In 1991, I was searching high and low for my Mark. I traveled to four different states.
Bill and I went to Port Washington, Pennsylvania to see an advertised white Continental Mark II. Michael, the dealer, was waiting for us. It was my first drive of a Mark II. She handled strangely, not responding very quickly nor braking comfortably. As Bill said later, I drove her like a little old lady. (I don't know if he meant the car or me!) But she was very big and I was very nervous, especially with Michael at my right elbow giving continuous instructions. There were things not working: A/C, interior lights, two windows, emblems missing, etc. (This supposedly perfect! car.) I talked Michael down to $25,000. from $35,000. including repair of the known problems. There was another Mark in the back, in extremely bad condition: rusty, a missing fender, upholstery a mess. He was asking $15,000. for it and explained that it was Chubby Checkers! A '57 black one, out front, was in great shape, but it was $45,000! I said I'd think about the white one. Driving home I told Bill I was discouraged.
I went to many car shows looking at Continentals, when they were available. And after researching the mechanicals, history and reliability of the car, I decided I would definitely get one.
One detail I especially liked was the "nostril." The breathing port over the rear quarter panel that allowed fresh air into the air-conditioning unit that was in the trunk.
The vents were in the ceiling, one for each passenger. It was only on the 1956 cars and only, of course, those with the optional air-conditioning. (The only other option was fur floor board covering!) So, I decided I wanted an air-conditioned 1956.
In the duPont Registry magazine there was a large, intriguing ad. I asked for pictures and a history of the car. The air-conditioned 1956 was in Portland, Oregon.
I called all the ads in Hemmings magazine: New York, Illinois, Florida and California.
The one in Decatur, Illinois was intriguing. A Jim Benton has had 232 Mark IIs pass through his hands! When they first came out in 1956 he bought 15 for his dealership. He was very personable and full of information. He had two maroon ones under restoration for $40,000 each. He'd send me pictures.
Next week he called me to say he was thinking of buying a white Mark II in Missouri that originally belonged to Mamie Eisenhower!
Was I possibly interested? Yes, I was. Three days later he was able to buy it, though with difficulty. I asked him to let me have first refusal. He agreed. The next Friday, he took delivery. The next day, I was in Decatur.
Jim picked me up in a pristine 1987 Rolls-Royce Wraith. The nicest man you'd ever want to meet. As we turned into the driveway of the dealership, there were five Mark IIs lined up in a row. My heart did a double leap.
The middle car was the Eisenhower one. I was a little shocked because she was not snow-white as I had imagined her, but tan-white. It was in fairly bad condition. It would be $40,000 after being restored. "Mamie," my name for the Eisenhower car, he considered to be like new!
Jim's major business is a limousine dealership of mainly XKEs and Cadillacs. He also had two new Rolls-Royce Cornishes for sale. His passion and side business, though, is collecting and selling Continental Mark IIs. He declared that, "they are the most beautiful car ever made in America."
"In the world!" I exclaimed.
Jim explained more about the Eisenhower connection: Ford leased the car to President and Mrs. Eisenhower for their use at the Gettysburg Farm.
I talked to him about liking neither the exterior tan color nor the brown upholstery. Jim talked to me about painting it deep blue and dying the brown leather blue. He said, "it would be your car to do with what you wanted." With that possibility and the fact that it was Eisenhower connected, I bought it !
I said I would call in a week with the decision about changing the color. I gave him a check for $40,000. I was so excited! My own Continental Mark II ! I flew home with great joy.
After having discussed the car color with several club members who were horrified at the idea of changing a presidential car's color, I decided to leave it the tan-white.
Next, My Continental(s) Continues.