By on May 13, 2022

We return to our Lincoln Mark series coverage today, in the midst of learning about the first Mark of the line, the Continental Mark II. The Mark II aimed to carry on the tradition set by the gracious Continental of the Forties, and take Ford to new heights of luxury, desirability, price (and thus exclusivity), and quality. The latter adjective is where we’ll focus today; it was certainly the focus of the folks at the Continental Division prior to the Mark II’s release.

It was important for Ford to get the quality right on the new Continental Mark II, in part to build a reputation for the brand but also to justify its asking price. Recall from our last entry that at $9,966 ($106,912 adj.) in 1956, the Mark II was the most expensive American car anyone could buy. Mark II was meant to blend modern automobile conveniences with the build quality and glamour of the past, and remind buyers of the coachbuilt K-Series Lincolns of the Thirties.

The Mark II’s quality control started with a brand new plant. All Mark IIs were constructed at Allen Park Body and Assembly, a facility that opened in 1956 specifically to build the Mark II. The plant was renamed shortly after the end of Mark II to the Edsel Division Headquarters. After Edsel flopped, the plant became the New Model Programs Development Center, where Ford tested its new product. Today it’s called the Ford Pilot Plant and serves the same function as it has since the Sixties. It manufactures and tests Ford’s new vehicles, and documents the construction methods before a hand-off to the assembling factory.

Around the time Ford decided to build the Allen Park facility, the Continental division crafted up a new quality control program specific to the Mark II. Within it was seven different key initiatives, meant to ensure the utmost in quality from beginning to end of the Mark II’s build process. Recall that most of the car was hand-assembled. More on that in a moment, but first let’s talk initiatives.

The primary and overarching initiative in the QC program was called Quality Specifications. It mandated that any Continental car use only materials of the highest quality possible. Such high standards cost Ford more money upfront but would result in a very special product. Suppliers of the Mark II were forced to upgrade their production standards to comply if they wanted to play ball with Continental.

One result of the Quality Specifications initiative was the choice of leather in the Mark II. American-sourced leather was sprayed with color, rather than the more costly traditional method where it was dyed in a vat. So Continental went to Bridge of Weir in Scotland and purchased their dyed leather instead. Lincoln would use the leather for some time and brought it back in the 2010s on the MKS.

Elsewhere, quality standards meant no availability of metallic paint on the Mark II. Said paint became popular in the Fifties as Americans wanted shiny, sparkly vehicles with tailfins. But Continental’s management was concerned about the longevity of metallic paints, so they used lacquer-based paint instead. Mark II was the first Ford vehicle to use such a hard-wearing paint.

The second initiative was Initial Sample Inspection. Compared to normal QC processes in Ford production, Inspections for Continental were set to take place earlier. This meant extra time during the build in case rejections occurred. More inspection orders occurred in the third quality point, Receiving Inspection.

It was a notable change over how automobile parts inspection usually worked: Continental pushed the onus back on the supplier on parts inspection. All parts were required inspected prior to their arrival at Allen Park Assembly. Once they did arrive, they were inspected by Continental workers for a second time.

Next was the Additional Manufacturing Attention initiative. Ford looked at the assembly time of their Ford and Lincoln-Mercury vehicles and allowed twice as long to build a Continental. Workers at Allen Park were to use the time to check parts to test for fit before assembly, as well as correct any defects found.

During the Continental’s assembly, the In-Plant Inspection and Testing initiative saw each Mark II pass through 14 different inspection points, all of which were thorough. A team of mechanics inspected each Mark II before the car could proceed further. Once assembly was finished, there was another team inspection and a final road test before the Mark II was shipped to the receiving dealer.

Through the process, the Mark IIs remained on a rolling mobile carrier. There was no traditional assembly line at Allen Park to speak of: Through each step in the build, a Mark II was moved by hand to the next build station. Sort of the traditional British assembly method, but better quality.

The other two initiatives were outside Continental’s assembly, at the consumer policy level. The first of them was Top Management Action, where Continental’s brass analyzed data from the various QC checks at Allen Park, then compared that information to any reported customer issues or repair claims received. It was the sort of thing a manufacturer would do with many spreadsheets today, except there was no Excel.

Finally, Continental committed to customer service with the Field Service initiative. It was a program exclusively for Continental customers, intent upon the correction of customer complaints, and follow-up with said customers to verify they were satisfied with their vehicle. Part of that satisfaction was certainly down to the amount of choice left to the customer with regard to their Mark II’s appearance.

During the rigorous QC process, the artisans at Allen Park Body would paint a Mark II in one of 19 different lacquers. Customers paired the thick paint with one of 43 different interior color schemes, which included five different upholstery materials for the interior. The Mark II was not offered in garish two-tone like other personal luxury competitors were so often equipped. However, Continental would comply with such a request if the customer was set on it.

