Simanaitis Says

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DOMESTIC AUTOMOBILES OF THE 1950s grew and grew… and grew. The Lincoln Continental is an interesting example, especially because it had appeared in R&T, indeed even once as a cover car. Here are tidbits about the Continental Marks I, II, and III. 

The  Mark I. As noted in Wikipedia, “The Lincoln Continental began life as a personal vehicle for Ford Motor Company President Edsel Ford…. essentially a channelled and sectioned Lincoln-Zephyr convertible.”

I like to think the car’s name reflected popularity of Fred Astaire and Ginger Roger’s dance song in the 1934 flick The Gay Divorcee. The Edsel Ford prototype dated from 1939; production of what came to be known as the Mark I took place 1939-1942 and 1946-1948. 

The car was a favorite of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. See “Bill Dobson and Mr. Wright” here at SimanaitisSays.

Wright’s Continental received additional customization and FLW’s favorite Cherokee Red paint job.

The Mark II.  The second-generation Continental was officially termed the Mark II (evoking the European tradition and sidestepping the existence of Bentley’s Continental). A total 2996 were produced 1956-1957. This is the Continental appearing on the cover of R&T, December 1955.

“For six years,” the magazine wrote, “we have been editorializing in R&T about the great classics of the ’30’s and generally bewailing the fact that they are gone forever; now we are greeted with the announcement of a car which may well confound even the most severe critic of modern automobiles.” 

Image from R&T, December 1955.

R&T said, “The new Continental Division, headed by the youngest grandson, William Clay Ford, has come up with a design compromise between the old and the new which is remarkably successful…. The Continental’s ‘modern formal’ styling appeals to persons with good taste, its performance will without question be very good and its price allows a degree of manufacturing precision and careful assembly which has been unknown in this country for a decade.”

R&T Cited: After its usual dyno testing, the Mark II Continental’s 368 cu. in. V-8 is “partially disassembled, minutely inspected, carefully reassembled, and tested again.” “All body panels and sheet metal are assembled and fitted, then removed for simultaneous painting to insure color matching. Painting includes several primer coats, a double surfacing coat and two separate double coats of hand-rubbed lacquer.” “Interior fabrics and leathers are cut from a single bolt, or from matched hides.” And “finally, each car is shipped in a fleece-lined canvas and plastic cover!” 

Curiously, almost 70 years later, it’s this Continental Mark II shipping feature that lodged in my memory.

The Mark III. R&T reported, “The advent of the huge 1958 Lincoln around Road & Track’s offices created more controversy than we’ve experienced in years. Most of the staff opinions were slight variations of ‘What could anyone possibly want with that thing?”

This and other images from R&T, August 1958.

The magazine continued, “But one lone staffer (he shall be nameless) held out: ‘I like it, its styling is unique and distinctive, it’s big and impressive, it’s extremely comfortable for long trips, it performs—it is, in fact, a modern Bugatti Royale.’ ”

Always the technical quantifier, R&T noted, “Its great bulk serves to keep the ratio of chrome to painted areas to a fairly modest figure for current trends.”

“Regardless of whether just everyone wants or could afford a Royale (the largest passenger car ever built…)” R&T said, “the fact remains that the Lincoln is the biggest automobile we have ever driven or tested. Its overall length of 229 inches is such that it will not fit in an average 18-foot garage, yet our biggest surprise came when driving this behemoth in traffic.”

Note, the Mark III’s overall length is almost 8 feet longer than the Austin-Healey Sprite’s (also tested in that issue of R&T). 

Moving the Metal. The Continental’s 0-60 time of 8.7 seconds was bested by only three other cars tested in 1958: the AC-Bristol D-2’s 7.8 seconds, the Jaguar XK-150-S’s 7.3. and the Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster’s 7.0. Impressive company indeed. 

“During the performance testing,” R&T noted, “We were quite impressed with the initial take-off, particularly in view of a test weight no less than 2.78 tons. Here we can thank the designers for employing an extremely large engine (actually slightly larger than the model J Duesenberg’s) and a very low starting ratio of 14.28 (6.80 low gear times 2.1 torque multiplication in the converter).”

Thank 30¢/gallon Gasoline Too. The Continental’s 10-13 mpg compared with the 14-19 mpg posted by the Jag and 15-21 posted by the AC-Bristol and Mercedes-Benz. By the way, the Sprite got 29-38 mpg.

A Nautical Benefit. “Incidentally,” R&T reported, “what appears to be an enormous trunk space is somewhat misleading. The folded top takes up perhaps 1/4 of the volume, with almost another 1/4 occupied by the gas tank and spare tire. Nevertheless, there is still enough room in the trunk for an 8-foot dinghy.” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2023 


  1. Bob Storck
    February 3, 2023

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