One hefty sports sedan | At 6 feet 2 inches and 6,000 pounds, there's a lot to like in this old beauty


1937 Lincoln Willoughby Sport Sedan

Of the dozen or so well known coach builders between the two world wars, only one, Willoughby of upstate New York, focused its usually conservative creativity on sedans, limousines and town cars.

In those days, it was common for coach builders to produce a small number of bodies and hold them, awaiting a customer to send over a Packard, Duesenberg, Pierce-Arrow, Peerless, Cadillac or Lincoln chassis on which the body would be installed.

It's difficult to imagine an 18 1/2 -foot-long car riding on a 145-inch wheelbase as sporty, but that's exactly how Willoughby designated six cars it built in 1937 -- Sport Sedans.

Even with an aluminum body, the beautiful behemoth exceeds 6,000 pounds. That's because nothing about the car, even when new, was modern.

The economy in the Great Depression was spelling doom for all the custom coach builders, but one wealthy person near New York City must have decided to have one more fling with the good life.

He ordered a K-model V-12 Lincoln equipped with a Willoughby Sport Sedan body. Everything about the 6-foot, 2-inch-tall car is enormous, including the fluid capacities. The crankcase holds 12 quarts of oil while 32 quarts of coolant fill the radiator. The gasoline tank's capacity is 26 gallons.

Either side of the split rear seat can be moved at least six inches forward causing the seat back to recline. A small recess was installed in both of the vanity cabinets in the panel for booklets.

Two rear-quarter lights are for use with the concealed mirrors. Sunshades were installed on the side and rear windows.

Even more unusual is the special horn, which has an extra horn button to be operated by the driver's left foot.

The horn with the lower tone was to be operated by foot, while the higher-tone horn was to be operated by the button on the steering wheel.

After 39 years, the once-handsome car ended up in a leaky old barn in Greenwich, Conn., with a bunch of other antique cars.

The owner advertised them for sale in 1976, and Frank Hancock of Richmond, Va., came shopping. He was struck by the beauty of the neglected Lincoln and noted that much of the wood substructure in the doors had rotted away. Asking the owner for two weeks to make a decision, he rushed home to research the car.

Learning that just six had been made and only three survived, he returned to Connecticut, gave the car a mechanical check, agreed on a price and towed the huge car home. He, and other craftsmen, worked on the car off and on for the next 13 years.

By 1990, Hancock began showing the restored Willoughby Lincoln. His friend, Bernie Wolfson, also a lover of fine old Lincolns, frequently was at the same auto shows. Upon Hancock's death, his son contacted Wolfson to see if there was any interest in the car.

And that's how Wolfson and his wife, Carolyn, came to own the Willoughby Lincoln in the autumn of 1996. "It's a grand old boat," Wolfson's wife says. Bernie agrees but adds, "Underneath it looks like a two-ton truck. The thing drives like a truck, too."

All the neat little touches go a long way to making up for the deficiencies. Things such as the Lincoln greyhound leaping over the radiator, designed by Gorham Silversmiths, the eight thermostatically controlled heat vents on each side of the hood and, of course, the blue cloisonne "Lincoln V-12" crest.

In addition to the dome lights, a pair of vertical oval courtesy lights illuminate the rear compartment. Nice touches like these make up for a lot of shortcomings.

More than 60 years ago, when the car was new, roads left a lot to be desired. To accommodate modern highways and modern speeds, Wolfson has installed the appropriate high-speed gears so he can run with the big dogs on the interstate.

Even so, he reports mileage of about 10 or 11 mpg. On the other hand, that 100 mph figure on the speedometer is now attainable. Stopping that speeding mass is a chore assigned to the vacuum-assisted mechanical brakes. As archaic and antiquated as they sound, the brakes do the job.

In June, 1997, the Wolfsons drove their Lincoln to a gathering of old Lincolns in Burlington, Ontario, a 500-mile trip one way, with nary a hitch on either leg of the trip. The sole complaint came from Wolfson's wife: "There isn't a block big enough in Ontario to parallel park."

VERN PARKER is the editor of the Autoweek section of the Washington Times. Although he covers what is new in the automotive industry, Parker's true interest is in what's old. If you have an antique car of interest to "Classic Classics" readers, write to Vern Parker detailing its merits. (Please, no inquiries about selling or buying vehicles.) Send mail to: The San Diego Union-Tribune, Wheels/Classics, P.O. Box 191, San Diego, CA 92112.

Copyright 1999, Motor Matters



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