From Mechanix Illustrated – March 1953

Republished in 3rd Quarter 1994 issue of Continental Comments (Issue # 199)
     Well, they finally whacked the whiskers off Lincoln. For lo! these many years, ever since Benson Ford supervised the burying of the glamorous Lincoln Continental, Lincoln has been turning out some pretty mediocre high-priced cars. In 1952 they introduced a car that almost had everything but instead fell flat as yesterday’s souflee—in performance. You regular readers may recall that I lambasted the Dearborn kids for this at the time, for which I got a lot of hard criticism, especially from the company boys.

     But how about the ‘53 jobs that cleaned up the stock sedan division of the 1,900-mile Mexican road race by finishing 1-2-3-4? For my devaluated dollar this car, that looks much the same as the all-new ‘52, can now be crowned the Grand Champion of them all. For many years, I have rated the Cadillac as America’s number one car for several reasons. First, for the amazing way it held its resale value; second, because aside from spongy roadability it was a better automobile all around than any other car made on these shores, especially in its reliable and hot engine. Today I rate the Lincoln head and shoulders over Cadillac in every department except resale value and even this margin should shrink as soon as these new Lincolns get to be better known.

     Let’s list all the 1953 Lincoln features first and work from there. The Lincoln is far ahead of any immediate American competitor in roadability and cornering. This is one of the reasons why it made such an outstanding record in Mexico. More important, its top handling properties make it by far the safest car in its price class. Until now we have rated the Hudson Hornet as the finest and safest handling American car, but the Hudson must share honors with Lincoln. In the performance department, the Lincoln is outstanding.

     The AAA officially timed this wagon out in Utah at 115.8 mph. for a two-way average and at 114.2 mph. for 100 miles. As I wasn’t at these trials, I have no way of knowing whether the car ran with air cleaners, or or an altered vacuum spark advance, or whether it was retimed to compensate for the late time of a vacuum advance unit at open throttle. In such a case, the timing would not be as specified by the manufacturer for the showroom stock Lincoln. I do feel, however, that the 1953 Lincoln as delivered at Sea Level will not go 115 mph. 110 to 112 seems to be about par for the course, but this still makes it America’s fastest car at this writing. As we go to press, I have not tested the new 210 hp. 1953 Caddie, but I will make book the Lincoln will take it. Back to the Salt Lake test for a moment. The great Utah salt flats, where many automobile records have been hung up, do not always give a true picture of an automobile’s real potential. In fact, all cars will run faster on the salt flats. Most professional speed merchants have been aware for some time that altitude plays a major part in high-speed records. The salt flats are approximately 4,800 feet above sea level and in this hangs a tale.

     As you probably know, for every thousand feet your car operates above sea level there is a definite drop in engine power because while at sea level the air pressure is rated at 14.7 pounds per square inch, this pressure decreases as we climb. A 100-horsepower engine at sea level will only develop approximately 70 horsepower at 10,000 feet due to the lower density of air. Here’s the gimmick. At the salt flats, 4,800 feet, an MG, Lincoln or any other car will develop less than 90% of its sea level power. But, by the very same important token, the air resistance against the car at high speeds will be much less. American cars, having tremendous speed-retarding frontal areas, will actually gain quite a bit more by this decreased air resistance than they lose through horsepower drop. The less streamlined the car, the more it will gain over its normal sea level performance. At any speed above 100 mph. in a typical Detroit balloon, the air resistance factor becomes fabulous.

     As a very rough calculation, it is fairly safe to state that any American car which can do a solid 100 mph. on the salt flats will be lucky to pass 95 at sea level. This in a way accounts for some of the strange records we have questioned in the past regarding high altitude speed runs. For example, Bill France drove a Nash Ambassador in the 1950 Mexican road race for many miles at a faster average speed than the car could go for one mile in New York. He privately attributed this to the fact that the car was running at around 5,000 feet of altitude much of the time.

    Of course, in this sort of calculation, you reach a point where altitude works against speed, in a very rare atmosphere such as you find at, say, 10,000 feet, your carburetor mixture is thrown way out of kilter and the engine runs much too rich due to the decreased amount of oxygen. Oxygen is the only part of air that burns in an engine and a gallon of air contains only 21% oxygen. Naturally, as the oxygen thins out due to less density of the air, it reaches a point where it doesn’t contain enough moxie to rev up an unloaded engine to peak rpms. so that, despite reduced air resistance, speed falls off. Most qualified engine men agree that for top speed in an automobile 3,500 to 5,200 feet altitude will produce greater speed. Beyond 5,200 feet, speed falls off very fast, unless you use higher compression heads and make carburetor adjustments. So much for salt flat records. Now back to the 1953 Lincoln as you buy it.

