Car of the Week: 1956 Continental Mark II

By Brian Earnest

There are precious few baby blue 1956 Continental Mark II survivors floating around the country. Since there were only 2,550 Mark IIs built in all colors for that model year, finding one for sale in any color is a triumph.

When George Masters found one available in light blue, he knew he had to pull the trigger and buy it. There was simply no other choice.

“When I was growing up in Bethlehem, PA., in 1964 we went down to Continental Motors in Easton, PA., and sitting there was a light blue Continental Mark II,” recalls Masters, who now lives in Minot, ND. “Three days later it showed up in our garage and I was in seventh heaven.

“I loved that car. I took my driver’s test in 1966 in it. I took it to my senior prom in ’68. We took it to car shows and had it in Macungie in 1964, ‘65 and ’66… I have so many fond memories of that car.”

When Masters came back from the Air Force in 1972, the car had been sitting idle for quite a while, so he decided to buy it from his father and eventually took it west with him to North Dakota. “Then I got into Corvettes … and I sold the Mark II to a guy in Forest River, ND. That was probably around ’76. Then probably 40 years later I got a hankering to have another one.”

Masters had to be patient the second time around since Craigslist and local want ads aren’t exactly teaming with Mark IIs for sale. Eventually, he found a nice example in California. “I couldn’t find my other one. I looked for it, but never found it. A guy in Morgan Hill, Calif., had this one and I bought it from him,” Masters says. “This one has air conditioning. Other than that, it’s identical to my other one.

“Supposedly it was bought by an oil baron out in Beverly Hills. I’m the third or fourth owner … It had like 64,000 actual miles when I bought it and not much more than that now. I’ve probably driven it only 200 or 300 miles in the last few years. In North Dakota there are only two other ones that I know of and they’re black. There are no other ones around that I know about, and none in this kind of condition. This was a California car, and it even had all the original undercoating. It had no rust whatsoever, and that’s a great way to buy them. The rusty ones get real expensive.”

 

A STAR IS BORN

When Ford decided to launch a follow-up to its iconic and widely admired Lincoln Continental that lasted from 1939-’49, it did so with a huge, classically styled and yet still somewhat understated jumbo-sized coupe that was unlike anything being produced at the time. The Mark II made its debut on Oct. 6, 1955, at the Paris Auto Show. A long hood, short deck, restrained use of chrome and near perfect proportions made it an instant classic. Yet it was not an imitation of the original. The Mark II was unmistakably modern in design. Being priced in the then lofty $10,000 range seemed to only accentuate how special this car was.

There were no two-tone paint schemes or wild fins that became all the rage in late 1950s, and a modest amount of chrome. The egg-crate grille in front would have been at home on Rolls-Royce or Bentley. The $10,000 sticker price also seemed more appropriate for a foreign luxury car than something from the Blue Oval company. But the Mark II was never meant to appeal to the masses or be a big seller. It was strictly an image car for Ford — a Ford for the upper crust and those who wanted to drive something completely different, and it was well suited to that role.

The rear-drive Mark II used a body-on-frame design and was propelled by a big 368-cid Lincoln Y-block that produced 285 hp and was mated to a three-speed Turbo-Drive automatic transmission. There were no pointy corners or rounded pontoon fenders to be found on this fancy new Ford. Indeed, the only curve was the sculpted trunk lid that against had a familiar Continental hump to make room for the spare tire inside. The options list was short, but the standard equipment menu was impressive: fancy leather-covered dash with full instrumentation; Scottish leather seats; power steering, windows, seats and brakes; power vent windows; five different interior fabrics to pick from; extensive roof ventilation; and forty-spoke wheels. With the optional air-conditioning, the big coupes topped out at more than 5,000 lbs. and were said to take twice as long to build as other Ford cars. The multiple coats of paint were repeatedly sanded and polished, and much of the interior work was done by hand as well.

Only about 3,000 of the Continental Mark IIs coupes were built during their short two-year run at the Allen Park body & Assembly plant in Allen Park, Mich. A pair of special convertibles were also built, but the droptop version never made it to production. It’s always been reported that Ford took a $1,000 loss on every Mark II coupe that it built, but the company seemed to succeed in its goal of building a personal-luxury car that could rival anything being build overseas. Today, it’s estimated that about half — 1,500 — of the original Mark IIs remain, making them a unique and welcome sight at any collector car gathering.

 

ROUND 2 WITH A MARK II

Masters said he wasn’t initially in a big hurry to do a restoration on his Continental, but that changed after he decided to take it to an indoor car show on a cold winter day. “It was probably 20-below zero in that enclosed trailer and when we got it inside it was probably 70 degrees,” he says. “And that paint started popping right off! It just started coming up and falling off in pieces. So we sent it to Midwest Rod and Custom in Lake Park, Minn., and they did a great job on it. Today it’s just a gorgeous car. It’s a high-end repaint. The paint is very, very nice. It’s a smooth as glass.”

      

Masters had a ding in the passenger side door repaired and then had all the seals in the doors and trunk swapped out. The seats were reupholstered “with vinyl that looks real nice” and the Mark II got a new exhaust system as well. The crowning touch for Masters was when he was able to put some of the same “old school” Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) stickers in the windows of the Mark II that he had in family’s original car. “It probably doesn’t mean anything to anybody else, but it means something to me I guess, and my brother,” he says.

George and his wife Eileen have a fleet of 12 cars, so the Mark II has to share the couple’s attention. It doesn’t get driven a lot, but it is at the top of the list when the couple wants to make a big entrance or simply enjoy some quiet solitude. “It’s immensely quiet,” George says. “With all the sound-deadening insulation and carpet … it’s amazingly quiet. Even under the headliner there is insulation. It’s really fun to drive…. It’s got the four ventilation ducts in the roof of the car, and that Ford 368 T-block motor is a real smooth drive train. And the car has a real tall driveshaft tunnel running through it, so each passenger kind of has their own bay to sit in.

“That baby blue is just a gorgeous color for that car, and we have the whitewalls on it. It’s a piece of nostalgia for me. It’s a special car, for sure.”

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2 thoughts on “Car of the Week: 1956 Continental Mark II

  1. gtogirl

    What a gorgeous car, and a great story! One of these beauties was at the Iola Car Show this year, and my 85 year-old Dad and I were watching it drive off the concourse yesterday afternoon when the show was ending. I had guessed it to be a 56 so I am glad to see I got it right! The one at Iola was a white/cream-colored car. Thanks for sharing it!!!

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