Continental Mark II
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|Continental Mark II|
1956 Continental Mark II.
|Assembly||Wixom Assembly, Wixom, Michigan, United States|
|Body and chassis|
|Body style||2-door hardtop|
|Engine||368 cu in (6.0 L) 4-bbl. Y-block V8|
|Transmission||Turbo-Drive 3-speed automatic|
|Wheelbase||126.0 in (3,200 mm)|
|Length||218.4 in (5,547 mm)|
|Width||77.5 in (1,968 mm)|
|Height||56.3 in (1,430 mm)|
|Curb weight||5,000 lb (2,300 kg)|
|Successor||Lincoln Continental Mark III coupe|
The Continental Mark II is a personal luxury car that was produced by the newly created Continental Division of the Ford Motor Company, in 1956 and 1957. An attempt to build a post-World War II car to rival the greatest of the pre-War era, or anything produced in Europe, it is regarded as a rare and elegant classic.
As Lincoln introduced its first post-war model line for the 1949 model year, the division discontinued the Lincoln Continental. Although the V12-powered personal luxury car had gained a positive reputation over its war-interrupted model run, to better ensure its survival, Lincoln sought a role closer to Mercury in the Ford lineup.
By the beginning of the 1950s, with the future of Lincoln more secure, Ford began development work on a fourth division, intended to build the most expensive American car, priced even above Cadillac, Packard, and Imperial. Returning to the 1939-1948 Continental, the new vehicle was not intended to be the largest or 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.
Having considered using an outside design team, Ford turned inside to their own Special Products Division. In Fall 1952, they designated John Reinhart as chief stylist; Gordon Buehrig as the chief body engineer, assisted by Robert McGuffey Thomas; and Harley Copp as chief engineer.
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.
The new Continental was introduced in October 1955—but not at big American auto shows, such as those in New York and Chicago. Rather it was unveiled at the Paris Auto Show, and later that October at Ford headquarters in Dearborn.
There was something of the style of the early Ford Thunderbird at the front, which was introduced earlier at the Detroit Auto Show on February 20, 1954, with a tasteful egg-crate grille; a long, curving hood; and straight fenders to the headlights. The 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, power vent windows, and a tachometer. The vanes on the wheel covers were individually bolted inside the frame of the cover. It sported a high greenhouse and a wraparound windscreen. Fueling was accomplished via a swingaway left taillight. The Continental Mark II had only one option, air conditioning, for $595. Cars with A/C had different body parts.
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. Bridge of Weir leather was used throughout the interior.
For power, the Mark II featured the newly offered 368-cubic-inch (6.03 L) 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 available. Turning out 285 hp (213 kW) in 1956, the engine was tuned to produce 300 hp (224 kW) in 1957. The engine was mated to a three-speed Lincoln automatic, and both engine and transmission were subject to extensive pre-release testing. In a 1956 report from Popular Mechanics, the Mark ll got 16.7 mpg at 50 mph.
Its perimeter frame was of ladder form with a central spine between the transmission and the crossmember at the kick-up ahead of the rear wheels. The crossmember under the front seat was of box form, but all the other six, unusually, were made of tubing (with that at the transmission augmented by box members). A Mark II chassis was used to create the Lincoln Futura concept car.
The Mark II sold for $10,400, the equivalent of a new Rolls-Royce or two Cadillacs (at least until the $13,074 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham out-priced it in 1957). In spite of this, Ford estimated they still lost over a thousand dollars per car on the 3,000 that were built.
About 1,300 were sold in the last quarter of 1955 after the car's October debut at the Paris Motor Show; another 1,300 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 with which it endowed its entire product line; but after going public, tolerance for such losses fell.
Famous owners included Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, the Shah of Iran, and a cross section of the richest men in America. Taylor's car was a gift from Warner Bros. studio, and was painted a custom color to match her distinctive eyes.
While technically never a Lincoln and manufactured by a separate new Continental division, the Mark II was sold and maintained through Lincoln dealerships, featured a Lincoln drivetrain, and sported a 1939-48-era Lincoln Continental-emulating spare tire hump in the trunk lid, part of a commonly called "Continental kit" that included many optional add-ons during the 50's. The four-pointed star logo on its hood and trunk was soon adopted by Lincoln as its own.
Handbuilt and resultantly expensive, the USD10,000 (at launch) Mark II was followed by the 1958 Mark III Substantially less expensive at $6,000, it utilized so many standard Lincoln Premiere parts and so much existing division technology the two lines were difficult to differentiate. After just two years the Continental marque ended up absorbed by Lincoln. Confusion of the Mark II as a Lincoln, compounded by the division's introduction of the once-again crisply styled and since iconic 1961 "Lincoln Continental", has reigned ever since.
Today, approximately half of the original circa 3,044 cars still exist in varying states of repair. An active owners' club exists, and thanks to the use of standard Lincoln mechanical components, most parts required to keep them going are available. Prices range between $15,000 for a running example in poor repair to $120,000 in concours condition.
From today's vantage point, it can be argued that the Continental Mark II was successful at proving what it was intended to: that an American maker could produce an owner-driver automobile on a par with the grand cars of the thirties, or any contemporary equivalent in a European Gran Turismo or Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud, Bentley Continental, Jaguar Mk VIII, or Mercedes-Benz 300d "Adenauer". Unfortunately, it was not profitable enough to continue manufacturing, even at a five-figure 1950s sales price exceeding its rivals.
- Flory, Jr., J. "Kelly" (2008). American Cars, 1946-1959 Every Model Every Year. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. ISBN 978-0-7864-3229-5.
- "Reminiscences of Robert McGuffey Thomas". Autolife.umd.umich.edu. Retrieved 2011-07-22.
- Thomas E. Bonsall. The Lincoln story: the postwar years. Retrieved 2010-05-18.
- Introduction of Mark II
- Clymer, Floyd (1963). The Lincoln Continental.
- Bridge of Weir Iconic cars
- the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide (2007-10-31). "HowStuffWorks "1956 Continental Mark II Convertible"". Auto.howstuffworks.com. Retrieved 2011-12-31.
- "1956 Continental Mark II Images, Information and History (Lincoln Continental Mark II, MK2)". Conceptcarz.com. Retrieved 2011-12-31.
- "Elizabeth Taylor's 1956 Continental Mark II a dazzler". foxnews.com. 2012-11-29. Retrieved 2012-11-29.
- "All the Makes: Cadillac to Cunningham". Uniquecarsandparts.com.au. Retrieved 2011-07-22.
- "Lincoln & Continental Owners Club". Lcoc.org. Retrieved 2010-07-04.
|Lincoln passenger vehicle timeline, 1922–1979 — next »|
|L-Series||Continental Mark III–V|
|Halo car||K-Series||Continental Mark IV–V|
|Personal luxury car||Continental||Continental||Continental Mark II||Mark III||Mark IV||Mark V|