To celebrate the upcoming 4th of July, what is more appropriately American than a convertible from the 1950s sporting old-school wood paneling? Here comes the 1955 Lincoln Capri “Woodie Sportsman” convertible.
With its California looks, fins and chrome you would think it comes straight out of a period Lincoln dealership, and yet this particular model appears absolutely nowhere in Lincoln literature, official or private! The only way to get close to one of these is to browse auction catalogs, where it is described alternatively as a “specially produced vehicle” available to private buyers or as a fully sanctioned show car sent to select Lincoln dealerships to bring some glam to their showroom floor.
Now, let’s start with the base of the car: it appears to be a 1955 Lincoln Capri Special Custom Convertible, as evidenced by the manufacturer’s plaque featured in many of those online auction catalogs. Indeed, the serial number matches the series built at the Wayne Stamping and Assembly Plant (which was incidentally opened in 1952 and still operates to this day) and the model number “76A” matches the top of the line convertible type. It was the brand’s and the entire corporation’s most expensive vehicle that year, and marked a transition in styling between the rather old-fashioned 1954 and the dramatic 1956 body style, with the introduction of shielded headlights and canted fins at the rear.
This particular transformation however, raises many questions: it is undoubtedly well done, with handsome two-tone wood paneling bolted on to the whole length of the car’s profile (where it follows the lines of the rear fender skirts) and even on the trunk, where it follows the curve and outline of the lid. It even features a cut-out section to preserve the Lincoln’s trunk lid appliqué. On the inside, the car sports a completely unique interior: the production Capri’s bench seat was treated to a full length pleated insert, while the Sportsman features beautiful twin suede inserts very similar to the upholstery found in the 1956 Continental Mark II. The pleated motif of the original car can actually still be seen on the dashboard and on the door panel mouldings.
So, overall, while the attention to detail could make us think of an official Lincoln-spec modification, it appears some elements are a bit off. First of all, the Sportsman name. It brings us back to the 1946-1948 Ford Sportsman convertible (12,439 units sold total), which was an attempt by Ford’s standard line to spruce up its outdated post-war offerings and bring some youth and glamour to its dealerships. Sounds familiar? The Ford convertible did spawn a short-lived 1946-only Mercury Sportsman, of which only 200 were sold. This would explain the very professional “Sportsman” script affixed to this 1955 Lincoln Capri – surely leftover trim available to whoever modified it. Ford even used the name again on one of its own concept cars in 2001.
And then comes the product planning behind such a Lincoln woodie: in 1955, wood-covered cars were already out of fashion. Indeed, it’s no surprise the Ford Sportsman came to be a decade earlier, and even then with small production numbers, when the Chrysler Town and Country’s fame was already on the decline. Why would Lincoln, which was arguably struggling a little in 1955, try to conjure up memories of a past decade, targeting an audience already unlikely to come visit its dealerships? After all, it was already back then putting good marketing money on its racing victories to try and establish the reputation of “Hot Rod Lincolns” engaged on the Panamerican race. It was also about to introduce very luxurious 1956 and then 1957 models, along with a Continental halo-division.
This car is then a mysterious car indeed. According to some sources, eight vehicles were transformed into Sportsman woodie convertibles. The one you see here is actually going on sale next month, August 2nd, as part of the Bob Pond collection. According to Autoweek, Mr. Pond was an industrialist who doubled as a car enthusiast: maybe did he order this special conversion as a one-off, maybe directly through the Ford Motor Company, or maybe through a very capable custom body shop? Who knows.
Still, this car is beautifully crafted, beautifully preserved, and will surely make any of us want to cruise down Woodward Avenue listening to the Beach Boys!
All photographs copyright of their owners: the Lincoln as featured on ClassicCars.com, the Ford as featured on Ford Motor Company sales literature, and the oil painting by Scott Westmoreland as featured on TropicTreasureStore.com.