Ford in Miniature – The Lincoln Zephyr

The First Genuinely Successful Car of The Modern Age.

By Dave Turner

Previously exclusively producers of very high priced top-end motors, Lincoln realised in the early 1930s that the economic situation would make things almost impossible for them and other manufacturers in the same high-end sector. A mid-range offering was essential if Lincoln was to survive.

As a first step, the Sterkenberg is often quoted and this was a styling/design exercise dreamed up by John Tjaarda based on aero industry construction techniques. Briggs, Lincoln’s main body supplier managed to interest Edsel Ford in the whole concept, no doubt as a means of stemming the decline in demand that was already being experienced. Several more prototypes followed, some front and some rear engined, but traditionalist Henry Ford made sure that the engine was going to be at the front as well as insisting on transverse springs and mechanical brakes.

A relatively short front end dictated the use of a correspondingly short engine, and so a new V12 of 267 cubic inches capacity was featured when the new ‘streamlined’ Zephyr appeared in November 1934 for the 1935 season. Compared to contemporary styling the new Lincoln must have looked as if it came from outer space, with its ‘V’ shaped front end and faired-in headlights and not a sharp edge in sight. Initially just two and four door Sedans were available and rather strangely the trunk accommodated only the spare wheel, luggage being stowed behind the folding rear seat.

A three passenger coupe and a town limousine were added to the range for 1937, and a more practical trunk and spare wheel arrangement was adopted. 1937 Zephyrs can be identified by the four sets of twin plated bars on the grille. For 1938 convertible sedans and coupes were added, at the same time an additional three inches was added which took the wheelbase to 125” while a split grille of fine horizontal bars made identifying the 1938 model easy. Hydraulic brakes arrived in 1939 whilst the fine bars in the two-part grille were now vertical, the central section of the front bumper was now open and the body sides curved out to hide the running boards. The latter disappeared altogether for 1940 when the headlights became sealed beam and thus vertical rather than sloped, the windows and trunk were also enlarged, as was the engine, to 292 cubic inches. The convertible sedan was dropped but a new five seat club coupe was added to the range.

A fine plated border to the two-part grille appeared for 1941 together with small combined parking and direction lamps which were now mounted on top of the front fenders. The 1942 season was cut short in February by world events but styling of that years Zephyr was considerably changed by squaring up the fenders, fitting a heavier grille and enlarging the engine, yet again to 305 cubic inches. When production resumed for 1946, the engine reverted to 292 cubic inches in size while the appearance was changed by the adoption of a rather Cadillac-esque grille. The Zephyr name was dropped, the range being simply Lincoln. Identifying 1947 and 1948 cars is simple since they had Lincoln script on the side of the hood in place of the previous plated strip and the return to pull-out type exterior door handles. Production of the erstwhile Zephyr terminated in January 1948 in anticipation of the significantly different 1949 cars.

As the first Lincoln Zephyr was such an eye-catching design, contemporary toy makers inevitably featured them in their product line. A few toys were even based on the prototype Doodlebug and in some cases were subsequently turned into actual early Zephyrs, the diecast Tootsietoy for example. Their actual Zephyr initially came as a four door sedan or as a wrecker with a crude crane mounted at the rear. Hubley produced cast iron Doodlebugs and Zephyrs during the later 1930s while another US name from the past, Erie offered two sizes of toy four door Zephyrs.   in New Zealand began their range of sandcast aluminium toys with a four door Zephyr in 1944, although it was the shortest lived of their range lasting just one year.

Kingsbury made pressed steel toys and included a two door Zephyr that came with a caravan although the distinctive fenders on the real car were simplified beyond recognition. The only modern day 1936 miniature Zephyr so far recorded came from the National Motor Museum Mint Range, and was a 1:32 four door sedan with opening hood and front doors that reveal some basic plastic interior and engine detail. The model sits rather low on a chassis that features extremely low profile white wall tyres and incorrect longitudinal springs rather than transverse.

Moving to 1937, just two examples have been recorded to date, a toy clockwork plastic bodied four door sedan was offered by Wells Brimtoy, steered by a lever below the grille. Unfortunately the tinplate base doesn’t shrink with age to keep pace with the body, the latter having lost over 8mm on the example to hand. At the other end of the extreme, a superb 1:18 model of the new for 1937 Zephyr Coupe from Ertl Precision 100 made its appearance in 2002 and despite the passing of nearly 12 years, its quality and accuracy has still been equalled by very few models. In fact the days when the Chinese made models to this quality and detail, at a price one could afford have gone and will probably not return. Everything opens that should, even the vent in front of the windscreen. The spare wheel tilts in the trunk behind which is a tool roll full of tools and there is even a key in the ignition! Contemporary model reviewers were ecstatic but forecast even then that such quality could not be continued.

