Ultimate prohibition-era getaway car: 1938 Lincoln Zephyr V12

2016 / 2017 Drive-My

Hogan’s Hero. Owned by famous Kiwi drag racer, Garth Hogan, this gorgeous V12-engined coupé is currently part of the amazing Warbirds and Wheels attraction in Wanaka. Words: Ashley Webb. Photos: Adam Croy.

Amongst the 30-odd cars on display, and parked in-between a couple of outstanding Packards, we spotted this glorious-looking Lincoln-Zephyr coupé owned by New Zealand drag-racing legend, Garth Hogan. This model was beautifully designed, with generous proportions, and is arguably one of the great business coupés of the late ’30s. Garth Hogan is undoubtedly one of the best-known drag racers in New Zealand history. He broke many records in New Zealand — including the 200mph (322kph) barrier — as well as setting benchmark seven- and five-second times for the standing quarter-mile. During the 1970s Garth and his partner, Grahame Berry, built the first AA/FC in New Zealand. Berry constructed the chassis based on a Revell model, and together they built the car’s Capri lookalike body. They also raced this car in Top Eliminator against dragsters and altereds with great success.

1938 Lincoln Zephyr V12


Garth Hogan’s father, Ron, was always involved in motor sport and had a particular passion for speedway — and especially with great drivers such as Frank Brewer and Roly Crowther during the mid to late 1940s. Ron also took to the water and raced two hydroplanes — Wasp and Saga — at a time when it was virtually impossible to purchase aftermarket engine performance equipment unless one was extremely wealthy, and had influential connections. Because of this, plus the fact that he was an extremely competitive person, Ron decided to make his own V8 performance equipment that included cylinder heads and twin-carburettor intake manifolds. Not only did Ron build this equipment for V8 engines, he also went on to build performance items for Ford 10s, six-cylinder Fords, Dodges, Hudsons and the like. Garth still retains practically all his father’s original patterns for this equipment, and has fabricated some of the parts himself.

As well, Garth remembers when his father bought a Lincoln sedan in the early ’50s and decided it required a little more power. Ron made high-compression finned aluminium heads and a triple carburettor manifold for the Lincoln’s V12, which was certainly enough to push the heavy luxuriously-appointed car along quite nicely.

Ron’s talented engineering prowess extended to building a speedway midget as well. Initially this racer was to be driven by Ian Holden, one of the leading speedway drivers of the time, and it was subsequently the first full-size (as opposed to TQ) midget to be owned and driven by Barry Butterworth, possibly the best driver the sport has ever seen. Garth has fully restored this car and, to this day, is in awe of the exceptional engineering craftsmanship his father applied to its construction. Indeed, Garth still remembers his father’s dogged determination and the fact that he took nothing at face value, questioning every component and its function, and fabricating the very best part for the gruelling punishment it would receive under race conditions.

Ron would often comment to other drivers at Western Springs about the things he believed they were doing wrong, “you should be doing this” or “you should be doing that!” Eventually Ian Holden, who was without a ride for the 1954–’55 season, approached Ron and asked him to build a car. It was duly built, and in the first five nights of racing his new car, Holden literally blitzed every Western Springs track record. On the very first night he finished first place in the Heat Race and Invitational Race, second in the Indian File race, after starting from the back, and he won the Feature Race after again starting from the back of the grid.

Typically, Ron couldn’t contain himself, telling his fellow Speedway competitors, “I told you that you were doing it all wrong!” He certainly proved his point where it counted most — on the track. Ron was also one of the founding stock-car racers in the days when the events were held at Epsom Showgrounds in Auckland.


Ron always retained a real passion for Lincolns, and when our featured Lincoln-Zephyr coupé became available in 1961, he couldn’t resist the temptation to own it, and who could blame him. The Lincoln’s gorgeous, streamlined ‘teardrop’ styling was credited to designer John Tjaarda of the Briggs Body Company, aided by a young Ford designer, Eugene Turenne ‘Bob’ Gregorie, who was Ford Motor Company’s first design studio chief from 1935 to 1946.

With the Lincoln-Zephyr coupé, Tjaarda and Gregorie perfectly encapsulated the ’30s passion for automotive elegance.

Its low, wide grille was specifically designed to solve inherent cooling issues with the earlier models, which boasted V-shaped grilles that had been found to restrict airflow to the radiator. Indeed, the Lincoln-Zephyr started a styling trend followed by the rest of the auto industry, and helped make this model a style leader — a car that was truly ahead of its time.

