The Lincoln Zephyr debuted in 1936 after the Ford Motor Company reengineered original designs by John Tjaarda and Howard Bonbright to make it suitable for production. Tjaarda and Bonbright were working for Briggs Manufacturing Company in Detroit when they were approached by Edsel Ford in 1933 for help in designing a new smaller-sized Lincoln that Ford was considering putting into production. Briggs responded with the Tjaarda-Bonbright rear-engine design that was accepted and exhibited at the Ford Pavilion at the Century of Progress Exposition. It was followed up with a complete running and driving rear-engine prototype that was successfully tested in 1934, however the innovative new Lincoln Zephyr unveiled in 1936 was a more conventional front-engine car with a different hood and grille designed by Eugene T. Bob Gregorie under the direction of Edsel Ford.
The 1942 Lincoln Zephyr was to be the last off the assembly line to bear the Zephyr title before production of all American cars ceased and the country entered World War II. As the world became crippled by global hostilities, it would be years before the auto industry recovered with casualties of its own. Many makers restarted production of their pre-war lines but they would become outdated almost as soon as they were released. Lincoln returned to civilian production in September 1945. For the most part, the 1946 Lincolns were warmed-over 1942 models with minor styling changes, although the three-window coupes and long-wheelbase customs were dropped, perhaps to streamline production as materials were still in short supply.
It was this distinctive design that allured Kerry Bartholomew to purchase a well weathered survivor, not to mention its rarity. “I loved the curve of the rear profile from the roof to the boot,” he explains. It also reminded him of the unusual sweeping lines of the Willys that partner, Judy Russell fancies at rod runs, referring to them as Porpoises. “It was in pretty ordinary condition when I bought it,” he continues, “surface rust all over the body, and it had been home to something with teeth and a good appetite.”
This rare coupe was imported into Australia in 2011 and by the time Kerry purchased it two years later, it was unloved and unable to move under its own power. On the plus side, many of the cool art deco components were intact and there was an impromptu swap meet going on in the trunk. Still in is original LHD configuration with the deceased V12 flathead under the hood, Kerry dragged his new treasure home with pride, all the way to Webby’s Speed Shop in Newcastle.
Tony ‘Webby’ Webster is somewhat of a character in the sport, and been building some damn fine hot rods longer than most from his cauldron of creativity in Carrington. He and Kerry have history together after Webby pieced together a 1939 Ford beer barrel pickup for Kerry which he uses as a daily driver. There’s also a pretty tough 502-powered ’56 Chevy in the garage which Kerry admits gets used very little and might find its way to market.
“I really enjoyed the build part of the project, Webby knows what to do and I trusted him to knock the ugly out of it and make it drive nice,” Kerry explains. The only stipulation that he had for Webby was to not stop once he started. “I didn’t want it to drag out into a 10 year build or anything, just work on it until it was done.”
With a free rein, Webby tore into the project from the frame up. “As I had never seen underneath one of these Lincolns I was concerned as to how I would mount the HK Holden front end that I had in mind for the job. I was really surprised to find a buggy spring and two simple rails,” he admits. A Holden front end, Falcon rear and a crate 350 make up the basics of the undercarriage which you’ll most likely never see. “I didn’t allow anything to protrude below the running boards, so it can be lowered without fouling on any of the suspension components,” Webby adds.
“I think that there was a reason why the only photos of the car for sale were taken side on and from rear. When it turned up on the tilt tray I just thought ‘geezz what am I going to do with this, it’s butt ugly. Kerry didn’t have a choice on that one,” says Webby when the conversation turns to the rough and ready exterior and questionable grille design. Fortunately, unearthing the parts stash hiding in the back of the coupe revealed a complete second grill of unknown origin. “We didn’t know what the grill was and I held it in the stock opening and it didn’t fit anywhere. We hung onto it and Cusso Bill came in one day and I asked him if he knew what it was. He thought it was about a ’46 Continental and confirmed the find after researching it on the internet. The more I studied it, the more I thought that I could make it work.”
Admiring the finished product, it’s hard to get your head around the massive amount of fabrication and forethought necessary to pull off such a radical change, yet still appear original. But that’s what Webby does best. “If no one can pick what I have done… then I’ve done my job.”
In addition to the mods surrounding the ‘46 grill, the front fender radius was reshaped, fenders welded solid to the body, and the original rear bumper, now devoid of overriders, relocated to the front. Fabricated running boards bridge the gap between the front and rear guards that were also hand formed from scratch, along with the rear fender skirts. Even the door bottoms were stretched to flow with the new design.
As we round the curvaceous tear drop rear, Webby once again fired up the disc cutter and sliced 100mm off the lower rear edge and reconstructed his own interpretation this time incorporating the complete ’46 Continental bumper bar. New Pontiac taillight pods were made from reversed Customline headlight buckets with their offcuts recommissioned to house the reversing lights. A third brake light is ingeniously incorporated in the Lincoln Zephyr boot emblem. From there up, the rest of the sheet metal is all original with some enhancement of the factory rear peak.
Surprisingly the neat circular exterior door poppers are stock items as is the Art Deco Bakelite escutcheons surrounding the window cranks and inside door poppers. Leather door pulls replace original chain but great attention to replicate the unique interior stitching was left in the capable hands of seasoned upholsterer, John Viles. Recreated in Andrew Muir Scottish imported leather, John pays incredible homage to the past designer. Butterscotch hide and light tan suede provide an inviting interior that’s luxurious for the eyes and completely practical. Rolls Royce Wilton wool carpet completes the Butterscotch soft furnishings.
As the Zephyr project cruised towards the finish line, exterior colour became the next major decision but Judy also had that covered. “My dream colour was from a 1950s anodized cake tin that I had,” Judy confesses. Webby’s long-time friend, Daniel Slater of Kingpins Kustom Paint got the nod to apply the hue just as long as he got the mix it right. “The paint was a funny thing,” Webby recalls. “Because the car was entirely built in my shop and is bloody huge, I suggested to Kerry that it may be better to paint the car in a base coat here because without all the car together, air bags, doors, boot lid and such, it is almost impossible to get it into a booth someplace else. I also suggested that we paint it in suede and said hey, you might even like it.”
With that said and agreed upon, Daniel and Webby pulled an all-nighter applying the gold exterior as featured before you. “The response was met with mixed emotions,” Webby recalls, “it was supposed to be gloss but it was only ever to be a base coat so I could fit it all together, get it registered and then drive it to a painter!”
I for one think that that Daniel nailed the brief, even if unintentional. Picking up Top Mild Custom first hit off the bat on debut at the ASRF Nationals may also tip the scales in favour of this unique coupe staying as is for a lot longer than anticipated. It’s certainly picking up brownie points with all its admirers.
It’s funny, in the beginning Kerry said to me that cars dictate how they need to be built. This car needed to be a custom tail dragger. Some men are born leaders. Maybe this Abe Lincoln is declaring its own independence.