The Arcade cast iron 1938 Zephyr four door sedan must be among their final toys as production ceased with World War Two and it’s price today reflects this. The next miniature 1938 Zephyr didn’t arrive until 1989 when Durham Classics created just 200 handbuilt models of the three passenger coupe for the Toronto Toy Show. This subsequently became a regular model and was eventually reworked to produce models of the convertible coupe. Detail on these is rather limited, even inside the re-worked convertible. Next along came Matchbox with another convertible coupe in the Great Marques sub-series of their Models of Yesteryear range. Unlike the Durham these are diecast, the plastic interior offering more detail that featured variations in the painted detail applied in subsequent issues. The most pleasing model 1938 came from Brooklin in 2004, their cannon smoke metallic painted four door sedan comes up to their well-established standard of accuracy and finish, and of course being a sedan made a welcome change from all the recent more ‘exotic’ convertibles that latter day model makers seem to prefer. Not only has there been a kiddies pedal car by Steelcraft based on a 1938 Zephyr, but Hallmark produced some die cast miniatures of it.

Models of cars from the Tin Tin stories have offered some interesting subjects, another 1938 Zephyr convertible coupe was featured in the Seven Crystal Balls story as the car of Captain Haddock, and while not pretending to be a scale model the Atlas Editions miniature has much appeal. Moving on to 1939 and we have to thank the Yatming range from China for a pair of very nice convertible coupes. To stand alongside the superb Precision 100 1937 there is the Road Signature 1:18 scale model, obviously less expensive than the Ertl and with less fine detail but very nice nonetheless. It came with a choice of top up, or a cover for the top when down, whilst a range called Fairfield Mint had them produced in a different colour and re-packaged. Obviously employing the same background work, this big model has a little brother in the shape of a 1:32 scale version of the same subject, available with the top up or with the top down. Commendably this boasts all opening parts and steerable front wheels.

Another 1939 Zephyr model has been recorded under the Marty Martino label but the author has never seen one. These are said to be highly detailed aluminium 1:6 scale models, and sound intriguing. 1940 Zephyrs received a plated surround to the twin grilles, and as such theDinky example falls into this category. This was probably the first toy car I received back in the 1940s, a claim that will be familiar with many other current and long since abandoned “collectors”. This depicted the rakish three passenger coupe and must have inspired many young enthusiasts to become life-long admirers of cars in general, and the more stylish in particular. Many years ago the opportunity was taken to acquire what was advertised as the prototype of the Buccaneer model Zephyr and this turned out to be the Dinky body together with a base plate built up in brass inscribed simply “Buccaneer 1937 Lincoln Zephyr”. If the body was intended to be substantially modified at the front to create a ’37 was not known, but illustrations of an actual Buccaneer model show the Dinky 1940 details plain and simple.

A range that enjoys the title Essence of the Car depicts well known motoring subjects as a simple but recognisable solid shape, one of these represents a Zephyr, the exact identity of which is probably not intended but appears closer to a 1941 three passenger coupe than any other. New for 1940 were the sealed beam headlights which were still enclosed behind the teardrop shaped rims but for 1941 the headlight outline was now circular and vertical rather than smoothed into the curve of the front fender. Styling got a significant change for the short lived 1942 season with the rather heavy looking full width sub-grille surmounted by a shallow vertical section. A 1:25 scale resin kit for a two door coupe version was produced in the US byGuy Cantwell in the 1980s while just twenty examples of a slush cast miniature of the same subject were made by Steve Lovan of St. Louis. The latter were illustrated in MAR 76.

A contemporary toy of the 1946 Lincoln came from the Auburn Rubber company in the US, depicting the convertible coupe in open form. Of chunky and robust build they were claimed to be soft and non-damaging to furniture etc., however with age they will now be quite hard. Some examples featured round headlights while for some reason others had rectangular shaped lights. Another very early toy 1946 Convertible Coupe came from Mercury in Italy, and while the Auburn’s rubber content hardens with age, the Mercury diecast material simply disintegrates and the delicate windscreen and side window frames will be lucky to have survived. Much later, and hopefully more resistant to time, are the trio of handbuilt 1948s from now defunct and much missed Western Models in the UK who offered four door sedan, club coupe and convertible versions. Despite the technology of their white metal model cars going back to the days of chunky plated parts and bright strips being created by simply scraping the paint away, they do have undeniable appeal. It appears that they have re-located to Israel and now concentrate on aircraft models.

