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Lot 835: 1923 Lincoln Model L 7-Passenger Touring Car

The Richard C. Paine Jr. Collection, Bonhams (27 September 2008)

Henry Martyn Leland was Detroit’s “Master of Precision.” Trained in the armories of Hartford and Springfield, he went to work for Brown & Sharpe in Providence and perfected equipment for accurately grinding surfaces. Brown & Sharpe then sent him to Detroit to sell machine tools and precision measuring instruments and gauges to the industrial companies then rapidly growing there.

Leland eventually formed Leland & Faulconer, Inc. as an independent machine shop and assembler. It built engines for Ransom Olds’ Oldsmobile, among other projects. Leland was hired by the directors of the Henry Ford Company to appraise its machinery when the board and Henry Ford got into a dispute. The directors wanted to build big, expensive, luxury cars to sell to a small but very wealthy market. Henry had an idea about building something strong, light and simple that could be sold for a very low price to a very large market.

Leland did his appraisal, then showed the directors an engine he had designed. They let Ford go (with $900 and the drawings for his inexpensive car), hired Leland and renamed the company Cadillac which eventually became part of William Crapo Durant’s General Motors. A few years later Leland wanted to convert Cadillac’s production facilities to build Liberty aircraft engines for World War I. Durant refused so Leland left to set up a new company named for one of his idols, Lincoln, and take up the war effort.

After the war Lincoln had facilities but no product so Leland and his son Wilfred went back into the automobile business. Leland’s first Lincoln was superbly engineered and built. Introduced in 1921, it was powered by a 358 cubic inch L-head 60° V-8 engine. Unlike more conventional V-engines which offset the cylinder banks slightly to make room for adjacent connecting rod bearings on the crank journals, Leland’s Model L used expensive, precision made fork-and-blade connecting rods and disposed the cylinders directly opposite each other. Unusually for the period, Leland’s V8 had full pressure lubrication.

Leland, however, had an engineer’s vision and the bodies which completed his automobiles left a lot to be desired. Lincoln tried a quick redesign with a set of twelve body designs by Hermann A. Brunn but it was too late as dismal sales, the post WWI recession and an erroneous $4˝ million tax bill spelled the end of Lincoln. It was bought out of receivership in 1922 by none other than Henry Ford to balance the success of the bare bones Model T with the best-engineered and best-built luxury automobile in America.

Ford put his son Edsel, who had an innate sense of style, grace, balance and proportion, in charge of Lincoln and the automobiles soon began to reflect Edsel’s vision. The Paine Collection’s 1923 Lincoln Model L (the “L” indicated its design by Henry and Wilfred Leland and would remain the catalog designation until the V-8 was superseded in 1931, a measure of even the Fords’ respect for the “Master of Precision”) reflects the beginning of Edsel Ford’s influence on Lincoln design. The long hood, continuous beltline accent, subtly defined passenger compartment edges and body sides that curve in to join the frame cover all convey a tight, integrated sense of purpose and performance that perfectly suited the Leland-designed chassis and drivetrain.

Finished in maroon with black fenders, dark brown leather upholstery and black leatherette top, this car has black Rudge-Whitworth centerlock wire wheels and black sidewall tires that convey an elegant, no-nonsense demeanor that is appropriate for an expensive, luxury automobile delivered in the wake of the post World War I economic difficulties.

It is modestly but effectively equipped with a folding steering wheel, jump seats, folding rear compartment footrest and an intermediate cowl with locking storage compartments. There is an absolute minimum of brightwork; in fact the only bright trim are the nickel plated Bausch & Lomb drum headlights, the hubcaps and the greyhound radiator cap mascot. Even the windshield frame is painted black.

Best of all, the odometer shows only 469 miles. The Paine Collection and Seal Cove Museum have since this 1923 Lincoln joined the collection believed these are the only miles it has traveled although there is no documentation to authenticate the conclusion. Physical indications tend to support the displayed mileage because despite an old repaint and some rust bubbles in the bottom of the panels between the doors it appears to be complete, right down to the engine compartment drip pans which rarely survive. It bears a painted registration number on the rear valence which appears to be from the province of Buenos Aires, presumably in Argentina. The painted inscription below the number is "Provisoria", Temporary, indicating that it was never permanently registered and further explaining its apparent low miles. The doors fit and close well, with even gaps and flush fits. The engine appears to be original in all important respects, helping confirm the impression that this is a very sweet and surpassingly rare largely original survivor from the earliest days of the Lincoln Motor Co. Division of the Ford Motor Company.

There is an abundance of history in this Lincoln, a somewhat dowdy survivor from the days when Edsel Ford was turning Henry and Wilfred Leland’s ugly duckling into a great performing showcase for the work of some of America’s best body designers and coachbuilders. It is a Classic Car Club of American Full Classic™, eligible for the full schedule of CCCA events, tours and awards.

Lot Details
Auction The Richard C. Paine Jr. Collection
Bonhams, Owls Head, Maine
TypeCar
Lot Number835
Estimate$45000-$60000
Outcome SOLD
Hammer Price$72500
Hammer Price (inc premium)$84825
Year1923
Condition rating
Registration number
Mileage-
Chassis number11186
Engine number
Engine capacity (cc)
Engine - cylinders
Number of doors