When Ford Motor Company introduced the 1956 Continental Mark II, it was a huge step for the Dearborn automaker. The cars cost three times as much as a Thunderbird and the company even started a Continental division just for marketing that model. The Mark II was not even badged as a Lincoln. William Clay Ford Sr., son of Edsel, grandson of Henry, was named to head the Continental Division. With that much family pride on the line, it’s not surprising that William Clay and two of his brothers, Henry II and Benson all had the company make them personal copies of the Mark II. The Continental Division didn’t last long and neither did the Mark II, classic design or not. Though sales of the 1956 model exceeded expect expectations of only selling a thousand or so of the handbuilt $10,000 (1956 USD) Mark II, quickly selling over 1,300 in the last quarter of 1955 and matching that number in the following year. That decline in sales rate was mostly due to the broad and deep 1957 recession. Only 444 Mark IIs were sold in 1957. The Continental division was shuttered, and the Mark II was discontinued.
The Continental Mark II and the other mid 1950s Fords were, in my opinion, a high water mark for Ford styling. The mid-50s Fords have a purity of line, and tasteful (for the times) use of chrome, and to many eyes they define Ford styling DNA. At the peak was the Mark II, a design so elementally sound that when Chevrolet introduced the Corvette, Ford executives had the Mark II scaled down to become the first Thunderbirds. Ford would go from purity of line to the bizarre and garish late ’50s models typified by the Edsels. The ’58 Mark III is as hideous as the Mark II is beautiful.
Beautiful or not, by the 1990s the Ford family Continental Mark IIs left family hands. The Schmidt family in Florida, who own the National Parts Depot, an aftermarket auto company, have managed to acquire and restore all three and they brought them to Detroit for the 2011 Eyes On Design show. As would be expected of cars already essentially handbuilt plus in this case special ordered for the family that owned the company, they are not identical and have custom touches.
The black Mark II was ordered by Henry Ford II for his wife at the time. It’s unique in that it’s got a Hartz cloth roof, fabric upholstery and no hood ornament. The green one was Benson Ford’s, who had it upgraded to a 430 V8 when that engine came out in 1958. Ten years later Wm Clay Ford had the 460 V8 installed. Mrs. Ford’s car has the stock 368. The job required considerable modifications for the engine to fit, so that particular Mark II is nowhere near stock. However, since the mods were all done in Dearborn by FoMoCo, it’s recognized by the Continental club as a legitimate “factory stock” Continental. Wm Clay Ford also had his car painted Honolulu blue and the interior is that color with silver highlights. Those are the colors of the Detroit Lions, which Wm Clay Ford also owns. The blue Mark II also has a steering wheel inset with WCF, Wm Clay Ford’s initials. The black and blue Marks are 1956 models, while the green Mark II is an even rarer ’57, distinguishable by the lack of fresh air scoops in the rear fenders for feeding the air conditioning. The 1957 models moved those intakes to behind the front grille, but they still retained the Mark II’s unique headliner mounted A/C vents. All three Ford family Mark IIs are stunning, in perfect show condition, but the sea foam green metallic Mark II of Benson Ford particularly seems to be the crowd favorite.
Earlier this year the My Classic Car show with Dennis Gage profiled these three cars. You can watch the video below: