1956 Continental Mark II - An American Rolls Royce
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 I've sketched here is my 1956 Mark II which I sold in 1998. I've owned two Mark IIs in my lifetime - a '56 and a '57. Both were a pleasure to drive and got lots of admiring glances when on the road.
In 1956, cultural icon-to-be Elvis Presley appears on the scene with several #1 selling records. Elvis buys a 1956 wisteria-and-white Lincoln Premiere hardtop coupe and a white 1956 Continental Mark II. New products include Raid insecticide, Crest toothpaste and Comet cleanser. Ford Motor Company goes public, issuing stock. Midas Muffler and Burger King begin franchising. The 'Dear Abby' advice column debuts.
New words for 1956 include brainstorming, brinkmanship, industrial park and tranquilizer. Ike is reelected. Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis split up. Briget Bardot debuts in the film 'And God Created Woman.' 'In God We Trust' becomes the U.S. motto.
Grace Kelly marries Prince Rainier of Monaco. Chrysler and Packard offer pushbutton transmissions; Packard also offers power door locks. The first Volvos are imported to the U.S. Ford offers seat belts and padded dashboards as options and dished steering wheels as standard equipment, touting its cars as safer. The public isn't interested, then-sales manager Lee Iacocca develops the oft-heard axiom, "Safety doesn't sell."
Best-selling songs of 1956 are 'Hound Dog' and 'Don't Be Cruel.' Other hits include 'Singing the Blues,' 'Blueberry Hill,' 'My Prayer,' 'Blue Suede Shoes' and 'Heartbreak Hotel.'
Deaths include actor Bela Lugosi, automobile manufacturer Preston Tucker, bandleader Tommy Dorsey and comedian Fred Allen. The Yankees win the World Series over the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Drawing and text copyright 1993, 1998, 1999 Joseph M. Sherlock. All Rights Reserved.
The Continental Connector is the official publication of the Pacific Northwest Region of the Lincoln and Continental Owners Club. All of these AutoSketch and Remember When articles have previously been published in the Continental Connector newsletter.
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