Step Out With the New 1946 Mercury

World War II was finally over. Elation combined with immense relief was the order of the day. United States emerged from the cataclysm as the world’s dominant economic and military leader. But of course, joy eventually had to make way for reality. The war had been the single biggest catastrophe in human history; 66 million people had died, and the world would soon start a recovery process which in itself would not be brief or painless. The killing did not stop simply because the Axis and its Allies had fallen. Many countries had experienced annihilation of their civil, cultural and moral infrastructure, which had then usually been replaced by chaos of a particularly brutal nature.

It would have been natural, perhaps even gratifying, to indulge a penchant for retribution now that the thoroughly beaten Axis powers lay helpless on their backs. Normally punctilious societal leaders and arbitrators, (like main line churches and democratic politicians), abandoned their usual moral standards and espoused the position German and Japanese people were inherently evil and it was just fine to even the score against ordinary folk who were, in their own way, just as responsible for the world’s misery as their leaders. And in many cases this is exactly what happened. In particular

The Chinese Civil War between the Communists and the Nationalists resumed right where it left off when it had been interrupted by Japan’s 1931 annexation of Manchuria (north-eastern China), and later by a full-scale military invasion of China in 1937.

If you’ve seen the movie “The Last Emperor” you might realize there’s an interesting historical foot note here. The last emperor of China was Pu Yi. He had been crowned as an infant in 1908 but had to abdicate in 1911 when China became a republic, although he was permitted to retain his household and his residence in Peking’s Forbidden City. He was later forced out over a quarrel regarding art treasures stolen by household staff, and with no place to go agreed to become Japan’s puppet emperor of Manchukuo (Manchuria’s name under Japanese occupation), in 1932.

Aside from its wealth of natural resources and usefulness as a buffer to keep the Soviet Union at arm’s length, Japan used the territory as a base from which to prosecute the war with China. Manchukuo was garrisoned by Japan’s Kwantung Army, which at the time was considered one of the most prestigious military commands, comprised of several first line combat units and better equipment. Manchukuo became an afterthought to the War in the Pacific, particularly as Japan’s losses and casualties mounted. Consequently, the Kwantung Army was stripped of its best soldiers and equipment for more urgent employment elsewhere. On August 8, 1945 the Soviet Red Army invaded Manchuria with crack, combat-hardened troops fresh from the Eastern Front, and completely decimated what was by then the ragtag Japanese Kwantung Army left to defend it. On August 19, 1945 the Kwantung Army surrendered and its vestiges were sent off to Soviet labor camps in Siberia.

Atomic bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 & 9, 1945 but still elements of the Japanese government refused to surrender, so the Russian attack was meant to convince them otherwise. Pu Yi was returned to China where he became an ordinary citizen after 10 years of being re-educated in a prison camp.

The Korean peninsula had been annexed by Japan in 1910, following the Russo-Japanese War. Naturally Korea was included in the terms of Japan’s 1945 surrender. Russia’s Manchurian invasion force was already sitting on the doorstep and so by agreement with the Americans, occupied Korea down to the 38th parallel. The Soviets placed Kim Il Sung, (a former communist guerilla leader and grandfather of the present Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea), in charge of their zone, and renamed it the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea, (better known as North Korea). The stage was thus set for the Korean War a few years later.

But even though the war itself was over, the killing and the dying did not stop, and misery did not take a break. In trying to cope with the unimaginable human desolation left in the aftermath, the victors took decidedly different approaches, and in so doing managed to split what was left of civilization along ideological lines. The groundwork for the Cold War was being laid.

While Israel was still two years away in 1946, many of the decisions leading to its creation were being made. India was granted independence in 1946, almost instantly leading to bloody rioting in which over 1 million died and another 15 million were displaced over a partition in which formation of Pakistan was demanded. A further massive human dislocation ensued when Pakistan actually came into being in 1948 and much of the Muslim population of the former India tried to get there voluntarily or involuntarily. The death knell of the old British Empire had sounded.

With the Japanese Empire now defeated, the Chinese Communists and Nationalist Kuomintang could now once again re-commit themselves to killing each other. The Communists were able to push the Nationalists off the mainland in 1946 and on to Formosa (Taiwan) where they remain today, still squabbling about the same things that occupied them 70 years ago.

In Europe, the initial burst of hope engendered by the war’s end had given way to desperation by 1946. In trying to describe the situation to the Americans, Winston Churchill said “What is the plight to which Europe has been reduced? Over wide areas, a vast quivering mass of tormented, hungry, careworn and bewildered human beings gape at the ruin of their cities and homes and scan the dark horizon for the approach of some new peril, tyranny or terror…”

In much of Europe civil society and its normal institutions had ceased to function. There were no schools, public transportation, libraries, stores (not that there was anything to buy or sell), banks, (most paper currency was worthless). There was no law and order, just armed gangs trying to protect themselves or take what belonged to someone else. Conventional morality went out the window as women of all ages and backgrounds resorted to prostitution just to survive.

