Thursday, November 19, 2015

Lincoln's 1942 Facelift

Model year 1942 American cars have always interested me.  Comparatively few were built because the government ordered passenger car production halted early in 1942, shortly after the USA entered World War 2.  Production did not resume until late 1945, when 1946 models were introduced.

The 1946 crop of surviving pre-war brands was comprised of facelifted 1942 designs, some changes slight, others noticeable.  Slightly changed were Nash, Packard, Studebaker, and all General Motors makes except Oldsmobile.  Hudson, Chrysler Corporation makes and Ford Motor Company brands all got redesigned grilles.  Dodge, DeSoto and Chrysler cars received revised front fenders as well.

But 1942 was a model year of more extensive facelifts than 1946.  Every brand that survived from 1941 to 1942 except Willys featured noticeable grille changes at a minimum.  What this means is that 1942 Ford, Mercury, Lincoln, Plymouth, Dodge, DeSoto, Chrysler, Oldsmobile and Hudson cars had distinct appearances to a greater or lesser extent.  That, and their rarity are the main reasons for my interest.

Perhaps the most extreme 1941-1942 grille redesign was that for Lincoln Zephyrs and Continentals.  The images below cover model years 1941, 1942 and 1946.


1941 Lincoln Zephyr 4-door sedan
Zephyrs were redesigned for 1940.  The previous aerodynamic theme was retained, though in a heavier-looking form that, in turn, seems to be due to its larger windows.  The grille and hood are similar to 1939 versions.

1942 Lincoln Continental Cabriolet - sales photo
The 1942 facelift was extensive.  The grille theme was changed entirely, and teardrop-inspired fenders were replaced by the squared-off "suitcase" style found on GM makes.

1942 Lincoln Zephyr 4-door sedan - sales photo
This photo shows the squared-off elements grafted on to a curved basic body.  Not a happy mixture.

1946 Lincoln Zephyr Club Coupe - sales photo
Post-war Lincolns got an even bolder, more chrome-laden grille-bumper ensemble that occupied nearly the same zone as the 1942's.  On this 2-door coupe we get another take on the awkward mixture of curved and rectangular.

How did this unsuccessful facelift happen?  Ford's styling director was E.T. "Bob" Gregorie, a once and future naval architect with a good sense of line and proportion.  His informal collaborator was Henry Ford's son Edsel, president of Ford, and a man of excellent taste.

This is hinted at in C. Edson Armi's book The Art of American Car Design: The Profession and Personalities (1988, Page 242) and covered in more detail in Henry Dominguez's book Edsel Ford and E.T. Gregorie: The Remarkable Design Team and Their Classic Fords of the 1930s and 1940s (1999, pp. 236-241).

Dominguez quotes Gregorie as stating that it was he who felt that Lincoln needed to better compete with Cadillac and other makes with bold, strongly horizontal grilles that provided an "important" image.  This meant abandoning the comparatively delicate frontal appearance of the Zephyr design theme.  It went against Edsel's preferences, but he eventually was persuaded by Gregorie.  (I'm paraphrasing here, but preserving his meaning.)

But Gregorie also came to realize that the facelift had problems.  Gregorie: "So that's when we developed the new hood, new front fenders, and horizontal grille.  Once we did that, though, the body began to look a little skinny.  We never changed the body.  The doors, the windshield, and the floor pan were all the same.  With its big, husky-looking front end, it looked a little out of proportion in places, like so many of those facelift deals.  But it was still a right decent-looking car.  The '42 front end was a nice-looking front end.  The horizontal bars were very nice.  It looked important, anyway."

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