shipped to Mr. Edsel B. Ford” of the “Home Office.” The serial number is H-92969, and the body number is 06H56-20, the twentieth 1940 Lincoln Continental Cabriolet started. Production on these cars did not commence until December 13, 1939, and Edsel’s ’40 convertible rolled off the assembly line a couple of weeks later, on December 28,1939.
Youll remember the story about how the first Continental, the ’39, was shipped upon completion to Edsel Ford’s winter vacation home in Florida for his use there, and how his neighbors’ enthusiastic response to the beautifully styled Lincoln-Zephyr convertible prompted Ford to add the car to Lincoln’s production offerings for 1940. On the card detailing the particulars of Edsel’s ’40, you’ll see that this car, too, was shipped to Florida for Mr. Ford’s use there, during his 1940 winter vacation. Note the penned notation in the middle of the card, “800277—Jacksonville. This billing for purpose of shipping car to Florida only, 2-22-40.” Jacksonville, of course, was the district office that served all of Florida at that time. But that shipping date came nearly two months after the car was completed. Presumably, Edsel had had at least six weeks to enjoy the new ’40 convertible around Dearborn before the car was shipped off to Florida, but the surviving records are not clear on that point.
While the assembly record card gives no evidence that this ’40 convertible was structurally any different from the others built at about the same time, and lists only a radio and white sidewall Firestone tires as accessories, it does note that the paint and upholstery were all specially selected. In all probability, Edsel Ford himself picked them out.
The car was painted in Benton Gray, the only ’40 convertible to be finished in that shade. Edsel Ford often chose a shade of gray for his personal cars. Surviving records indicate that his ’39 Continental was done in Eagle Gray, and his ’41 convertible now in the Ford Museum was also finished in gray; Ditz. Pewter gray metallic lacquer. Benton Gray, the color used on the ’40, had been used by Ford before, however; it is the same shade as was used on the 1936 Lincoln-Zephyr dashboard and window mouldings—a medium metallic gray with just a touch of red and maroon in it, according to the paint formula. It appears that the dashboard of Edsel’s ’40 was also finished in Benton Gray, like the body of the car, instead of the usual Metallic Mahogany.
The upholstery in Edsel’s ’40 is noted as having been a combination of tan leather and a special Bedford cord material with the code number 2-1890. The leather was the stock tan color used in other ’40 Continentals, but the whipcord was darker than the customarily used Z-160 cord, more of a taupe color, and with wider whales. The usual whipcord used in Continentals had 9V2 ribs to the inch, while the special 2-1890 material used in Edsel’s car had 8 ribs to the inch. The top was likewise a special material, Jonartz #5490, about which we have not been able to find any information. However, given Edsel’s impeccable taste, it would seem likely that Jonartz #5490 would have been a taupe or gray color, harmonizing with the other colors used on the car.
While no early history of this car survives, it seems likely that Mr. Ford kept the ’40 convertible for no more than a year. In all probability, he disposed of it when he took delivery of his ’41 Continental Cabriolet. One thing is certain, however; Edsel Ford’s ’40 Continental still survives! The intervening forty years have been unkind to it, but it is still in existence, and will be restored, according to its present owner, to the same specifications as when Edsel Ford first took delivery of it.
Back in 1973, Tom Akins, who runs an auto restoration service in Uhrichsville, Ohio, wrote to me, as the historian for the ’40 Continentals, and described a partially customized, badly deteriorated ’40 Cabriolet that he was trying to buy. The serial number was H-92969; the body number, 06H56-20.1 wrote back and said, “Aha, you’ve found Edsel Ford’s own personal car, have you?” and followed up with the particulars on the car as given in the records. As you might expect, Tom was thrilled to learn that the car he was seeking was of such historical significance, but he asked that no mention be made of his intended purchase until the deal was firmed up. In due time, the deal was consummated, and Tom began the long search for all the parts that will be needed to put the car back in shape. Last we heard, nearly everything was at hand, and all that was lacking was the time necessary for the restoration.