Naturally, Garth has fond memories of the Lincoln. He turned 15 years old in 1962, obtained his driver licence and was occasionally allowed to drive the massive coupé, which had become one of the family cars — they still had the Lincoln sedan as well. Garth remembers that he always had to get special permission to drive the coupé, despite the fact its V12 engine was getting tired. A set of spare spark plugs — some used, some cleaned up and the odd new one — were always kept under the seat, along with a plug socket and a long screwdriver for shorting the plug out in order to replace the plugs in the engine when they oiled up, as they frequently did. On many occasions Garth received an unpleasant electric shock off the plug when he wasn’t careful enough to earth it correctly, touching the cylinder head before the plug. Garth also recalls that his father could never resist the urge to tinker with the Lincoln, and he installed a Columbia two-speed differential into the big coupé, and then decided to completely rebuild the car.

 Once fully restored, it was pressed back into daily service. The Hogan family home was on Auckland’s Point Chevalier waterfront at that time, and the salty sea air took a toll on the Lincoln’s stylish body.


Three years ago, Garth took the Lincoln-Zephyr back to Wanaka for a complete rotisserie restoration.

Lincolns were the very first of the unitary body cars, and the chassis is quite literally welded to the body. A lot of fabrication work was required around areas such as the cowl, windscreen, boot floor, and posts — places the rust had taken hold — before the final black paint was applied which, according to Garth, is the original colour as far as he’s aware.

The suspension and cable brakes were completely refurbished. Garth retained the Columbia two-speed differential, and rebuilt the original three-speed gearbox. The V12 engine was running beautifully, so Garth decided to simply clean it up, and install the finned alloy heads and triple carburettor manifold that his father had made. Garth refers to many of the changes as the ‘Ron only knows’ modifications — these include the complex ignition system he’d built — but Garth chose to reinstall the standard type of system, as his father’s set-up was so complex.

Either way, the car runs beautifully.

Garth found some rust along the bottom of the sump bolts during the engine rebuild, and decided to investigate further, only to find the block had split. Luckily, he had a spare engine which his father had rebuilt, and he installed it into the car — fitted, of course, with Ron’s alloy heads and triple intake.

As usual, he had tinkered with just about every major component in the engine, which was the first Lincoln motor to receive hydraulic lifters, so Garth wasn’t surprised to find it ran perfectly with good oil pressure despite the fact that, due to depression-induced frugality, Ron had fitted the spare engine with second-hand piston rings.

The Lincoln sat in Garth’s garage for a short period of time after the restoration was complete, apart from the occasional outing, and is now part this wonderful display at Warbirds and Wheels.

Garth’s daughter is getting married in November, and hopes to arrive at her wedding in her granddad’s Lincoln-Zephyr coupé. Garth’s hoping to remove the car’s V12 engine and install a new set of rings prior to the big family occasion then, hopefully, this eminently desirable coupé will be put back on public display for all of us to admire.


1 In 1861, a young and patriotic American, having recently come of age, cast his first vote in that year’s US Presidential election in favour of Abraham Lincoln — who, of course, would be elected President. Many years later, on August 29, 1917 that same man, Henry Martyn Leland, recalled the pride with which he had cast that vote, leading him to name his automobile firm the Lincoln Motor Company.

2 One of Henry Martyn Leland’s first jobs was with the Springfield Armoury, later he would work for famous gun maker, Colt.

3 Leland’s first involvement with the automobile arrived when his own company — Leland & Faulconer — supplied gear sets to Ransom Olds.

4 In 1903, Leland became Cadillac’s chief engineer.

5 Reputedly, the earliest Lincoln cars were styled by Angus Woodbridge — who was apparently a ladies’ milliner.

6 Combined pressure from his wife, Clara, and son, Edsel, persuaded Henry Ford to take over Lincoln on February 4, 1922, bidding US$8M for the ailing business via a receivership sale.

7 At the time of Ford’s takeover of Lincoln, Edsel Ford would famously remark, “Father makes the most popular car in the world; I should like to make the best car in the world.” Edsel would become Lincoln’s vice president, along with Wilfred Leland.

8 Early V8-powered Lincolns became required transport for US law-enforcement agencies due to their reliability and outright speed. From 1924 special police models were available complete with four-wheel brakes, bullet-proof glass and shotgun racks, although gangsters of the day were just as likely to buy a Lincoln as the G-Men!

9 Calvin Coolidge was the first US President to purchase a Lincoln. In later years, presidential Lincoln owners would include Roosevelt, Truman and, of course, John F Kennedy.

