By George Masters
Way back when, a long time ago, my dad and I were talking, and he said: “Hop in, I want to go look at a car!” That’s when it began. It was a June afternoon in Hecktown, Pa., 1964. I was a wopp’n 14 years old!
"What are we going to see this time?" I said to myself. We wound up at the Lincoln-Mercury dealer in Easton, Pa. — right on the east end of Northampton Street. We walked into the showroom, and there was a "light blue" (the official color) 1956 Continental Mark II. It was drop-dead-gorgeous. I thought it was special. I had never seen one before, and I knew nothing about it. I knew the price was $2,995. Dad was talking with a salesman and I had no idea what was in store for the family here.
We went home and talked about the Continental. Lo and behold, two days later, it was sitting in our driveway. I’ll never forget that car. It was long, lean, heavy and sharp as a tack! Me being 14 years old, living in the country and not having a whole lot to do with spare time, I got to know this car really well.
My dad liked to go to car shows, so we would get the car all waxed up and off to shows like Hershey, Macungie and others around our small area of Pennsylvania. I still have some of the window registration cards from them, and some original dash plaques from Macungie. Both of those shows have grown to massive proportions.
Anyway, prep’n for a show was something else. Back in those days, no detailers were around; you just used wax and did a lot of rubbing. I can remember taking parts off of the engine and cleaning them. I would take the front valance panel off in front of the radiator, paint it light blue with a spray can, cleaning the bolts with a wire brush, and polishing what I could under the hood.
Then came the hub caps. Forty fins were individually bolted to each cap. They were stainless and, of course, would get dirty. I’d polish each one and cleaned behind the black area of the cap, then re-install the fins. (Four caps equal 160 fins). One time, I can remember taking off all of the fins and dad took the four caps to a body shop and had the black background repainted a shiny black. That was the last time I ever took the fins off of the caps. From then on, they looked beautiful!
Now, I’m getting anxious about getting my driver’s license and I asked my dad if I could take the Mark II for my test. No problem. I think he let me do this because I took a special interest in the car. We thought the trooper would really be wowed by the car, but he never reacted one way or another. I passed the test and then the driving began. I didn’t drive it on any regular basis. I remember Mom taking it to church some days, but other than that, we just had it around.
Now comes 1968, time to graduate and time for the Senior Prom. “Yes, you can” were the words when I asked. Well, I was in high heaven taking this car to prom. Went to pick up my girlfriend and “BAM” she banged her knee on the pillar when she got into the car for that evening. That sure ruined things from that moment on. She wasn’t in a good mood after that!
As Dad was getting older, the Mark II had somewhat of a “Do we really need this car” syndrome. I had joined the United States Air Force, and was stationed at Griffiss AFB in Rome, N.Y. I would come home quite frequently and ask about the Mark. It was basically just sitting around, not being driven and that’s when I decided to ask to purchase it from my dad. I was getting ready to re-enlist in the Air Force, and with that came a nice bonus, so that’s where I decided to “invest my money.” I think I paid him $5,000 for the car. At that time, that was a lot of money and I just wanted that car.
Being a young airman in my life, living in New York and having the car in Pennsylvania, it still just sat. I stored it in a few barns in Bethlehem and Lehighton, Pa., until I thought the time was right to get it to Rome. Eventually, I got a garage and I brought it there. I used it a bit, but nothing of any major significance. Then I got orders to Minot, AFB in North Dakota. In the winter of 1971 I moved my wife and all of our belongings to Minot from Rome. That was in December, so the car went back into storage.
Somehow, and I don’t remember how, I got the Mark II to Minot with me. I had a single-car garage and it went into that small thing (somehow).
I love the Mark II and what a great history, but I was also starting to get interested in Corvettes. I had bought my first Corvette when I was on temporary duty in Rantoul, Ill. I brought that up to Minot and now we have my '55 Chevy (another story), the Mark and a '64 Corvette roadster, which I would end up trading straight across for a 1963 "split window" coupe. It didn’t run, and my '64 did, so the trade was good for both of us. I fixed the "split window" Vette and got it running nicely.
The Mark II was needing some rust repair, the Corvette was needing a full restoration and I just couldn’t do both. So I ran an ad in the newspaper and sold the Mark II to a man in Forest River, N.D. I can remember borrowing a van and a trailer and hauling it to its new home, never again to be seen by me. I did, however, keep all of the literature that we had accumulated from and about our car. I thought someday I might just have another one!
Fast-forward to summer time in Minot, 2013. I got a wild hair to look for my Mark II. I knew where it went, but after tracking through Mark II forums, I lost track of it when it went to Florida and that owner has never registered it. I found another one in Morgan Hill, Calif. It belonged to a man with some health issues, and he was trying to sell it. We visited many times over the phone about the car. It was exactly like my original one, but it had air conditioning, whereas mine did not.
That, along with front bumper guards and maybe tinted windows, were the only options for these cars. They made around 3,000 in 1956 and 1957. Their cost new in 56 was $10,000. They were assembled in primer, fitted, then disassembled, painted with 14 coats of lacquer, then final assembly took place and off to the new owners in protective bags. Liz Taylor, Elvis and Frank Sinatra were among the first to have these wonderful cars.
In September, I decided to wire-transfer some money to purchase the Mark. Prior to its delivery, I was really excited to have one back. The owner had described this car to a tee. He was honest. As a matter of fact, he told me more that was negative about the car, than was positive.
He originally stated that this one had not been restored… thus a survivor! He did have the bumpers re-chromed, had new exhaust system installed, had the brakes done and the carb re-built. Other than that, it is original, right down to the insulation pad under the hood, the leather cover over the spare tire, the original jack in its own leather case, and everything else.
He had a few spare parts such as hood hinges, a new hood ornament and some miscellaneous other parts. He had a can of touch-up paint and a nice car cover in the trunk with the car. He also had literature on the car, all of the receipts, and a history of the man that bought this car new.
He was an oil baron in Beverly Hills and he was a good friend of Ronald Reagan. This would have been when he was an actor, not a politician. So, it is safe to presume that Mr. and Mrs. Reagan rode in my car.
This car is now put away for the winter—(storage again), but next spring and summer, I hope to put a lot of miles on the ol' girl. So now I have a beautiful survivor 1956 Continental Mark II!
Notice I have called it a Continental Mark II and not a Lincoln Continental Mark II? That’s because when they developed the Mark II, Continental was a division of Ford Motor Co. and it wasn’t until 1958 they became the “Lincoln Continental” ( Mark III).
I hope to have many happy miles behind the wheel of this car. It will be fun driving around these vast open spaces in North Dakota to the different car shows.
I am fortunate to have the funds and a loving wife that supports this wonderful hobby that I have. She thinks I am "ill" (saying that she thinks I am "sick" just didn’t sound right!), but then again, many of us are “ill”!
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