the view through the windshield
1956-57 Continental Mark II - An American Rolls Royce (posted 2/28/13)

The Continental Mark II was introduced in October, 1955 at the Paris Auto Show. It was offered in only one body style, a two-door hardtop coupe and was a virtually hand-assembled car with a price tag of $10,000. The Mark II was powered by a more or less factory blueprinted (the parts were hand selected from production runs) Lincoln V-8 engine with 368 cubic inches. Every luxury feature known in 1956 was available on this car. All were standard except air conditioning which was a factory option and the electric eye dimmer which was a dealer-installed option.

The Mark II was very exclusive not only because of its price but because it was to be offered only to 'selected' buyers. Presumably, this would weed out the riff-raff. There is no evidence that this selectivity was ever enforced; if you could come up with the money, you could buy the car. Famous (and infamous) Mark II owners included Nelson Rockefeller, Barry Goldwater, Frank Sinatra, Cecil B. DeMille, R.J. Reynolds, Bill Harrah, Elvis Presley and the Shah of Iran.

The Continental was priced way above the average luxury car. In 1956, you could buy a new Cadillac for around $4,000; a new Rolls Royce could be had for just over $10,000. The high price tag and lack of other body styles limited sales. The Mark II was carried over into 1957 with very few changes. Production was halted in May of 1957. In all, about 3,000 Mark IIs were produced.

Ford Motor Company has always been coy about what their expectations were for the Mark II. Obviously, they were disappointed in the low sales figures but we've never heard what they expected. Compared with other specialty American cars which were priced well above the normal Cadillac/Lincoln luxury market prices, the Mark II did pretty well. It sold better than the 1957-59 Eldorado Brougham which was priced at about $13,000. Its annual sales were better than the 1987-93 Cadillac Allante which was priced at twice the cost of a new Town Car. (The Allante was deeply discounted though; we once purchased a 2,000 mile untitled demonstrator as a company car in 1988 for $34,000 - far less than its $55,000+ sticker price. It was not a nice car. It was noisy and was plagued with rattles and squeaks.)

The lesson here is obvious: high priced cars = low sales. How could Ford have thought otherwise?

Today, the Mark II is revered as one of the best styled cars of the 1950s. Its good looks are timeless. It rides and drives with a grace and quietness not found in other cars of that era.

The car in these sketches is my white 1956 Mark II which I sold in 1998. In 1994, it won the Ford Motor Company Trophy for 'Best Mark II' at the Lincoln & Continental Owners Club Western National Meet. I've owned two Continental Mark IIs in my lifetime - a '56 and a '57. Both were a pleasure to drive and received lots of admiring glances when on the road. More information about my Mark IIs can be found here.

Remember When: 1956
auto blogIn 1956, cultural icon-to-be Elvis Presley appeared on the national scene with several #1 selling records. Elvis used some of his earnings to buy a ‘56 Premiere coupe (wisteria with a white roof) and, later, a white Continental Mark II.

Some of the new products introduced this year were Raid insecticide, Crest toothpaste and Comet cleanser. Ford Motor Company went public, issuing stock. Midas Muffler and Burger King began franchising. The 'Dear Abby' advice column debuted.

New words for 1956 included brainstorming, brinkmanship, industrial park and tranquilizer.

Ike was reelected. Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis split up. Briget Bardot made her film debut in 'And God Created Woman.' 'In God We Trust' became the U.S. motto. Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier of Monaco.

Chrysler and Packard offered pushbutton transmissions; Packard also offered power door locks. The first Volvos (PV444 models, which reminded folks of a shrunken '47 Ford) were imported to the U.S. Ford offered seat belts and padded dashboards as options and dished steering wheels as standard equipment, touting its cars as safer. The public wasn't interested, then-sales manager Lee Iacocca developed the oft-heard axiom, "Safety doesn't sell."

Best-selling songs of 1956 were Elvis' 'Hound Dog' and 'Don't Be Cruel'. Other record hits included Guy Mitchell's 'Singing the Blues', Fats Domino's 'Blueberry Hill', The Platters' 'My Prayer' and 'The Great Pretender', Carl Perkins' 'Blue Suede Shoes', 'The Wayward Wind' by Gogi Grant, Pat Boone's 'I Almost Lost My Mind', Dean Martin's 'Memories Are Made of This', 'Hey Jealous Lover' by Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley's 'Heartbreak Hotel.'

Top 1956 movies included 'The Ten Commandments', 'Around the World in 80 Days', 'Giant', 'The King and I', 'Love Me Tender' and 'High Society'. In 1956, a movie ticket cost 60¢.

Deaths included actor Bela Lugosi, automobile manufacturer Preston Tucker, bandleader Tommy Dorsey, essayist H.L. Mencken, baseball legend Connie Mack, abstract artist Jason Pollock and comedian Fred Allen.

The Yankees won the World Series over the Brooklyn Dodgers: 4 to 3.


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