1956-57 Continental Mark II
When 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.
It 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
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.