Mark II Continental with 74,000 original miles. Beautiful example of an original well-cared-for car with documented service and owner history. Loaded with functional factory options. Factory air conditioning and power windows, recent service and tune-up just completed. This car still retains a lot of its original paint, chrome and stainless trim. Lots of paperwork, books and record come with the car.
|Vehicle:||1957 Continental Mark II|
|Original List Price:||$9,695 (’56), $9,966 (’57)|
|Tune Up Cost:||$300|
|Chassis Number Location:||Data plate on left door post|
|Engine Number Location:||Top of block-back of intake manifold|
|Alternatives:||1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham, 1956 Crown Imperial|
This car, Lot 644, sold for $44,000, including buyer’s premium, at Barrett-Jackson’s Palm Beach, FL, auction on April 11–13, 2014.
A personal Lincoln
The first Lincoln Continental, which started life as one of the many “personal” cars built for Edsel Ford, evolved into one of the most elegant American cars ever produced.
Lore has it that upon returning from a European trip, Edsel turned to designer Eugene “Bob” T. Gregorie with ideas for a convertible coupe that had a European flair. It was to be available for his February Florida vacation in 1939. As the story goes, his influential friends were so taken by the design that they committed to several hundred examples if the car were to be built. It, of course, did go into production, and the 1940–41 Lincoln Continentals were the epitome of styling for their time.
After the war, however, the clean, crisp lines evolved, and the new styling featured a massive chrome grille and a body that did not carry the elegance of the pre-war Continentals. On top of that, Ford Motor Company’s financial statement was upside-down, and Edsel Ford had died in 1943, leaving no one to sponsor the Continental project. It was an obvious cost-cutting target, and by 1948, the Mark I was gone. However, soon after the death sentence had been given, a proposal surfaced for the next-generation Continental.
The Mark II
With financial fortunes improving and Ford Motor Company celebrating its Golden Anniversary in 1953, thoughts of a super-luxury car that would again place Lincoln at the pinnacle of the market were gaining momentum.
Special Products Operations, which became the Continental Division in 1955, was formed to create the most luxurious American automobile — a car to rival the quality of Rolls-Royce. They presented several renderings — all in William Clay Ford’s favorite color of Honolulu Blue — to the company brass. All were rejected, but after an expanded competition, a Special Products Operation design was selected and the Mark II was born. Interestingly, Gordon Buehrig of Cord 810/812 fame was the chief body engineer.
The Continental Mark II, introduced October 15, 1955, at the Paris Motor Show, was built to exacting quality and exuded luxury. All body panels were fitted on a simulated chassis prior to painting to ensure proper alignment, and chrome plating exceeded SAE specifications by a factor of three. The interiors were Bridge of Weir leather, broadcloth, or a new fabric called “Matelasse.”
After extensive testing and inspections, each car was draped with a fleece-lined cloth cover and wrapped in a big plastic bag. Air conditioning was the only option. At a price tag that pushed $10,000, they were more than twice the price of the Lincoln Premiere hard top.
The rich and famous flocked to the car, and it was well received by the critics. Orders were brisk at first, with about 1,300 received during the last three months of 1955, but then things began to unwind. Price was, of course, an issue, and only 652 of Lincoln-Mercury’s 1,300 dealers were on board, so support was weak. Deep discounting was required to move the dealer inventory, which alienated the early full-fare buyers. Faced with a loss of over $1,000 per car sold, the last Continental Mark II was produced in May of 1957.
I confess to a soft spot for the Continental Mark II, as it was one of the first collector cars I acquired some 35 years ago. When I bought it from a friend of a friend in Phoenix, I was assured the car was roadworthy and that a return trip to Seattle would not be an issue. I was picked up at the Phoenix airport in the owner’s ’56 Thunderbird, which promptly broke down and could have been a harbinger of things to come. But it wasn’t — the Mark II drove and handled as advertised and attracted an admiring crowd along the way.
Expensive then, expensive now
If the Mark II is so wonderful, why has it not touched the hearts of collectors?
These cars’ styling is sedate, not flashy, and they are readily available, with more than half the total production still on the road. A lot of them need work, and the rule of thumb with regard to that is this: If a car was expensive to build, then it is even more expensive to restore today. That’s especially true here.
To sell in the high five-figure range, a Mark II has to be restored to the exacting specifications of when it was built, and in so doing, most owners quickly turn upside-down.
The car offered at Barrett-Jackson could have really used a better description from the seller. But from the text and images provided, it looked and sounded like this car was very original. That can be both a blessing and a curse, as the line between patina and resto candidate can be hard to see, and a restoration can kill your investment in a hurry. You can’t cut corners on a car like this, either — replace the Bridge of Weir leather interior with vinyl and your car is worth a pittance.
Our on-site reporter noted lots of issues with the car’s cosmetics, and none of them will be cheap to fix. With that in mind, this price was aggressive. Big restoration bills could be looming around the corner for the new owner. I’d call this one well sold, but just thinking about these cars makes me wish I had mine back.
(Introductory description courtesy of Barrett-Jackson.