Fred & Lyn Hunter’s 1941 Lincoln-Zephyr Ambulance
Cover Car Story by Tim Howley
Originally published in the March-April 1999 issue of Continental Comments (Issue # 227)
Technically this vehicle, which won a 1st in the Modified Custom Class, is not a Lincoln-Zephyr, but a Custom Limousine. It is not even a conventional Lincoln ambulance in that it does not have a raised roof.
How many of us remember these vehicles from their day? Since this and other Lincoln ambulances have been featured in The Way of the Zephyr, it is fairly safe to say that few remember them racing to accident scenes before, during and shortly after World War II. This ambulance is linked to a 1937 model. There is evidence that Derham built Lincoln-Zephyr ambulance conversions up until 1938.
A 1938 Derham Zephyr ambulance was used by a hospital in Chester, Pennsylvania. They were seen on the streets of Beaumont, Texas. There was a 1937 model in England during World War II. The Henry Ford Hospital in Dearborn, Michigan had a 1941 model with a raised roof. If any of our members have recollections of any of these, or any others, reports of sightings would be appreciated. Like UFOs, Lincoln-Zephyr ambulances are elusive. But one has definitely landed in Florida. While its origin remains somewhat mysterious, much of its history has been documented.
This ambulance and a 1937 model belonged to an ambulance service in Pasadena, California, maybe not since they were new, but certainly during the World War II era. In 1948, the owner of the service supposedly retired and put the two ambulances in storage, so the story goes. The 1937 model was sold at an undetermined date, and there are only rumors that it still exists. This 1941 model was sold in 1970 when the owner died. In September, 1970 it was advertised for sale by Dale Weller of South Pasadena, who was selling it for the estate. It was then a two-tone, light blue top and darker blue bottom, was dirty and was not running. It was purchased for $350 by Sig Caswell, a well known collector in the Los Angeles area. It was at that time not considered much of a rarity because Caswell removed the engine and transmission. The engine is still in another Lincoln-Zephyr. The next owner put a 1942 Ford V-8 truck engine in the vehicle and rented it out to the movie studios. At some point during the ‘70s the ambulance was repainted to a light blue body with medium blue fenders.
In the early ‘80s it was bought by Merv Adkins, a well known collector of Lincoln-Zephyrs and dealer in parts. Adkins retrieved the original transmission from Caswell and coupled it with a 1942 Lincoln-Zephyr HV-12 engine. He then returned the vehicle to duty-this time carrying parts to Pomona and other swap meets. The vehicle showed up at the 1984 LCOC Western National Meet in San Diego along with Adkin’s customized Lincoln-Zephyr pickup truck. In the fall of 1994, Adkins sold the ambulance to Fred Hunter, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, who completely restored it. The restoration was not done to the exact original. The color was changed from blue to red. The interior was done in tan leather, originally it was in black leather. However, no alterations were made to make this an old ambulance with modern running gear. Even the performance modifications are correct to the era.
According to Jim Farrell, “This particular ambulance started life as a 1941 Lincoln Custom Limousine. It was built on October 15, 1940 and was shipped to California where it was originally titled as a limousine. It came with power windows, electric wipers, a divider window and rare under seat hot water heaters. It was originally painted black and had a tan pinstripe. To convert the limousine to an ambulance, a custom-built rear section was added to the roof, but the roof was not raised as on other ambulances. The back quarter window frames from the Lincoln Custom were extended for the longer back side windows used on the ambulance. The back door was custom made. It has an ash framework and is covered with sheet metal. On the inside of the patient area, there were small compartments built into the side panels, which were fabricated from sheet aluminum. There is also a built-in vent in the roof, but other than that and the gurney, there is no other special equipment.
Fred Hunter describes the restoration thus: “The extended roof was riveted on and leaded over. The lead never cracked in all those years, so we left it on. Whoever built it cut out the rear part of the floor from the back seat to the trunk and replaced the floor with an angle iron framework, then covered it with a one inch thick oak plank floor which was further covered with linoleum. A big metal panel over the rear axle provides more room. Our biggest surprise was how the body sides were stretched. The rear fenders are the same as used on the standard Lincoln Custom, but the body was widened so that, when attached, there was about 2 1/2” to 3” overlap of the body over each fender. This alteration is hard to tell from the outside except for moving the gas filler door lower on the fender.”
The vehicle always had the two roof front mounted red lights. The rear mounted roof red light has been removed in the
restoration. Fred has added a roof mounted siren. He has also added red lenses to the accessory fog lights on the grille. The dual spotlights were probably original equipment. The original rear quarter windows had a cross and the letter “M”. Fred has installed rear quarter windows with the cross within the Lincoln-Zephyr teardrop logo. Fred returned the engine back to a 1941 HV-12 with an Edmunds dual carburetor manifold, dual Stromberg 97 carburetors and polished aluminum heads. As swift as the original V-12 was it was not swift enough for all the added weight of an ambulance. Remember in the old days, it was the first ambulance service to the scene that got the business.
If you put this ambulance alongside today’s rescue vans it looks pretty simple, and is totally devoid of today’s high tech life saving equipment. Of all our modern advances, healthcare stands in the lead. One can only speculate on how many lives
were lost in the old days because ambulances were so simply equipped. We can also ponder upon the many old time accidents and other emergencies this ambulance serviced. Could W.C. Fields, William S. Hart and Leslie Howard, all of
whom died in the ‘40s, have been carried in Fred Hunter’s ambulance. Who’s to dispute it?