Tom sent the pictures which you see here, showing Edsel’s ’40 in the condition in which he found it. The V-12 is missing, but the remainder of the running gear is all strictly 1940 Lincoln-Zephyr, just as it should be. The body work, on the other hand, has suffered extensive modification, and even though the customizing was never fully completed, it will take a lot of time and effort to undo it all. All four fenders were leaded to the body, the rear deck was cut down and the lid leaded shut, and all trim was removed. The top bows were all missing, removed when the body was altered, and lost. Then to make matters worse, the car was left uncovered out in the open for about fifteen years, so the rust is extensive throughout the body—floor ready to cave in, and the rocker panels missing altogether. Tom is an avid Lincoln collector, however, and he has managed to gather the parts that it takes to put the car aright. It won’t be easy, but one of these days this 1940 Lincoln Continental will show up at an Eastern National Meet, looking just like it did when Edsel Ford took delivery on it back in the winter of 1940.
Above Image: The Concept 100 Show Car was very close to the Mark VII but lacked any evidence of a centerpost.
Designing the Continental Mark VII
by Tim Howley
Originally published in the July-August 2001 issue of Continental Comments (Issue # 241).
The Mark VII design originated with the Concept 90 show car done in the late ‘70s and introduced on the show circuit in 1981. This was followed by the very similar Concept 100 car. While retaining a recognizable Continental grille, this car was extremely aerodynamic and added the fluted side trim of the Mercedes. There were also styling cues from the Boxer Ferrari 365GT4/BB and BB512. The Concept 90 was very close to the Mark VII introduced two years later right down to the flush headlights, wheel covers and flush windows, It is hard to imagine that Ford would give away most of the Mark VII’s styling in a show car, but at the time Ford was trying to get the public accustomed to the Mark VII’s radically new styling. About the only difference between the Concept 90 and the Mark VII was that the earlier did not have a “B” pillar, that is it was a true hardtop.
Originally the move to the Mark VII was called Project 198X, and the idea was to develop a whole group of American cars in a European tradition with emphasis on technology, driveability and aerodynamics. Out of this Project 198X came the Thunderbird, Tempo/Topaz and finally the Mark VII. After the Concept 90 and Concept 100 there were two Mark VII designs, one with sealed beam headlamps, and the other with the body flush aero headlamps that became a Ford first. This was a very expensive way to go, but it had to be done because until May, 1983 the government did not permit the new type of headlamps.
Prior to Project 198X Ford had its aerodynamic Probe futuristic cars, but did not take aerodynamics very seriously. From the Continental Mark III through Mark VI Ford management was sold on the boxy look in luxury vehicles. But the luxury market was changing with Mercedes and BMW who were offering functional and extremely driveable aerodynamic cars. Meanwhile Ford management resisted change. Then Ford management changed to a younger group with overseas experience. This new management was much more willing to accept the new styling themes.
In an interview with Car Design magazine in 1983 Jack Telnack stated, “It is always difficult to sell a revolutionary concept, particularly in this town (Detroit) where management is surrounded by other Detroit products. My theory is that Ford has always been most successful when we didn’t follow anybody…when we went off in our own direction…provided we had good reasons for doing so.
A Mark VII type of car was first designed in 1979, even before the very square and formal Continental Mark VI was introduced. The original designers of the Mark VII were director Bob Zokas, executive designer John Aiken and design manager Allen Ornes all working under Jack Telnack, Chief Design Executive for Ford Motor Co. Telnack returned from Europe in 1977 and even before then all Ford products in Europe were wind tunnel tested.
In the late ‘70s Ford built a wind tunnel testing facility in Marietta, Georgia. Their first real aero effort in the U.S. was the ’79 Mustang.
You might say that the Mark VII was an aerodynamic anomaly because of its traditional Continental grille and hump on the decklid. There is little doubt that these features fought aerodynamics. Without them the coefficient of drag would have been lower than .38. But these were important styling cues that management felt had to be retained, especially when going through a radical styling change. Much better aero could have been obtained with no grille at all, with a completely smooth front end and the air intake below the bumper. But such a front end would have totally lacked Mark identity.
Introduced in 1983 as a 1984 model the Mark VII was never intended to stay in production for nine model years. In fact, the Mark VIII was already well along the way at the time the Mark VII was introduced. In late 1988 development was started on what might be called a Mark VII stage two. This car would have softened the front and rear end appearance without eliminating the Continental grille or decklid hump. Then mysteriously the whole project was scrapped. The Mark VII would stand in its original form until an entirely new 1993 Mark VIII could be introduced in mid 1992.