On Your Marks (Part One)

We embark on a tour through the illustrious history of the Lincoln Mark line, illustrated by the brochures that promoted each generation.

Image: Lincoln

A glamorous start, a mid-life rewriting of history, and styling triumphs as well as miscues: during a lifespan of almost six decades, the Lincoln Mark line experienced it all.

Continental, 1940-1948

When Edsel Ford, Henry Ford’s style-conscious but medically frail son, commissioned Lincoln’s chief stylist Eugene T. Gregorie to design a special Lincoln for him to use on his 1939 Florida vacation, the positive public reaction to the car would give birth to a line of luxury automobiles that would last the rest of the century.

Gregorie produced, using the Lincoln Zephyr convertible as a starting point, a vehicle that at first glance looked quite similar but was seven inches lower and had a twelve-inch longer front end, imbuing it with a noticeably more rakish air. To allow more boot space for Edsel’s travels, the spare tyre was mounted outside on the bootlid. This feature was still in widespread use on many European cars, hence the car was christened the Continental(1).

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Such was the response of friends and observers to Edsel’s unique Lincoln during his stay in Florida that he telephoned Gregorie and claimed he could sell a thousand of them, given the chance. Being the son of the boss of the Ford Motor Company no doubt facilitated making Edsel’s wish of a production run a reality soon after.

Production of the Continental commenced late in 1939. These first Continentals were almost completely hand built as the dies for machine pressing would not be ready until 1941. Mechanically, the car used the same 292 cubic-inch V12 engine that powered the Zephyr. Slightly over 400 cars were sold in 1939 and 1940 alone and, over its six years of production, the Continental would confirm Edsel Ford’s sales forecast.

The car was subjected to a somewhat heavy-handed facelift for the war-shortened 1942 model year: the elegant waterfall grille was replaced by a more bluff and chrome-heavy facade. Unfortunately, Edsel Ford only got a preview of what the Continental would achieve in the following decades as he died in 1943, but his instincts had been correct.

The brochure shown is for the 1940 model year -in this Dutch market version the car is for unknown reasons not named Continental but Club-Cabriolet Special, but it is definitely a Continental, the only difference being that the spare tyre mounted on the back has no cover.

Mark 2, 1956-1957

Images: Lincoln.com

After an eight-year hiatus, this ambitious successor to the original Continental was introduced. Ford Motor Company’s aim was as lofty as the price of its new flagship; at $10,000 it was the most expensive American car at that time. A shortlived separate Continental division was formed to further distance the Mark 2 from regular Lincolns. Initially planned to be a retractable hardtop coupé(2), the Continental Mark 2 was instead made available only as a hardtop coupé. A couple of convertible conversions are known to exist, but these did not originate from the Continental factory.

William Clay Ford, John Reinhart, Buzz Grisinger and Gordon Buehrig are the main names associated with the styling of the Mark 2. Unusually for an American vehicle of this era and price point, while certainly large and imposing, it is also remarkably free of unnecessary ornamentation; restrained, confident chic best describes the look. Fins were notably absent, but the de rigueur spare tyre hump in the bootlid was of, course, present. The 218.4 inches long Mark 2 weighed in at a portly 5,000 pounds and was powered by the same engine used in the Lincoln, a 368 cubic-inch ‘Y-block’ V8.

Ford was determined to make this the highest quality car made in America. It was largely hand-made like its predecessor. Instead of just random samples being checked, 100% of the parts used in its construction were inspected. There were fourteen ‘stops’ during the build process where each and every Mark 2 was examined before being allowed to go to the next stage. The leather used was imported from Bridge of Weir in Scotland as this was deemed harder wearing than domestically sourced hides.

Singling out one example of Continental’s quality obsession: specialists at Ford Motor Company proved unable to produce the casting for the intricate hood ornament to the desired level of quality, so Ford enlisted a gunsight manufacturer who could manage it. Consequently, each hood ornament ended up costing as much as the entire front grille assembly of a Ford sedan. Partly because of all this, Ford Motor Company were reported to have made a loss of at least $1,000 on every Continental Mark 2 sold. Dealers were also reluctant to invest in putting a $10,000 car in their showrooms with the risk of not being able to find a customer for it, so most were placed at the dealers under a consignment agreement.

Still, just over 3,000 Mark 2’s were sold, of which more than a few went to celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Cecil B. DeMille, Elizabeth Taylor, Nelson Rockefeller and the Shah of Iran.

The Mark 2 brochure, with its simple black cover and gold borders, is nicely in tune with the aura of the Mark 2 it depicts. A more elaborate hardbound booklet incorporating this brochure also exists, with a lot of attention and text dedicated to the quality programme and manufacturing, but that item was most likely only provided to those who had actually ordered a Mark 2.

