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1956-57 Continental Mark II

56lincoln_continental_mk2_2_3When I first laid eyes on a picture of this car, my jaw literally dropped. I had been perusing a book on cars of the 1950s, enjoying the various design excesses of that era, when I turned the page and ... there it was, long, sleek, and cool, like a little black dress at a hoe-down. There was just something about the simplicity of the design that immediately caught my fancy. While made in the 1950s it definitely does not seem of the 1950s. While other cars were swimming with enormous fins, acres of chrome and bulbous styling full of sweeping sheet metal, the Continental Mark II was clean and spare in its look.

Technically, this is indeed a Continental rather than a Lincoln. Ford created the Continental Division specifically to produce this model--it was, in fact, the Division's only model--and dissolved it after the model run was complete. Later Continentals were folded into the Lincoln lineup.

The name was a revival of the Continental marque that ceased production in 1948 and was Ford's attempt to get back into the luxury market--and did they ever. The Continental Mark II was truly a one-off design, sharing no chassis or body components with any Lincoln.

With its long hood and short deck, the basic look of the car resembles the Thunderbirds of the  time. It senormous egg-crate grill and large front and rear chrome bumpers still give a nod to the era. But between those bumpers is a clean, understated line starting from the front fenders and sloping gently past the doors before jogging back up again with a second slope towards the slightly finned tail lights. The spare tire bulge--again a styling cue taken from the original--was functional, unlike that of later models. The hood maintains the straight line but with a slight bulge to it, perfect for housing the big V-8.

The Continental came only in a 2-door coupe. Mysterious Bigfoot-like photos of a convertible version have surfaced, and at least two convertibles were actually built. Ultimately, though, costs were deemed prohibitive. This seems a bit odd when one considers that the car listed for nearly $10,000, in the Rolls Royce ballpark. The cars came standard with nearly every luxury feature available at the time--power windows, air conditioning, and Italian leather, for starters. Power was supplied by a factory blueprinted 368 V-8 mated to a 3-speed auto transmission. The cars were made by hand, with the individual body panels undergoing multiple coats of paint and lacquer finishing.

56lincoln_continental_mk2_3It is unclear what Ford hoped to accomplish by producing this car. In part, they obviously meant to reintroduce themselves as a manufacturer of luxury automobiles, using the original Continental as inspiration. Nevertheless, the limited body styles and sky-high price virtually insured that limited production. It could never have been designed to make money, since Ford lost an estimated $1,000 per car. In the end only about 3,000 were produced and were sold mainly to high-end customers such as Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra. Ford's primary motivation was probably to get the car into the hands of celebrities and hope the glamor would extend to the rest of the brand.

While generally acknowledged as one of the classic automotive designs of the post-war era, these cars have only recently started to appreciate in price. Current prices range into the low-mid $100,000s for
exceptional models, which I suspect are those with some form of celebrity connection. Even those in good condition can still be had for less than $30,000, though it seems that, due to their exceptional original build quality and use of high-quality non-standard parts, they are not for the faint of heart (or bank account) to restore and maintain.

I've only seen one in person, driven around Seattle by an older gentleman (if you're reading this, sir, call me). I think the rather sparse design has held up well over the years in a way similar to the Avanti. It has a certain quiet elegance to it that is timeless and never quite goes out of style.

Both photos are from ClassicCar.com.

--Anthony Cagle

Comments

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"It has a certain quiet elegance to it that is timeless and never quite goes out of style."

A trait not universally shared by its successors.
http://www.carlustblog.com/2008/02/car-lust--linco.html

Very Nice! I just recently saw one of these for the first time, last Sunday at the Milwaukee Masterpiece car show.

http://www.milwaukeemasterpiece.com/home.htm

Very impressive car! Especially since I never knew they existed! So clean, so crisp, so fresh. Looks like it came out of the mid 60s, not the 50s.

