“In the belief that every Lincoln owner has the unqualified right to the highest type of motoring service, every Lincoln is built to one high aim—it must be the best that can be made. Lincoln has never for any cause countenanced a sacrifice of quality. To fulfill its obligations, every Lincoln is an achievement of advanced engineering, finest tested materials, and methods of construction that are unhurried and precise.” 1932 Lincoln K-Series advertisement
In 2008, the United States suffered an economic crisis more profound than any recession in recent history. The automotive industry was one of the hardest hit with Big Three nearly collapsing completely under the weight of the economic pressure. (Cue those controversial government bailouts.) The catastrophic consequences of the recession hearken back to another era of instability—the Great Depression—when the Big Three were also shaking in their boots.
The Lincoln K-Series: A Beautiful Car, An Ugly Time
The Lincoln K-Series is the perfect example of how similarly automakers like Ford treated economic trials in the early 20th century to the contemporary crisis. Shortly before the Depression hit, Henry Ford had rescued the Lincoln marque from bankruptcy, passing it onto Edsel to look after when times got tough. Lincoln was purchased to become Ford’s luxury line, allowing the automaker to introduce itself to the Cadillac consumer. When hard times hit, Edsel refused to give up on Ford’s fledgling luxury fleet, giving it extra attention—which is perhaps one of the reasons why Lincoln was one of the few luxury brands that made it through the Depression.
The K-Series debuted in 1931, just a few years after Black Friday. Ford was up against major obstacles in terms of keeping its factories open and its workers paid, but that didn’t stop it from developing a new luxury model with a price tag that could make even Ford’s high-end clients break a sweat. Over the course of the 1930s, Ford struggled consistently with the K-Series’ sales, but the little luxury line never failed to fight—reinventing itself over and over again despite the challenges. Similarly, when Ford closed Mercury in June of 2010, the Lincoln stepped up with a brand new league of vehicles aimed to absorb the fallen line’s sales and keep the division fresh.
Get To Know the Model K
The Lincoln K-Series, also known as the Model K, came in after the L-Series with a new chassis and an improved engine—384.8 cubic inches with 120 horsepower. The car sat on a 145 inch wheel base and featured a longer hood, rounder bumpers, and elegant designer headlights. As a final touch, Lincoln placed a greyhound—designed by Gorham silversmiths—on the radiator cap. Some say that the car’s sleek new look and high-performing powertrain were due to Edsel Ford’s fastidious oversight—Edsel was given enormous freedom on the Lincoln design side and, in turn, paid special attention to Henry Ford’s rescued marque. As a result of these efforts, most everyone agrees that, in the face of truly ugly economic times, Ford ensured that the 1931 K-Series was a shining beauty and the 1932 Model K even more gorgeous yet. (In 1931, the Lincoln defied the brutal conditions with a 2% gain in a time when other luxury lines were losing money.)
In the next model year, Ford arranged the 1932 K-Series in two separate lines—the KA, with a V-8 engine like the 1931 and the KB, with a new 65-degree 447.9 cubic V-12 engine coming in at 150 horsepower. The 7 variations on the KA and the KB also received newly fashioned grilles, parking lights, and updated wire wheels. Since its Depression Era introduction, The 1932 Model KB has been admired as one of the finest and most elegant Lincolns of all time. And Lincoln wasn’t bashful about its luxury line’s qualities, referring to it as “of unqualified excellence” and heralding the “distinguishing values that cannot be seen” in its advertisements. Neither was the Lincoln modest in its pricing. The KA sold for $3,200 and the KB started at $4,300 and topped off at more than $7,000—quite a price for a vehicle, luxury or not, in the 30s. And if you weren’t satisfied with the 7 body styles available, Ford also offered 24 semi-custom choices perfected by the finest coachbuilders of the time.
The K-Series Struggles
Unfortunately, though 1932 was Lincoln’s year for style it wasn’t its year for sales. Those who had the means to purchase a K-Series felt it was in bad taste to indulge in a luxury car when so many people were suffering. Nevertheless, Lincoln kept going, upgrading the K-Series with each passing year, no matter lagging sales. The 1933 Model K’s new 12-cylinder engine was smaller than the V-8 and handled smoother as a result. And Lincoln cranked up the horsepower even higher for the 1934 model—the 414.2 cubic inch V-12 coming in at 150 horsepower. However, neither the engine nor the sleek design changes nor the cowl ventilator doors were able to save sales. No matter how elegant or chic the K-Series may have been, the Depression was not a time for one-of-a-kind luxury cars.
The K-Series continued changing throughout the 30s, receiving considerable attention when a 1939 model was custom ordered for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who called it his “Sunshine Special.” The Model K was even beloved amongst prominent international figures—King George VI and Queen Elizabeth drove a touring K-Series when they traveled through the United States and Canada in 1939.
Winds of Change From the Zephyr
But it was right at the point when the K-Series began to see a sliver of success that a new problem emerged—World War II, the automotive industry’s next big hurdle. That’s when Ford introduced the Zephyr, the Model K’s successor and the car that would influence the coming legend—the Lincoln Continental. The Zephyr allowed Ford to reach out to consumers who couldn’t afford the Model K price point but it also owed its popularity to its predecessor, who carried the Lincoln through a severe depression and allowed it to blossom into the only Ford division to survive into the 21st century.