Mark 3 1958, Mark 4 1959 and Mark 5 1960

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Ford Motor Company did not realise it initially, but with the 1958 to 1960 Continental Marks they entered into a commercial dead-end. Not wanting a repeat of the expensive Mark 2 adventure, it was decided to lower the ambitions for the model: the Mark 3 would no longer be even partially hand built. Instead, production was moved to the new Wixom plant where it was made alongside the regular Lincolns. Styling-wise, the Continental Mark 3 was distinguished from the Lincoln only by its reverse angle, electrically retractable rear window, higher equipment levels and some extra trim. It was also the first Continental Mark to be available with four doors. Interestingly, even the convertible Mark 3 had a retractable glass rear window and its top a reverse rake when erected.

John Najjar was responsible for the look of these new Lincolns and Continentals, the largest monocoque passenger cars of all time with a length of 229 inches, 80.3 inches wide and sitting on a 131-inch wheelbase. A 430 cubic inch V8 nicknamed ‘The Bulldozer’ provided the motive force. The new styling was not universally liked and the sudden sharp ‘Eisenhower recession’ that year also did not help matters, resulting in disappointing sales numbers.

Both following model years saw only minor alterations, although for the 1960 model year the cars changed from coils at the rear to leaf springs. These Marks sold better than the Mark 2(3) but, even so, did not make their parent company any money. The situation was so ominous that for a while it was even contemplated to eliminate the Lincoln brand altogether.

Luckily, it was decided to have Continental and Mark go their separate ways, which ultimately resulted in the highly influential 1961 Lincoln Continental. The Mark did not return for 1961, but Ford would successfully reboot the nameplate seven years later, not as one might expect with the Mark 6, but with a new Mark 3! Dearborn has since kept these ‘forgotten Marks’ away from public attention as much as possible,

The brochures – themselves also generous in size – from 1958, 1959 and 1960 provide a good impression of the sheer vastness of these cars and how colourful a luxury car interior could then be if you so chose. Contrast that with the fifty shades of grey, beige and black found in the majority of current luxury cars.

Mark 3 1969-1971

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We have Lee Iacocca to thank for the Mark 3: the marketing-savvy executive spotted an opportunity to recreate the famous Mark in style, while not breaking the bank by basing it on the existing Ford Thunderbird. Iacocca had no doubt noticed Cadillac’s all-new FWD 1967 Eldorado that now also had styling unique to that model, and had the domestic high-end personal luxury field more or less to itself. With the arrival of the Mark 3, a rivalry that would last almost thirty years was ignited.

Gene Bordinat was responsible for a design that still echoed previous Mark styling cues but in a more straight-edged and, to some, almost – in a positive way – sinister rendition. The Mark 3 was the first to wear the Rolls-Royce inspired ‘tombstone’ grille that would be a defining visual identifier of both Lincolns and Marks for years to come. Being 216.1 inches long on a 117.2-inch wheelbase, the Mark 3 was slightly more compact than its predecessor but, at 4,866 pounds, it was no lightweight either. Fortunately, a powerful 460 cubic-inch V8 was at hand to move the car along in sufficiently swift fashion.

The vast majority of Mark 3’s were delivered with a vinyl roof. An unadorned roof was available but this required extra work at the factory as the roof consisted of two panels. Hence, Lincoln dealers adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude and its salespeople rarely mentioned the possibility to potential customers. The Continental Mark 3 was very well equipped and included automatic climate control and ‘SureTrack’, an early version of ABS.

Iaccoca’s gut feeling had been correct and the Mark 3 would prove to be a success. Interestingly, it sold best in its last year on the market. Many will remember the metallic brown Mark 3 that starred in ‘The French Connection’, and in the later horror movie ‘The Car’, where the Devil’s transport was a heavily modified Mark 3.

Two brochures exist for the first Mark 3 of 1969; a simpler foldout and this more elaborate brochure with its nicely subdued carton covers. It is short on words and instead presents the car in fine studio photography.

Part Two of this history will follow shortly.

(1) The car was retrospectively known as the Continental Mark 1 upon the arrival of the Continental Mark 2 in 1956.

(2) That feature would instead surface a year later on the Ford Skyliner Retractable.

(3) They cost around $4,000 less than the Mark 2, which certainly helped sales.

