Rust-Free Project: 1956 Continental Mark II

With a slow-moving production process, materials of the highest quality, and an almost obsessional attention to quality, there was never any real chance that the Continental Mark II was going to create a profit for Ford. That was not its goal. It was envisaged as the flagship model for the company and was designed and built to secure the label as the best luxury car in the world. This is something that many people believe that the Mark II managed to achieve, and today, they have developed a renewed level of interest and desirability. This 1956 model is a solid car that is ready for restoration, and is located in Wells, Nevada. It has been listed for sale here on eBay, and the best word to describe the bidding would be frantic. After initially opening at $100, a total of 51 bids have been submitted, pushing things along to $9,000. At that level, the reserve has now been met. That means that this is a restoration project that is set to go to a new home.

The Continental Mark II was first introduced to the motoring world on October 5th, 1955. The company’s aim was to build and sell at least 2,000 vehicles per year, with a model life of 5-years. During the first year, expectations were exceeded, with an impressive 2,550 cars being built and sold during 1956. This was in spite of the fact that at a base price of $9,966, the Mark II was costing its buyers 50% more than the most costly offering from Cadillac. However, it really was a case of getting what you paid for. During the construction phase, the Continental passed through a total of 14 different inspection stations, and a failure at any of these points resulted in the car being removed from the line (technically, there was no actual moving production line, as each car was moved from station to station on individual trolleys), with any identified faults being fully addressed before it was allowed to re-enter the line for completion. Attention to detail was paramount, and during the manufacture of the body shell, bolt-on panels such as the fenders were test-fitted to the car to ensure proper alignment. These panels were then removed before the painting process began. Buyers could choose from a total of 14 different paint colors, while there were additional five two-tone combinations available to truly personalize the build. This Continental is finished in Starmist White, but there is evidence around the car to indicate that it might have received at least a partial repaint at some point in the past. As was the case with so many vehicles of the era, a Mark II could be prone to debilitating rust issues. It would seem that this car has managed to avoid those issues, with the owner claiming that it is rust-free. There is one minor ding in the passenger side quarter panel, but this is really insignificant. The owner states that the paint has a couple of chips on the hood and roof, along with some minor imperfections. However, he does say that he believes that it would respond well to a polish. Personally, I would be going over the paint with a fine-toothed comb. Given the stated aim of the Mark II to be the best luxury car in the world, I just feel that anything below flawless presentation would probably be doing the car an injustice.

Attention to quality didn’t end with the panels and paint of a Mark II. The car came equipped with a 368ci Y-Block V8 engine, 3-speed Turbo-Drive automatic transmission, power steering, and power brakes. Each engine was hand-built and produced 285hp. The automatic transmissions were each bench-tested before being attached to the engine, and then the completed unit was subjected to rigorous dyno testing before being fitted to the car. Once completed, the Mark II was then pushed through a comprehensive road-test procedure to ensure that performance, noise levels, and refinement were of the highest quality. Only then would the car be considered to be fit for delivery to its new owner. The owner says that this Continental was running approximately 3-months-ago, but then the water pump froze. He claims that it could be rebuilt, and has even located a company that will be capable of undertaking this work for the next owner. He also believes that with this issue addressed, it would take little more than a clean of the fuel tank and some new hoses to have the 368 purring once again. Of course, it isn’t clear how long it has been since the car has seen active duty, but there may be some other remedial work required before it could be considered to be roadworthy.

The interior of a new Mark II wanted for nothing and was about as luxurious as you could ever hope to find. From upholstery finished in fine Scottish Bridge of Weir leather (cloth was available as a no-cost option), wool carpet, power operation for the windows (including the vent windows), power adjustment for the front seat, a power antenna, a Travel-Tuner AM radio, and a comprehensive array of stylish gauges allowing you to monitor every aspect of the vehicle’s health, there was little more that an owner could possibly want. The only optional extra available for the new owner to choose was air conditioning. This Continental is fitted with air conditioning, but the lack of scoops on the tops of the rear quarter panel, allied to the lack of condenser in the trunk, indicates that this is an aftermarket fitment. The interior of the Continental has been finished in a pleasant combination of Pale Blue and White leather, but it is going to require a pretty comprehensive restoration. I went looking for interior trim kits, but have had no luck. On the plus side, the original upholstery was all hand-stitched, so any reputable upholsterer should be able to source leather that is close to the genuine article and should be able to restore the upholstered surfaces. What the next owner will have to sit down for is the shock of replacing the carpet set. Acrylic reproduction carpet is available, but wool carpet in the correct style and color is going to leave little change from $1,000. Someone has fitted an aftermarket radio into the dash, but it doesn’t look like they have cut anything to do this. Thankfully, there is a genuine replacement radio in the trunk, (along with some spare tail-light lenses), so that’s one item that the next owner won’t have to search for. Given the state of the body and the apparent general mechanical health of the Mark II, it looks like the major expenditure with this car as a restoration project will be in returning the interior to its former glory.

