Originally published in the May/June 2003 issue of Continental Comments (Issue # 252).
In 1951, Bob Estes Lincoln-Mercury, Inglewood, California, entered a 1951 Lincoln sedan in Mobilgas Economy Run. It was like Bob Reed’s car, except it was equipped with high altitude carburetor jets, overdrive, and the “Plains” rear end. The 1951 run was held over an 840 mile course from Los Angeles through Death Valley to Las Vegas and then on to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. The car won the Sweepstakes award with a ton/mpg figure of 66.488 and a mpg figure of 25.488 out of 32 stock cars entered.
In their July, 1951 issue, Motor Trend tested essentially the same car. Chrysler thought they had the run in the bag with their new ohv hemi-V8 against the antiquated Lincoln flathead V-8. But the runs results proved that Lincoln had it all over Chrysler in terms of gas mileage.
Lincoln’s secret was a combination of super fine tuning, a superb driver in Les Viland, and and overdrive transmission with a final drive of 3.31 in conventional and 2.39 in overdrive. “Could a heavy car like the Lincoln, geared so high, actually get out of its own way? asked Motor Trend’s test driver Griff Borgeson.
Then he went on to say, “Frankly, we expected little performance from this car other than good economy at steady speeds. But after almost a thousand miles of driving the machine through traffic, deserts, mountains, at every speed and under almost every road condition, it became apparent that the Lincoln is one of the best cars on the market today, in every way.
“FUEL CONSUMPTION. Our test car, an exact duplicate of the Sweepstakes winner, was equipped with a high-speed rear axle ratio that we’ll deal with later, and with .053-in carburetor jets which are specified by the factory for cars operating at altitudes of about 5,000 feet. Our fuel consumption figures tallied pretty well with the 25.448 mpg average made by Viland’s winning car. The average of our own figures for a steady 30 and a steady 45 mph in overdrive was 23.7 mpg. Just to see how much help the force of gravity could give, we took readings on long downgrades. At a steady 60 mpg the best we could get was 31 mpg; at a steady 30, 41.5 mpg. This is pretty darned good economy for a 337 cu. in. L-head engine, but if you want to get it when you buy your next Lincoln be sure to specify Grand Canyon Run jets and gearing.
“TOP SPEED: This was one of the big surprises of several days of raking the Lincoln over the coals. Les Viland had told us that we could expect to get about 96 mph from the car if we’d really let her unwind. If the carb had been fitted with sea-level specified .055 jets, another five mph or so would have been on tap. Our test strip is about four miles long, and within this distance, in spite the extreme high-speed gear and without over-running our shot-off points, we took the Lincoln through for a fastest run of 100.67 mph, averaged 97.08 over four runs. Even at full throttle there was no perceptible engine vibration and little noise. The car simply opens up to full bore, stays there deliberately and happily, decelerates with equal silence and smoothness.
“ACCELERATION: The 3.31 “Plains” rear axle ratio is upped to the remarkably close figure of 2.39:1 in OD top gear. There’s a widespread suspicion that any car equipped with such a gear can’t pull the skin off a rice pudding. Proof of pudding comes in driving the car—proof that engine and gearing are a match for each other. Further proof can be found in the Table of Performance; the Lincoln’s clocked ‘time over the standing quarter was good. Rear axle rations of 3.91 and 4.27 are optionally available for these cars, and will give much livelier acceleration, will make the engine turn over more, use more gas. But in the mountains and in the most dog-eat-dog traffic, we found the 3.31 rear end to be fully adequate—in fact, more than equal to most cars on the getaway.
