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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
"The truth about our cars."

People that actually work on their Mark IIs will likely agree. There is little difference in working on a Cadillac, Chevy or Chrysler product of the period. As I'm sandblasting stamped parts for the '58 BelAir suspension I'm working on I feel like it's Deja Vu, all over again. Since a Mark II weighs 5000# and the BelAir weighs 3000# I would expect a gauge difference in the sheet metal, but there doesn't seem to be much. By far, the Mark II chassis is superior to the X-frame, and with it comes a weight penalty. That weight penalty is actually a safety penalty, as the frame is much more significant and rigid on the Mark II. The original 348 engine was just about as powerful as the Lincoln 368. It has 11" drum brakes while the Mark II has 12". Proportional to weight, the Chevy brakes are more efficient. Gas mileage was about the same. Steering components are near identical, maybe even proportionally stronger.

The bodies are nearly identical FORD/GM. Engineering is engineering and there was plenty of maker DNA swapping in the design/build departments. I've learned recently that Mark IIs uses some heat resistant steel in the floor pan, which likely added to the body rigidity, not a great plus. The bodies were made for the car by a local concern in Owasso, Michigan. From Elmer's reports the initial batch, (mostly IUs), used way too much lead, which had to be shaved off at the factory. Back window glass wasn't fitting and some had big gaps between the trim and finished bodied, calling for way too much reworking and repainting. There are stories of major panel interchangeability problems with body parts. They were built as sets and many that needed replacement panels had to alter what the factory was sending.

The Mark II and lots of other Fords have common parts, most notably Thunderbird and Lincoln hard parts and general Ford standard-issue electrical parts. If someone took a photo of the inside of a Mark II door you wouldn't know which Ford product you were looking at. All the cars used the same manufacturer's window regulators. They were just bracketed for individual cars. While the Mark II had its own parts book and unique numbering system, they give you a 11-page single lined list of part numbers that cross to standard Ford part numbers. Ford has generic part numbers with suffixes that tell what car that part is labeled for, but other cars use the same part.

Continental was a boutique manufacturer that ran on an early "just in time" format. There was little room to store, or make anything. Everything they did was an assembly job. There was no cutting, stamping, welding, plating of metal parts, but I'll acknowledge that paint was applied and leather cut to fit on other's outside work. The upholstery worker had the most skills. They had to do the two things on-site that gave the cars some degree of individuality. Is that what sets the Mark II above others? Paint and sewing? How many of you have worked a production job? The cars were designed by actual trained designers, that happened to be Ford employees. When the design was approved it went to Ford engineers to be made possible to build. That was Gordon Buehrig's job as Chief Engineer. He actually left before they came to market. They were all Ford engineers that got their approvals from Ford management. Most production cars are built for production expedience, not service, which is so obvious on our cars. However, they are all made to be assembled by the lowest common denominator, the assembly line worker. Having been one, near brain death would have been harder as I had to do he same damn thing until I got good at it, then I did just enough to not get yelled at, and not so good that I got slugged by other employees. Sound familiar? The workers were our fathers uncles and brothers that were hired as a body, nothing more. Things are different today. You need a college degree now to program and operate machinery that is much more sophisticated than back then.

Hand made? There were no robots and sheetmetal wasn't hand-hammered over wood bucks. That's hand made. Using 5 successive dies to form a part from flat stock is stamping, not hand making. Not even made by Ford. They were directed, as a Division, to buy from other Divisions before sourcing a part outside Ford, like the hood ornament, made by a gun sight manufacturer, because Ford's foundries were incapable of fine work.

The men that worked in the plant (women were a distraction and were not even allowed to sew or even be in the plant) were not always the best workers. They were all union workers that vied for their cushy, slow-moving, jobs at Continental by using their seniority to get their positions. Those conditions did not make for the best work force, just the oldest. Problems the plant couldn't fix were simply shipped to the dealer to solve. Assemblers are very different from mechanics. The worst mechanic is a better assembler than they were. You really didn't need much skill, like the skilled trades that built and maintained machinery. As union members they couldn't fire the workers, they had to give them "one more chance", forever.

So, what did the original purchasers get for their money? They got fine finishes. Good leather, good chrome, good paint. That seems to be what set it apart from the market, that and and an extremely heavy dose of Marketing 101, that we've found, didn't really tell the truth about the cars. While the myths, for the most part came from the press, Ford fed the buyers a line that tried to hook the rich buyer by putting fancy clothes on a handmaiden.