Author: brrrruno

Car brochure collector, Thai food lover, not a morning person before my first cup of coffee

16 thoughts on “On Your Marks (Part One)”

  1. Great subject Brrrruno! Even though the Mark II is the more elegant, beautiful design, I have a soft spot for the massive 1969 Mark III as it signifies to me the beginning of the quintessential Lincoln spirit, i. e. large personal luxury coupe with no hint of efficiency and a lot of presence. While the Mark III has a sort of dark, serious image, the subsequent Mark IV and V are products of the Soul/Disco era and have a more fun, happy demeanor. I love them all, even if they’re the most absurd, non-dynamic cars, and if I had access to one, I would just stick a Barry White 8-track and enjoy the ride!

    1. Thank you Cesar; keep your 8-tracks, flared trousers and chest-hair exposing shirt at the ready as the rest of the Marks will follow very soon!

  2. What, more than anything else, was the defining thing about the original that attracted attention? It wasn’t the spare tyre/hump, but the long, low profile. And yet that hump followed the Continental to the grave.
    Imagine a hump-free Mark 2. It would look very European if not for the outlandish size; almost ‘Continental’ you could say.
    Personally I wish they’d kept that lovely clean Mark 2 grille texture as an identifier, rather then embarking on the pseudo-Rolls grille thing. While the ’69-71 Mark 3 does look nice (once again, size apart), I keep imagining it with an evolution of the Mark 2 grille.

    1. A hump-free Mark 2 would certainly have been easy to do, but perhaps create a general shape that is a bit too clean and featureless for a prestige vehicle in my opinion.
      Deleting the RR/Tombstone grille from the Mark 3 ans replacing it with a Mark 2 textured grille is an interesting thought; personally I like both that tombstone -even with its definite RR flavor- as well as the Mark 2’s elegant treatment.
      Since the Mark 3 was based on the Thunderbird (and it hid that fact quite effectively) a wide Mark 2 like grille incorporating hidden headlights would likely make the car look more like the Thunderbird it was based on. A Mark 2 like grille texture did return between 1963 and 1969 on the Lincoln Continental sedan and convertible, and also in the 2004 Mark 10 concept -which was again based on the Thunderbird- which had a very similar grille texture style, but unfortunately it never made production.
      Having said all this, it would be interesting to see what the Mark 3 would look like with a Mark 2 grille texture; perhaps our resident photoshop wizard (I don’t really have to name him, do I?) can be obliged 😉

    2. Good morning Bruno. This is a history well worth telling, thank you. I hadn’t previously been aware of the rewriting of history to obliterate the original Mark 3, 4 and 5 models, but they certainly a represent stylistic nadir for the series. Even our commentators are ignoring them this morning!

      Assuming you mean me as the mystery PhotoShopper (although Tom V is always up for a challenge!) I’ll try to find time to give it a go this evening. At present, I am preoccupied laying 250 square metres of loft insulation. 😬

    3. I feel your pain, Daniel! I’ve been trying since last year to finish laying a floor in ours. I swear nothing up there is completely standard or symmetrical. Take plenty of breaks!

    4. Annoyingly, Tom hasn’t taken the bait, so here’s my very quick and dirty effort. Original first for comparison:

      As Peter suggested, its intended to be an evolution of the original grille, squared up to suit the lines of the Mark 3.

    5. Brrrruno, I was wondering about that after I posted. (memo to self: do not post design suggestions just before bedtime!) And having seen Daniel’s photoshop (thank you Daniel), I think Ford was right about the front and rear needing a point of visual interest. If only the grille and hump didn’t look so cheesy and cliched somehow – but it would get worse before it got better…..

    6. Thanks, Daniel. I think it’s ended by looking a bit like a slammed Cortina Mk2 2-door, which isn’t what I would have expected!

    7. Sorry about that Daniel, missed the bait completely… oh well, I doubt I would have done better than you. Double headlamps might improve things a little, or a full-width grille with hidden headlamps like some other US models had around that time, but I’m not sure that would “save” the design.

      I hope the work on your loft isn’t too (literally) backbreaking. Best of luck.

      Bruno: thanks for the article. Like many here, I like the Mark II and (retconned) III. The 1958-1960 Mark II-IV-V models do have panache, though:

  3. Good afternoon, Bruno. Lovely brochures. Between the brochures it’s hard to pick a favorite as each has its own charm. Choosing between the cars is easier: I’d have a Mk2 Continental. I never really thought about taking away the spare tyre hump, but I like the idea.

    1. Thank you all for your kind comments- and thank you Daniel for your Photoshop work even though you honestly deserved a good rest after your loft isolation….hope everything went well in that respect.
      Your MK2 grille on the MK3 is interesting; it does make the car appear really wide (not that it is exactly lacking in that aspect) but extending the grille structure to incorporate hidden headlights would probably result in a more balance look but at the same time look similar to the Thunderbird’s treatment.
      Gooddog was correct of course about the Mark X; in my text the “it” referred to the Mark X concept but it would have been clearer if I had mentioned the production Mark X crossover while I was at it.