A mass deportation of 12 million Germans back to Germany, from those lands over-run by the Soviets occurred. The history of these people often reached back generations in their present location and now they were forced into a decimated country where they knew no one and nothing. And it wasn’t simply a matter of loading up a knapsack and crossing the German border. They usually had to run a miles-long gauntlet of Czech or Polish soldiers who saw them as complicitly evil in Nazi atrocities and deserving of whatever humiliations came their way.

The League of Nations had been formed in January, 1920, as one of the results of the Paris Peace Conference that ended World War I. Although it had as its main objective the promotion of world peace, it did not have the resources or mandate to fulfill its mission and ultimately failed as it was unable to prevent the Axis aggression leading up to World War II.

The United Nations had its first general meeting co-incident with the League of Nations’ last.

U.S.A. and Canada were two of the few nations to emerge from the war more or less intact. Having endured the Depression and then a World War, during which times a new car was either unavailable or too expensive, Americans and Canadians looked forward to an improved standard of living. Jobs were not plentiful for returning vets however, and so in many cases major purchases had to be deferred. Meanwhile, record numbers of marriages occurred, followed in short order by babies arriving, and the “baby boom” was on!

Popular music in 1946 was dominated by the “crooner” style of singing, a name given usually to male singers backed by an orchestra, who were able to make their music sound more personally intimate through the use of microphones. Microphones made it possible for performers to be heard clearly throughout a concert setting without shouting, which of course was not possible until into the 1930’s. Crooning is characterized by a soft and sometimes touching affectation where the accompanying or background instrumentation reinforces and complements the dreamy, romantic feel of the piece.

Bing Crosby was the first crooner and easily America’s leading singer during the 1930’s. He made several trips to Europe during World War II to perform live for Allied soldiers, many of these accompanied by the Andrews Sisters. Bing charted 14 songs in 1946, 2 of these with the Andrews Sisters. His big solo hit that year was “Sioux City Sue” while “South America, Take It Away” with Patty, Maxene & LaVerne actually charted a little higher. His career continued to prosper into the 1950’s.

Frank Sinatra’s musical career began during the Big Band era as a singer for the Harry James and Tommy Dorsey Orchestras. He went solo in 1943, and released his first album in 1946, “The Voice of Frank Sinatra”. He became one of the first teen idols and many of his concerts and appearances were over-run by adoring teenage girls or “bobby soxers”. Frank released “Oh What It Seemed to Be”, “Day By Day”, “They Say It’s Wonderful”, “Five Minutes More” and “The Coffee Song” in 1946, following which his career went into eclipse and his popularity declined. He spent some time in Las Vegas, but in 1953 his role in the movie “From Here to Eternity” seemed to start a career revival.

Perry Como also got his start as the vocalist for a Big Band, in his case the Ted Weems Orchestra. Perry also branched out on his own in 1943 when he began broadcasting radio shows for CBS and signed a recording contract with RCA Victor. In 1944 he moved from CBS to NBC and started a new radio program, the “Chesterfield Supper Club”. In 1946 two whole Chesterfield shows per week were broadcast live from an airliner flying at 20,000 feet, complete with full band, their instruments and guest stars – a historical first. Perry’s biggest hit in 1946 was “Prisoner of Love”, but he also charted with “Surrender” and “They Say It’s Wonderful”.

The Ink Spots were a black group formed in Indianapolis in the early 1930’s. The original group carried on until 1954. They were known for their tight harmonization style which was an obvious forerunner of doo wop in particular and rock generally. Their biggest 1946 hit was the “Gypsy” which also won the Cash Box award that year as the biggest money maker. It was also the year’s biggest hit. “To Each His Own” was recoded in 1946 and became a modern classic.

The top five pop songs were rounded out by two from Frankie Carle, “Oh What It Seemed to Be” and “Rumors Are Flying”, “The Old Lamplighter” by Sammy Kaye and “For Sentimental Reasons” by Nat King Cole.

After a hiatus of over three years, assembly lines at Ford once again began to produce vehicles destined for civilian use. Wartime experience and production had greatly enhanced Ford’s available technology, and they were the first to come up with a new car, delivering it on July 3, 1945. Unfortunately, strikes and materials shortages bedeviled manufacturers and their suppliers right from the start. On the plus side, (for car-makers), a strong sellers’ market was in firm evidence through to the end of the decade. The Office of Price Administration was still trying to prevent gouging, so there were lots of shenanigans involving new cars being sold as used to get around price controls. But although the anticipated prosperity was off to a slow start, it was clearly on the horizon. For the first time in its history, America had more miles of paved than unpaved roads, and there were a number of entrepreneurial would-be auto-makers waiting in the wings, eager to fulfill the outsize demand.

