The impetus for what came to be the Lincoln Continental Mark II was the Ford family's deep-seated desire to revive the spirit of the original Continental in the modern idiom, thus establishing a new tradition of excellence. Pride also played a part.
After a long period of design stagnation, executive upheavals, and eroding sales, Ford Motor Company had made a spectacular turnaround with its well-received 1949 products. The entire fleet was again completely overhauled for 1952, when the firm regained its rank as the industry's number-two producer from a faltering Chrysler Corporation.
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This Lincoln Continental Mark II clay model shows the basic shape of the eventual car.
With profits higher than at any time since the war -- and with the company's Golden Anniversary coming up in 1953 -- it seemed like a good time to celebrate with a super-luxury model aimed at establishing Dearborn's dominance at the very top of the market -- higher, even, than Cadillac.
In early 1952, Ford brass formed a committee headed by long-time sales executive John R. Davis to investigate possibilities for future model expansion. The group returned in June with two recommendations: a brace of medium-price products to supplement Mercury (which culminated in the 1958 Ford- and Mercury-based Edsels) and a very high-priced luxury car.
To handle the latter, a new team called Special Product Operations was set up. This was later renamed Special Products Division, then Continental Division in 1955.
From the outset, Special Products was completely divorced from Lincoln-Mercury, so it couldn't borrow any of that division's talent. Accordingly, John Reinhart, veteran designer with GM, Packard, and the Raymond Loewy studios, was brought in to head styling, and Bob Thomas and Ray Smith were recruited from Nash-Kelvinator to work directly under him.
Reinhart's engineering counterpart was young Harley Copp. Harold Johnson was named chief chassis engineer, while Gordon Beuhrig, renowned for the striking 1936-1937 Cord 810/812, became chief body engineer. Overseeing all was William Clay Ford, the youngest of Edsel's three sons and brother of the company president.
The brief for Special Products was simple but daunting: Create the most luxurious, carefully crafted production car in the land -- literally an American Rolls-Royce. Retail price was projected at a formidable $7,500-$8,000; it ultimately worked out to near $10,000.
At that level, the new Continental would cost more than twice as much as a contemporary Lincoln, which meant that it couldn't be simply an updated version of the last 1948 model.
Ford's aim was a modern car with the quiet elegance and quality construction of the great 1930s classics. Originally, the firm didn't see it as a profit-maker so much as a prestige flagship, which explains why the project was approved despite an estimated annual loss of $1.6 million, based on 1,600 sales per year over a three-year period.
Harley Copp underscored this intent in a 1956 address to the Society of Automotive Engineers: "The Continental does not have the most chrome, the most horsepower, or the greatest size. [Instead, it emphasizes] elegance, and not only the elegance of appearance. Certainly, an essential requirement of elegance is enduring value. Rhinestones are no substitute for diamonds."
This would prove to be the guiding wisdom behind the development of the Lincoln Continental Mark II.
For more information on early development and design of the Mark II, go to the next page.
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