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Lincoln Capri with a race-proven heritage

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Jan. 3, 2014, at 4:32 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014, at 6:20 a.m.

— When you think of Lincolns, you generally don’t think of race cars, especially not road race cars. But there was a time, in the early 1950s, when Lincoln Capris not only competed in, but won, their class in the fabled long-distance Carrera Pan Americana road race in Mexico.

So when Larry Cero spotted a 1954 Lincoln Capri for sale in an online auction about five years ago, he was immediately interested and kept an eye on it.

“It was on eBay and it didn’t make its reserve, so I called the guy and he kept talking about a ‘rust-free car, rust-free car,’ ” Cero said. A deal was tentatively made, the agreement being that Cero would pay for the owner’s gas if he didn’t want the car.

The car was pretty much in pieces, including the engine, when it arrived.

“The windshield was cracked, he hadn’t told me about that — that was $500, and the driveshaft was missing, there were all kinds of little knick knacks missing,” he said.

But upon further review, he discovered it was, in fact, as advertised, a rust-free car. The floor pans were perfect. Even the fragile fender skirt clips were intact.

Cero had to fabricate one rocker panel where the car had been dropped off a curb, but otherwise, there was minimal body work to be done. He set about rebuilding the 317 cubic inch overhead valve V-8 engine, which had been the secret to the Capri’s racing success.

All of the Lincoln Capris had forged steel crankshafts and came factory balanced and blueprinted, Cero said. They were rated at 205 horsepower. Cero said that Clay Smith, the famous camshaft builder said they turned out more like 305 horsepower.

“They would run 130 mph off the showroom floor,” Cero said.

When he finished building the original engine, he fired it up and ran it about 10 minutes, then shut it off.

“I decided if I ever want to sell it, if it’s a bit street-rodded, it would be worth a little more money,” he said. “I knew a ’57 Lincoln engine was basically identical, but just bigger, at 368 cubic inches.”

He located such an engine, bored it out to about 375 cubic inches and rebuilt it. He had a camshaft blank ground to the original Clay Smith specifications and was lucky enough to find an ultra rate Eddie Edson dual four-barrel intake manifold for the hefty power plant.

Again, as luck would have it, Cero still had a special Holley 4-barrel carburetor with oversized venturis that he had tried on a Thunderbird 50 years before. When that carb didn’t clear the hood, he set it aside on a shelf. Again using the internet, Cero was able to find a twin to that carb and mounted the two atop the big Lincoln, topped by a ribbed Mooneyes air cleaner.

“This one wings up like an Indy motor, no shake at all,” he said.

“Without the Internet, I don’t know how anybody could restore a car. Everybody says, `How did you get that car done so quick? “Scrounging parts is what takes time. Putting it all together goes quick.”

He painstakingly built 23 separate wiring harnesses and wired a relay into the starter circuit for the Capri.

“The best part was when I turned the key, there was no smoke,” he laughed.

The Lincoln was originally a Huntsman Red color, so when it came time for paint, Cero opted for an early 2000 version of Audi Brilliant Red, which is beautifully accented by fresh chrome and recreated bits of gold-colored trim.

Inside, the seats, door panels and headliner were reupholstered in supple red leather, with correct black tweed cloth seating surfaces, all done by John Schafer.

“A lot of detail went into this car. There’s not a nut, bolt, clip or screw that has not been attended to,” Cero said proudly.

His bright red Capri runs a factory single exhaust system consisting of one large muffler and two resonators.

“It’s absolutely silent and it doesn’t drone at speed. At 95 mph, you could hear the clock tick … there’s no wind noise, nothing,” Cero said.

Just as a luxury Lincoln race car should perform.

Reach Mike Berry at mberry@wichitaeagle.com.

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