During the early war years Edsel Ford had performed an increasingly precarious and stressful juggling act. He had to balance government requirements for the war effort, increasingly difficult labor relations, the company’s viability once lucrative war work ended and active sabotage emanating from the progressively more demented Henry Ford and his thuggish henchmen. Despite a willing spirit, Edsel Ford’s constitution finally surrendered and he died on May 26, 1943. He was only 49 years old.

Henry and his accomplices wasted no time in re-installing the old man into the company’s presidency. At the time Edsel was little mourned by his father and his father’s associates. With the passage of time Edsel came to be acknowledged at least by the rest of the family, his close colleagues and indeed by the public at large, as the great man and visionary he truly was.

Harry Bennett had been Henry Ford’s “go to guy” virtually since he’d been hired in 1916. Bennett was a street fighter and professional goon who did all Henry’s dirty work. Bennett presided over the infamous 8,000 man “Service Department” at Ford which amounted to a glorified private army of gangsters and enforcers. Their collective job description included fighting the unions (often physically), meting out punishment, spying on employees and acting as Henry’s personal bodyguards. Much to the dismay of Henry’s wife, Clara, and Edsel’s wife, Eleanor It was obvious to all that Bennett was the son Edsel never was and could never have been. Many expected Henry would name Bennett president at an appropriate time. Each of Clara and Eleanor Ford personally held huge blocks of stock in the still private Ford Motor Company and threatened to sell if Harry Bennett became president. Henry relented but still appointed Bennett and many of his associates to Ford’s Board of Directors.

As Henry’s mental capacity continued to decline, Bennett gained ever increasing power and authority through his ability to influence the weak and senile old man, but at any event he set about firing many of Edsel’s closest colleagues and those responsible for bringing to fruition Edsel’s plans for the company’s post-war recovery and prosperity. This was all in service of Henry’s deranged and deluded belief the solution to everything was a return to the Model T.

President Roosevelt viewed the continuing shenanigans at Ford with growing alarm. The country simply could not have one of its largest defense contractors and most important employers managed in such an erratic manner. There was even talk of nationalizing the company. Ultimately the decision was made to early release Edsel’s son, Henry Ford II, from the Navy to take over the family firm.

HF2, (as he affectionately came to be known), was discharged from military service in July, 1943. He was 25 years old.  Nobody thought he was going to have an easy time of it, least of all Harry Bennett and company who relished the prospect of hounding the young Henry like they had relentlessly persecuted his father. Much to their surprise, and backed up by his mother and grandmother, HF 2 proved he could face them down, and so he did. In early 1945 Henry Ford II was designated executive vice-president, just in time to prepare for the tapering off and eventual end of government defense work and its replacement with civilian vehicle manufacture. One of his first acts was to resurrect both Lincoln and Mercury, legacy projects of his father’s that Henry Ford, the elder had scrapped.

To ensure Henry Ford II was handed the unhindered reins of Ford Motor Company, without interference from the Old Man or any of his minions, Clara and Eleanor Ford renewed the threat to dump their personal holdings of company stock. The net effect of such a move would have been to move control outside the family. The elder Mr. Ford reluctantly agreed and HF 2 took over as president of Ford in September, 1945. One of his first acts was to finally rid the company of Harry Bennett, his entourage and their poisonous influence.

Meanwhile FoMoCo had restarted civilian vehicle manufacturing; on July 5, 1945 the first post-war car rolled off the assembly line – a 1946 Ford Super Deluxe Sedan. This historic automobile was formally presented to President Harry Truman at a White House commemoration.

Unlike his secretive grandfather who preferred to keep everything to himself and a few like-minded cronies, Henry Ford II understood the importance of professional, accountable leadership. With this in mind, one of the first orders of business was to start building a management team along these lines. The first new hire was Ernest R. Breech, who agreed to move over from General Motors to assume the Chairman of the Board position at Ford, under very generous terms, both financially and in decision-making freedom.

About the same time the stars lined up perfectly for Ford once again. HF2 was offered the services of a group of logistical and organizational experts who had worked together coordinating and efficiently allocating resources for the U.S. military. The opportunity to engage these people to avert bankruptcy and put the company on the path to profitability was heaven sent. Robert S. McNamara was among this troop of so-called “Whiz Kids” and eventually became President of Ford, leaving in 1961 to become JFK’s Secretary of State.

