The craftsmanship that went into the Continental Mark II was unprecedented for a Ford-built vehicle. The leather upholstery came from Scotland but was dyed in America. The paint was lacquer -- four double coats -- each coat hand-sanded. Ford built entire mass-produced cars, such as the Fairlane, faster than it painted the Continental Mark II.
Although the Mark II's powertrain was standard-issue Lincoln, engineers tested the engine and transmission on dynamometers before and after installation. The front end sheet metal was test-fitted before painting so adjustments could be made to ensure a uniform gap that would not vary more than 25 one-thousandths of an inch.
Specifications for the car's chrome, paint and trim were the industry's highest. Suppliers routinely had parts returned because Continental's inspectors were not convinced of a component's long-term reliability, not just for fit and function, but for appearance.
Continental also set the standard for customer service. Defects in cars that had been sold were remedied quickly and personally. The Continental Division sent service personnel to dealerships to assist in repairs. They would also call on satisfied customers to make sure the cars were operating properly.
A quality committee monitored all aspects of production, warranty claims and customer complaints. Committee members also selected cars at random off the production line and tested them extensively. All Continental employees were empowered to point out defects so they could be remedied before the car left the plant. A guard at the plant halted a shipment when he noticed a Continental Mark II with a paint defect.
The Mark II's long, sculpted hood, short deck and low roof height helped it achieve a top speed of nearly 120 mph from its 368 cubic inch V-8 and three-speed "turbo-drive" automatic transmission. Customers could customize the car by selecting from a large pallet of colors and interior materials; there was only one extra-cost option: air conditioning.
The car was hailed as an instant classic, but Ford lost money on every one. Continental sold 2,556 Mark IIs in 1956 and 444 units in 1957 before production ended. Continental built one convertible as a test car. It was driven by Martha Ford, William Clay Ford's wife.
Today, the Continental Mark II has a loyal following among classic car collectors. Because it uses unique body and trim parts, it is difficult and very expensive to restore, said Paul Duchene, an auction analyst with Hagerty Classic Cars magazine.
A mint condition black Continental Mark II sold for $99,000 in January at the Barrett-Jackson classic car auction in Phoenix, but that's top-dollar. Clean originals sell for $30,000 to $50,000.
Long after production of the Continental Mark II ended, its influence could be seen. Lee Iacocca cited the Continental Mark II's long hood/short deck in selecting the final look for the 1965 Mustang. And the shape of the Continental Mark II's trunk lid, which contained space for the spare tire, lived on in Lincolns into the 1990s.