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1956-1957 Lincoln Continental Mark II

Early Lincoln Continental Mark II Design

Initial Lincoln Continental Mark II styling proposals picked up where the old Continental left off. But they failed to impress Henry Ford II, so four outside design teams were called in to compete with Reinhart's group, the same sort of situation that surrounded development of the 1949 Ford.

lincoln continental mark ii
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
The Lincoln Continental Mark II driveline and unique cow-belly frame were tested in a fleet of 1953 Lincolns.

Special Products now submitted three new proposals: a pair of 1948 updates and an entirely new, but conservative, concept labeled "Modern Formal." From George Walker's staff at Ford Styling came a Kaiser-like design, a mid-1950s interpretation of the 1948, and a third concept recalling the first Continental.

Walter Buell Ford (no relation to the Ford family) offered a pair of more radical designs, Vince Gardner stayed pretty close to original Continental themes, and the team of Reese Miller and A. B. "Buzz" Grisinger showed several, more contemporary ideas.

Each consultant prepared five views, all rendered in Bill Ford's favorite color, Honolulu Blue. None were signed. Interestingly, the company's Executive Committee was unmoved by any of the throwback or 1950s approaches, but it immediately went for Reinhart's "Modern Formal." The Lincoln Continental Mark II had been born.

This design "religion" was quickly translated into a 3/8-scale clay model, followed by a full-size clay approved in June 1953. Introduction was tentatively scheduled for 1956.

Meantime, Buehrig ordered six running "mules" for testing the new car's frame, suspension, and running gear. They were cobbled up with channeled 1953 Lincoln bodies by the Hess & Eisenhardt coachworks of Cincinnati, five hardtops and a convertible.

Despite the initial cost-no-object decree, budget considerations precluded drivetrain components unique to the Lincoln Continental Mark II. Continental historian Bob Davis notes that an all-new V-12 was briefly considered to maintain a link with the 1940s original, but production economics dictated the use of Lincoln hardware. And that was fine, because Lincoln was being completely made over for 1956.

Included was a new 368-cubic-inch V-8 developing 285 horsepower at 4,600 rpm, Lincoln's most powerful engine ever. It was the logical choice for the new Continental, along with Lincoln's new Turbo-Drive automatic, introduced for 1955.

From an appearance standpoint, the Lincoln Continental Mark II engine differed from its Lincoln twin only in paint color, oil pan, and cast-aluminum instead of steel valve covers. Production was another matter.

Mark II drivetrain components were machined to higher tolerances than the Lincoln's. Every engine was dynamometer tested, then partially disassembled for inspection, and transmissions were checked in another vehicle before being approved for installation. Rear axle and differential were basically stock 1956 Lincoln.

Though the Mark II rode the same 126-inch wheelbase as the 1956 Lincoln, its chassis was entirely different. Since the Continental's overall height could not exceed 58 inches (versus the Lincoln's 61.2), Copp and Johnson developed a unique "cowbelly" frame. This referred to side rails that dipped low between the axles, so that the floorpan sat nearer the bottom of the frame than the top.

The result was a recessed passenger compartment floor like that of the Step-down Hudsons, which permitted comfortably upright seating without a high roofline. A similar approach was taken with the 1957 Ford, but it wasn't until 1965 that the company took full advantage of the Mark II's superior "perimeter" design.

To see how these early designs translated into the 1956 Lincoln Continental Mark II, go to the next page.

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