As part of a strategy to structure itself like GM, Ford strengthened its already established policy of allowing its different brands more independence in determining market placement, Lincoln and Mercury became charter members of a new Lincoln-Mercury Division within FoMoCo. Benson Ford, HF2’s younger brother, was the first head of this new Division in 1946. One of his first moves was to designate Thomas S. Skinner as general manager of the Division. With Lincoln-Mercury now standing on its own, an infrastructure had to be built to handle all the responsibilities, activities and management duties formerly undertaken by the mother corporation, FoMoCo. To give the two brands credibility separate and apart from that of Ford, one of the first orders of business was to recruit, train and establish a completely new dealership franchise network.

One of several unfortunate occurrences following Edsel Ford’s untimely death was E.T. “Bob” Gregorie’s termination from Ford. Bob had been Ford’s Chief Stylist for many years and was a close friend and confidante of Edsel, and had a number of design triumphs to his credit – Lincoln Zephyr and Lincoln Continental Cabriolet are two notable ones. Bob was obviously a gifted designer but perhaps his most important talent was an ability to interpret and translate Edsel Ford’s visionary ideas and nebulous concepts into concrete practical designs.

Bob Gregorie had been one of the victims of Henry Ford and Harry Bennett’s housecleaning of those who had been close to Edsel. HF2 pulled out all the stops to get Bob Gregorie to return to Ford and upon his agreement to do so, he was immediately appointed to take charge of development of the new post-war models. Throughout the war and under Edsel’s direction, Bob Gregorie had already spent considerable time and effort on this very task. Of necessity he understood the first post-war cars would need to use the 1942 cars as a template, but restyle them enough so they’d look fresh and contemporary. This was a salutary sentiment to be sure, but the pressure of pent up demand was so strong, the car-makers could likely have successfully sold covered wagons in 1946.

It should be noted that any cars at all in civilian hands during the war years were a very precious commodity, so used cars for sale were as scarce as new cars. Spare parts were also in short supply as none for civilian use were being manufactured and car owners did whatever was necessary to keep them on the road. Because of a shortage of many materials and products during the war, and consequent increased demand, it was necessary to exercise some control over prices to keep the lid on. The federal government set up the Office of Price Administration to monitor price escalation and inflation during the war, caused by the supply and demand imbalance. With the end of hostilities the supervising authority started to wind down and let the market take over. Having acknowledged the strong demand for cars and we should note that inevitably there were price increases, as indeed there was across the whole economy.

The design process used 1942 body shells and measurements, and went from there. As well, the same body styles were carried over from 1942. These were, from lowest to highest price, 2 door Sedan ($1,448), 2-door Sedan Coupe ($1,495), 4-door Sedan ($1,509), 2-door Convertible ($1,711), 4-door Station Wagon ($1,729), and 2-door Sportsman Convertible ($2,209). The 4-door Sedan was easily the most popular body style, selling 40,280 units, almost half of Mercury’s total sales of 86,626. The 2-door Sedan Coupe was second most favored with sales of 24,163. Third place sales goes to the 2-door Sedan but it was discontinued in early 1947 after 34 cars had been built. Sales for 1946 was 13,142 units.

To give the line-up some pizzazz, HF2 suggested the only new model – a glamorous addition to draw the public into showrooms. This was the Sportsman convertible, a wood bodied four passenger car constructed using the same materials and technology used to build Station Wagons. The Sportsman was originally intended for the Ford line, but since Mercury shared the Ford body, an adaptation was fairly straight-forward. The Mercury version was manufactured and sold in 1946 only when 200 cars left the showroom.

Bob and his team set about their task with a will, starting with Mercury. The new Mercury used the same size, shape and position grille opening as the 1942 car, however a cascade theme was achieved by re-orienting it vertically with twelve delicate chrome ribs organized in four groups for each of the two grille halves. The main grille is enclosed by a body color surround featuring three chrome flashes mounted on each side aspect of the border. Two horizontally elongated oval openings sit side-by-side behind the bumper and underneath the main grille, each surrounded by a chrome frame and with a chrome cross-piece. A heavy chrome horizontal plaque is mounted atop the grille at its centre, displaying the “MERCURY” name in relief with a red background. The two halves of the main grille are separated by a vertical chrome plaque stating “EIGHT” in block letters, completing the car’s full name, “Mercury Eight”. Chrome framed rectangular parking lights are placed on the front of the fender catwalks very close to the hood.

Headlights are placed in chrome buckets located in the pontoon style fenders.

Two parallel stainless moldings run down both front and rear fenders, the upper spear being noticeably thinner than the lower. These decorative strips start just behind the headlights and end at the taillights, omitting the doors. Taillights are chrome encased, appearing rectangular when viewed from directly behind, but are shaped to fit the rear fender properly. Vertically, they fit between the two fender garnish moldings, which then cross the trunk lid and visually join the left and right taillights Two nameplates are located between the trunk spears, on the far left and right, the first reading “MERCURY” and the second “EIGHT”.