Does any of this lessen my love of the marque? Not at all. But, now that I know the truth it explains why these were not a huge success in the marketplace and are not a huge success as far as current values are concerned. What hurts the values more than anything is availability. Too many survived. People knew they were an icon and stashed them, just a few years old. We, as owners, have an obligation to set the record straight. That's all I'm doing.

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Thanks for sharing, Barry. It's true that we romanticize many things over time, including the assembly process for "mass"-produced vehicles! We tend to think that special, lower-production vehicles were handbuilt by artisans and craftsmen, but such circumstances are exceedingly rare in the automotive world, especially by the 1950's. Cars were just too complex of a machine to be built that way by that point.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Never want to see the sausage made. Thanks for the info sir.
One of my first jobs as an electrician was in a smokehouse where they made the skinny shrink-wrapped sausages you see at every gas station or convenience store check-out, guaranteed to give you instant heartburn. The ends of the yard-long tubes were tied off, like hot dogs. They never sold the twisted section and they sold them to employees for $1.00 a bag.

You're right, the process was disgusting.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Thanks for sharing, Barry. It's true that we romanticize many things over time, including the assembly process for "mass"-produced vehicles! We tend to think that special, lower-production vehicles were handbuilt by artisans and craftsmen, but such circumstances are exceedingly rare in the automotive world, especially by the 1950's. Cars were just too complex of a machine to be built that way by that point.
I think you nailed it.
 

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I do wonder how the Karmann Ghia fared by comparison. It was sold in relatively high volume, but built by a company that specialized in coach work, the stampings would have been well engineered and relatively precise, the shapes were repeatable, the jigs refined over time, the seams filled with pewter, and it was built for almost 20 years, so I’d imagine it was as close to the romantic notion of artisans as we’re likely to get. It must’ve been seen as archaic by the time it went out of production in 1974. I’ve never seen any film of Karmann‘s operation and very few stills. I’m sure that’s not an accident.

Naturally the advertising of the day had that kind of notion, and they always tell the truth with advertising, right? Right? :)
 

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Thanks for sharing, Barry. It's true that we romanticize many things over time, including the assembly process for "mass"-produced vehicles! We tend to think that special, lower-production vehicles were handbuilt by artisans and craftsmen, but such circumstances are exceedingly rare in the automotive world, especially by the 1950's. Cars were just too complex of a machine to be built that way by that point.
For most vehicles I would tend to agree: the labor costs would have gone through the roof. On the other hand there were situations where the factory simply couldn't do the job and it had to be farmed out to a small custom shop. One example that I very familiar with as I worked one on fairly often was the 1968 Hemi Dart. You could in theory walk into Any Chrysler dealership and order one as it was a "production model" but so much of the car was one-off fabrication: special K-member that was used in that application only, rear leaf bundles that were Hemi only and had to be perfectly squared away, plexiglass side windows in the doors that were raised and lowered with a cloth strap, aluminum seat risers, glass hood, and a host of other things that I've long since forgot. By comparison to todays technology this stuff was all stone age but it all had to be installed on what was essentially a separate production line where everything was hand fitted. And every manufacturer had specials like that during that era:
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I do wonder how the Karmann Ghia fared by comparison. It was sold in relatively high volume, but built by a company that specialized in coach work, the stampings would have been well engineered and relatively precise, the shapes were repeatable, the jigs refined over time, the seams filled with pewter, and it was built for almost 20 years, so I’d imagine it was as close to the romantic notion of artisans as we’re likely to get. It must’ve been seen as archaic by the time it went out of production in 1974. I’ve never seen any film of Karmann‘s operation and very few stills. I’m sure that’s not an accident.

Naturally the advertising of the day had that kind of notion, and they always tell the truth with advertising, right? Right? :)
I think Karmann is an interesting case study. Karmann was still a boutique manufacturer, but produced in higher volume than Continental (Barry’s original post). Wilhelm Karmann GmbH was an independent coachmaker, based in Osnabrück, that built low volume cars for several manufacturers. This included Volkswagen, Porsche, Audi, and several others. They also built low volume subassemblies, such as tops for hardtop convertibles.

The Karmann Ghia is probably the most well-known car ever produced by Karmann. When I worked as a technician for VW/Porsche/Audi in the early 1980’s, the Scirocco and the VW convertibles were the primary cars produced by Karmann. Although mechanically similar to a Rabbit (Golf), the Scirocco seemed to be built to a higher level, in terms of body and interior. The Scirocco also carried a substantially higher price tag. My young eyes admired the level of craftsmanship in the Karmann cars.

