Lincoln: Pre-War Luxury

Written for the online classic car enthusiast forum Motorpool, this article focuses on a 1938 Lincoln Model K sedan convertible seen at the 2010 Amelia Island Concours D’Elegance. While I was unable to attend the Concours, I wrote this article for Motorpool editor Morgan Murphy. His pictures accompanied the article, which is still available on the forum’s website.

Lincolns usually wear names that emanate style and luxury, such as Continental and Cosmopolitan. 

While the Model K has style and luxury in spades, it makes do with a humble name, a single letter.

Lincoln introduced the Model K in 1931, as a replacement for the Model L. The K was longer and wider, with slightly smaller wheels to give the car a lower and wider stance. Edsel Ford was the force behind the new model, and he brought his love of styled bodies to the product.

In short, it was a hit. While Packard and Cadillac posted losses for 1931, Lincoln sales actually increased for the year to 3,311; a two percent gain.

However, buyers were reluctant to spend money on luxury cars during the Great Depression and by 1938 sales had drastically fallen. Total Model K sales ranged anywhere from 378 to 416, as sales figures vary from source to source. At any rate, the Model K was a rare vehicle even when it was new.

This example, owned by Ralph Marano of Westfield, New Jersey, is a rare 1938 sedan convertible. What makes this car even more unique is the LeBaron custom built body.

The front end has the most obvious modifications. The original wide, swept back grill is gone. In its place is an upright, narrow grill flanked by two smaller vents.

Further, and more extensive, modifications went into the rest of the body. The front fenders gained thin chrome slits. LeBaron also chopped the roof and raked the windshield further back. The coachbuilder also repositioned the headlights from their perch on top of the fenders, to setting them into the front. It adds to the convertible’s sense of speed when it is standing still.

LeBaron’s custom touch is even more apparent when you look inside. The original owner specified custom leather seats with snakeskin leather inserts. LeBaron also added a wooden cabinet in the back seat that can act as a bar, and incorporated a short glass divider between the front and back seats. This indicates that the car’s original owner clearly planned on riding in style.

Aside from the rich interior, there are two more interesting details to this particular Lincoln.

On the front of the car, in line with the chrome trim running down the hood, are a pair of amber parking lights set into the grill shell. This is a rare addition to a ‘30s era car, as it is something that was not made standard until almost 30 years later.

Also, right behind the parking lights are a set of initials, “RJM.” According to Mr. Marano, “It originally read ‘MJR,’ which is strange because the owner’s last name was Knox. So I rearranged the letters to spell out my initials.”

The Lincoln runs smoothly with a 414 cid V12 that produces 150 horsepower. In 1937 the engine received hydraulic lifters and a new camshaft. These additions smoothed out performance even further, while increasing acceleration, if not power. One of Motorpool’s editors can attest to the engine’s quality. When it glided onto the show field at Hershey last fall, he could barely hear it running.

That is the hallmark of any true luxury car.

This particular car underwent an extensive two-year restoration. When asked how he found it, Mr. Marano said, “It found me. I got a call from a man in New York who owned it for 37 years. I went right up and got it.”

Mr. Marano owns 85 other cars, with Packard being his preferred marque. But the Lincoln manages to stand out; it won first place in the Lincoln class at Pebble Beach.

In many ways, this 1938 Lincoln Model K convertible sedan represents the end of an era. It is one of the last senior Lincolns and it bears coachwork from one of the classic American coachbuilders. In every way, it is a classic.

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