Another stainless spear molding runs down the side of the hood, becomes a belt-line molding as it crosses the door, and then continues down the upper rear fenders, ending before the taillight is reached. All windows are framed with stainless moldings and surrounded by a bright drip rail.

Mercury’s actual manufacturing commencement started November 1, somewhat behind that of Ford. This delay was intended to give Mercury a bit more organizational breathing space, but even with the extra lead time, the process encountered shortages and unexpected scheduling problems. When cars finally rolled of the assembly line, they were warmed over 1942 models, but nobody cared. The public and the dealers went crazy for them.

Of course fashion never stands still and the 1946 car was able to enjoy a more colorful palette than its ancestor. Interiors were crafted in conservative gray-green Bedford Cord cloth or rich rust pin-striped broadcloth. Convertibles and Station wagons were done up in genuine leather in your choice of red, tan or gray.

Mercury’s 1942 239 cid flathead V-8 of 100 hp was carried forward unchanged into 1946. The only transmission available was a three speed manual.

1946 Mercury captured 3.3% of American car production, good enough to place 11th in sales out of 19 major makes.

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More of Everything You Want! 1947 Mercury

During the war, an agreement between the unions and the National War Labor Board kept strikes and labor disruptions to a minimum. With the war over and wanting to participate in the anticipated oncoming prosperity, workers were not happy when wages actually fell.

Harry Truman

The result was a massive wave of strikes unparalleled in labor history – over 4.3 million workers took part. As regards the car manufacturers, affected unions included United Auto Workers, oil, electric & steel workers, and coal miners, railroad engineers and trainmen. As a direct result, Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act, (over the veto of President Truman), restricting union jurisdiction and control.

In Great Britain the war had unleashed a strong desire for social change. The Labour Party under Clement Attlee defeated Winston Churchill’s Conservatives in the national elections of July, 1945 and embarked on a program of socialist reforms including nationalization of public utilities, coal mines and other major industries, an expansion of social programs and introduction of the National Health Service. By today’s standards these policies were pretty tame and it must be said

Clement Attlee

Attlee maintained an unequivocal attitude of opposition to the USSR. Nevertheless, this leftward lurch greatly alarmed the U.S.A. who feared the Soviet Union would try to take advantage of British political sentiment and the dire overall state of conditions in Europe.

By 1947, European economic recovery was disappointing and the U.S.A. realized it would be necessary to provide direct financial support to jump start the process. The secondary objective was to curtail the spread of Communism and blunt its influence in affected countries. The U.S.A. provided more than $12 billion to eighteen European nations, both Allied and Axis, distributed more or less on a per capita basis, with Allied

General George C. Marshall

countries receiving a larger proportionate amount. The Soviet Union and its satellites were asked to participate, but the U.S.S.R. declined on behalf of them all. Funds were spent on rebuilding, streamlining and modernizing industry with the program to run four years starting in April, 1948. It was named after General George C. Marshall, then the U.S. Secretary of State. Comparable assistance arrangements were implemented for Asian countries as well, but these were not part of the Marshall Plan.

Under General Douglas MacArthur, the U.S.A. also took the lead in the occupation, reformation and recovery of the defeated Japanese nation. War crimes tribunals were established and the Japanese military disbanded as initial steps, but with China going Communist and North Korea on the doorstep, this threat became more immediate and the United States negotiated to leave troops stationed in Japan and also a bilateral security agreement.

General Douglas MacArthur

Soviet bullying and trespassing into the affairs of other countries, most notably Greece, Turkey and Iran, prompted President Truman to proclaim the Truman Doctrine in 1947 This decree offered countries under threat from authoritarian regimes, (i.e. Communist), U.S. assistance in the form of cash, advisory help all the way up to direct military aid.

Black music was gaining prominence and coming into its own. Some of the first radio stations geared specifically to a black listening audience started to appear, particularly in the Deep South. The Ravens became the first black group to break into the previously white-only Billboard charts with “Write Me a Letter” in December, 1947. Although it was only on Billboard one week, reaching #24, this achievement was a major milestone. Roy

Roy Brown

Brown writes and records “Good Rockin’ Tonight”, but it’s only on the charts for three weeks and peaks at #11. Wynonie Harris, after first refusing Brown’s entreaties to record it, relents after others become interested and does the song in 1948. He makes it into a smash hit and its first commercially successful version (was on the R&B charts for 25 weeks, peaking at #1), thereby introducing the word “rock” into the American vocabulary. Considered an important forerunner of Rock ‘n’ Roll, the song was subsequently covered by Elvis during the Sun Sessions in 1954 and by many other white singers up to The Doors in 1972.

