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1940 Lincoln-Zephyr Continental

Model 01A. 85hp, 221 cu. in. L-head vee eight-cylinder engine, three-speed manual transmission, live axle suspension with transverse leaf springs, four-wheel hydraulically-actuated drum brakes. Wheelbase: 112"

Presented to

George Herman "Babe" Ruth

The Continental is acknowledged as the crowning achievement of Edsel Ford and the head of his Design Department at Ford, Eugene T. “Bob” Gregorie. Like most great accomplishments it was the creation of a gifted designer in a single, brilliant, moment of insight.

The Continental arose out of Edsel Ford’s continuing experimentation with new designs, styles and body concepts. A man of accomplished style and an easy familiarity with the arts, Edsel complemented his father’s rough but gifted familiarity with machinery. The ease that Henry Ford felt with gears, shafts and pistons was mirrored in Edsel’s intuitive grasp of line, flow and balance. Although they frequently clashed, they also encompassed the two central considerations inherent to building great automobiles: function and form.

Edsel’s appreciation of fine machinery was evident in the many exceptional automobiles he owned during his life. They ranged from magnificent European luxury automobiles like Hispano-Suiza and Rolls-Royce to a number of small, lightweight sports models including Bugatti. He was also an accomplished yachtsman and motor boater, which developed his appreciation for the fine, simple, effective lines of fast boats, a background he shared with Bob Gregorie.

Edsel had frequently explored the idea of building a “continental” style car on a Ford chassis and three were built for him. All were designed by Bob Gregorie and constructed by the skilled craftsmen in the aircraft shops which Ford had established to build the Tri-Motor airplanes, a convenient reservoir of talent, facilities and materials that was also largely overlooked by the elder Ford. The first was a two seat, boattailed roadster built on a standard 1932 Ford chassis stripped of its running boards and sporting voluptuous sweeping cycle-style fenders, wheel discs and a two piece vee windshield.


The second, created in 1934, was built on an extended Ford V-8 frame with the complete body fabricated from scratch in aluminum by the Tri-Motor craftsmen. With a long hood, steeply raked split vee-shaped grille and headlights faired low into the body inside the front wheels, the cockpit sides were cut low and had no doors. The fenders were modified from Tri-Motor fenders, wrapping tightly around the tires’ circumference. It was the epitome of the continental car Edsel had sought, and he drove it regularly until his death in 1943.

The third was built in late 1934 using an ingeniously modified Ford chassis with the front axle location moved forward. A two-door touring car style body was constructed, again without running boards, with a cutdown standard Ford windshield. It would ultimately provide the inspiration for the English Jensen automobiles.

In 1938 Edsel again expressed an interest in a distinctive “special convertible coupe that was long, low and rakish.” It was not intended as a production model but the request coincided with an almost total collapse in orders for the luxury Lincoln Model K. Lincoln had built only two models since its acquisition by Ford in 1922, the original Henry Leland-designed Model L V-8 until 1932 and the V-12 Model KB/K from then on. By 1937 orders for the Model K had dropped under 1,000 while the smaller Zephyr V-12 introduced in 1936 had been an immediate hit.

Gregorie hit upon the idea of using the Zephyr chassis for Edsel’s “special convertible” and in less than an hour sketched the outline of the two-door, four-seat body over an outline drawing of a Zephyr sedan. The hood line and cowl were lowered and pushed back with the front fenders extended to match. The rear fenders, with skirts over the tires, also were extended to match the bustle-style trunk. The folding top had blind quarters. There was almost no bright trim, a concession to Edsel’s preference for simplicity as well as the lack of time to make one-off trim pieces.

The design quickly gained Edsel’s enthusiastic approval and work rushed ahead to complete the one-off in time for Edsel’s winter vacation at his home in Hobe Sound, Florida. Even for Ford, where cut-and-try development had been the standard practice for years under Henry Ford, the process took every shortcut possible, with layout drawings prepared directly from a 1/10th scale model and sent right to Lincoln’s model shop. Only as it neared completion did the designers realize there wasn’t room for a spare in the trunk, leading to the decision to install the enclosed spare tire behind the trunk, an expedient which became the car’s signature. Based on a 1939 Zephyr, the prototype was completed in less than six months and it was the hit of the season when it appeared in Florida. Edsel phoned Gregorie with the observation, “I’ve driven this car around Palm Beach, and I could sell a thousand of them down here right away.”

