Today we begin the fifth part of our coverage of rare rides on Lincoln Mark series cars. So far we have considered the first Continental the late thirties, and Ford’s desire to go ultra luxury of the Mark II sold under newly minted Continental Division. The brand, which debuted in the 1956 model year, was in the mid-century style, built of the highest quality components and methodically controlled by Quality control program consisting of seven initiatives.
It’s time to put on sale a new coupe Continental Mark II.
Ford has invested heavily in the development and assembly of the Mark II. The reported cost of developing the new Continental Division was $ 21 million ($ 227,389,100). Ford then decided not to spend even more money on setting up a separate dealer network for a single model. Instead, the Mark II was sold through Lincoln-Mercury dealers.
The Mark II stood out on the floor of the showroom compared to other products offered at LM, but was comparatively simpler than other luxury coupes of the time. After production began in July 1955, the first about 300 stamps produced were designated as “introductory units” and shipped to dealers.
A special category were the introductory cars. They were borrowed by dealers for free, but because they were introductory examples, they could not be sold. Lincoln-Mercury dealers, of course, abandoned the idea of buying a Mark II for a display that could not be sold, so Continental came up with an intermediate free sample. Another snag was the big one: the display blocks were only static and could not be tested. None of the first cars could be listed for sale until later that year when the Mark II was in good condition.
Keep in mind that the Mark II was not on the scene of a super-expensive luxury coupe per se. Hand-crafted ones like the Cadillac Eldorado and Chrysler Imperial were twice as expensive as the Mark II, and were available a year or two before the new Continental. On the European side, the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud (1955-1956) had an impeccably luxurious pedigree, as did the Bentley Continental S1 (1955-1959). And guess what? All competitions could be tested and then taken home immediately after purchase.
And there was another problem: the Mark II lowered its price and exclusive status with a restrained style. Although it was large, responsible and varied in length, it lacked the glaring chrome of the American competition or the majestic size of the Europeans. The Mark II found itself somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. It turned out that a big, bright approach would be much more advantageous in Continental. Unfortunately, Mark II is also ahead of another new star in the field. And it was one of the same family tree.
Ford Thunderbird. Ford’s new personal luxury coupe for the slightly less elite too hit the showrooms before the Mark II since it had its first model year in 1955. Thunderbird immediately became a hit and is credited with creating a personal luxury mass market coupe. Thunderbird had a scaled-down version of the Y-block V8 that used the Mark II, and was available in the form of a convertible and coupe. The main thing was that it was brighter than the Mark II, and when it debuted in 1955, it demanded just $ 2,944 ($ 31,877). Still a decent amount, but in a different plane than the $ 9,966 ($ 106,912 adjusted) Mark II.
However, it was a tough battle for the Mark II in terms of sales Business Week announced in Thanksgiving Week 1955 that their title sold “like hot cakes”. Indeed, the initial demand for the most expensive American car after its debut was, but the queue of buyers did not last long. Like the revived Stutz of the 1960s and 1970s, the Mark II of the 1950s found a home in celebrity garages.
President Eisenhower acquired one when he was in office, as did the future Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. Always a big personal fan of luxury coupes, Frank Sinatra bought the Mark II. Later Elizabeth Taylor also acquired one. And Elvis did as expected.
Even with celebrity owners and a new exclusive brand, the original price and manual construction of the Continental division meant that Ford was losing money on every example sold. The construction of the Mark II cost $ 8,500 ($ 91,695, respectively), but dealers were billed $ 7,500 (adjusted $ 80,907). And perhaps the status of money losers would be sustainable in the short term as the Continental Division expanded its range of ultra-luxury cars and became profitable. But at the time, Ford’s leadership had other concerns.
Chief among these was Ford’s IPO in 1956, when the company moved from a family business to a shareholder-funded business. This meant that all financial matters were then public. The continental department, which was losing money, could no longer hide in the pages of the family book. Just a year after Mark II began production, Henry Ford II wrote an angry letter to people in Allen Park and abolished the Continental Division.
Over the years William Clay Ford Sr. (1925-2014) argued that Mark II and the Continental Division had a path to success. He said that if the division had been launched a few years earlier and managed to prove itself, it would have survived. IPO pressure immediately after an investment of $ 21 million and subsequent consecutive losses at once was too much.
Continental was immediately integrated into Lincoln, and the Mark II was transferred to a discontinued state. The release of the 1956 model year was complete: 2,600 Mark II cars were made. For the 57 model year the pace was much lower, and only 444 was made. The Mark II was officially discontinued on May 8, 1957. Changes between model years have been limited by the increase in power for a standard V8 engine. 285 horsepower in 1956 became 300 in 1957.
And like a tick in the eye when the Mark II whined to the end, the biggest competitor in personal luxury – Cadillac – introduced a new and super-exclusive version of the Eldorado. Called the Eldorado Brougham, the four-door hard top was more expensive than the Mark II and even the Silver Cloud, for $ 13,074 ($ 136,949, attached.). Designed by Harley Earl, the new third-generation Eldorado (and especially Brougham) has led the Cadillac to new heights of luxury.
As for the remnants of the Continental Division, two more cars were working in Allen Park. The first of these was the Mark II convertible, a version with a solid mechanical roof that fits into the trunk. The second was a more sedan according to Eldorado Brougham, Mark III Berline. Riding on a solid-body platform, the Berline had a rear door with hinged hinges and a style with tiled sides.
One element of the Mark II convertible went into production since the roofing technology was handed over to Ford. Ford immediately unveiled the 1957 Fairlaine 500 Skyliner, which showed what the roof of the canceled Mark II would look like in action. At least Ford has made good use of the Skyliner technique: in three years they have sold more than 50,000 copies.
The Allen Park factory, built exclusively for the construction of Continentals, was immediately converted into a new headquarters and production site for a new experiment with Ford’s brand, Edsel. It turned out so well that it deserves its own coverage of rare attractions.
The second in Mark’s history was a high point for the Mark series, and the only time such a hand-built car stood out as Lincoln’s flagship personal luxury coupe. Continental management clearly understood when the Mark II went on sale that it would be necessary to make changes to the model line to make the brand a sustainable business. By 1955, a completely new Mark III lineup was planned without compartment. At this point, we will stop and deal with the next plan for the Continental Mark III.
[Images: Ford, Cadillac]
Become a TTAC insider. Get the latest news, features, TTAC and everything else that first reaches the truth about cars by subscribing to our newsletter.