With a few exceptions Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five had the R&B charts to themselves, including the year’s #1 R&B song, “Ain’t Nobody Here but Us Chickens” and the #2 song “Boogie Woogie Blue Plate”. Sex-sational Savannah Churchill charted her only

Savannah Churchill

#1 song (and the year’s #3 R&B song), in 1947, “I Want to be Loved (But Only by You)”. Her career ended in 1956 when a drunk patron fell out of a balcony and landed on her while she was on stage, causing extensive crippling injuries.

With the advent of sound augmentation provided by the new science of electronics, singers were able to project a more intimate style of song stylings, known as “crooning” 1947’s #1 pop song “Near You” written and performed by Francis Craig, has been covered many times and has become a pop standard. The Disney 1946 live action and animated movie “Song of the South”, sung by James Baskett backed up by the Johnny Mercer Orchestra brings us the #2 song. For “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah“, the film won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Famed crooner Vaughn Monroe lends his unique voice to “Ballerina”, the #3 song. The #4 song is “Heartaches” by the Ted Weems Orchestra and has an interesting history. It was originally recorded in 1933 but got little notice. Ted Weems disbanded the orchestra in 1942 and went off to the War. In 1947 a Charlotte, North Carolina disc jockey listened to it, liked it and started playing it regularly.

Perry Como & Jo Stafford

This time it gained recognition and quickly climbed the charts. Perry Como made the cute #5 song, “Chi-Baba, Chi-Baba” widely popular. The public liked novelty songs and there were many around at this time, not all of them particularly tasteful by today’s standards. This one is fine. The lyrics are meant to sound like Italian baby talk.

“Waves of the Danube” is a well known Romanian Waltz composed in 1880. Al Jolson and Saul Chaplin adapted it for release in America as “The Anniversary Song” in 1946. It was on the charts for 14 weeks, peaking at #2 in February, 1947. It’s been covered many times over the years, including by Willie Nelson in 2014. Dinah Shore released a version in February, 1947, which lasted 8 weeks on Billboard, reaching #4.

Dinah Shore

Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)” is a Western swing novelty song written by Merle Travis and Tex Williams, for Williams and his talking blues style of singing. He expresses his contempt for slaves of the evil weed who will interrupt almost anything to get their fix. It was 1947’s #1 Country song. “Rainbow at Midnight” is actually a novelty country song but since this version is done by Ernest Tubb it seems to have been classified as a country tune. The “Texas Troubadour” was a Grand Ole Opry fixture and took a troupe to Carnegie Hall in NYC in 1947.

As 1947 dawned, Ford Motor Company, including Mercury, was continuing to manufacture 1946 cars. Executives explained the company had decided to abandon the concept of the annual model year change in favor of introducing technological advances and other changes on an ongoing basis. Perfectly logical. Most of the other major players in the automobile industry did not agree and said so … vocally. Dealers were upset because the other manufacturers were trumpeting the many wonderful features of their fresh new cars, while Mercury was still selling what appeared to be last year’s product. Over time, a car’s year became a critical element of its physical description which in turn grew into an issue for licensing authorities, insurance and law enforcement. Finally, buyers were not happy about paying 1947 prices for what was to all appearances a 1946 car. This situation would likely affect the vehicle’s value when it came time to sell or trade.

In February, 1947 Ford finally caved in and added a “7” to the serial numbers of the autos then in production, and voila they became 1947 models despite actually being 1946 in all other respects. In April Mercury actually got around to some trim changes to differentiate 1947 cars from 1946. These were cosmetic and minor but seemed to satisfy the various parties interested in the matter.

The frame surrounding the grille was chromed for 1947, rather than being body color, “EIGHT” in block capitals was dropped from the vertical bar centering the grille, the bright side molding while still present on the hood was considerably abbreviated and preceded by a chrome plaque of the same thickness and positioning, reading “MERCURY”. Finally, hubcaps were redesigned.

1947 Mercury shared a new, more vibrant color palette with Ford cars, except for two shades, Parrot Green and Taffy Tan. An additional two hues, Pheasant Red and Maize Yellow were reserved for convertibles. A total of eleven colors were available. Ten were new with black being the only one returning from 1946. Interior upholstery selections offered included red or tan leather for convertibles, tan leather for station wagons while buyers of coupes and sedans were limited to a gray-green striped broadcloth.

Both Sportsman and the 2-door sedan were dropped from the model line-up for 1947. Sportsman was understandable as only 200 copies sold in 1946, but it was never meant to be a big money-maker in any case. Besides if you had your heart set on a wood-bodied convertible, Ford still offered them. Also no longer available was the 2-door Sedan. It had been the least popular 1946 model, but also the lowest priced, (it beat the 2-door Sedan Coupe by $47.). Technically, 34 2-door Sedans had been built on the 1946 template before Ford made the reluctant decision to acknowledge model years, but were titled as 1947 cars.