Called the Lincoln-Zephyr Continental (it would become simply the Lincoln Continental in 1941), it was rushed into production as a 1940 model. Only 404 were built that year, 350 cabriolets and 54 coupes, each to all intents and purposes hand built. Avidly sought by high society, businessmen, celebrities and sports figures, the Continental re-established the exclusive, luxury image of the Lincoln marque and is rightly regarded as one of the landmark automobile designs of the century.

The Dingman Collection’s 1940 Lincoln-Zephyr Continental Cabriolet has been known for many years and featured in several articles including “Continental Comments” and several Canadian newspapers while in the hands of a succession of Canadian owners as having been chosen by the New York Yankees baseball organization as a special gift for its most illustrious player, George Herman “Babe” Ruth, in 1940.
Ruth was raised in the St. Mary’s Industrial School in Baltimore, Maryland where his talent for baseball was recognized and encouraged. He signed with the Boston Red Sox in 1914 where he starred as a pitcher until he was traded to the Yankees for the 1920 season, inspiring the fable of the “Curse of the Bambino” which took until 2004 to break. In 1921 Ruth scored 177 runs; in 1927 he hit 60 home runs, a record which would not be broken until another Yankee, Roger Maris, hit 61 in 1961 in an eight-game longer season. In his twenty-two year career, fifteen with the Yankees, he hit 714 regular season home runs and his lumbering persona, amiability and zest for life helped solidify baseball as America’s sport. Even at the end of his career he was still “The Sultan of Swat” and hitting home runs for the Boston Braves.

Babe Ruth’s historic career was recognized by his peers in 1936, the year after his retirement, with his selection as one of the first five players to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The story of this Continental relates that it was given to Ruth in 1940 by Yankees’ president Joe McCarthy. The two had had a contentious relationship during Ruth’s years at the Yankees. It arrived in Canada during World War II owned by a New York sportswriter. He claimed Ruth had received several cars as gifts and had given the Continental to him, not at all surprising in view of Ruth’s dislike of McCarthy and the stigma that might have attached to any gift, even a brand new Continental Cabriolet, from him. Several subsequent owners in Canada carefully preserved the Babe’s Continental. It was displayed for several years in the Cars of the Stars Museum in Niagara Falls and at the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. As is so often the case with cars of the period, there is no documentary evidence of Ruth’s ownership. Circumstantial evidence supports the provenance as well; one owner, John Bosworth, found a ticket to the 1940 Dutchess County Fair horse show in Rhinebeck, New York under the carpeting.

Purchased by the previous owner in 1990 with an older restoration, it was acquired by the Dingman Collection in 2001 and was immediately sent to Performance Restorations in Cleveland, Georgia for a complete, nut-and-bolt restoration to the highest standards. Completed in 2004, the 1940 Lincoln-Zephyr Continental Cabriolet is fresh and accurately restored to showroom condition. Beautifully presented in rich, lustrous black (which is believed to have been its original color) with a maroon leather interior and a black cloth top piped in maroon to match the interior. The interior brightwork trim – door handles, instrument bezels, panel bezels, window winder and inside door handles – are gold plated. This is a fresh, show quality restoration that has been carefully maintained in a climate controlled environment since it was completed.

A long history attributing ownership to Babe Ruth, a touch of mystery and concours-ready condition combine to make this one of the most important and desirable of all the hand-built 1940 Lincoln-Zephyr Continentals. A further, and very important, attribute for the next owner of this magnificent Continental is that it has never been shown or judged. A Classic Car Club of America Full Classic™, it is eligible for the full sweep of CCCA shows and events where it would be an avidly sought participant.

As a bonus, the back seat contains a replica of The Babe’s 1927 Yankees team jacket and one of the formidable bats along with a mit of the era which influenced construction of “The House that Ruth Built”......Yankee Stadium. ....................................................................................R M Auctions


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