Oh, my, the Continental Mark II. I remember being smitten with it as a car-crazed grade-schooler, and am just as smitten today. Two were parked on the streets of my Brooklyn neighborhood for a few years, catching my eye almost daily. (Both were traded in on handsome new 1961 Lincoln four-door sedans, within weeks of each other.) Both of those Mark IIs had a/c, as did 75 percent of total production. With that in mind, I find it hard to believe that this was a dealer-installed option: how was the dealer supposed to create those faired-in air intakes at the leading edge of the rear fenders?

Given the low production, a surprising number of these beauties can be found for sale at any given moment. (You'd be hard-pressed, though, to get your hands on one of the two convertibles Ford built.) I came close to buying one on two occasions in the eighties, but both needed more work -- and hard-to-find parts -- than I was willing to take on. But I still harbor lust in my heart for what was probably the best car Ford ever made.

Oh, is that pretty!

I hear the words "Continental Mark" and my first thought is the garish disco-era Continental Mark IV. This is much nicer.

The 1961 Lincoln Continental (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lincoln_Continental#1961) is one of the prettiest cars ever built. This looks like the first draft of that design, and that's a compliment.

Oops, my bad. A/C was, in fact, an option, but indeed a factory option, not a dealer option. Had my notes mixed up (an electric eye dimmer was dealer-installed). Can you fix, please, Chris?

one of my fav car, very impressive

very nicely styled car. good lines.

The one problem I've always had with most cars from this era is that many of them look almost identical, and not in a way I can relate to - I mean, if you've seen one Chevy Bel Air, you've seen them all, right? Tail fins just never did anything for me, other than prove that, were it not for the '70s, the '50s would have been world-renown for piss-poor taste. Let's see here - an entire automotive industry built around humongous cars with over-the-top flight/atomic-"inspired" styling... because, y'know, that sounds like a better idea than throwing polyester all over everything. The reason people hated the Edsel, I suspect, is because it was the ultimate culmination of every bad design cue engaged in during that decade.

This car proves that the '50s were capable of producing beautiful, timeless cars, even in Detroit. Until today, I was not aware of that. Thank you.

David: See the Studebaker Speedster for another fresh, modern design in the 50s.

http://www.tomstrongman.com/ClassicCars/RobBallard/Index.htm

My dad has a 55 President, which should be complete later this year.

David: agree with Rob. The 1953-54-55 Stude coupes, designed by Raymond Lowey, would look good in a showroom today, and are as far from the '57 Chevy loaf-of-bread-with-tail-fins look as you can get. I've also got a soft spot for the second-generation Kaisers (http://www.flickr.com/photos/steffe/2225077005/in/photostream/).

It's a shame that the most interesting cars of the time were designed and built by manufacturers that no longer exist. Then again, that was kind of the story of the '70s, too - just ask AMC.

I wonder how much longer we have to wait until Dodge completely throws caution to the wind and starts going down a similar path to madness? And no, the Nitro does NOT count.

As I recall, Lincoln made a big point of the $10,000 price tag, thus establishing the car as being on the top rung of the car hierarchy of the day. It didn't last long as Cadillac followed up with the Eldorado Brougham for about $3,000 more. I read someplace back then that Iaccoca launched the Mustang as a smaller "poor man's" Continental, copying the proportions pretty faithfully in the notchback coupe version.

As a budding pre-teen car enthusiast in the 50's, the Continental's styling imprinted itself on my brain. After a disastrous late 50's foray into slanted-stacked headlights, bulbous sheet metal, and reverse-slant rear windows, Lincoln briefly returned to the classic Continental lines for a couple delicious years in the early sixties. Alas, that era was to prove short-lived.

Thanks for this info. I drove a few miles behind one of these beauties in the mountains of North Carolina yesterday and absolutely HAD to find out what it was. Spectacular. Jaw-dropping. Really.

In 1969 I had the chance to buy a Grey 56',but it had so much front end damage, plus a price tag of $18,000, I had to pass.

Other than Auto Shows, I have not seen one ont the road since.