All Lincolns are now equipped with the four-speed Hydramatic transmission. This unit is far superior to the original sludge pots in every way although, being a diehard, I still think I can shift much better and I know I can get more out of a car with a manually-operated transmission. Actually, there is little if anything to be gained with these automatic transmissions by starting in Low and Shifting to Drive in acceleration runs. Zero to 60 averaged out 12.61 seconds on a corrected speedometer and Zero to 30 averaged 4.42 seconds on several trials with several cars.

    Lincoln also has a brand new four barrel carburetor that’s a beaut, thanks to their able, long-time ignition and carburetor chief, George Nastas. This job, unlike some of their competitors’, is a single-float gismo that shows no sign of loading and starving, all at the same time, on hard turns. The engine has been boosted from last year’s 160 horsepower to 205 and the torque has been upped to 305 foot pounds from 284. The exhaust system has been improved. Part of the real boost on the same 317-cubic inch ‘52 block can be attributed to the increase of the valve size and valve lift and the jump in compression ratio. The valve area in ‘52 was 1.74inches per valve, in ‘53 it is 1.98 inches. The valve lift in ‘52 was .3375 inches and this year it is .3545. This naturally assures much better and deeper breathing. The compression ratio has been hopped to 8 to 1 from 7.5 to 1.

    I tested several Lincolns with regular steering and found them outstandingly responsive. Then I whirled one around with power steering. You can keep power steering. I don’t want any part of it. I got a bad impression of Lincoln’s power steering when an eager beaver engineering assistant wheeled one out for a test. He came up to us like a ball of fire, cut the wheel hard and, so help me, I thought he was going to roll the automobile. This really able road car, under the pressure of his exaggerated cut, mushed like a balloon in a down draft—and I was very unimpressed. Later, when I buzzed this rig into a hard turn on the proving ground at speeds close to 90, the power steering felt very feathery compared to the solid feel I got with the other Lincolns.

    The power brakes on these cars are swell and there was little trace of fade on the hardest stops. In the looks department this year’s Lincoln is very similar to last year’s offering with a few chrome rearrangements. If you happen to be in the market for a Lincoln, try and see one without the ten buck hood ornament first. I think it looks a thousand dollars better without the gee-gaw and you save a sawbuck to boot. At this writing you can order them either way. As for comfort— here  again the Lincoln shines. From the driver’s seat you get a slight ski-slide look, similar to the Mark VII Jag, that is great for visibility. The seats are chair high, similar to Chrysler’s, but without the high roof line. The body is five inches narrower than the 1952 Cadillac which is a real feature, especially in view of the fact that the Lincoln has only two inches less seat width. This makes the Lincoln feel much handier in traffic, which it is. All the interior lines, including the instrument panel, are clean and have that good looking functional quality. The back seat is also comfortable, as it should be in this luxury item. This year there are five models, all on a wheelbase of 123 inches: the Capri four-door sedan, hardtop and convertible and the Cosmopolitan four door sedan and sport coupe.

    Some of my more ancient readers may remember when Henry I advertised that you “can buy a Ford in any color, so long as it’s black.” This year, the 50th Anniversary of the Ford Motor Company, you can get your new Lincoln in any one of 13 basic colors and 30 (count ’em 30) two-tone color combinations, along with a fairly dazzling selection of upholstery fabrics which include leather, nylon, broadcloth, tweed and something called frieze. The doors also have a new two position check mechanism featuring a halfway stop to hold them open when you dismount into one of those skinny 1953-type garages.

    In summing up, the Lincoln is a high priced car giving high-priced performance. As of now I haven’t tested the 1953 Cadillac or 1953 big Chrysler. On what I have seen to date I can honestly state that the 1953 Lincoln is America’s finest automobile.


0 to 30 mph., 4.42 second
0 to 50 mph., 9.7 seconds
0 to 60 mph., 12.61 seconds
0 to 70 mph., 17.6 second
Top speed, 110-112 mph.

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