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John Cook's rare Continental Mark II

There are not too many of us who can boast having shared a very specific interest with the likes of Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra or the Shah of Iran, but Queenslander, John Cook most certainly can. Apart from possessing an impeccable eye for quality, he, just like the aforementioned, is also a proud owner and enthusiast of the very rare and coveted Continental Mark II - America’s 1956 answer to the Rolls Royce.

Unlike the more flamboyant automotive styling of it’s time the Continental Mark II steered away from the usual over abundance of chrome and fender fins, instead opting for a more sophisticated appeal. The original price tag of around $10,000USD bestowed upon the Continental the status of being one of the most expensive cars of its time.

Although powered by Lincoln running gear The Continental Mark II was technically never a Lincoln, but was actually a product of Ford. A separate division was set up within the Ford Motor Company called the Continental Division. The purpose behind this newly formed division was to single-handedly blow Ford’s ‘low-end consumer’ reputation right out of the water. So determined was Ford to produce the most luxurious and prestigious automobile on the planet that they were actually prepared to hand build these cars and sell them at a loss! More than a thousand dollars loss on each car to be exact. Now remember that we’re talking the mid 1950s, so that was a lot of bickies in those days.

The method in Ford’s madness was that they would more than make up the losses with increased sales in their lower end consumer market due to the wide-spread prestige attained through attention drawn by the Continental Mark II. Unfortunately when Ford became a public company, the decision was made to cease production of this unique and prestigious product as it was feared that such a loss per unit would not be tolerated by the shareholders. It is estimated that even if Ford had not decided to stop production when they did, the Continental would have lived a short but happy life anyway as the recession of the late 1950’s would have almost certainly put the icon to rest.

“The Continentals were all pretty much hand made” said John. “The motors and transmissions were sourced from Lincoln then stripped down, blueprinted and rebuilt. They were then dropped into a ‘mule car’ and extensively track tested. If the engineers were happy with the test results then the running gear was taken out of the ‘mule car’, stripped down again, rechecked and then finally installed into the customer’s pre ordered Mark II. These were truly hand crafted vehicles“.

If you wanted air conditioning in one of these babies you had to order it prior to commencement of the build or you could forget it. There was no chance of adding it in later. For the air conditioning to work special vents needed to be moulded into the body just below the rear pillars during the build. Of the 3000 Continental Mark IIs that were produced, only about 400 were built with air conditioning fitted, making John’s car a rare breed in it’s own right. The Continental also boasted a multitude of other accessories that literally put this unique vehicle decades ahead of it’s time. Power windows really only started to become the norm in about the 1990s but the Continental had them as standard in 1956. Likewise, other innovative ideas included a reclusive fuel cap that was discretely concealed behind a swing-out rear lens, powered quarter windows, power assisted brakes, power steering and powered seats that were originally trimmed in the finest Scottish leather.

The original paint finish was akin to the kind of work performed by the master custom painters of today so improving on a paint job of that calibre is a tall order. The original paintwork was all done by hand and applied by master craftsmen. All sanding between coats was also done by hand and no expense in regards to time and materials was spared. Similar was the approach to the final finishing and polishing.

John sourced his fine example via the internet and purchased it sight unseen but not before contracting two independent companies to inspect the car and deliver a detailed report on its condition. “Far better to invest $500 at this stage in the game and know that it’s the real deal than get it over here and find that I’ve bought something that’s going to be a headache to restore“ said John. “As it turned out the car was in remarkable condition”

“There can’t be any more than a couple of hundred left in existence in pristine condition.” said John“…. “there were only ever about 3000 of them made, so there was never many to begin with.”

John’s a hot rodder from way back so the desire was always there to customise it to some degree, but with a car like this you’ve got to be very careful. A wrong decision would ruin it. This kind of car is really a custom straight from the factory so John decided to go for what we call a ‘mild custom’ - That’s subtle modifications that keep well within the original boundaries of the car’s styling. “With a classic like this it’s about improving the flow of the car rather than customising for the sake of it“ said John. Take the wheels For example, they’re one-off Dragway 17inch billets that were designed by Ian Splatt specifically for this individual vehicle and are based on the original hubcap design. You won’t find another set anywhere. Another is the door handles - there aren’t any. John chose to shave them for a smoother look. The headlights are another mod taken from a 1953 Ford Customline and remoulded to suit the Continental’s classic lines. John felt that the standard issue units were a bit daggy.

John never really liked the original grille of the Continental but wasn’t quite sure what to do about it, then he noticed that the shape of the front bumper complemented the grille perfectly, so it was back to the internet in search of a spare bumper. It took a few months but eventually he found one that he managed to pick up for $190. These bumpers are made of high tensile steel so cutting it was left to the professionals. Shaun Phillips was entrusted with the task and after around 50 hours the new custom part was born.

In keeping within the confines of John’s mild custom, he decided to go for a two toned paint scheme. Originally these cars left the factory in a single colour but a very small number of them sported two toned custom pant jobs. These very rare special orders saw the roof a different colour to the rest of the body. John had always admired the Continental in white so he mixed up his own one-off shade which according to John is really a very light green. The base colour of the Continental's roof is ‘HOK Goldmine’ and the overlayed colour is 'Pearl/Brandy Wine Kandy' which John had left over from when he painted a bike some time back.

The motor is a stock standard Lincoln 368ci V8. Although John has chosen to leave the motor unmodified it as been dynoed at 285hp @ 4600rpm; 402lb-ft @ 3000rpm. It also runs a four barrel Holley carburettor, standard balanced crankshaft and dual 2.5inch exhausts. Power is delivered through the original Lincoln three speed auto gearbox and Lincoln Power LOK 3.07:1 Diff. Power steering is standard Lincoln, as are the vacuum assisted 12inch Lincoln drum brakes. John chose to lower the suspension 2.5 inches at the front and 3 inches at the rear to give the car a tougher stance.

The interior has been completely retrimmed to compliment the new look exterior. Interestingly the air conditioning vents point down from the roof and John has kept them original for authenticity.

“I was very tempted to chop the roof” said John (a popular practice when modifying cars of this era). “But I eventually thought better of it. This car is just too rare to start chopping up the body. Some things are best left alone“.

John Cook’s rare 1956 Continental Mark II mild custom is not only a credit to himself, but to the master craftsmen who originally hand crafted this car and 3000 or so others like it. Nowadays we live In a world where we have become accustomed to our own throw away mentality, where quality is rare and so often sacrificed for the sake of the bottom line. Even when we are prepared to pay a fair price for quality, it is rarely delivered to a standard that we would expect.

There is much to be learnt from the past. Our forefathers took great pride in their work. Gong that extra mile to do the job right was important to them - an attitude that is becoming more of a rarity with each passing decade. In many ways we have lost our way. The rego plate says it all.

See more photos of this car at our Feature Cars gallery >

 

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