In 1956, two pre-production Mark II convertibles were created to expand the Continental Division range within Ford. These were finished before the merger with Lincoln which would eventually swallow the name. At the time, a Continental cost $2000 more than a Cadillac, becoming the the ride of choice for many of America’s wealthy including Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Howard Johnson.
What most people don’t know is that the Mark II was originally conceived as a convertible in 1953 from drawnings by Charley Phaneuf. These would later inspire the modifications to the Mark II Convertibles.
Hess & Eisenhardt, of Kennedy limousine fame, had a long history with Ford Motor Company. The Chicago district of Ford marketing ordered two prototype convertibles from them in September of 1955. Hess & Eisenhardt took a stock black 1956 Continental Mark II began the long process.
The stock Continental cowbelly frame was designed with a convertible body in mind. In fact, a third cross-member was removed for the 1957 frame when plans for a production convertible were scrapped. To further enhance the chassis, Hess & Eisenhardt used 1/4 inch plate steel, artfully cutting and stitch-welding it to the existing frame. There are tubular cross-braces welded in an X to further support the A and B pillars. A substantial sub-structure was fabricated to support the convertible top. Hess & Eisenhardt fitted a power top mechanism that was driven by a power pack in the trunk.
The first black car was C5681126 and it was shipped to a distributor in Chicago. It resided in a dealership showroom as a demonstrator to show wealthy clients in the Chicago area what a convertible would look and drive like.
A second convertible was finished by Derham almost a year later for the Texas State Fair in October of 1956. That car was originally white at Ford but was eventually painted Honolulu Blue, a favorite color of William Clay Ford and was driven by his wife as a daily driver. Paul Wagner, whose job it became to dispose of cars like this, fought for the car with other Ford executives. He kept the car for a few years before it was sold.
Eventually an owner in Georgia fitted an original H & E top and envisioned a sleeker design to the fabric boot that covered the convertible top when stowed. Possibly he was inspired by the Charley Phaneuf drawings and fashioned a crude mechanism that flipped the new metal boot backward, just like the Mercedes SL. The top was extended rearward and a fastening system identical to the period SL was installed. This changed the roofline to closely match that of the original Continental convertible. The finishing touch was added in the restoration that took place in ï¿½93. The beautiful fiberglass bow covers replaced the fabric snap on covers installed in ?69. This Mark II convertible most closely duplicates the original design penned in 1953.
Featured is the Derham Continental Convertible which has been kindly shown by it?s at all the prominent concours. We would like to thank him for allowing us to use his story and share his unique car.