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Lincoln Mark Series Cars, Feeling Continental (Part IV)

Lincoln Mark Series Cars, Feeling Continental (Part IV)Today we return to our coverage of the Lincoln Mark series, amid learning about the first Mark in the range, the Continental Mark II. The Mark II aimed to carry on the tradition established by the graceful Continental of the 1940s and take Ford to new heights of luxury, desirability, price (and therefore exclusivity) and quality. It is on this last adjective that we will concentrate today; it was certainly the focus of people in the Continental Division before the Mark II came out.

Getting the right quality on the new Continental Mark II was important to Ford, partly to build a reputation for the brand but also to justify its asking price. Remember our last entry that at $9,966 (adj. $106,912) in 1956, the Mark II was the most expensive American car money could buy. Mark II was intended to combine modern automotive conveniences with the build quality and glamor of the past, and remind buyers of the K-series Lincolns of the 1930s.

Lincoln Mark Series Cars, Feeling Continental (Part IV)

Mark II quality control began with a brand new factory. All Mark IIs were built at Allen Park Body and Assembly, a facility that opened in 1956 specifically to build the Mark II. The factory was renamed shortly after the end of Mark II as the headquarters of the Edsel division. After Edsel’s failure, the plant became the development center for new model programs, where Ford tested its new product. Today it is called the Ford pilot plant and fulfills the same function as since the sixties. He manufactures and tests new Ford vehicles and documents construction methods before they are transferred to the assembly plant.

Around the time Ford decided to build the Allen Park plant, the Continental division developed a new quality control program specific to the Mark II. It featured seven different key initiatives, intended to ensure the highest quality from start to finish in the Mark II build process. Remember that most of the car was assembled by hand. More on that in a moment, but let’s talk about the initiatives first.

The main and overriding initiative of the QC program was called the quality specifications. He demanded that any Continental car use only the highest quality materials 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 of the results of the quality specification initiative was the choice of leather in the Mark II. The American-sourced leather was sprayed with color, rather than the more expensive traditional method where it was dyed in a vat. So Continental went to Bridge of Weir in Scotland and bought their dyed leather instead. Lincoln would use leather for a while and bring it back in the 2010s on the MKS.

Elsewhere, quality standards meant no metallic paint on the Mark II. This paint became popular in the 1950s as Americans wanted bright, shiny vehicles with tailfins. But Continental management was concerned about the longevity of metallic paints and so instead used a lacquer-based paint. Mark II was the first Ford vehicle to use such tough paint.

Lincoln Mark Series Cars, Feeling Continental (Part IV)

The second initiative was the initial inspection of the sample. Compared to normal quality control processes in Ford production, inspections for Continental had to take place earlier. This meant additional time during construction in case releases occurred. Further inspection orders took place in the third quality point, Receiving Inspection.

This was a notable change from the usual operation of auto parts inspection: Continental moved away from supplier responsibility for parts inspection. All parts have been inspected before upon arrival at Allen Park Assembly. Once they arrived, they were inspected a second time by Continental workers.

Next comes the initiative to pay extra attention to manufacturing. Ford has reviewed the assembly time of its Ford and Lincoln-Mercury vehicles and has authorized twice as long as building a Continental. Allen Park workers had to use the time to check the parts to test their fit before assembly, as well as correct any faults found.

Lincoln Mark Series Cars, Feeling Continental (Part IV)

During the assembly of the Continental, the Factory Inspection and Testing initiative allowed each Mark II to pass through 14 different inspection points, all of them thorough. A team of mechanics inspected each Mark II before the car could continue. Once assembly was complete, there was another team inspection and final test drive before the Mark II was shipped to the receiving dealership.

Throughout the process, the Mark IIs remained on a rolling mobile stand. There was no traditional assembly line at Allen Park to speak of: at each stage of construction, a Mark II was moved by hand to the next build station. A sort of traditional British assembly method, but of higher quality.

Lincoln Mark Series Cars, Feeling Continental (Part IV)

The other two initiatives were outside the Continental assembly, at the consumer policy level. The first of these was Top Management Action, where Continental managers analyzed data from various quality checks at Allen Park, then compared that information to any problems reported by customers or repair requests received. It was the kind of thing a maker would do with lots of spreadsheets today, except there was no Excel.

Finally, Continental is committed to customer service with the Field Service initiative. This was a program exclusively for Continental customers, focused on correcting customer complaints and following up with said customers to ensure they were satisfied with their vehicle. Part of this satisfaction was certainly due to the choice left to the customer regarding the appearance of his Mark II.

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

Lincoln Mark Series Cars, Feeling Continental (Part IV)

Standard on the Mark II was a lot of electric equipment for the 50s: electric brakes, seats and windows (including air vents). The gauges were complete and included a low fuel warning light, two ideas that were somewhat new at the time. And while the Mark II’s wheel covers weren’t a special feature, the way they were made was.

Each of the hubcaps was created by hand. The multi-spoke design was made up of hand-assembled veins, each individually attached. In the same way, a craftsman individually bolted each letter of the Continental lettering en bloc to the rear tire hump.

Lincoln Mark Series Cars, Feeling Continental (Part IV)

Continental personnel also rebuilt each new engine before it was installed in a Mark II. As we learned last time, the Mark II’s 368-cubic-inch Y-block V8 comes straight from the Lincoln lineup. However, it was not installed cheerfully in a Continental, that would have been too simple. Instead, each engine destined for Mark II use was hand-selected from the Lincoln assembly line (like a “good?”) and then stripped down.

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 painstaking rebuild made a big difference in the engine’s reliability on the road.

With its thorough quality control, sleek mid-century styling and exorbitant price tag, it was time to bring the Continental division’s new Mark II coupe on sale to an enthusiastic and well-heeled public. And everything went well, right? Well no. Not at all. But that’s a story for next time.

[Images: YouTube]

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