“TRANSMISSION: The 1951 Lincoln line comes fitted with Hydra-Matic transmission, unless otherwise specified. The Sweepstakes winner was equipped with a standard hand-shift gearbox and with Borg-Warner overdrive. This is the same familiar unit which has been winning the public since 1934, has the customary kick-down feature for extra steam when you want it. And at speeds below the OD cut-in point— around 25 mph in the Economy Run car, the free-wheeling action of the OD unit permits all gearshifting to be done without the use of the clutch—a real convenience in heavy traffic. Engine compression is available for braking throughout the conventional range, and, in OD, above the cut-in point. To get a fuller picture of the current Lincoln line, we ran a few tests on one of the Hydra-Matic jobs. Automatic shifting was a blessing in traffic, but our vote goes to the good old quick-acting clutch and the increased economy and control that go with it.
“STEERING AND RIDE: We averaged 45 mph over 40 miles of washboard road, and the only vibration noticeable was that which traveled up the steering column. Comfort of the Lincoln is terrific, but you pay a price for it; squishy 8.00 x 15 tires that shriek in agony during even gentle low-speed cornering. This is a typical engineering compromise, a case of not being able to have your cake and eat it, too. There’s another compromise in the steering, where the popular five-and-a-half turns from lock to lock is used. It’s a long way to have to spin the wheel, especially at speed, when split-seconds count. We’d like this car with power steering and about half as many turns required of the wheel. Some American production cars today have rock-steady steering when cornering at high speed, but Lincoln is not one of them. Alertness and correction are required to keep the car in a given groove.
BODY AND INTERIOR: The parts of the Lincoln that meet the public eye are as straightforward and refined as the sound, unspectacular engine-room scene about to be described. One becomes so accustomed to sham vents and meaningless tinsel on current models that at first sight the Lincoln seems plain, almost austere. Our opinion is that the Lincoln is engineered as well as it is styled, and it is styled in good taste. Everything is done properly; the little things are right. Window cranks on the driver’s side are laid out so that you don’t bark your knuckles on the steering wheel; your arms really relax on the armrests; hands rest comfortably on the door handles, and these are designed not to hook clothing. The interior is spacious, provides excellent comfort for six passengers, is upholstered in rich but restrained nylon and vinyl leather. On freezing desert nights or blazing desert days, the car’s ventilating system gave pinpoint temperature control. The exterior is handsome and fine, without screaming its price tag to the world. The bumpers are perhaps the most safe and substantial in the field, and chrome is used within nice limits. Fiberglass insulation extends from the front floorboard to top of cowl and over the inside of the entire top, adding a final nice touch to passenger comfort.
ENGINE: When Les Viland delivered the Economy Run car to my door I had my pet vintage machine, a 1928 Lincoln touring car, out to meet its newest descendant. The 20-year-old job still goes like a bomb, and Les went over it carefully while I checked myself out on the new car. We talked about the long tradition of Lincoln quality, and about the most significant point of all today, Ford’s almost three decades of experience with production of the V-8 engine. The Leland Lincoln became Ford’s first V-8, and Ford has been the world’s biggest producer of this type of engine, has had years of experience in acquiring and developing know-how—a pleasant position to be in as the automotive world awakens to the superiority of the V layout.
As far as I know, not even its manufacturer calls attention to the fact that Lincoln’s engine is the biggest being fitted to a passenger car today, anywhere in the world—the reason being, I suppose, an understandable desire to avoid creating the impression of a gas-eating gargantua in the economy-conscious public mind. However, economy-wise, a big engine lightly stressed is equal to or better than a small engine pushed to its limit.
The Lincoln engine reeks reliability; it’s a simple, un-gadgety design that has been refined to the ultimate degree over the years. Outstanding features are its forged crankshaft (not cast, as in the Mercury), excellent crankshaft ventilating system, fore and aft ventilation dampers (the flexible flywheel doubles in this capacity), and hydraulic valve lifters. There’s nothing more annoying than tappets that don’t tap, we’ve encountered them in more than one hydraulic tappet engine. We were pleased to find that in spite of deliberate high over-revving, the Lincoln tappets did their job properly and in silence. They operate at zero clearance, regardless of valve condition or engine temperature, and require no adjustment. Like the rest of the car, they’re made to serve silently and faithfully.