1939 – TWELVE CYLINDER ENGINE FOR A LINCOLN ZEPHYR

The Lincoln was the companion, “sister” to the Ford, the luxury car, and Henry and Edsel Ford zealously guarded and guided the Lincoln image and product. Henry wanted a V8 engine in the Zephyr and Edsel wanted something bigger and better. The 1931 Model KV-8 was deemed to be too old, so the new car was initially planned for a modified version of the simple Ford flathead unit, producing about 100 horsepower.

Edsel decided eight cylinders wasn’t enough for a Lincoln, even a medium-priced one, and decreed a new V12 for reasons of “prestige” and superior mechanical smoothness. His father didn’t object but, ever the frugal tycoon, dictated the new engine be built with as many Ford V-8 components as possible.

The task was assigned to veteran chief engineer Frank Johnson. The result was a 267-cid unit with aluminum-alloy heads and a cast-iron block that angled the cylinder banks at 75 degrees, plus four main bearings, steel pistons, and undersquare bore/stroke dimensions of 2.75 by 3.75 inches.

Power output was quoted as 110 horsepower – a little higher than the target figure – at 3,900 rpm, a rather high power peak for those days. The torque curve was quite flat, however, with at least 160 pounds/feet available from 3,500 rpm, all the way down to 400 rpm, which made for incredible top gear performance.

Though the Zephyr V-12 no more resembled previous Lincoln engines than the old V-8 (despite sharing the latter’s stroke) it was more like a “12-cylinder Ford” than a classic multi-cylinder powerplant in character. It was not without problems.

The main ones were inadequate crankcase ventilation that caused rapid sludge buildup in sustained low-rpm running, aggravated by poor oil flow, plus too-small water passages that led to overheating bore warpage and ring wear.

To a degree, some of these maladies were dealt with during the Zephyr’s first year, and Ford improved the engine by adopting hydraulic valve lifters for 1938 and cast-iron heads and oiling improvements for 1942. Yet this V-12 never shed its reputation for service troubles, though the postwar versions were actually quite reliable.

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