by Bill Vickers, Martinsville, Virginia
Originally published in the May/June 2003 issue of Continental Comments (Issue # 252).
It has been my pleasure to read in Continental Comments about the restoration projects involving many of the Classic and Special Interest Lincolns of yesteryear. This saga involves no restoration, but maintenance over the last 54 years.
I remember sitting on the steps in front of my father’s office on a warm summer day in August, 1949. Two well dressed men drove up in a shiny black 1949 Lincoln Sports Coupe, and asked me if this was Dr. L. A. Vickers office. They were representatives from Bridge Street Motors, the Lincoln Mercury dealer at that time in Martinsville, Virginia. My dad was busy at the time, but called my mother to evaluate the new car. She must have been impressed, she chose the Lincoln over a Pontiac, Buick, and Cadillac.
The new Lincoln was a fresh and welcome addition to the family; the 1937 Pontiac it replaced was 13 years old and started to show signs of the aging process. New cars of all brands were rare commodities, and prospective buyers were on waiting lists for years because of World War II.
People were very impressed with the features of this car. The Hydra-Matic transmission was a big deal back in 1949. The engine is quiet, massive and powerful. As an eight year old, I loved it when we approached slower traffic, and my dad engaged the passing gear and made the engine roar and snap our heads to the back of the seat. The radio had excellent fidelity and the antenna could be controlled from inside the car. The clock kept time well and the ride was very comfortable.
The car had heater/defroster, left and right air registers, heavy duty suspension, white wall super balloon low pressure tires, fog lights, arm rest (rear), fender skirts, and signal lights. Many cars in the forties did not have signal lights. The engine required two water pumps and two thermostats.
Unfortunately, my dad passed away in June of 1950. My mother learned to drive after his death, and this Lincoln was our only car for 17 years. I begged my mother (Letha Vickers) to trade; but she reminded me that there were five of us children to be educated and the ‘49 Lincoln would go anywhere a new one would go. She also told me that when the next new car was bought I would probably buy it. Guess what, she was right! After I started teaching, I bought her a new ‘66 Ford LTD which she refused to drive. One day I drove the new Ford over to her school, left it in her parking space and drove off in the Lincoln. I have been driving the Lincoln ever since. This car continues to amaze me; after 54 years and slightly less than 200,000 miles it still loves to run. The 337 flat-head is still doing its job. It loves the highway, and seems to be very comfortable at 70-75 miles per hour with encouragement to go faster.
My brother Don and I shared driving time behind the steering wheel as teenagers. We also shared time standing in front of the judge for speeding tickets.
The original engine and transmission still power this car and it is very reliable. The only engine work was the replacement of exhaust valves in 1966. This repair was encouraged by the constant use of high-test gasoline over the years. Golden Esso gasoline was designed for higher compression engines of the late ‘50s, not flat heads of 1949.
The constant diet of high octane gas probably contributed to the burning of the exhaust valves. The car smoked until the exhaust valves were repaired. One of my high school friends called the ‘49 the “Smoke Wagon”. The name stuck, even after the smoking stopped. The valve job made the car perform like new. This was followed by a paint job in 1970, and it was re-upholstered at the same time. I am amazed that rust has not been a problem. Hopefully, I will have my nephew, Billy Anderson, a master restorer in Texas, give the ‘49 a master massage for its sixtieth birthday.
A transmission band broke in 1979, and was repaired; it has been performing well ever since. This Hydra-Matic transmission has proven to be exceptional. Also, these transmissions have four forward gears, the fourth gear is an automatic overdrive. The manual transmission had a manual overdrive. Lincolns were available in ‘49 with manual or automatic transmission. The clock still works on warm days, and the radio plays well.
This car has been like a family member. We drove it to all of our high school and college graduations. My brother, Don, taught me to drive on this car, when I could barely see over the steering wheel and reach the pedals. The ‘49 was given the nickname “Smoke”, this was to be expected since my brother, three sisters, and I had nicknames. “Smoke” made trips throughout the state of Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, New Jersey, Connecticut, West Virginia, and New York. We drove it to the New York World’s Fair in 1964.
During the 54 years of driving this car, it has failed to start about 12 times. It has never left us stranded. Back in the sixties, we were returning from a trip, it sputtered a few times and stopped in the middle of the highway. I looked to the right and we were in front of a Lincoln-Mercury dealership. The mechanic replaced the fuel pump, and we were on our way.
In the mid seventies, I was reading a Motor Trend magazine which gave the me of the car credited with winning the first strictly stock NASCAR race. Guess what! It was a black ‘49 Lincoln just like “Smoke”. This was a shock to me, I never heard of Lincolns in NASCAR. I knew about the Pan American Road Races, but not NASCAR.\
Jim Roper hauled his Lincoln from Great Bend, Kansas, to the Charlotte Speedway in Charlotte, North Carolina, to win the first strictly stock NASCAR race June 19,1949. He received $2,000 in 1949 money for his efforts.
“Smoke” has appeared in the parade lap at some of the NASCAR races—the Martinsville Speedway and the Charlotte Motor Speedway in Charlotte, North Carolina. “Smoke” still has not been relieved of its transportation responsibilities. I drive it to work occasionally, and it makes certain celebrity appearances. Friends and relatives request its services in weddings and other special occasions.
Some senior citizen privileges have been granted to “Smoke”. It now takes three Continental Mark Ills and one ‘92 Town
Car to handle the transportation needs that “Smoke” once performed alone.
Many people have asked why the Vickers family has kept this Lincoln for 54 years. Firstly, I don’t think parting with it would be a popular decision with my siblings Don, Gloria, Tanya, and Sandra.
Secondly, we have great appreciation for its reliability, drive ability, and viability. Thirdly, Lincoln’s are addictive. The Vickers siblings and their children have purchased collectively thirty-nine Ford products, mostly Lincolns. Sixty-six relatives, friends, associates, neighbors, and observers have been inspired to buy Lincolns or other Ford products.
My mother deserves a great deal of credit for the longevity of the car. She was very persistent about maintenance; she believed in use, but not abuse. The oil was changed frequently, and all 28 grease fittings were serviced.
The car was delivered with Havoline Oil in the engine, and that same brand is used today.
A personal friend, and a former Lincoln-Mercury mechanic, Junior Fuller, was the main mechanic until his health failed.
One of the owners, Martin J. Lester of the dealership where my father bought the car still lives in the Martinsville area, and we still have a great relationship. Martin’s brother-in-law, Tommy Myers, was one of the salesmen, and he still lives in Martinsville, and he has been a friend over the years.
The present Lincoln-Mercury dealer, Jim Mills, has been a good friend and advisor for many years regarding the ‘49 Lincoln and other Lincolns bought from his dealership.
The Ford Motor Company deserves a great deal of credit for the viability of this car. The Vickers family believes that care, service, and maintenance may be important, but a quality product was needed originally. Automobile manufacturers have been busy producing cars over the years. The Ford Motor Company burns the midnight oil to produce classics.
Over the past 54 years, many miles, friends and relationships have occurred. We think this is very special. It all started with a black’49 Lincoln, more affectionately known as “Smoke,” purchased by Dr. and Mrs. L. A .Vickers on August 24,1949.
Editor’s comment: I love to receive stories like this because they are so rare…and this owner also has three Continental Mark Ills which he drives daily. We have another story coming up in the next issue of one-ownership that beats the Vickers car by a year!! If you own or know of a Lincoln with longtime one-ownership share it with other members by contacting the Continental Comments editorial office.