That the ’50s auto industry couldn’t make a beautiful car is robustly disproved by the ’56 Continental. As pretty as anything from Italy, the Mark II was intended to be a work of art and a symbol of affluence. William Ford was fanatical about his personal project, fighting for a chrome rather than plastic hood ornament costing $150, or the price of an entire Ford grille.
But it was that tenacious attention to detail that killed the car. Even with the Mark II’s huge $10,000 price tag, the Continental Division still hemorrhaged money. Poor sales, internal company struggles, and the fact that it was only a two-door meant that by ’58 the Continental was no more. Ironically, one of the most beautiful cars Ford ever made was sacrificed to save one of the ugliest in the upcoming E-Car project—the Edsel.
The most expensive automobile in America, the $9,695 Continental really was the car for the stars. Elvis tried one as a change from his usual Cadillacs, and Jayne Mansfield owned a pearl-colored ’57 with mink trim. The Continental was three years in the planning and was sold and marketed through a special Continental Division.
Two special convertibles were built before the Continental was axed.
The high-quality all-leather trim was specially imported from Bridge of Weir in Scotland.
“Cow belly” frame was specifically designed to allow high seating with a low roof line.
Air-conditioning was the Continental’s only extra-cost option.
PRICE OF CLAY
A pricey little number, even the Continental’s prototype clay mock-up cost $1 million.
The classically simple cabin could have come straight out of a British car. The interior boasted richly grained leathers and lavish fabrics. Self-tuning radio, four-way power seat, dual heater, and map lights were among an impressive array of standard features.
Handsome three-quarter profile echoes some Ferrari 250 models. Note how the gas cap lives behind the taillight. Unlike later models, the stamped-in spare tire cover did actually house the spare.
Seats were one of the many power-assisted elements of the car.
Continental tag revived the famous 1930s Lincolns of Edsel Ford.
Engines were Lincoln 368cid V8s, specially picked from the assembly line, stripped down, and hand balanced for extra smoothness and refinement.
Except for Packard’s 374cid unit, this was the largest engine available in a 1956 production car.
Like all US cruisers of the era, the Continental was a thirsty beast, with a figure of 16 mpg (5.7 km/l).
At the rear of the car, trim fins, elegant bumpers, and neat inset taillights meant that the Continental was admired on both sides of the Atlantic. But though its target market was Rolls-Royce territory, it turned out that the market wasn’t large enough to sustain volume production.
High-quality bodies were specially finished by the Mitchell-Bentley Corporation of Ionia, Michigan.
The Continental debuted on October 6, 1955 at the Paris Auto Show to rave reviews.
SIMPLE FRONT ASPECT
With a sleek, clean front and simple die-cast grille, the only concession to contemporary Detroit ornamentation was how the direction indicators were faired into the front bumper.
This was one of the no-cost extras offered. Others included two-tone paint and an engraved nameplate.
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
MODEL Continental Mark II (1956)
PRODUCTION 2,550 (1956)
BODY STYLE Two-door, four-seater sedan.
CONSTRUCTION Steel body and chassis.
ENGINE 368cid V8.
POWER OUTPUT 300 bhp.
TRANSMISSION Turbo-Drive three-speed automatic.
SUSPENSION Front: independent coil springs; Rear: leaf springs.
BRAKES Front and rear drums.
MAXIMUM SPEED 115 mph (185 km/h)
0–60 MPH (0–96 KM/H) 12.1 sec
A.F.C. 16 mpg (5.7 km/l)