1956-1957 Lincoln Continental Mark II

The Lincoln Continental Mark II is one of the most fascinating stories in the history of automobile production. It was supposed to establish Dearborn's dominance at the top of the market -- which it did -- but it was somehow supposed to make money -- which it couldn't. Here's the intriguing story behind the revival of a grand idea that proved too grand even for the 1950s.

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1956 lincoln continental mark 2
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Great cars are never forgotten, and the original Lincoln Continental is one of them. In the early 1950s, memories of that timeless 1940-1941 design prompted dealers and would-be owners to ask Ford Motor Company for a successor, the first new Continental since the last of the postwar continuations was built in 1948. The result was the unforgettable Lincoln Continental 1956-1957 Mark II.

Riddles and myths about the end of the first-series Continental persist to this day, but several facts are indisputable. First, a second-generation model was included in Ford's postwar plans as late as early 1947, conceived for a 132-inch wheelbase to be shared with a new limousine at the top of the Lincoln line.

Second, those plans were drastically changed -- almost at the 11th hour -- by Ernest R. Breech, second in command to newly named company president Henry Ford II.

Economics was the reason. Ford Motor Company was in dire financial straits by the late-1940s, and cost-cutting was imperative for survival. The Continental was a natural target. It was not only expensive and thus had limited sales potential, it was old.

Though running gear had been improved over the years, its basic design still hearkened back to the V-12 Zephyr of the 1930s. Worse, the gorgeous original styling, executed by Eugene T. "Bob" Gregorie, had suffered from a 1942 facelift, which continued after the war.

But the main reason the Continental died after 1948 was that there was no one left to sponsor it. Its creator, former company president Edsel Ford, died in May 1943, precipitating a leadership crisis that only aggravated his firm's financial plight.

Despite the chaotic atmosphere of the early war years, he hand-worked with Gregorie and others on ideas for the firm's first new postwar designs. But if Edsel had any particular visions about a second-generation Continental, he carried them to his grave. His death left a vacuum that the Mark II would soon fill.

Keep reading for more about the birth of the Lincoln Continental Mark II.

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