During its first model year, the Continental was a sales success, and with 2,550 cars having found discerning owners, it exceeded its sales target by 25%. It was the great hope for the Continental division, but when the slightly revised 1957 model sold a mere 444 cars, the decision was made to drop the model and close the dedicated Continental brand. Part of the motivation behind this was to save face, but a larger factor was the decision to float the Ford Motor Company as a publicly-listed company on the Stock Exchange. As a private company, Ford could absorb such losses, but shareholders who had handed over their hard-earned cash to grab their slice of the Ford pie would not be so forgiving. The decision was made by Henry Ford II and went against the express wishes of his younger brother, William Clay Ford. As was so often the case with the Ford Motor Company under private ownership, this drove a wedge between the siblings that never really died. It wasn’t that many years ago that the Mark II was the somewhat forgotten luxury car, but that is a situation that has changed in recent times. Values have increased by around 30% in the past 5-years, meaning that a nice, tidy Mark II will now sell for somewhere in the vicinity of $40,000. If you are searching for a pristine example, then figures of twice that price are not out of the question. Given the overall condition of this project car, that might well explain why the bidding has been so strong.

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Comments

  1. dirtyharry

    Yeah, it is a nice restoration project. But, you need BIG MONEY to restore a car like this and you will never come close to recovering what you spent. I think that is why, it is still in the state that it is. I recall the old man ‘flipping’ a few in the 60’s and they were a tough sell. I recall, we sold one to a nice gentlemen, who required hand controls, which we installed. Apparently, having power everything, was a big plus if you were handicapped, when few cars had power everything.

    Like 7
  2. Fred W

    Doesn’t make financial sense to restore, but if I didn’t already have a ’48 Cabriolet in the garage I just might be the last guy crazy enough to take it on. Looks a lot more do-able than the last several MK II’s we’ve seen here. They all seem to be completely restored and out of reach, or unviable. Recently I read that the “every powertrain dyno tuned” thing was advertising hyperbole- there was no place in the plant to do that.

    Like 9
  3. healeydays

    I take the rust free with a grain of salt. It has had a respray as seen on the identity plate. Even though they weigh a ton and the parts are near impossible to find, I have often wondered what a customizer could do to one of these making it a SEMA car…

    Like 8
  4. Chuck Foster Chuck F 55chevy

    I always liked these, although the styling was so conservative. I love convertibles, so a custom ragtop on one of these with modern drivetrain/suspension seems like a fun car.
    Adam, should you give a reference for your plager…, errr references?

    Like 2
  5. Gaspumpchas

    All good commentary, and Great Writeup, Adam, your writeups have great attention to detail. Dirtyharry is spot on, it takes a lot of coin to restore something like this Good luck to the new owner. I don’t watch the TV shows, but I looked at dave Kindig’s cars at SEMA and one of these would be right up his alley. Amazing quality work.
    Cheers
    GPC

    Like 2
  6. skibum2

    Had a ’56 years ago. and even then parts were RARE… I got lucky and sold it for what I paid for it.. What a relief… Beautiful car but not worth (money) to restore.

    Like 2
  7. Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

    Wells, Nevada? Spent a year there one day and never saw this car…
    Seriously, it’s a neat old town, where many of the folks living there are miners for the nearby gold mines. Not too many old vehicles rusting about the ranches and such anymore though, darn it!

    Classy car, big dollars for overall refurbishment. Fix it, clean it and drive it until your tired of it-if you ever reach that point.

    Like 2
  8. Del

    Very nice dry desert Beauty.

    Water pump should not be a big deal to replace.

    Get it running and take it to shows.

    What a Class act

    Like 3
    • CATHOUSE

      There is no desert area here in PA, which is where the license plate says the car spent some time. So it may or may not be dry and/or rust free. Notice that the seller did not include any under side photos.

      Like 1
      • Del

        Good spotting

        Like 1
  9. stillrunners stillrunners Member

    Like………

  10. TimM

    Rare to see one where I am!! Looks good but I wonder if there’s a pig under that dress????

  11. Matt

    owned one, big money to restore. Can’t believe these aren’t worth a lot more than what they sell for. The design of the ’56’s with A/C are one of the most beautiful cars of the 50’s. I never had an issue finding parts, but that was 10 years ago! Hope it goes to a home with someone with great financial ability to bring it back to life!

    Like 2
  12. dr fine

    I admire these cars, but the styling seems a little off to me. The good looking 53 Mercury inspired an updated Continental, but by 1956 the early fifties styling cues seemed dated. The squarish retractable hardtop designed for the project wound up on the Ford, it would have risen the cost of the connie to Rolls Royce levels. (The Ford had a Cadillac price) I think the squared corners and smaller rear window of the folding top would have improved the rather heavy looking rear.

    Like 1
  13. Pete in PA

    I’ve heard much gushing and praise for these car for decades. The quality of the build, the materials, the performance… And then the spectacular $10k price in 1956 dollars. I even drove to look at a white one near State College, PA in the early 80s. Price for that car at the time was $10k.
    But like dr fine the styling just doesn’t work for me. I don’t think it’s an attractive car. Maybe if I drove one I’d change my mind but I doubt it.
    I’ll stick to my 1961 Continentals, a much better looking car IMO and even available in the glamourous 4 door convertible.
    Oh, I too saw the PA classic car tag and wondered aout that. Could it possibly be the State College car I saw decades ago?

    Like 3
  14. Kenn

    Water pump “frozen”? If by being full of water and then frozen ’cause of cold weather, I would wonder about the rest of the engine. It does get cold in PA.

    Like 1
    • Del

      I think he meant seized by saying frozen. Write up says car has been in desert for 20 years

      Like 3

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