Car of the Week: 1928 Lincoln Dual-Cowl Phaeton

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Story and photos by Brian Earnest

It’s hard to imagine an automobile as spectacular as Jeff Schreiner’s 1928 Lincoln dual-cowl phaeton ever being unloved or unwanted. And thanks to an extensive restoration a couple of decades back, the big luxury Lincoln is in nearly perfect condition. It is simply a fantastic automobile from head to toe — a true dream machine, especially for lovers of pre-war Classics.

Yet not long ago, the car sat in the dark as the years ticked by, locked away and hidden from the eyes of guys such as Schreiner who were dying to find such a machine of their own.

“I just happened to stumble across it, really,” said Schreiner, a resident of Fall Creek, Wis. “It was at a museum. A guy in Maryland owned it and it was restored sometime in the ’80s, and he passed away and it sat for about 20 years. His nephew inherited it and the nephew didn’t want the car. He didn’t know anything about cars, so I ended up buying the car from him. It had been in the museum for a few months, on consignment.

“But after the owner died, from the early ’90s all the way up through 2011, it sat. It was out in Maryland just sitting in the guy’s pole shed.”

The nephew’s loss was certainly Jeff and his wife Becca’s gain. They bought the car in October 2011 and their appreciation for the car has grown with each passing month.

“I was looking for a Cadillac, Packard — anything from this era. When you are talking Classics, this is a Classic car. I just love the looks of it,” Schreiner said. “I didn’t realize how popular this would be until I bought it, got it cleaned up and started bringing it to shows. Everybody just goes nuts over it.”

By 1928, Lincoln had already established itself as an admired builder of high-end automobiles, but the country’s early days didn’t point to a long and prosperous existence for the company. Company founder Henry Leland opened the Lincoln Motor Company’s doors in 1917. That was 15 years after he had taken one of his new engine designs — Leland’s company of Leland and Faulconer had improved engines and transmissions for Oldsmobile — to the directors of the Henry Ford Company. At that point, Henry Ford had fallen out with his namesake company and the Henry Ford Company was looking to liquidate its assets. Leland encouraged the company’s backers to build a new car with Leland’s new engine. The company brain trust renamed the endeavor Cadillac.

Leland eventually sold the Cadillac operation to General Motors in 1909, but he and his son stayed on until 1917 when GM founder William C. Durant refused to build Liberty aircraft engines. After the war, in 1920, Leland formed Lincoln Motor Company to build cars. Ironically, Henry Ford bought out Lincoln just two years later, when Leland was been beset by financial problems, delivery delays and a lineup of car models that didn’t set many pulses racing.

The Lincoln motor car’s fortunes began to change when Henry Ford’s son Edsel took over, however. The Lincolns grew in size, came with better engines, had fewer problems and generally became more aesthetically appealing to the buying public in every way. Edsel Ford knew that there could be no missteps if Lincoln was to live up to his vision as a competitor for established luxury marques such as Cadillac, Packard and Pierce-Arrow.

During those pre-World War II years, a long list of custom coachbuilders supplied bodies for various Lincolns — LeBaron, Brunn, Dietrich, Holbrook and Judkins were among them. The Locke and Company, which was known mainly for its open body designs, also provided coachwork, including 150 aluminum-bodied dual-cowl phaetons for the 1928 model year. The design used two partitions — one in front of each row of riders, with a fold-down panel and second windshield in front of the back-row passengers. Under the fold-up rear cowl panel were two elegant wooden pull-out drawers and a map/courtesy lamp. The large rear backseat had leather upholstery and room for three.

The huge phaetons had fold-back canvas tops with optional side curtains. Dual sidemounts were fastened to the running boards on both sides and a large trunk was carried in back. Painted wire wheels were accented by wide whitewall 20-inch tires.