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1948 Mercury – More of Everything You Want

By 1948 the Cold War was well underway. Its onset had no doubt been accelerated by Stalin’s growing paranoia which had been in evidence since the suicide of his second wife, Nadezhda Alliluyeva in 1932 at the age of 31. A fully committed Bolshevik, she shot herself after a very public quarrel with Stalin over some minor political point. The Great Terror commenced shortly thereafter. Purges reached the heights of insanity in 1936-38 when wholesale executions were an everyday occurrence. Nobody was safe. Communist Party and government officials, informal peasant leaders, Red Army leadership, and anyone falling under the catch-all definitions of “spies”, “Trotskyites”, “kulaks”, “saboteurs” and “counter-revolutionaries”, were subject to random, irrational execution. Some minions participated enthusiastically in these activities, but they usually ran afoul of Stalin’s displeasure at some point and suffered the same fate as their victims.

Genrikh Yagoda

The most dangerous job in Russia at the time was People’s Commissar for Internal Affairs (head of the NKVD), as the incumbents were always under intense pressure and continuously in the center of Stalin’s baleful gaze.

None retired gracefully nor died of old age at home in their beds. Genrikh Yagoda and Nikolai Yezhov (nicknamed the “Poison Dwarf” he is also famous for being air-brushed out of photographs with Stalin), are good examples. These sycophantic lackeys served their purpose but had seen too much and possessed too much power to be allowed to live.

Executions transpired for no other reason than to fulfill or exceed quotas – you might lose your life because some bureaucrat hadn’t shot enough people that month. The killings and imprisonment continued right up until Stalin’s death in March, 1953.

Stalin & Yezhov

It’s hard to imagine the grotesque frightfulness of life under this regime, where a gruesome death always lurked just around the corner. For those interested in the history of this period, I recommend “Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar”, by Simon Sebag Montefiore.

At the Tehran and Yalta conferences the main leaders of the anti-Nazi Alliance met to strategize prosecution of the War, to demand Germany’s unconditional surrender and to begin plans for a post-war world. Stalin smothered Churchill and Roosevelt with charm and cagily played them off one against the other for his own ends.

Stalin but Yezhov mysteriously gone

The final conference was at Potsdam, just outside Berlin, after Germany had surrendered, to draw a blueprint for post-War Europe. Churchill would soon be thrown out by the British electorate, Roosevelt had passed away and been succeeded by Truman; only Stalin remained. Stalin despised Truman, missed Roosevelt and considered Churchill the strongest of the Western leaders.

The term “Cold War” originated with George Orwell in 1945 to describe “ … a nuclear stalemate between two or three monstrous super-states, each possessed of a weapon by which millions of people can be wiped out in a few seconds.” By 1948 the Soviets had forcibly introduced communist dictatorships in the countries “liberated” by the Red Army.

Yalta Conference

The USA and Great Britain were alarmed by the likelihood of permanent Soviet domination of eastern Europe and the threat of Soviet-controlled communist governments gaining power in western European democracies. The USSR, for their part were doggedly resolved to retain control of eastern Europe in order to insulate themselves against Germany rising again. As well, for ideological reasons they were intent on spreading communism around the world. U.S. aid provided to western Europe under the Marshall Plan had successfully countered the threat of friendly governments falling under Soviet influence.

Harry Truman

The super-power rivalry was further inflamed with the announcement and expansion of the “Truman Doctrine” in 1947-48. It became the cornerstone of American foreign policy and stated the United States would support, militarily if necessary, countries threatened by Soviet geo-political coercion. At the time he had in mind Greece and Turkey. The Truman Doctrine led directly to the creation of NATO.

Germany and Berlin had each been partitioned into four zones at the end of World War II occupied by one of the major Allied powers: United States, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union. The Western Allies proposed their jurisdictions be united into one democratic country of “West Germany”. Berlin lay within the Soviet sector, but there was an agreement in place to permit unfettered ground access, to occupied districts in Berlin by the Western powers through USSR – controlled East Germany. Threatened by plans to unify the western sectors, the Soviet Union cut off all road, rail and canal access to Berlin in June, 1948. Not wishing to precipitate a military confrontation in such a hair-trigger situation, the United States and Great Britain began a massive airlift of food and other vital supplies into Berlin. By the time the Soviets backed down and re-opened ground routes in May, 1949, over 1 million tons of supplies had been transported. The Berlin Airlift was the first major incident of the Cold War.

