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1956 Continental Mark II.
Rear view.

The Continental Mark II was a personal luxury car produced by the Continental Division of the Ford Motor Company in 1956 through 1957. Many aficionados of the automobile consider the Continental Mark II one of the classics of the postwar period. Current Mark II Owners and enthusiasts have a forum at http://www.MarkIIForum.com

Contents

History

The Mark II's inspiration was the celebrated V12 powered Lincoln Continental of the 1940s, among the most notable cars of that War-interrupted decade. Ford, too often regarded as producers of competent but unexciting cars, felt it needed a new dose of the old glamour.

The new Continental was not intended to be the largest nor the most powerful automobile, rather the most luxurious and elegant American car available, designed to recapture the spirit of the great classics of the prewar period—with prices to match.

While technically never a Lincoln and manufactured by a separate new division, Continental, the Mark II was sold and maintained through Lincoln dealerships, featured a Lincoln drivetrain, and sported a Lincoln emulating spare tire hump in the trunk lid. On its hood and trunk were four-pointed stars, soon adopted by Lincoln as its own emblem. Confusion of the model as a Lincoln has reigned ever since.

Design

What emerged was something quite unlike other American cars of the period. While other makes experimented with flamboyant chrome-laden styling, the Continental Mark II was almost European in its simplicity of line and understated grace.

There was something of the style of the early Ford Thunderbird at the front, with a tasteful egg-crate grille and a long, curving hood with straight fenders to the headlights. The straight fender line went back to behind the doors, at which point the line kicked up a little before curving back down to the taillights.

Little chrome was used compared to other vehicles of the time, and the only two-tone paint combinations offered were limited to roofs being contrasted with bodies. The car had power steering, power brakes, power windows, power seats, and power vent windows. The vanes on the wheel covers were individually bolted inside the frame of the cover. It sported a high greenhouse and a wraparound windscreen. Gas entered the fuel tank via a swingaway left tailight.

Most of the car was hand-built to an exacting standard, including the application of multiple coats of paint, hand sanding, double lacquering, and polishing to perfection.

For power, the Mark II featured the newly offered 368 cubic inch Lincoln V8. Standard equipment in the Lincoln line, the engines selected for the Mark II were effectively factory-blueprinted, assembled from the closest-to-specifications parts produced available. Turning out 285 HP in 1956, the engine was tuned to produce 300 HP in 1957. Mated to a three-speed Lincoln automatic, and both engine and transmission were subject to extensive pre-release testing.

Sales

The Mark II sold for $10,000, the equivalent of a new Rolls-Royce or two Cadillacs. In spite of this, Ford estimated they still lost over a thousand dollars per car on the 3000 that were built.

About 1300 were sold in the last quarter of 1955 after the car's October debut at the Paris Motor Show; another 1300 or so in 1956; and 444 in 1957, some with factory-installed air conditioning. Initially, Ford accepted losses on the Mark II in return for the prestige it endowed its entire product line with, but after going public tolerance for such losses fell.

Famous owners included Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, the Shah of Iran, and a cross section of the richest men in America. The car was featured in the 1956 movie High Society, with Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, and Grace Kelly.

Status today

Today, approximately half of the original 3000 cars still exist in varying states of repair. An active owners' club exists[1] and thanks to the use of standard Lincoln mechanical components most parts required to keep them going are available. Prices range between $8000 for a running example in poor repair to $70,000 in concours condition.

From today's vantage point it can be argued that the Continental Mark II was successful at being what it was intended to be: an American Rolls-Royce or Bentley, and a re-creation of the grand cars of the thirties. Unfortunately, it was not profitable to manufacture it even at its five-figure 1950s sales price.

Current Mark II Owners and enthusiasts have a forum at http://www.MarkIIForum.com

References

  1. ^ http://www.lcoc.org/

See also

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