Lincoln’s Continental, a car that the Museum of Modern Art once described as an “automotive work of art,” had been absent from dealerships since the end of the 1948 model year. To reintroduce the Continental name, Ford opted to create a separate division; though the car would be sold and serviced through Lincoln dealerships (and would utilize a Lincoln drivetrain), it would be hand-built of the finest materials and styled unlike any other American car of the day. In the eyes of Ford’s Special Products Division and chief stylist John Reinhart, bigger was not necessarily better, and more chrome did not equal more elegance.
In its promotional launch video, Ford described the Continental Mark II in a contradictory manner, calling the car “big and impressive,” yet pointing out the car’s absence of bulk and ornamentation. Instead, the Continental Mark II relied on long and low styling to convey both a sense of motion and a sense of elegance. Compared to the previous Lincoln Continental, designed in the prewar years, the Mark II was positively futuristic in its appearance, and Ford’s description of the car as an “instant classic” was an accurate one.
The Continental Mark II would carry over into 1957, when Ford would construct just 446 examples, including two convertible models. For the 1958 model year, the Mark II was replaced by the Lincoln Continental Mark III, a less expensive (and far more ordinary) automobile that the automaker produced and sold in far larger quantities.
Ultimately, the Continental brand experiment was a commercial failure for Ford, as consumers weren’t able to differentiate between the upscale division and the more common Lincoln division. The loss that Ford reportedly took on each Mark II sold didn’t help, either, and in the decades since then few American automakers have attempted to build a cost-be-damned model to compete with the finest cars in the world. Still, the Mark II remains a coveted prize among collectors today, and serves as a reminder of a time when America was capable of producing both quality and luxury second to none.
Article courtesy of Hemmings Daily. Written by Kurt Ernst.