By Angelo Van Bogart
When the phone rings and the person on the other end gives you a lead on a legit CCCA Full Classic “barn find,” you have two choices: you can drop whatever you’re doing and fetch it, or you can pass on the lead. Shawn Miller of Significant Cars in Indianapolis did the former.
“I was there within 24 hours after hearing about the car,” Miller said.
The Full Classic was a 1934 Lincoln KB convertible coupe with a coachbuilt body by LeBaron. Until it surfaced last summer, only six or fewer 1934 LeBaron convertible coupes were believed to still exist. Now one more has been added to the roster, and it’s sure to be cherished.
Across the board in 1934, Ford Motor Co. products had beautifully sweeping designs with striking flair. The elegant composition of Fords and Lincolns alike began at a heart-shaped grille, carried through flowing skirted fenders and extended to the rounded rear decks of coupes, roadsters and convertible coupes. Lincolns, especially, benefit from the styling motif due to their longer wheelbase and therefore greater body proportion, their more rounded lines and their modern body-colored radiator shells.
Despite their beauty, Lincolns of all types were rare when new and are rarer today, owing to the Great Depression. According to David Schultz, Lincoln Motor Car Foundation president, only 370 Lincoln KBs of all body styles were built in 1934. When one of those scant few 1934 Lincolns surfaces, especially when it’s one of the 45 racy M-287 LeBaron convertible coupes — the find sets sends the hobby abuzz.
The LeBaron-bodied 1934 Lincoln that drove Miller north to Wisconsin was purchased in the 1950s by Dr. Helmut Prahl as a used car from Rochester, N.Y., when he was a college student. Upon graduation in the 1950s, Prahl drove the Lincoln to jobs in Ohio and Alabama before he landed another position in Madison, Wis. Once there, the Lincoln was retired.
At some point, the triple-black Lincoln was painted a cream color, and that finish began to deteriorate during its years in the Badger State. While living in Madison, Prahl stored the car in a three-sided barn and the exposure at one side of the structure began to weather the car’s passenger side. Vandals also took turns breaking the glass, and his kids used it as a jungle gym. After Prahl retired to Wisconsin’s scenic Door County in the 1980s, the Lincoln was put into a newer and fully enclosed garage, but the damage had already been done.
“It was always our intent to restore it,” said Karen Prahl, Dr. Prahl’s wife. “Things just got in the way; something better would come up for the use of that money. We bought houses, we bought cars, we bought other things so it was kind of a dream that we had to restore it. I am really glad it’s going to Shawn and that he’s going to restore it.”
When Prahl died this summer, Gary Tauscher, a family friend, contacted Old Cars about an old car in a barn. He was trying to help Prahl settle her husband’s affairs, but neither knew anything about the car. After sending photos of the car to the magazine’s staff, it was identified as a rare and desirable LeBaron Lincoln and Schultz was contacted. One call led to another, and eventually Miller’s phone rang.
“Gary called me about the car. He had also talked to other Lincoln people who had told him what it was,” Miller said. “He wasn’t the seller; he was helping a lady clean out a garage after her husband died. He sent a couple pictures of the car — enough for me to be excited about it. I already had to go up to Wisconsin to drop off my Auburn at Paul Kaufmann’s shop, so…. I dropped what I was doing, loaded the Auburn on the trailer and went up the next day.”
Miller made a deal with the widow and loaded the Lincoln for its southward journey. He admits it’s rough, but he says it’s perfectly restorable.
“The right running board is almost totally gone and that front fender has rust,” he noted. “Other than that, it seems the car is pretty solid. It’s an aluminum-bodied car; only the fenders are steel, the hood is steel.”
Miller says the car also has some animal damage to the interior and after thoroughly cleaning out the passenger compartment, he was able to find its all-important body number: 15-9. He’s also made a list of the items missing from the car and, fortunately, it’s short: the trunk rack, headlamp and tail lamp lenses, rumble seat cushion frames and a few other small bits. The car had its sidemount covers, which Miller has learned are very hard to find, but that wasn’t the biggest surprise.
“Now it turns out it is more rare than I thought before going up there,” Miller said. “I have discovered that this is probably the only numbers-matching example.”
The 414-cid Lincoln KB V-12 engine is currently “ossified,” Miller said, but he’s been trying to slowly free it by spraying PB Blaster in the spark plug holes. Just in case he needs it, Miller bought a spare KB engine from the recent Del Beyer estate sale hosted by VanDerBrink Auctions (results in OC are forthcoming). Coincidentally, that engine is believed to have come from Beyer’s own 1934 Lincoln LeBaron convertible coupe. (This car sold in No. 3 condition at RM Auctions’ 2018 Hershey sale for $105,000.)
The first time the Lincoln was unloaded from Miller’s trailer was on the field of the CCCA Indiana Region’s Grand Classic, where it was displayed as a “barn find.” It was perhaps the first time a Full Classic in need of restoration had been displayed at a Grand Classic. While there, Miller connected with several restorers and Lincoln experts who added to his knowledge surrounding the rare car. Miller said he learned a lot, but this is not his first Classic-era Lincoln.
As the owner of several examples of Classic-era marques, it’s impossible for an experienced hobbyist such as Miller to avoid comparing the Lincoln to other automobiles of its period. “Every Lincoln I have ever seen of this era had extremely high build quality. I had an amazing original (Lincoln) with an interior fire and I was amazed how well the chrome polished up after 70 years of sitting,” he says.
“Packard used grained metal, Lincoln used inlaid wood. Lincolns cost more new, and they are more rare than Packards, yet the factory-bodied Packard Twelve brings substantially more than the custom-bodied Lincoln 12. The Lincoln is the superior car in just about every category. I think the Lincoln K 12-cylinder cars are tremendously undervalued.”
Although he’s a collector car dealer, Miller has no plans to sell the Lincoln. In addition to acquiring the spare engine, he’s been acquiring other parts for a potential restoration.
“I haven’t decided what I am going to do, but I am proceeding as if I am going to restore it,” Miller said. “I am getting those parts as I can get them and find them. But I would entertain offers and I have had a couple offers.
“I will only sell the car to somebody that is going to properly restore this car. It’s one of those projects that is going to be a labor of love, whether it’s for me or someone else.”
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