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1956-1957 Lincoln Continental Mark II

Birth of the Lincoln Continental Mark II

In the vacuum left by Edsel Ford's death, designers were left to ponder a possible successor -- the eventual Lincoln Continental Mark II -- bearing the "bathtub" shape that had emerged from wartime studies as management's favorite for the 1949 Lincoln and Mercury.

Stylist Bill Schmidt sketched one Continental in 1945 that looked like a mid-1950s Nash from the front and a 1948 Continental from the rear. Doors were cut down in a fashion predictive of the later Nash Metropolitan.

Other proposals envisioned the trademark closed rear roof quarters and external spare tire, but these classic elements clashed with the bathtub form like thunder and lightning.

lincoln continental mark ii
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
The Lincoln Continental Mark II was developed at Ford's Special Products Division.

Had things gone differently, the second-generation Continental would have appeared as part of a completely redesigned Ford Motor Company fleet for 1949. The reason it didn't was explained in 1955 by Walt Woron of Motor Trend magazine:

"It wasn't long after the last Lincoln Continental had rolled off the assembly line that rumblings were heard about a rebirth of this all-time beauty . . . After much diligent checking, I found out that they did build an abortive version of the 1949 Lincoln. It was rumored that this would be the new Continental. It bore some resemblance to the earlier car . . . but it was much too cumbersome and awkward-looking to meet with approval."

Former Ford stylist Robert Thomas recalls another ill-fated attempt. In 1947, George Snyder came over from General Motors to be co-director of Ford Styling and wanted to make his mark. Under his direction, a new Continental was mocked up as a full-size clay, with very advanced styling that was nothing at all like that of the eventual 1949 Lincoln Cosmopolitan.

Thomas had done something similar in 3/8 scale at GM, so creating it again was "a piece of cake." As he recalls: "Snyder decided on a convertible . . . so that both the exterior and interior could be modeled in clay and the top could be made separately to be set off to show the convertible as it would look with the top up or down. The finished model was beautiful. Both the exterior and interior were painted, and the hardware was made of aluminum. The model was so realistic that Ernie Breech grabbed the door handle and tried to open the door."

But it was doomed, he says, probably because it was too "far out." More to the point, Ford simply couldn't afford a low-volume luxury liner that would return only marginal profits at best. Thomas left for Nash in 1950.

The clay he remembers may have influenced the experimental Continental-X, first shown in early 1952. A running prototype with aluminum bodywork on a 123-inch wheelbase, this five-passenger, two-door hardtop bore futuristic lines created by staff designers Elwood Engel and Joe Oros.

Among its many novel features was a "rain-cell" roof over the driver's compartment, a panel that closed automatically at the first sign of moisture. As the first of Dearborn's famous 1950s showmobiles, it was a real pacesetter, and was subsequently renamed Lincoln XL-100 and, later, Ford X-100.

More significantly, it prompted a new two-pronged corporate styling program. One path led to the firm's more radical production designs of the period, such as the 1957 Mercury, while the other led to a new Continental, intended to run against then-current trends by reviving "classic era" styling themes. This second path led to the birth of the Lincoln Continental Mark II.

Continue reading for information on the early development of the Mark II.

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