The story of the Lincoln Motor Car Company begins with Henry M. Leland, who, with his son, Wilfred, founded the company shortly after World War One. Leland designed a new chassis, highlighted by a new 60 degree V-8 with its characteristic fork and blade connecting rods. The first Lincoln appeared in September 1920. By late 1921, however, the company was in financial difficulties.
The company was plagued by three problems: delays getting to the marketplace, legal problems with the U. S. government over alleged war profit taxes and the conservative design of the early Lincoln bodies. Before everything could be resolved the company found itself in receivership and in February 1922 the company was acquired by Henry Ford for $8 million. Although they had planned to remain with the new company, the Lelands were gone within a few months. Edsel Ford became president of the Lincoln Motor Car Company.
Under Edsel Ford's patronage, the Lincoln motor car became everything the Lelands had hoped for. Beautifully-styled bodies from nearly every American coach builder now complemented the magnificently-engineered Lincoln chassis. Sales increased significantly. In 1924, the Gorham-designed greyhound appeared for the first time. The Model L, as it was known, would remain in production until 1930, before a major change took place.
In 1931, the venerable Model L gave way to the gracefully designed Model K, which featured an updated, more powerful version of the Leland-inspired V-8 and--to the great satisfaction of coachbuilders--a longer (145-inch) wheelbase. In truth, the newly-designed chassis, with its numerous new mechanical features, had been engineered for an even more spectacular Lincoln engine.
A year later--1932--the legendary Model KB with its massive V-12 power plant was introduced. It was the most magnificent of all the classic Lincoln engines (and, arguably, the finest motor of the Classic Era). Concurrent with the KB, Lincoln also offered the V-8 engine in a shorter wheelbase chassis (136 inches), the Model KA. Unfortunately, the KB was introduced just as the Great Depression was deepening.
The KB and KA models were in production approximately two years before Lincoln moved to a new engine, a slightly smaller, but equally powerful V-12 engine. That engine and chassis, known as the Model K, remained in production with various improvements until the last of the classic Lincolns was built in early 1940.
As the Depression deepened, sales of luxury cars declined. Custom body firms were closing their doors. President Roosevelt used a Lincoln K--the famous "Sunshine Special." Refinements continued, but in 1939 only 120 Lincoln Ks were produced--and these were spread over 21 different body styles!
The medium-price Lincoln-Zephyr--the first successful aerodynamically-designed car, had been introduced in 1936. The stunning Lincoln-Zephyr Continental followed in 1939. In early 1940, the last "big Lincoln" was produced. Times had changed. As Edsel Ford reportedly said shortly thereafter, "We didn't stop making luxury cars, people simply stopped buying them." Sadly, Edsel Ford, Lincoln's guiding light, died in 1943 at 49.