Custom vehicles gained prominence in the late 1940s. Automobile producers found they could gauge consumer interest by introducing concept vehicles and modern features at fairs and exhibitions. Many young men were known to lust after the latest designs from Detroit. You could almost draw a parallel line between the evolution of hot rods searching for performance improvements, while customs focused more on unique styling and cruising capabilities. The hobby exploded in the 1950s and, to meet enthusiasts’ demands, separate magazines evolved dedicated either to horsepower or high style. The trend continued well into the ’60s. Today, the early customs are still highly regarded as rolling works of art.
For Rance Pritchard of Winnipeg, growing up through the car culture of the ’50s and ’60s, a custom cruiser was one vehicle on his bucket list.
"I’ve had many cars, but I always wanted a full-out custom," Pritchard says.
In 2006, he went out to look at a 1940 Ford, owned by Gord MacDonald in MacGregor, Man. There were several cars for sale, but as he was looking over the lineup, he caught a glimpse of a 1941 Lincoln Zephyr Coupe and asked if it was also for sale.
It was a project car and had a good deal of work already done on it, including a three-inch chop on the roof, and the fenders had been blended into the body. Yet, in all, it was still just a shell with no drivetrain, paint or upholstery.
Over the next year, he sourced a rear axle from a Chevy S10 pickup, and a 5.0-litre engine and four-speed, automatic overdrive transmission from a wrecked 1994 Ford Mustang Cobra from Ron Lambert. Looking out over the pile of parts he had amassed, a previous heart attack remined him he lacked stamina and was a bit light on the knowledge needed to get the car completed.
To make his dream come true, he turned to local fabricator Mark Burton. Through photos and drawings, Pritchard gave Burton the information needed to make the project into his vision.
Through the build, they found the main body of the car was from a 1946 club coupe with the fenders and front clip from a 1941. The 1941 Lincoln had the beautiful waterfall grille associated with the earlier Ford, Mercury and Lincoln vehicles, and had a much cleaner look than the later grille. The Lincoln was an early uni-body construction and lacked a traditional rail frame, so the front and rear suspension are mounted to the front and rear frame clip.
Up front, there’s a front clip from Fatman Enterprises that incorporates upper and lower control arms, power rack and pinion steering, power disc brakes and air-ride suspension. In the back, the S10 rear axle is equipped with a 3.54 gear ratio and is mounted in a four-link configuration, also with air-ride suspension. Tires are BF Goodrich Silvertown wide whitewall radials, mounted on steel rims with four-bar Oldsmobile Fiesta wheelcovers.
To get the engine operating, the fuel-injection system was swapped out for an Edelbrock kit including an aluminum intake manifold, four-barrel carburetor and fuel pump, along with a special distributor. The transmission was swapped for an earlier cable-modulated version of the Ford AOD overdrive transmission found in pre-1991 Fords. For the exhaust system, Sandale Fabrication built a custom side exhaust specifically to match the body contours of the Lincoln.
Inside the passenger compartment, there are heated black leather seats from a 2004 Lincoln, with door panels and kick panels custom fabricated by Burton and a red and black dashboard fitted with modern gauges. Creature comforts include new tinted glass, power steering, power assisted four-wheel disc brakes, electric windshield wipers, heater, air conditioning and cruise control.
For the body, Burton fabricated full-fender skirts with chrome accent bars to cover the rear tires and extended the rear fenders over about 60 centimetres to accommodate the classic 1956 Packard taillamps. The rear bumper is a front bumper from a 1956 Chevrolet and has been turned upside down and fitted to the rear of the Lincoln. The front bumper is the rare, one-year-only piece, found on the 1941 Lincoln Zephyr. All chrome plating and trim for the project was done by North Star/Fairmont Plating.
Building the car took five years and it was on the road in flat black primer until 2016, but a killer custom needs a killer paint job. The custom base/clear paint was applied by Kyle Koss and is a magnificent blend of Midnight Black and Red Pearl.
As with any period-correct custom, it must have pinstripes and Pritchard’s Lincoln has them. Pinstripes accenting the body lines on the fender lips, hood and trunk, as well as the "Zephyr" script on the rear are the work of Ian Kroeker.
‘‘I really have to credit Mark Burton for making it all come together for me,‘‘ Pritchard says.
Last fall, Pritchard’s Zephyr received the "Best Custom" at the Fabulous 50’s Ford Club’s 22nd Annual Flashback Weekend Car Show at Garden City Shopping Centre.
As a member of the Fabulous 50s Ford Club, The Manitoba Street Rod Association and the Tailgate Truck Club, Pritchard is waiting patiently for the weather to break so he can get a start to the 2017 cruising season.