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Giving Orphan Cars a Home

Today’s dream was yesterday’s basic transportation — usually.

It’s a Continental. Not a Lincoln Continental — a Continental. A very rare breed that was manufactured by Ford Motor Company as a very special, handmade vehicle that sold for $10,000 in 1957 when other top-of-the-line competitors, i.e. Chrysler Imperial and Cadillac, were selling for $3,800 to $4,000.

A black and chrome beauty with a red and white interior and deep red trunk compartment was proudly on display last Saturday in the parking lot The Lyceum during the fourth annual “Orphans in Alexandria” classic and antique car show. It is owned by Bruce Valley, a resident of Mount Vernon District.

They were first made for Edsel Ford in 1939 and 1940 as personal cars for him to drive, according to Valley. “Out of that came the Continental Mark I in 1948,” he explained.

No automobiles were manufactured in the United States between early 1942 and late 1946. All plants were converted to producing military equipment, such as tanks and trucks, for World War II.

“The Lincoln Division of Ford Motor Company suggested establishing a Continental Division in the early 1950’s. The first clay mock up was made in 1956 and the actual car was produced in the first four months of 1957,” according to Valley.

“However, the car actually cost Ford $11,000 to produce. So they were losing $1,000 a car. After a year and four months production they stopped. No company can afford to loose money on its products,” Valley said.

“They made a little over 3,000 of these hand made cars. The design is very difficult. Even the exhaust system was moved up into the body so the car would be lower to the ground.

“It takes a lot to restore them. I’ve done four. And, if somebody does it wrong the first time it’s impossible to reverse the damage,” he said.

After 20 years there was still 1 percent left operating. That’s a very high number for any make and model, according to Valley.

The Continental has a curb weight of 5,000 pounds. With air conditioning it weighs in at 5,500 pounds.

If fact, air conditioning was the only accessory available. “But, it’s a very inefficient system. It does add some value but I don’t think its worth it,” he said. It works from the ceiling and on a very hot day you might as well not have it on, according to Valley.

He restored his first Continental in 1973 when he lived in California. The others he has sold. But, this one — “I’m hooked on this one,” the former test pilot admitted.

He even has a sales manual that was specifically designed for the Continental. It’s the only one he, or anyone else, has ever seen.

It tells why the Continental is a better car than all its competitors in the same class, including Mercedes. “This kind of marketing was also a real innovation for its time,” said Valley.

One paragraph in the book says it all: “Just as the Continental Mark II provides the American public with a new concept in automobiles, we - as sales representatives - must approach our prospective customers with a new concept in sales technique.”

That was summed up by Valley with a single statement, “This car has a presence like no other.”

He also had a 1957 Hudson on display at the show. It joined a Willies, Crosley, Packard, and others.

Initiated by James Mackay, director, The Lyceum, four years ago, the show is designed to feature cars once sold in Alexandria that are now out of production. That gave rise to the name, “Orphans In Alexandria.”

However, the number of collectors who exhibit at the free show has been declining over the years and Mackay is afraid he may have to change the theme to a more generic antique/classic car show.

“If I did that I’d have more than enough exhibitors,” he said. “But it would be just another car show.”

Over the years Mackay has lured collectors from as far away as New York and Massachusetts. But, the vast majority are local collectors. This year was no exception.