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Continental drift: Mark II mysteries

Mark II No. 2784 in Havana. Photo courtesy CubanClassics.
 Of just 3,000 Continental Mark IIs produced, at least four are believed to have gone to Cuba – a measure of the wealth enjoyed by a privileged few on the island in the 1950s.
   But to really understand the extent to which that wealth was concentrated, consider this. Of those Cuban Continentals, two – and perhaps even three – were owned by the ruling Batista family.
   A Mark II bearing serial number 3105 belonged to Francisco "Panchin" Batista, governor of Havana Province and brother of President Fulgencio Batista. According to a database maintained by the Mark II Forum, the Internet's gathering spot for owners and fans of the rare luxury cars, Panchin bought the car from Fort Lauderdale Lincoln-Mercury in Florida. An invoice dated April 30, 1956, reveals that the Continental was off-white with mid-grey leather interior and air conditioning.
   Panchin's Continental went to Cuba but stayed only briefly, according to information on the Mark II Forum. By 1957 it was back in the United States, where it was purchased by a doctor. It was last spotted in 2006 in an auction listing on eBay. Panchin himself would also settle in Florida after fleeing Cuba with other Batistas and their supporters on Jan. 1, 1959.
   No. 3105 is the only Cuban Continental known to have been repatriated to the United States.
   The Mark II shown above – and the subject of a recent post – is No. 2784. Now a lustrous red, it was originally black, with deep red broadcloth upholstery. The story attached to this car is that it was owned by the president's wife, Marta Batista. After the Batistas' ouster it was supposedly handed over to Marta's maid, and remained with her family until acquired by its current owner in 2004.
   Ford Motor Co. records cited on the forum show that No. 2784 was built on Feb. 20, 1956, and put aboard a steam freighter called the Bahia de Nipe 14 days later at Pier 27 on New York's East River. Havana's El Relámpago was named on the invoice as the destination dealership, and Carlos Alonso as the customer. Alonso, it should be noted, was the owner of El Relámpago, which that year had become a Ford agency after selling General Motors products since 1927, so he may well have been an intermediary rather than the final buyer.
   Still, there is no official mention of the president's wife in No. 2784's paperwork. She is named, however, in documents for another black Mark II, No. 3359, which came off the production line on Sept. 10 of that year. That car was shipped on Sept. 12, again from Pier 27 but on the S.S. Bahia de Mariel, and the customer was listed as "Martha Fernandez de Batista."
   Did she indeed own two Continentals, purchased in quick succession? Or was the first car owned by someone else in the family, or perhaps never by a Batista at all? Someone must know, just as someone must know what happened to No. 3359 with its dark grey leather interior, though the forum database has no record of it after 1959.
   Ralphee of CubanClassics saw No. 2784 when it was still black, and later came across it in its new red paint, above. It's not the only Continental he's found in Cuba. In the island's central countryside he spotted a battered example wearing a Volga grille and painted an unlikely shade of green.
   Perhaps this was No. 3359. Or perhaps it was another Continental, No. 3793, that the forum shows as also exported to Cuba. Little is known about that car except that it too was black, with white leather seats.
   Or perhaps this was yet another Mark II, unknown to the forum, one more fine car that found its way to an island so ready to welcome such cars in the 1950s, and so reluctant today to give up its secrets.


Pat M said…
I have discovered a 5th Continental Mark II that was shipped to Cuba. It was #2896 which was shipped in March 1956 on the S.S. Bahia De Matanzas. This car was another black one with no customer name, only the notation "TAG U M C Havana, Cuba.

The car was repatriated to the United States before 1975. The last known record of the car shows that in 1985 it was in Maryland.

Pat Marshall
The Mark II Forum
Caristas said…
Thanks, Pat, that's really interesting. It's remarkable that five Mark IIs would reach Cuba. Surprising, too, that at least three of those five were black -- that wouldn't have been my first choice for a tropical climate!

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