Standard on the Mark II was quite a lot of power equipment for the Fifties: Power brakes, seats, and windows (including vents). Gauges were complete and included a warning light for low fuel, both ideas that were sort of novel at the time. And while the Mark II’s wheel covers were not a special feature, the way they were made was.

Each of the wheel covers was created by hand. The multi-spoke design was made up of hand-assembled vanes, each one attached individually. In the same way, a craftsman bolted each letter of the block Continental lettering on the rear tire hump individually.

Continental staff also rebuilt every brand new engine before it was installed in a Mark II. As we learned last time, the Mark II’s Y-block 368 cubic inch V8 was taken directly from the Lincoln lineup. However, it wasn’t blithely installed into a Continental, that would’ve been too simple. Instead, each engine destined for Mark II usage was hand-picked from the Lincoln assembly line (as a “good one?”) and then taken apart.

The V8 was then reassembled with Continental’s QC tolerances and practices in mind, to ensure that it met standards. When it was finished, there were performance inspections too. One wonders if the careful rebuild made a large difference in the reliability of the engine down the road.

With its extensive quality control, elegant Midcentury styling, and sky-high price, it was time to put the new Continental Division’s Mark II coupe on sale to an eager and well-heeled public. And all went well, right? Well, no. Not at all. But that’s a story for next time.

[Images: YouTube]

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26 Comments on “Rare Rides Icons: The Lincoln Mark Series Cars, Feeling Continental (Part IV)...”


  • avatar
    BEPLA

    Quality was Job One. Too bad Lincoln – and Ford – left that behind years ago.

    • 0 avatar
      teddyc73

      Their quality is just as good as any other automaker. They do make the number one selling vehicle in the country so they must be doing something right.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    What a beautiful classic car. Enjoyed the video. This is my all time favorite car of the 50s and one of my all time favorite cars ever. Not over styled and not plastered with chrome like its competitors just pure class. It took the 1961 Lincoln Continental for Ford to get back to designing a truly classy luxury car. Just a shame that over chromed plastic trim huge grilled boxes on wheels have become today’s standard of what a luxury vehicles with few exceptions.

  • avatar
    Marty S

    Corey, love this series and the other ones you have produced. I remember cars from this era and a lot about them but your meticulous attention to detail is amazing.

  • avatar
    Syke

    Beauty and class. Which, of course, GM responded with gimmickry and tackiness. And, once again, showed that Mencken was right.

    • 0 avatar
      Wizweird

      You know, I really like and have worked on many of these old cars. I really don’t try to put other people’s cars down, but sometimes…. Btw have you ever heard the expression”The Lincoln Continental of cars? Oops, it the Cadillac of motor cars. Remember, in those days every other car sold was a GM. And it wasn’t the big three then, it was 5he big 4. Don’t get me wrong, I’m running a 460in my motorhome and it’s tuned to idle at 650,but Cadillac invented so many things that we don’t even think about. Like your headlights? Say thank you GM. How about electric start? Same thing climate control? Yup. Things have changed, but you can still buy a Corvette built in Kentucky by American workers. And they are smoking them up over seas at 1/2the price. All the majors have to be good. They been going 100 years.

    • 0 avatar
      Wizweird

      You know, I really like and have worked on many of these old cars. I really don’t try to put other people’s cars down, but sometimes…. Btw have you ever heard the expression”The Lincoln Continental of cars? Oops, it the Cadillac of motor cars. Remember, in those days every other car sold was a GM. And it wasn’t the big three then, it was 5he big 4. Don’t get me wrong, I’m running a 460in my motorhome and it’s tuned to idle at 650,but Cadillac invented so many things that we don’t even think about. Like your headlights? Say thank you GM. How about electric start? Same thing climate control? Yup. Things have changed, but you can still buy a Corvette built in Kentucky by American workers. And they are smoking them up over seas at 1/2the price. All the majors have to be good. They been going 100 years.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    In mass production, Inspection is not how you get Quality.

    https://deming.org/inspection-is-too-late-the-quality-good-or-bad-is-already-in-the-product/

    See Point 3 here:
    https://www.uthsc.edu/its/business-productivity-solutions/lean-uthsc/deming.php

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      “Next was the Additional Manufacturing Attention initiative. Ford looked at the assembly time of their Ford and Lincoln-Mercury vehicles and allowed twice as long to build a Continental. Workers at Allen Park were to use the time to check parts to test for fit before assembly, as well as **correct any defects found**.”