All but a scant few Lincolns rode on chassis with a long 136-inch wheelbase and carried new and improved 384-cid L-head eight-cylinder engines. Four-wheel brakes had been added in 1927 and carried over for ’28. Improved mufflers were among the few changes for the model year.

Exact original prices for such a dual-cowl machine are hard to pinpoint, but they probably drifted north of $7,000 — a princely sum for the time. Not many Americans could afford such a fine machine at the time. A year later, following the stock market crash and the arrival of the Great Depression, luxury machines such as the Lincoln became an even tougher sell.

“Who had them? Well, they were gonna be rich, that’s for sure!” said Schreiner. “Doctors or lumber barons, somebody who made a lot of money. A lot of movie stars had them. And believe it or not, they were a pretty fast car so a lot of police departments used them. Not this body style, but the Lincolns. Lots of celebrities drove them. Clark Gable had one, I believe. Lots of presidents rode in them.”

“It’s got the sidemounts and the mirrors. It’s got a trunk, of course. The Trippe running lights — they are the actual Lincoln lights. It’s got the four-wheel brakes on it, which a lot of cars didn’t have back then. It’s got the big 20-inch tires on it and the wide whitewalls. It’s still got the headlight controls and spark advance on the steering wheel… All the leaf springs and everything are wrapped in nice leather. It’s all custom made. And they have ties that go all the way down the backside and they are threaded together with buckles and stuff. They took a lot of pride in their stuff back then and you can tell when you look at it.”

The two-tone green paint is factory-correct, as is the cream-colored canvas top, which is normally up on Schreiner’s car. “A lot of the interior is original, so you don’t really want the sun beating on it,” he noted.

The odometer on the Lincoln currently reads 22,000 miles and change. According to the story he got on the car, it had 40,000-plus miles on it when it was restored back in the 1980s. “So it’s probably got 60-some thousand total.”

“It had a complete nut-and-bolt restoration. It was done in the original colors with the original [style] pinstriping, but of course, there are no records of anything, so you don’t know everything. When I got it, I didn’t do any of the painting. I do restore cars, but this one was in such good shape, I just cleaned it all up, buffed and polished it all up, got it mechanically sound again [and that was it].

“I knew I’d have to do a few things. You know when you’re around old cars you have to do some things when they sit so long — you know, take the fuel tank off and clean it. The brakes were good, the engine was pretty good. It was just lots of elbow grease, basically.”

The Schreiners have a 1911 Buick, 1946 Lincoln V-12, 1930 Buick and a 1967 Shelby Mustang at home, but nothing akin to the big ’28 Lincoln. So far, it has exceeded their expectations as a weekend show-goer and jewel of their collection. And after having to sit idle for so long, the Lincoln is finally getting some exercise these days.

“Oh, I live to drive it,” Schreiner said. “That motor is just as smooth as you can get. It drives easy, but back then in that era every car had its own temperament, so you had to learn that individual car. But once you get used to them, they’re great. You have the double-clutching when you shift, so that you have to learn. But it drives great. My wife is starting to learn to drive it now, too.

“You want to shift at a lot lower speeds than you do cars nowadays, and they have so much lower-end torque that they can handle it. Push the clutch in, give it some gas, let the clutch back out and kind of do that again, and then she’ll drop right in gear. They didn’t have synchro back then, but you get used to it. I’m still getting used to it because you don’t drive it everyday.”

So far, the couple hasn’t seen any other ’28 dual-cowl phaeton around. How many of those original 150 cars survived is anybody’s guess, but it isn’t many. “I saw one sold at Barrett-Jackson a few years ago — a ’28 dual cowl just like this,” Schreiner said. “And I’ve seen a ’30, but not another ’28. I’ve gotten a hold of the National Lincoln Club and tried to research the serial numbers and find out how many might be left, but there aren’t any records. It would be interesting to find out.”

Schreiner insisted that his car will not be back on the market anytime soon.

“I’m getting more and more attached every time I take it somewhere,” he chuckled. “You just look so cool driving it!”

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