  4. Having owned & operated a vintage car shop specializing in luxury marques, I’ve worked on multiple examples of Mark 1, 2 & 3 cars. My first introduction to the Mark 1 was about 1979 when I bought a running 1948 Mark 1 coupe sight unseen, for only $500. Turned out to have a complete Cadillac 331 OHV V8, Hydramatic and rear axle installed in the late 1960s. Should have left it all in there, but I bought a really rusty coupe [so rusted that both doors had fallen off] parts car that had a running engine, and slowly changed the drive line back to original. We worked on several more post war versions, especially overhauling the hydraulic windows, seats and convertible tops.

    While the Mark 1 Continentals were stylish [except for the later grills], and had that impressive V-12 flathead engine, they simply didn’t compare with ride quality and handling compared to the Cadillacs and Packards. It was easy to tune a Packard engine to idle with a nickel balanced on it’s edge, but it was often difficult to make a V-12 Lincoln idle on all 12 cylinders.

    While I never owned a Continental Mark II, I had a financially well-off client who loved them, and had several examples that I spent a lot of time ‘getting to know them’. Just like the original Continentals, the Mark II cars were hand fitted, and even minor trim parts could be difficult to make fit. These cars were also very complex in places where the attention wasn’t required, like the wheel covers that had over 40 individual pieces per wheel! Because of their complexity and tendency to spin off at highspeed if not fastened to the rim properly, a set of 4 restored wheel covers usually exceed $10,000, that is, if you can find an owner willing to sell them. Many Mark II owners who drive their car will keep the original Mark II wheel covers in the trunk and use other Lincoln examples on the car, putting the correct ones only on arriving at a car show.

    As for the 1958-60 Mark III, IV and V cars, I’ve owned a 1960 4-door with a division window, but we’ve worked on only a few of the other non-Mark series cars. In addition to the huge ‘luxury liner ship’ size, these cars had several problems stemming from complicated systems, like the Lincoln Auto-Lube that when a button was pushed, grease was sent to all the chassis and steering points, much like the Bijur system, but with the normal [and much heavier] chassis grease. The problem with this system is because it was advertised as an automatic lube system, driver’s often failed to push the button, and without the fresh grease, suspension/steering parts required replacing at very low mileage, and Ford ended up replacing many parts under warranty due to the customer not understanding how to use the system. These cars were also available with airbag suspension on all 4 wheels, but fortunately few cars were so equipped. The number one reason many of these cars didn’t survive was because that huge body was of unitbody construction, and deadly tin worm infestations, especially in America’s rust belt, consigned them to an early grave.

    I’ve owned several low-mileage examples of the ’69-’71 Mark III, and have worked on many more. While it’s true they were based on the T-bird & built at the same plant, I’ve driven both versions and believe the Mark III benefited from better insulation materials as they are much quieter than the T-bird. By the early 1980s it was not uncommon for me to find excellent examples of garage-kept and low-mileage Mark III cars for between $500 and $1,000. Higher fuel prices probably contributed to this lower pricing range, as that 460 was mighty thirsty. The only Lincoln I owned with higher fuel consumption was my 1966 4-door convertible. One of my techs used to joke that he could see the fuel gauge move just by starting the car. I have friends in England with a 1964 Lincoln convertible, but they rarely drive it to shows due to the high cost of fuel, at 6 to 8 MPG.

    1. Thank you for sharing your personal experiences in owning and working on them Bill!
      Didn’t know about those complex Mark 2 wheelcovers- I’m struggling to think how you can make a wheelcover that consists of over 40 pieces; and why…… But it just adds to the Mark 2’s story.
      Concerning the 1964 Lincoln Continental’s fuel thirst- I owned a 1964 Sedan for years and can confirm its appetite; I live in the Netherlands (so fuel prices were higher as well) and had the car converted to run on LPG. If anything, the engine ran better on that than on gasoline; it remained just as thirsty of course but LPG is a lot cheaper. And the boot/trunk had plenty of room for a large tank!

    2. When looking at a Mark II wheel cover, unlike most other stainless steel stamped units where the fins radiate out from the center, all of the fins on the Mark II covers are individual parts that are bolted onto the main cover assembly. I’ve found several that had been “repaired” using different hardware, resulting in a unit that is out of balance. This can be a major problem when balancing the tires either on or off the car, because most “balancing acts” require the wheel cover be removed. So most mechanics and tire-jockeys don’t understand why the tire balanced perfectly on the machine, but not while being driven!

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