Photographs below include:

1. Matchbox 1:43 diecast from UK: YY64, 1938 Convertible


2. Tootsie diecast from USA: 6015, 1936 Four Door Sedan.


3. Unknown tinplate from USA: Prototype.


4. Erie 1:37 diecast from USA: 1936 Four Door Sedan.


5. Wells Brimtoy 1:34 plastic/tin from UK: 9/43, 1937 Four Door Sedan with clockwork motor and shrunken plastic body.


6. Erie 1:58 diecast from USA: 1936 Four Door Sedan.


7. Signature 1:19 diecast from China: 102, 1939 Convertible shown with top fitted.


8. Dinky 1:50 diecast from UK: 39c, 1940 Coupe.


9. Matchbox 1:43 diecast from UK: YY64 1938 Convertible rear.


10. Brooklin 1:42 handbuilt from UK: 106, 1938 Four Door Sedan.


11. Steelcraft 1:5 pedal car from USA: 1938 Convertible in front of a real ’37.


12. Western 1:43 handbuilt from UK : 83, 1948 Four Door Sedan.


13. Auburn 1:46 rubber from USA: A17, 1946 Convertible.


14. Mercury 1:43 diecast from Italy: 5, 1946 Convertible, showing part of the windscreen frame missing.


15. Ertl/Precision 100 1:17 diecast from China: 32890 1937 Coupe


16. Nation Motor Museum Mint 1:31 diecast from China: 23600 1936 Four Door Sedan


17. Signature 1:34 diecast from China: 32333 1939 Convertible


18. Western 1:42 handbuilt from UK: 105 1948 Club Coupe


19. Western 1:42 handbuilt from UK: 83 1948 Four Door Sedan


20. Western 1:42 handbuilt from UK: 109 1948 Convertible


21. Durham Classics 1:44 handbuilt from Canada: 4, 1938 Coupe, CTCA first issue.


22. Auburn 1:46 rubber from USA: A17 1946 Convertible


23. Atlas Editions 1:48 diecast from China: 12, 1938 Convertible from the Tin Tin Collection.


24. Buccaneer 1:50 kit prototype from UK: 1940 Coupe, Dinky Toy body fitted with brass base for the kit



Lincoln Zephyr

Fun Ho NZ 1944-45 108 Four Door Sedan 180mm 1:29 Sandcast Aluminium
NMMM China 2006 23600 Four Door Sedan 165mm 1:31 Diecast/Plastic
Erie USA 1930s Four Door Sedan 140mm 1:37 Diecast
Erie USA 1930s Four Door Sedan 88mm 1:58 Diecast
Tootsie USA 1937-8 6016 Four Door Sedan Tow Truck Diecast
Tootsie USA 1937-9 6015 Four Door Sedan Diecast
Hubley USA 1937 Two Door Sedan 150mm 1:34 Diecast
Kingsbury USA 1939 Two Door Sedan Steel

1937 Models

Brimtoy UK 1949 9/43 Four Door Sedan clockwork 152mm 1:34 Plastic and tin
Ertl/Precision 100 China 2002 32890 Coupe 295mm 1:17 Diecast/Plastic
Autoworld China 205 Cuoupe – Pepsi Cola livery 295mm 1:17 Diecast/Plastic

1938 Models

Arcade USA 1930s /40s Four Door Sedan 216mm 1:24 Cast Iron
Arcade USA 1930s/40s 1590 Four Door Sedan Yellow Cab 216mm 1:24 Cast Iron
Matchbox UK 1992-6 YY64 Convertible 123mm 1:43 Diecast/Plastic
Durham Classics Canada 1989 4 Coupe 120mm 1:44 Metal
Durham Classics Canada 1991 8 Convertible Closed 120mm 1:44 Metal
Durham Classics Canada 1991 9 Convertible Open 120mm 1:44 Metal
Atlas Editions France 2002 12 Convertible “Tin Tin” 110mm 1:48 Diecast
Brooklin UK 2004 106 Four Doord Sedan 127mm 1:42 metal
Steelcraft USA Pedal Car 40 inches 1:5 Steel
Hallmark China Pedal Car 102mm 1:9 Diecast

1939 Models

Marty Martino USA Coupe 1:6 Aluminium
Yatming China 2004 102 Convertible Signature 282mm 1:19 Diecast/Plastic
Fairfield China Convertible as above repacked 282mm 1:19 Diecast/Plastic
Yatming China 2008 32333 Convertible Signature 156mm 1:34 Diecast/Plastic

1940 Models

Hubley USA 2237 Cast Iron
Dinky UK 1939-50 9c Coupe 106mm 1:50 Diecast
Buccanner UK Coupe Repro of Dinky 106mm 1:50 Diecast

1942 Models

Cantwell USA 1980s Coupe 1:25 Resin Kit
St Louis USA 1992 Coupe 1:43 Slushcast

1946 Models

Mercury Italy 1950 5 Convertible 126mm 1:43 Diecast
Auburn USA 1950s A17 Convertible 119mm 1:46 Rubber

1948 Models

Western UK 1990s 83 Four Door Sedan 131mm 1:42 Metal
Western UK 2000 105 Club Coupe 131mm 1:42 Metal
Western UK 2000 109 Convertible 131mm 1:42 Metal

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