William Clay Ford’s luxury-car legacy


Continental Mark II faded quick, but the styling was traditional

Ford modeled just 3,012 Continental Mark IIs.

As a separate Ford Motor Co. division, Continental lasted just 457 days. It developed 1 automobile, the Continental Mark II. Total production run: 3,012 autos. A failure? Not exactly.

The Mark II, created 60 many years in the past under the direction of William Clay Ford, who died March 8 at age 88, even now influences Ford, which is struggling after yet again to revive Lincoln.

World-class top quality and client services — 2 pillars that Lincoln chief Jim Farley is pursuing in the energy to rebuild Lincoln — have been portion of William Clay Ford’;s vision for the Continental Mark II.


Ford: A lower profile, but some key moments

At $ 10,000 (about $ 87,000 in today’;s funds) the Continental Mark II was the most high-priced auto available in America when it debuted in the fall of 1955.

The staff that created the Continental Mark II was led by William Clay Ford and consisted of designer John Reinhart, former head of style for Packard chief entire body engineer Gordon Buehrig, the guy accountable for the design and style of another classic American luxury car, the Cord 810 and chief engineer Harley Copp, who went on to engineer the Ford Falcon and the LeMans-winning GT40 race auto.

The purpose was to create a worthy successor to the authentic 1939-48 Continental, produced by Edsel Ford, William Clay Ford’;s father. The new vehicle would be massive, quick, developed to the highest requirements and look like nothing at all else on the street. Its broader mission was to elevate Ford and Lincoln to consider on Cadillac.

The craftsmanship that went into the Continental Mark II was unprecedented for a Ford-developed automobile. The leather upholstery came from Scotland but was dyed in America. The paint was lacquer — 4 double coats — each and every coat hand-sanded. Ford created complete mass-created cars, this kind of as the Fairlane, quicker than it painted the Continental Mark II.

Even though the Mark II’;s powertrain was regular-problem Lincoln, engineers tested the engine and transmission on dynamometers ahead of and following installation. The front finish sheet metal was check-fitted before painting so changes could be made to ensure a uniform gap that would not fluctuate a lot more than 25 a single-thousandths of an inch.

Specifications for the car’;s chrome, paint and trim were the industry’;s highest. Suppliers routinely had components returned since Continental’;s inspectors had been not convinced of a component’;s long-term reliability, not just for match and perform, but for visual appeal.

Continental also set the standard for buyer support. Defects in cars that had been sold have been remedied swiftly and personally. The Continental Division sent services personnel to dealerships to aid in repairs. They would also get in touch with on satisfied buyers to make certain the automobiles had been working properly.

A good quality committee monitored all facets of manufacturing, guarantee claims and customer complaints. Committee members also chosen automobiles at random off the manufacturing line and examined them extensively. All Continental staff were empowered to stage out defects so they could be remedied before the vehicle left the plant. A guard at the plant halted a shipment when he observed a Continental Mark II with a paint defect.

The Mark II’;s lengthy, sculpted hood, brief deck and reduced roof height helped it obtain a top pace of almost 120 mph from its 368 cubic inch V-8 and 3-speed “turbo-drive” automated transmission. Customers could customize the automobile by picking from a massive pallet of colors and interior components there was only a single additional-value choice: air conditioning.

The auto was hailed as an instant traditional, but Ford misplaced income on each a single. Continental offered 2,556 Mark IIs in 1956 and 444 units in 1957 prior to production ended. Continental developed one convertible as a check car. It was driven by Martha Ford, William Clay Ford’;s wife.

Nowadays, the Continental Mark II has a loyal following among classic car collectors. Since it uses special body and trim components, it is tough and extremely pricey to restore, mentioned Paul Duchene, an auction analyst with Hagerty Traditional Cars magazine.

A mint problem black Continental Mark II offered for $ 99,000 in January at the Barrett-Jackson classic car auction in Phoenix, but which is best-dollar. Clean originals promote for $ 30,000 to $ 50,000.

Lengthy soon after manufacturing of the Continental Mark II ended, its influence could be noticed. Lee Iacocca cited the Continental Mark II’;s long hood/brief deck in picking the ultimate search for the 1965 Mustang. And the form of the Continental Mark II’;s trunk lid, which contained area for the spare tire, lived on in Lincolns into the 1990s.

Chronicling the Continental


  • July 1952: William Clay Ford named manager of newly established Special Items Operations. Mission: Produce a modern day Continental.

  • October 1953: With the Mark II taking shape, the group is renamed Particular Items Division. William Clay Ford dubs the design of the Mark II “modern formal.”

  • Oct. sixteen, 1954: William Clay Ford announces Ford will make a new Continental.

  • April 19, 1955: Continental Division is designed.

  • Oct. 6, 1955: Mark II helps make its debut at the Paris auto display.
  • April 21, 1956: Continental folded into Lincoln Division.

  • 1955-56: In 20 months of manufacturing, Ford can make 3,012 Continental Mark IIs. At 5,190 lbs, it was the heaviest vehicle on the marketplace at $ 10,000, it was the most high-priced.

  • These days: The Mark II’;s styling and craftsmanship are regarded as a highlight of the post-World War II era.


You can attain Richard Truett at rtruett@crain.com.

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