It's 1957 and you have inherited a million bucks ($8.5 million in today's dollars) from your great uncle, the largest bootlegger in Tennessee.
You learn of the new Lincoln Continental Mark II, promoted as the most distinguished car in the world. You visit Uptown Motors, the Lincoln dealer in Oakland with $11,500 cash -- the MSRP for the car with air conditioning -- to buy America's most expensive and luxurious car. But they won't sell it to you.
According to Bill Edwards, the current and second owner of this 1957 Continental Mark II, one had to be "socially qualified" to buy the car. "Potential customers were investigated to determine occupations," he said. "They found out where you lived. They even came out to look at your house and the neighborhood to see if you came up to their qualifications."
Edwards, a career Lincoln mechanic in Oakland, explained that once the buyer was approved, a $5,000 deposit was required before the Ford Motor Co. would build the car. The car was shipped under a fleece cover to the dealership, and it was strictly C.O.D. A total of 3,000 Continental Mark II cars were built for the 1956-1957 model years, and it was reported that Ford lost $1,000 on every one sold.
The first Continental in 1939 was the brainchild of Edsel Ford, Henry Ford's son. "Edsel and his mother traveled to Europe from time to time, and this is how this car came about," the El Sobrante resident said. "He wanted European styling but Americanized."
According to Significantcars.com, the first Lincoln Continental was built as Edsel Ford's personal car, but it is believed he did plan on putting the car in production. Edsel's V12-powered car was shipped to Florida for his spring vacation, and his wealthy friends were impressed. As a result, the Continental was built, with some minor modifications, from 1939 through 1948, excluding the World War II years. The most distinctive feature was the enclosed spare tire mounted behind the trunk. Aftermarket companies have sold "Continental kits" for virtually all cars ever since.
The Continental Mark II was the product of a new Continental division housed in luxurious offices and staffed with some of Ford's best designers and engineers. Heading up the new division was 26 year-old William Clay Ford, Henry Ford II's younger brother.
Edwards' car is a two-door coupe, but it is huge. He said his car weighs 5,800 pounds, is more than 18 feet long and about 6½-feet wide. The only option was air conditioning, which cost $1,000 ($8,500 today's dollars). The Mark II was largely hand built using the best materials available. They used leather from Bridge of Weir of Scotland, where there were no barbed wire fences for cattle to cut their skin. The elaborate wheel covers have 42 bars hand-bolted to them. The nose ornament was built by jewelers. Even the glove box is carpeted.
Edwards bought this 1957 Continental Mark II in 1983 for $4,000 from the original owner, the head chef on the S.S. Lurline cruise ship. The car had only 38,000 miles on it, and it now has 53,000 miles. He said his car is powered with a 292 c.i. V8 engine producing 368 HP. The car has been repainted the factory mint green once but otherwise is all original, including the soft leather bench seats, the headliner and carpets. The Mark II has every luxury item available at the time, such as Cruise-o-matic three-speed automatic transmission, power steering, windows, brakes and seats. It also has the Multi Luber, a device that lets the driver push a button on the dash to automatically lubricate the whole car.
Edwards' Mark II is a real show car. At a Lincoln Continental Owners Club meet, his car earned 96 out of 100 points. He has no plan the sell this collector car, but he estimates the value somewhere between $70,000 and $80,000.
One feature that is missing is fuel economy. Edwards reported that he drove his Mark II to a car show in Houston and got 7½ miles per gallon.
So what happened to Continental's snazzy office space after the Mark II was discontinued? From the Internet, I learned that the plush executive offices were turned over to another new division at Ford. A division that would offer a unique car line certain to excel in the very competitive mid-priced car segment. That car was the Edsel.
Have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at MOBopoly@yahoo.com