I wish I’d kept my.... 1949 Lincoln Cosmopolitan coupe

Pixar’s creative director Jay Ward recalls the classic cruiser he planned to turn into a Barris-style kustom – but how time, money and enthusiasm beat him down

If you own enough old cars in your lifetime, you’re bound to look back with regret on one or two rides that you probably should have held onto. Typically, it’s because of the significant amount of value in which a vehicle might have appreciated since you sold it (not unlike the black Ferrari 275 GTB/4 my dad bought in the early 1970s for $15,000…).

On other occasions, the regret comes from selling a car with an emotional attachment; blood, sweat and gears, if you will. Such was the case with my 1949 Lincoln Cosmopolitan. As a young man just out of art school in the early ’90s, I really wanted to build a George Barris-style traditional kustom – something like a ’49 Mercury coupe or a ‘shoebox’ Ford.

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Unfortunately, such cars were far out of my meagre price range – but then, a San Francisco classified ad popped up: ‘1949 Lincoln two-door sedan. Runs, but needs work. $1500.’

After a quick phone call, I rushed to the seller’s residence. I soon found out why the fairly rare Cosmopolitan coupe was so reasonably priced, and why collectors had passed on buying it. Seller Robert explained that the Lincoln came to him as payment for cleaning up an old man’s rubbish-riddled residence on 44th Avenue in San Francisco, after city authorities threatened to haul everything to the dump.

Unfortunately, the poor Cosmo had been stored in a damp garage only a few blocks from the ocean, so corrosive salty air had pock-marked the entire body. Meanwhile, the pot-metal grille was shot, and all chrome trim pieces including the bumpers were flaking.

The interior fared slightly better, including the original mohair and leather upholstery, but much of it was worn out. The three-speed column shifter had broken some time in the 1950s, so the crafty owner took tin snips to the floor and mounted a stubby gearlever poking right through.

The 337ci flathead V8 motor was a little ‘loose’, and smoke from burnt crankcase oil billowed through the aforementioned shifter opening unless I wrapped a towel around the aperture. This endearing trait later earned my Cosmo the nickname ‘Stinkin’ Lincoln’. Some of the leaky hydraulic-powered windows still worked (at times), but the hydraulic seat adjuster was frozen in place.

None of these details or cosmetic issues mattered much to a young and enthusiastic greaser, because I saw a killer Barris Kustom creation just waiting to come out. I paid for the massive beast and happily bombed down the road, humming Gene Vincent’s Cruisin in my head. I was blissfully unaware of how much work there was to do.

Over the course of ten long years, as I scrimped and saved, then got married and started a family, I slowly attacked the customising checklist. A proper lowering, a four-inch top chop with removed B-pillar, 1954 DeSoto grille, lots of re-chroming, and then a 351ci Cleveland to replace the tired (385kg) flathead.

Paint and excessive trim were stripped, and after a liberal coat of body filler the car was shot first in grey primer, than in primer green, primer black and finally a dark blue paint.

Once the seats had been reupholstered with black and chamois-colour tuck and roll, and all the stainless window trim was cut, the car was almost completely redone.

The moment of accomplishment came when Jerry Lee Lewis signed the glovebox door somewhere along the way. And that’s when the inevitable happened; I grew disinterested in the project that had taken so long to get into decent shape, and started looking to flip the nearly completed Cosmopolitan for money to get my next dream machine.

Looking back now, I really miss the old Cosmo. If I had the chance (along with the parking space and the money), I’d take that car back in heartbeat.

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