When the original Lincoln Zephyr was introduced in the late 1930s, it was considered a high-style, high-performance car for its time with its swoopy Art Deco styling, flowing lines and a throbbing 267 cubic inch V-12 engine with 110 horsepower under the hood.
In 1938 (when the one stock piece remaining on the Lead Zephyr – the dashboard — was built) the U.S. was still reeling from the Great Depression and high-style vehicles such as the Duesnburg, Cadillac and, of course, the Lincoln were admired but unattainable for all but the most wealthy people of the time. Film stars were photographed in the high-price, high style cars while the rest of the population simply looked on and admired the beautiful people and the beautiful cars. When the time came to update the Zephyr into a super rod it took agroup of talented designers and craftsmen to turn it into a modern masterpiece – Art Deco design meets the ultimate car customizer – Boyd Coddington.
The original Zephyrs were built and sold at a time when the minimum wage in the U.S. was 40 cents an hour. They were uncertain times, but Americans had confidencein their automobiles. They may have been driving plain-Jane Ford, Dodge and Chevrolet automobiles, but they wanted and admired high style, high-line cars.
The original Lincoln Zephyrs were designed by Ford Motor Company designer E.L. Gregory to compete with the Chrysler Airflow. For their time, they were breathtakingly beautiful and to this day collectors cherish the flowing, Art Deco lines of the original Zephyrs.
“I always liked the Art Deco cars from the 1930s,” said hot rod builder and television personality Boyd Coddington. “We started this project with a 1938 Lincoln Zephyr, but once we got going we realized it wasn’t going to work, so we threw it out and built a new one from scratch. It’s part lead-sled custom and part hot rod.” When the Lead Zephyr was displayed at the huge Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show in Las Vegas, Popular Mechanics Magazine called it “ a classic custom.”
The Lead Zephyr, with its custom-built body and low-rider stance could also be described as a custom car. But when you look under the sheet metal to the 514 cubic inch Ford big block V8 putting out an estimated 600 horsepower through a reworked
Ford C6 automatic transmission and 9-inch Ford rear end, the Lead Zephyr could also be described as a hot rod.
As Coddington point out, he and his crew wanted to build a car with a low-slung, custom look so they began the project with an old, stock 1938 Lincoln Zephyr they planned to modify to match Eddy Whimble’s original drawings. But once the project began, they quickly determined that the original Lincoln wasn’t going to serve the purpose, so Marcel DeLay and his son Mark at Marcel’s Custom Metal in Corona, California created a brand new metal body for the Lead Zephyr.
In fact, the only original piece from the 1938 car is the dashboard. From a tubular steel body buck, the DeLay’s built the Lead Zephyr’s body panels from 18-gauge mild steel and the floor, firewall and other inner structural pieces were fabricated from 16- gauge steel.
Using an English wheel, stretchers and shrinkers as well as the trusty hammer and dolly – tools used by craftsmen to shape metal one hundred years ago – they created the sheet metal for this modern, long and ultra-low version of the Lincoln Zephyr.
One of the most notable features of the Lead Zephyr is the look of, but lack of fender skirts. The huge rear fenders are one- piece designs and they totally cover the rear wheels when the Lead Zephyr is sitting on the ground. This of course begs the question, how do they install and remove the rear wheels and tires? The answer is that the team created a special set of 18-inch Coddington alloy wheels with very little offset so the 245/ZR45-18 Goodyear tires mounted on the 18-inch rims can be removed or installed without need of removable fender skirts. The custom theme continues with the Whimble-built brass grille and the 1937 Ford headlamps and the custom interior from Gabe’s Street Rods and Custom Interiors. The interior is finished in cream Reno leather over Tea’s Design front seats, a custom rear seat area and Mercedes-Benz carpeting. The custom billet steering wheel and custom billet aluminum instrument panel are also covered with the cream Reno leather.
Even the trunk is finished in the same rich materials. Tunes are handled by a modern sound system designed and installed by Precision Sound. In 1938, the old tube- type car radio would be pumping out the day’s hits such as “Jeepers Creepers,” “A Tisket, A Tasket,” and a tune as appropriate today as it was in 1938 — “God Bless America.”
The scariest thing to come from the radio in 1938 was the Orson Welles Mercury Theatre production of “War of the Worlds” which caused panic and was blamed for many suicides. Today’s popular music is also blamed for suicides, but for much different reasons.
As for the hot rod side of this high-style hybrid, it starts with the engine. The Lead Zephyr is powered by a 514 cubic inch big block Ford V8, which at more than 600 horsepower, is putting out about five times what the original V-12 could deliver. The carbureted V8 built by Ford Motorsport also features Doug Thorley custom exhaust headers.
The underpinnings feature a new Art Morrison chassis with Art Morrison power rack and pinion steering. Handling all the horsepower and torque from the Ford Motorsports 514 engine is Ford C6 automatic transmission reworked by Advanced Transmission and it feeds the multiplied torque to a 9-inch Ford fitted with 3.55:1 final drive from Inland Empire Drivetrain. The rear axle is located with a four-bar system with airbags.
The rear of the frame has been “kicked up” to allow for plenty of suspension travel for the live axle. The only crossover item from hot rod to lead sled is the use of airbags to control the ride height. As you can see in the photographs, when owner/collector Tony Pisano wants the ultimate low rider look; he can slam the Lead Zephyr to the ground. When he needs to travel again, he can bring the ride height up to amore reasonable level to deal with Southern California roads. The front end uses Mustang II components, custom spindles and airbags. Wilwood disc brakes handle the stopping chores.
Some hot rods are pretty and some customs are pretty. The Lead Zephyr is downright striking in appearance. Highlighting the flowing lines of the custom steel body is a two-tone paint scheme designed by Dennis Rickless and Eddy Whimble. The top color is Mercedes-Benz Anthracite Gray and the lower yellow is Boyd Coddington Mellow Yellow and even the area under the hood follows the exterior two-tone paint scheme. The same colors are used inside the Lead Zephyr but were mixed with a flattening agent to better match the interior tone.
In 1938 the nation was watching Errol Flynn as Robin Hood, Betty Davis in Jezebel and Spencer Tracy in Boy’s Town – all are considered classic films now. The original Lincoln Zephyr was a classic too. And now there is a new Zephyr classic – the Lead Zephyr.
When you combine top quality talent with the art of hot rodding and the art of the custom car you get a show-stopping, high-tech hybrid like the Lead Zephyr.