10 The Lincoln V12 runs twin distributors, while the spark plug cables branch out from the distributors up into the vee of the engine, where they are routed to each plug along a central rail. Twelve spark plugs require a good ignition system, and the Lincoln has two six-volt coils and nine metres of spark plug cabling!

11 On its initial release in 1933, the Lincoln-Zephyr cost US$1275, making it the world’s cheapest V12-engined production car at that time.

12 The rim of the Lincoln-Zephyr’s steering wheel is made from a plastic derived from soya beans — something Ford was experimenting with during the ’30s.

With the Lincoln-Zephyr coupé, Tjaarda and Gregorie perfectly encapsulated the ’30s passion for automotive elegance

HISTORY FILE: On July 30, 2009, Garth received a call from  Noel Bunn at the Aparangi Village, a retirement village in Te Kauwhata, with some interesting facts about the Lincoln-Zephyr’s original ownership. According to Noel, the Tristram family arrived in Hamilton during the Maori Wars; Mr Tristram was in a company commanded by Captain Beerescourt, and was either the father or grandfather of the original owner of the Lincoln. The owner of the car (from the original ownership papers this is listed as William John Tristram, the car having been purchased from the Howick area) had one daughter — Silvia Tristram, who was Noel Bunn’s mother-in-law. She was married to a chemist, Thomas Latrobe.

Tristram Street in Hamilton is named after this original Tristram family.

When Silvia and Thomas Latrobe got married in 1919, they got a new Ford car for a wedding present (probably a Model T). Thomas was incapacitated as a result of wounds received at Gallipoli. They owned more new Ford cars over the years, including the first Model A to arrive in New Zealand.

WJ Tristram went to the US in 1937–’38 to buy a Lincoln-Zephyr sedan, met Henry Ford and spotted a Lincoln coupé, but it was left-hand drive. Apparently, according to Noel, Henry Ford organized to have a coupé built to RHD specifications and sent to New Zealand complete with original equipment, which included a vacuum cleaner that plugged into the cigar lighter. Noel’s wife went nursing at New Plymouth Hospital in 1942, and was the only passenger to have ridden in the car at that point. Noel’s wife was Vivian Mary Latrobe (presumably Silvia and Thomas’ daughter), who he married in 1951. When WJ died he left the car to Silvia, who subsequently sold the Lincoln, although it was never put into her name on the ownership papers, presumably being sold to the next owner directly from the deceased estate.

The original ownership papers are still with the car, and trace the Lincoln’s lineage all the way from WJ Tristram through to the Hogan family in 1961. When Ron Hogan passed away, he requested the Lincoln-Zephyr remain in the family and not be sold — Garth has honoured his father’s wish.


Several small British manufacturers utilized Lincoln’s 4.3-litre V12 in order to give their models more performance and, no doubt, a touch of class. Allard, later famous for making good use of the Cadillac V8, found time to install a Lincoln V12 in a handful of pre-war Allards, most of which achieved some success in trials and hill climbs. Jensen, who had been employing Hudson six or straight-eight engines, also utilized the Lincoln V12 to good effect in several specials.

Less well-known was the final Brough Superior car, the Type XII of 1938, for which George Brough planned a Lincoln V12 installation. Unfortunately, his company collapsed after only one car had been completed.

From 1938 Atalanta also offered the V12 in either a two-door sedan, drophead coupé or sports model (with running boards or cycle-type wings). However, Atalanta did not survive to see its V12 cars achieve any degree of longevity, the company folding in 1939.

Garth refers to many of the changes as the ‘Ron only knows’ modifications — these include the complex ignition system he’d built.

 ENGINE 75 degree V12
 CAPACITY  4380cc
 BORE/STROKE 70x95mm
 COMPRESSION 8.4:1 (as fitted with Ron’s heads)
 MAX. POWER 82kW (110bhp) at 3900rpm (standard)
 TORQUE 252Nm at 2000rpm (standard)
 FUEL SYSTEM Triple two-barrel carburettors, as featured
 TRANSMISSION Three-speed sliding gear manual
 SUSPENSION F/R Solid front axle and live rear axle with transverse semi-elliptic leaf springs
 STEERING Recirculating ball
 BRAKES Four-wheel mechanical drum
 WIDTH  1879mm
 HEIGHT 1753mm
 TOP SPEED 140kph (87mph)
 0–100KPH 19.3 seconds
tSTANDING ¼ MILE 22.4 seconds

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