Sunday, November 20, 2016

1956 Continental Mark II

"The excitement it stirs in your heart when you see the Continental Mark II lies in the way it has dared to depart from the conventional, the obvious. And that's as we intended it. For in designing and building this distinguished motor car, we were thinking, especially, of those who admire the beauty of honest, simple lines . . . and of those who most appreciate a car which has been so conscientiously crafted. The man who owns a Continental Mark II will possess a motor car that is truly distinctive and will keep its distinction for years to come."

It seems that Cuba's pilots do have a predilection for the most luxurious American cars of their era. Case in point: Juan Manuel RodrĂ­guez and his magnificent 1954 Chrysler Custom Imperial. Julio Palmero Pedrianes, another Cuban pilot, drives the pictured Continental Mark II. We've covered the same car some years ago, when it was still painted in black, its original factory color. Meanwhile, Julio Palmero has repainted his pride, and opted for an elegant red hue. He suggests that his car once belonged to dictator Batista's wife, Marta.

Continental Mark II were exclusive cars, and comprehensive documentation is still available. The details are a bit sketchy, though. The well-informed Caristas blog wrote about our pictured Continental, serial number 2784, as being shipped to "El Relámpago", Ford's branch in Havana, in February of 1956. Listed as customer in the delivery paperwork was Carlos Alonso, who owned the dealership. Alonso's name was also mentioned in an earlier version of the database of the renown Mark II forum. This has changed since, and Marta Batista became listed as the first owner, perhaps due to the circulation of Julio Palmero's narration. According to Palmero, the Mark II was given to Marta Batista's maid when Cuba's First Lady fled from the revolutionary troops in early 1959.

There's another side to the story, though, also told by the Continental's owner. According to that version, the car made its first appearance in Cuba's official vehicle registry in 1958 (the year before the Batistas fled the country), being assigned to Antonio la Roca, an Italian, who'd be the Continental's proprietor until the 1990s. In 2004, after some years under a second owner, the car got in possession of Julio Palmero. At this point, urban legend kicks in: Antonio la Roca apparently was employed at the Finca Cuquines, and the Mark II was bestowed to him because Mrs. Batista felt the elegant car was too low and contrasting with her own corpulent stature.

Back to facts: Finca Cuquines, now known as Villa Libertad, indeed was a former countryside residence of the Batista family in the outskirts of Havana. And it's documented that Mrs. Batista herself ordered another Continental Mark II with serial number 3359 in 1956, which shows that the Batistas certainly didn't bother to cover their pricey acquisitions by registering them under a false name.

But would Mrs. Batista buy an expensive Continental Mark II from the local Ford dealer around the same time she already expected delivery of "her own" car in September 1956? And, apparently being so embarrassed by her „first“ Continental that she gave it away to one of her employees, would she order yet another one? Would a 10,000 Dollar car be given away to an employee at all? Common sense renders this an implausible presumption.

But who knows? It is, of course, thinkable that someone within the Batista family was once in possession of the pictured Continental. Today, almost six decades later, it seems impossible to separate myths from facts, anyway. And regardless of a previous celebrity owner, any Continental Mark II is an awesome car in its own right.

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