Lincoln Mark Series Cars, Continental Sensation (Part IV)

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We return to our Lincoln Mark series coverage today, in the midst of learning about the first Mark in the line, the Continental Mark II The Mark II was intended to carry on the tradition established by the elegant Continental of the 1940s and take Ford to new heights of luxury, appeal, price (and therefore exclusivity), and quality. The last adjective is where we will focus today; it was certainly the approach of the people of the Continental Division before the launch of the Mark II.

It was important to Ford to get the quality right in the new Continental Mark II, in part to build a reputation for the brand, but also to justify its selling price. Remember 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. The Mark II was intended to combine the comforts of modern automobiles with the build quality and glamor of the past, and remind buyers of the K-series Lincolns of the 1930s.

Quality control of the Mark II began with a new plant. All Mark IIs were built at Allen Park Body and Assembly, a facility opened specifically to build the Mark II in 1956. Shortly after the end of the Mark II, the plant was renamed Edsel Division Headquarters. After the failure of the Edsel, the plant became the New Model Program Development Center, where Ford tested its new product. Today it is called the Ford Pilot Plant and it fulfills the same function it has had since the 1960s. Build and test new Ford vehicles and document construction methods before delivery to the assembly plant.

Around the time that Ford decided to build the Allen Park facility, the Continental division drew up a new quality control program specific to the Mark II. Within it were seven different key initiatives, aimed at ensuring the highest quality from start to finish of the Mark. II construction process. Remember that most of the car was assembled by hand. More on that in a bit, but first let’s talk about initiatives.

The main and general initiative in the quality control program was called quality specifications. He mandated that any Continental automobile use only the highest quality materials possible. These high standards cost Ford more money up front, but would result in a very special product. Suppliers of the Mark II were forced to update their production standards to comply if they wanted to play Continental.

One of the results of the quality specification initiative was the choice of leather on the Mark II. The American-sourced leather was sprayed with color, rather than the more expensive traditional method of vat dyeing. So Continental went to Bridge of Weir in Scotland and bought his dyed leather. Lincoln would use leather for some time and brought it back in the 2010s on the MKS.

Elsewhere, quality standards meant metallic paint was not available on the Mark II. Such paint became popular in the 1950s when Americans wanted shiny, shiny vehicles with tail fins. But Continental management was concerned about the longevity of metallic paints, so they used lacquer-based paint instead. The Mark II was the first Ford vehicle to use such a tough paint.

The second initiative was the Initial Sample Inspection. Compared to normal quality control processes in Ford production, inspections for Continental were performed earlier. This meant additional time during the build in case a reject occurred. More inspection orders were produced at the third quality point, Receiving Inspection.

It was a notable change from how auto parts inspection normally worked: Continental put the onus on parts inspection back to the supplier. All required parts were inspected. previous upon arrival at the Allen Park Assembly. Once they arrived, Continental workers inspected them a second time.

Next was the Extra Attention to Manufacturing initiative. Ford analyzed the assembly time of its Ford and Lincoln-Mercury vehicles and allowed twice so long to build a Continental. Allen Park workers were required to use the time to check parts to test fit prior to assembly, as well as correct any defects found.

During Continental’s assembly, the in-plant inspection and testing initiative saw each Mark II go through 14 different inspection points, all of which were thorough. A team of mechanics inspected each Mark II before the car could continue. Once assembly was complete, there was another equipment inspection and a final road test before the Mark II was shipped to the receiving dealer.

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

The other two initiatives were left out of the Continental assembly, at the level of consumer policy. The first of these was Top Management Action, where Continental bosses analyzed data from the various quality checks at Allen Park and then compared that information to customer-reported problems or repair claims received. It was the kind of thing a manufacturer would do today with a lot of spreadsheets, except there was no Excel.

Finally, Continental made a commitment to customer service with the Field Service initiative. It was an exclusive program for Continental customers, the goal of which was to correct customer complaints and follow up with those customers to verify that they were satisfied with their vehicle. Part of that satisfaction was certainly due to the number of options left to the customer regarding the appearance of their Mark II.

During the rigorous quality control process, Allen Park Body craftsmen would paint a Mark II in one of 19 different lacquers. Customers matched the thick paint with one of 43 different interior color schemes, which included five different interior upholstery materials. The Mark II what not offered in striking two-tone like other personal luxury competitors were so often equipped. However, Continental would comply with such a request if the customer were willing to do so.

Standard on the Mark II was a lot of power equipment for the fifties: power brakes, seats, and windows (including vents). Gauges were complete and included a low fuel warning light, both ideas that were somewhat novel at the time. And while the Mark II’s wheel covers weren’t a special feature, the path they did what

Each of the wheel covers was created by hand. The multi-spoke design was made up of hand-assembled veining, each individually joined. In the same way, a craftsman individually screwed each letter of the Continental letter block into the rear tire hump.

Continental staff also rebuilt each new engine before installing it in a Mark II. As we learned last time, the Mark II’s 368-cubic-inch Y-block V8 was taken directly from the Lincoln line. However, it was not cheerfully installed in a Continental, that would have been too simple. Instead, each engine intended for Mark II use was hand-selected from the Lincoln assembly line (as “good?”) and then disassembled.

The V8 was then reassembled with Continental’s tolerances and quality control practices in mind, to ensure it met standards. When it was finished, there were also performance inspections. One wonders if the careful rebuild made much of a difference to future engine reliability.

With its extensive quality control, elegant mid-century styling, and sky-high price, it was time to put the new Continental Division Mark II coupe on sale to an eager, well-heeled public. And everything went well, right? Well, no. Absolutely. But that’s a story for next time.

[Images: YouTube]

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