Fast-forward about 30 years. My 2017 Tiguan Mk1 was built in Osnabrück at the old Karmann factory. The quality of assembly is outstanding. Karmann had gone through bankruptcy a few years prior, and VW had purchased the majority of the remaining assets. The Tiguan Mk2 had already begun production in Wolfsburg for the European market. VW shifted production to Osnabrück of the Mk1 Tiguans built for the North American market. Although accurate information is difficult to find, it appears the VW/Karmann factory built about 2500 Tiguans per month for around 20 months; 2017 was a very long model year. VW brought former Karmann employees out of retirement, as well as importing additional VW workers from other factories, for this project.

I will stop this post now. I apologize to Barry for hijacking the Continental thread.

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
No apology necessary.

It just gets me thinking about how ridiculous people claims are that the Mark II is a Lincoln because it has a Lincoln drive train, yet there were many low-production vehicles the had Italian bodyworks with US drive trains. I don't believe any of them trigger people to thinking that a 1953 Cunningham is a Cadillac or a Dodge because of what pushes it down the road. Is it a Chrysler Dual Ghia? No, it's not. Nor is it a Dual Ghia by Chrysler.
 

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I think Karmann is an interesting case study. Karmann was still a boutique manufacturer, but produced in higher volume than Continental (Barry’s original post). Wilhelm Karmann GmbH was an independent coachmaker, based in Osnabrück, that built low volume cars for several manufacturers. This included Volkswagen, Porsche, Audi, and several others. They also built low volume subassemblies, such as tops for hardtop convertibles.

The Karmann Ghia is probably the most well-known car ever produced by Karmann. When I worked as a technician for VW/Porsche/Audi in the early 1980’s, the Scirocco and the VW convertibles were the primary cars produced by Karmann. Although mechanically similar to a Rabbit (Golf), the Scirocco seemed to be built to a higher level, in terms of body and interior. The Scirocco also carried a substantially higher price tag. My young eyes admired the level of craftsmanship in the Karmann cars.

Fast-forward about 30 years. My 2017 Tiguan Mk1 was built in Osnabrück at the old Karmann factory. The quality of assembly is outstanding. Karmann had gone through bankruptcy a few years prior, and VW had purchased the majority of the remaining assets. The Tiguan Mk2 had already begun production in Wolfsburg for the European market. VW shifted production to Osnabrück of the Mk1 Tiguans built for the North American market. Although accurate information is difficult to find, it appears the VW/Karmann factory built about 2500 Tiguans per month for around 20 months; 2017 was a very long model year. VW brought former Karmann employees out of retirement, as well as importing additional VW workers from other factories, for this project.

I will stop this post now. I apologize to Barry for hijacking the Continental thread.

🍺
It really is an unusual situation with them and other than the Italians I can't think of another factory that would be directly comparable.

I have always known that the Scirocco and water-cooled convertible VWs were also built at Karmann and knew VW bought the plant when they went under, but I had never heard that they brought some guys out of retirement to build the Tiguan.

I should also point out that the Karmann Ghia was substantially more money than the Beetle as well, even though it was mechanically identical. It was all about the cost to build it and what the market would bear.


No apology necessary.

It just gets me thinking about how ridiculous people claims are that the Mark II is a Lincoln because it has a Lincoln drive train, yet there were many low-production vehicles the had Italian bodyworks with US drive trains. I don't believe any of them trigger people to thinking that a 1953 Cunningham is a Cadillac or a Dodge because of what pushes it down the road. Is it a Chrysler Dual Ghia? No, it's not. Nor is it a Dual Ghia by Chrysler.
Agreed. A car is so much more than its engine, even if that's an important component. I wonder if that comes from the muscle car era. Cars and companies were so identified by their engines that people had a tizzy when Buicks started using Chevrolet engines when GM realized having several 350 V8s was actually a very poor idea from a business standpoint. In the '50s and '60s when GM had a HUGE part of the domestic market it could be sustained, but that went away in the '70s forever.

Oh! And then there are the much later Cadillac Allante, Buick Reatta examples. If memory serves the Cadillac bodies were, in a fit of inefficiency, flown over on specially fitted 747s to be delivered to American assembly lines. Unsurprisingly it wasn't cost effective and the car was short-lived.

I don't remember how or where the "Chrysler TC by Maserati" was built. It seems it was built in Italy "by hand", but I don't remember for sure.

Tangents are confusing, but for me they're a normal part of conversation, so my apologies, too.
 
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