Car of the Week: 1931 Lincoln Model K

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By Brian Earnest

Andy Switzer had a pretty legitimate reason for never previously pursuing a car as nice as his stunning 1931 Lincoln Model K sedan. He simply didn’t think he could ever afford it.

“I thought a car like this would have been out of my price range, so I didn’t even look at anything like this,” admits the Gulfport, Miss., resident.

Back when the Lincoln was new 83 years ago, a lot of other people no doubt felt the same way. At about $4,600 without any extras, the all-new Lincoln Model K was at the very top of the ladder when it came to American cars. It was about $500 more than a new V-12 sedan from Cadillac — one of its few true competitors in the luxury car market at the time. You could buy seven Model A Fords for the price of the big Lincoln and still have some money left.

Actually, a Model A was what Switzer had in mind when he was snooping around for a car two years ago. “I have a bunch of cars — I have 9 — but I wanted a Model A,” Switzer said. “The oldest car I had at the time was a ’36 Cord. I’ve sold it since then, but I wanted a four-door Model A.”

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That was before he took a visit with his grandson to the Volo Museum in Volo, Ill. “I was up visiting and we’ve hit every car museum in a three- or four-state area, so we decided to go to Volo again and we found it there,” he said. “I saw it and said, ‘This has got to be it!’ The sales manager pulled it out and we drove it and we were going down the road doing 60 [mph] with no qualms. It was great.”

Switzer didn’t take long to mull the purchase over, and that turned out to be a good thing. He wasn’t the only interested customer. “I put some money down that day and when I went back to go finalize everything the sales manager had another buyer who was offering $5,000 for me to walk away from it.”

He couldn’t give up on his chance to own one of just 211 of the first-year Model K Model 204-A two-window town sedans ever built, however. Switzer became just the third owner of the car. He had to wait a bit for the Lincoln to make its way to Mississippi, but it arrived in grand style. “Not many delivery trucks come down to southern Mississippi where we are. We finally got it on a truck one night and it was supposed to be delivered, but Hurricane Isaac hit so they had to bump it off the truck. Then, about 3-1/2 weeks later, Joe Nemechek’s NASCAR trailer delivered it! It was some kind of sublease deal, but this big fancy NASCAR trailer showed up with it and we rolled the car out of it. It was pretty cool.”

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Switzer didn’t wait to take the Lincoln to its first car event. “I took that car to a car show that first weekend and won best of show,” he laughs. “I didn’t even dust it off. That’s how good of shape it was in.”

A year later, the Lincoln earned another honor, being chosen as the cover car for the annual Old Cars Weekly Calendar. “It’s impressive. It’s like driving an aircraft carrier,” he says. “Wherever it goes, it catches attention… My son is 6-foot-7, and a couple of my cars he can’t even get into, but this one he fits in without a problem.”

Indeed, pre-World War II Lincolns were all large cars, and they became truly jumbo-sized when the legendary Model K series arrived for the 1931 model year. The Model K came with a new chassis that featured a whopping 145 inches between the axles — a jump of 9 inches over the old Model L offerings. The chassis had six cross members, rode on 7 x 19-inch tires (down from 20 inches previously) and carried cars with a much lower profile than ever before.

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Customers could choose from a selection of factory bodies, or go with fully custom coachwork from major names such as Dietrich, Judkins, LeBaron and Willoughby. The radiator shell had a new peaked design, and dual horns were mounted next to redesigned bowl-shaped headlamps in front.

The refinements and improvements were everywhere on the 1931 Lincolns. The big 384.8-cid L-head eight got a new Stromberg carburetor, separate generator and starter, and a mechanical fuel pump. The new Bendix Duo-Servo four-wheel brakes provided much-improved stopping power, and hydraulic shock absorbers were new on all four corners.

The Model K series was an attempt to resuscitate sagging Lincoln sales. Lincoln was not alone in its struggles, as many other U.S. automakers started feeling the suffocating squeeze of the Great Depression by 1930. Lincoln attempted to change that momentum with the all-new Model K, but as impressive as the cars were, it was rare to see a new Lincoln rolling down the street. Only 3,540 cars were built for the model year.

Switzer’s gorgeous green sedan was purchased originally by a man from Philadelphia, who apparently took good care of it for about four decades before it went to a second owner, who had an impressive collection of Lincolns in Lake Geneva, Wis. “I’m the third owner,” Switzer noted. “[The two previous owners] had it about 40 years each, apparently. The second guy totally restored it … That was about 20 years ago.”

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Switzer received the original bill of sale that came with the car. It outlined, among other things, the add-ons and options that came with an already impressive machine. “He ordered it with every option, I think,” Switzer said. “It had whitewalls on both sidemounts. It had the different-color fenders and sun visors… One thing that really catches a lot of attention is the dual horns. When you push the horn to the left you get kind of an ‘ahh-ooga’ horn, and when you push the other side, you get a more mellow sound. They called it the Town and Country Horn.”

Switzer has changed the oil and rebuilt the fuel pump since he acquired the Lincoln. Beyond that, about the only thing he’s done to the car is put on some LED turn signals and brake lights for safety reasons. “I almost got run over one night,” he chuckled.

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“It just drives great. The engine is as quiet as can be. When I first got it and started it up, I couldn’t even tell if the engine was running. It has an aluminum block with that black porcelain head, and everything else on the engine is pretty much chromed. I was told that’s how it came from the factory… You can’t believe it has mechanical brakes, for how well it stops. A lot of people tell me it’s a Model A on steroids. That’s about what it is. And I think everything works on it but the clock.”

The odometer shows 76,000-plus miles, and Switzer believes that number is accurate and the clock hasn’t “turned over.” “It had very light use,” he says. “For its age, I don’t think it was ever driven a lot.”

Of the 211 four-door town sedans built with Lincoln factory bodies for 1931, Switzer says only three have been accounted for. That makes him even more determined to preserve and care for a car that he feels especially lucky to own.

“The car was pretty much perfect when I got it,” he says, “and I just want it to stay that way.”

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