      Imagine you are an assembly-line worker installing plastic door trim panels in 2022. The panel has been molded too small and leaves an obvious gap. Explain exactly what steps you will take to correct this deficiency at your workstation. Remember that you have two full minutes per vehicle at the new lower line speed.

      Or imagine installing the chrome-plated steel door sill plate on the 1956 Mark II. One of the holes has been drilled incorrectly on the sill plate and will not line up with the body hole. How will you fix this at (half) line speed on each and every vehicle you touch today?

    • 0 avatar

      Japanese would call it “wasteful”.

  • avatar
    dshnva

    >> The multi-spoke design was made up of hand-assembled veins

    Vanes, not “veins.”

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    The 50: era Eldorado also had a great deal of hand build, though I’m not sure it was as rigorous as what Lincoln was doing here.

    Good work, Corey.

  • avatar
    DungBeetle62

    First off, thanks for the piece. Well done and wall researched.

    I remember that limited run of “suicide door” Continentals Ford did for the 2019 and 2020 MY that sold out practically upon announcement even at a price over $100K. My take was that should’ve been THE Continental and even at that price, if they only sold a few hundred, SO BE IT. Make it a rare scalpers ticket. Between what’s already been pulled from the parts bin as well as what clearly could be a good margin at that price, they surely had the chance to make a car truly worthy of the heritage and prestige.

    Alas, just like Cadillac they’d rather change volumes with SUV/CUVs than invest the time and effort to produce a truly world class sedan. Daimler-Benz doesn’t live or die based on the sales numbers of the S-class but the existence of such makes the rest of the product line that much more prestigious. Nobody buys an A220 because it’s a good value.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff S

      Agree they should have made Continental with the plan of it being a low production model. Given Continental time to establish the brand and introduce a 4 door model. Take the losses in the first couple of years and refine the manufacturing process to make it more efficient with some of the items mass produced but keep items like interior and paint made by hand. The Continental was a halo car.

      • 0 avatar

        They debuted the concept with the suicide doors, then claimed the lawyers told them they couldn’t make it.

        So we get a ho-hum rental grade Continental, but they release the exciting suicide door version as they were cancelling it.

        Just poor decision making on Ford’s part. And IMO the Coach Door versions were obviously an afterthought with how they hinged at an angle, and revealed very sloppy pillar and weather sealing once open. Not elegant at all.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          It was the 2002 concept that had suicide doors. The 2015 concept was nearly identical to the production version but the press and the commenters alike were too dazzled by its artful use of chrome and aluminum trim to notice. (IMO that shows how important finish details can be, and the entire narrative around the last Continental could have been different if it had had the concept’s bright grille, rockers, and interior trim.)

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        I was actually a fan of that last Continental. Unfortunately it came out during the Crossover Jihad.

    • 0 avatar
      DungBeetle62

      Time and again the US Auto Industry seems to get snakebit by “We thought we were going to sell ##,### annually, but could only sell #,### so we killed off a car that could’ve been (or occasionally was) a successful niche player.

      Look no further than FoMoCo flat-out ABANDONING sedans in the USA.. and continuing to sell them elsewhere.

      Look no further than the CT6… which they still sell in China

      The proper follow-on act here would be the frequently-suggested engineering of a sedan from the Mustang platform as a RWD, very adequately powered “suicide door” Continental, with liberal borrowing from the Mustang parts bin for much of the dirty bits and assigning stylists who’ve worked on the King Ranch trucks to come up with an interior justifying a six-figure price. A price at which you know going in low-volume is assured; but also assured is press from news outlets that don’t have “auto” or “car” in the publication’s title.

  • avatar
    Marty S

    I was a teenager when this car came out and remember being impressed by how low it was and the beautiful and very restrained styling. Some weird designs and huge cars came from Lincoln in subsequent years, until the 1961 Continental arrived. I saw an original at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn a few years ago, and also at a recent car show and the design still looks great.

    Also saw an article about the Mark II that was used in the movie High Society, which may have been a prototype provided by Ford.

    • 0 avatar
      AviationCat

      I understand the Mark II arrived at the Continental dealer inside a fleece lined bag. Were you able to see a Mark II “arrival” back then? That would be something to see. I was a service advisor at a Ford dealer back in 2000. A customer purchased a grey Mark II barn find that had been sitting for decades. You haven’t lived until the scent of 15 year old gas fills the shop area! Once the fuel system was sorted out, just couldn’t tell if the engine was running or not! I was lucky enough to test drive it. Just a beautiful machine! It really was!

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    This kind of QC is how Mercedes got where it is. Too bad every car wasn’t built this way.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Corey, a wonderful series. Although I am a fan of the 59 Cadillac and very briefly owned one, I do have to admit that the Mark II is a very handsome vehicle. And would have looked good as a new car in a number of different decades.

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