My question is...... How do you get a good idea of pricing???
I realize condition plays a big part... But some of the internet articles say 40, 50, 60 .......... yet ebay lists one for 110,000.
ANY RESPONSES?
email cstrauss100@hotmail.com

It`s good to see so many people still in love with this car. I had the pleasure to do restoration work on over thirty of these fine automobiles back in the `90s, including the black one pictured above. The car pictured above was owned by Robb Petty who lovingly called her "Black Beauty".It is probably the most photographed MK II in exsistance, shown here in front of the McCormick mansion. He also owned a `57 he called "Big Red". He sold "Black Beauty" and kept "Big Red" until his passing. He would be proud to know that his cars are still being admired. Long live the king of the american luxury automobile the MK II.

I remember when the car first made its appearance, after much advance notice and expectation. The first thing that got everyone's attention was the announced price: ten thousand dollars, an unheard-of sum for an American production car.

IMHO, 1955 and '56 were the two best styling years for modern American cars (tailfins came in big in '57). Ford, Chevy, Olds, Lincoln, most American cars looked great in '56, and have been preferred by rodders and restorers ever since. By 1956 most of the cars were pretty solid mechanically as well, with good brakes and strong (though too softly-sprung) suspension components and wheel bearings. The early years of NASCAR stock car racing had provided embarrassing and sometimes fatal component failures of Detroit products, often with company brass in attendance. Parts were re-engineered, and by the mid-Fifties, our cars were a lot tougher and safer.

Current owners and enthusiasts of the Continental Mark II have a forum at http://MarkIIForum.com

I rode in that cat when we drove cross crounty in 88. Thanks uncle robb. You were the best

Just in response to the initial post. The only option was air condtioning done by the manufacturer and not the dealer. I am an Elvis fan and the first one I saw was Elvis in a white Mark II. I found out that the test ford had was " sufficient stature in the community " and Elvis did not qualify in 1956 and had to find a car dealer in Florida who had fallen on hard times to sell him one. I have a Mark II and would not part with it. One of the most terrific cars to drive.

Minor nit-pick on a couple of items mentioned above. To the best of my research efforts for restoration (I owned three Mk IIs from 1966 to 1979,) the Continental PR folks made a point of advertising the leather as coming from Bridge of Weir in Scotland (see the article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridge_of_Weir.) Not saying Italian leather was not used - I just don't recall it ever being mentioned in any literature.

When introduced as the 1956 model in 1955, the Continental had a sticker price of $10,200 without air conditioning, $10,800 with air conditioning. As pricey as it was, it was actually less expensive than the Packard Caribbean by a few hundred dollars.

The Y-block 368 c.i.d. engine - basically a high-torque, low rpm truck engine moved the almost 6,000# car down the road quite handsomely, and still turned in an impressive 22 mpg. The 1957 speedometer indicated a top speed of 140 - I chickened out in mine at 125. My mother drove my 1956 at 110 most of the way across Nevada in 1969, the speed limit at that time being R/P (reasonable and prudent.)

I don't understand the comment about Big Foot-like pictures of the Continental Mark II convertible. A simple Google search of "Mark II convertible" would have given you background information for your article.

Also, the story about Elvis posted above has been thoroughly refuted and is BS.

Actually, the 1957 speedometer was a 120. The '56 had a 140. Apparently someone challenged that top speed and couldn't attain it an accused Ford of false advertising.

TRS, January 3, 2010, is incorrect, the Packard Caribbean was $5,995 (1956 New Packard Caribbean Price), almost $5,000 cheaper than the Continental Mark II.

The Continental and Lincoln line, from their earliest of days, were the most sought after American-made prestige cars along with Cadillac and Duesenberg. They were the top three priced cars made in the U.S.A., followed by Buick, Oldsmobile, Packard, etc., but Lincoln, Continetal, Caddillac, Duesenberg were the tops, especially the coach-built Lincolns of the 1920's & 1930's.

Rolls-Royce and Bentley ranked number one world-wide.

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