The nation of Israel was born in 1948. Creation of a Jewish homeland was first formalized and promised in the Balfour Declaration which partitioned the defeated Ottoman Empire’s Middle East possessions after World War I. It wasn’t until after World War II and the Holocaust, that Great Britain fulfilled its commitment and created the state of Israel in what was then part of Palestine. Millions of Arabs were displaced and fled to neighboring countries where they became refugees, despite being told they could stay and become citizens of Israel. Surrounding Arab countries were highly insulted by the arbitrary creation of this Jewish state in their midst and promptly declared war, fully intending to destroy the fledgling country. To their surprise, they were defeated. They tried twice more, in 1967 and 1973, but fared no better. Israel still exists as does Arab enmity and the refugee situation. In fact, a U.N. agency set up to manage the Palestinian refugee situation in 1948 is still in full operation today, (UNWRA). There likely will never be a solution to this dilemma as too many players have a vested interest in seeing it continue.

James Caesar Petrillo was the head of the American Federation of Musicians. On August 1, 1942 the AFM refused to allow unionized musicians to participate in making musical recordings, as radio stations’ broadcast of recorded music was putting musicians out of work. He justified  calling a strike by reasoning “Nowhere else in this mechanical age does the workman create the machine which destroys him, but that’s what happens to the musician when he plays for a recording. The iceman didn’t create the refrigerator. The coachman didn’t build the automobile. But the musician plays his music into a recorder and a short time later the radio station manager comes around and says, “Sorry, Joe, we’ve got all your stuff on records, so we don’t need you anymore.” And Joe’s out of a job”. In anticipation of the strike, record companies had stockpiled recordings of the public’s favorite singers, which they gradually released as the disruption progressed. Petrillo resisted immense political and legal pressure to end the strike, and eventually the record companies agreed to pay royalties to the union.

Congress became nervous with a union having ready access to so much and in 1947 invoked a provision of the Taft-Hartley Act rendering the recording fund illegal, and it was disbanded. In the meantime television had escalated the problems as they too were now making use of recorded music without paying royalties. So a second strike was scheduled

Ella Fitzgerald

for January 1, 1948, but this time lasted only eleven months before an independent trust was created to manage fee payments.

As with all profound incidents there were some results not foreseen or anticipated. Some vocal recordings during 1948 were produced a cappella, such as Ella Fitzgerald’s “My Happiness”. In the absence of musical accompaniment, the public found they enjoyed the purity of the singers’ voices, and this in turn precipitated the rise of pop singers. Big Bands and Swing were still popular as 1948 began, but both went into eclipse as other genres and artists took their place.

Big bands were expensive to hire and accommodate on tour, but were still quite capable of producing hits.

Many thought this captivating Dixieland style jazz standard was the most popular record of 1948 (8 weeks at #1, 23 weeks in the top-10, and 32 weeks on Billboard’s singles charts). Walter ‘Pee Wee’ Hunt had been a founder and valued member of Glen Gray’s Casa Loma Orchestra as trombonist and vocalist, before military service. He returned in 1946, and in 1948 charted with the huge hit, “Twelfth Street Rag“.

This familiar piece from Khachaturian’s “Gayne Ballet” turned into a strong instrumental record seller for both classical and pop artists. “Sabre Dance” by Woody Herman was a #7 hit on the sales charts.

Recorded before the musicians’ strike, the Tommy Dorsey tune “Until” was not released

Tommy Dorsey

until late summer 1948 and went on to become a popularly welcomed hit, spending five months on the national singles charts.

Sammy Kaye’s recording of “Serenade of the Bells” reached the Billboard magazine Best Seller chart on November 7, 1947 and lasted 16 weeks, reaching #3.

Many of the biggest names in pop music got their start as singers for Big Bands: Frank Sinatra was launched by Harry James’ Band and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, while Doris Day got her start with the Les Brown Band.  Seasoned studio and radio troubador, Buddy Clark finally achieved mainstream credibility so Columbia decided to record him fellow artist, Doris Day. She had recently embarked on her solo career and this #1 radio airplay duet of “Love Somebody” was her first single since

Doris Day

leaving the Les Brown band.

Little White Lies” was a massive hit for one of the finest voices to emerge from the Big Band Era. Gordon Jenkins’ introspective arrangement of the 1930 piece sold over a million copies for Dick Haymes and spent 23 weeks on the Billboard singles charts.

Dinah Shore’s all-time top-seller was “Buttons and Bows”, an Oscar winner, recorded a full year before the public watched Bob Hope sing it in the film comedy “The Paleface.”  It spent ten weeks atop the national sales charts.

Dinah Shore

Peggy Lee recorded “Manana” on November 25, 1947, officially debuting it on NBC Radio’s “Jimmy Durante Show” (on which she was a regular vocalist) on December 31, 1947.

Margaret Whiting also started her career as a band singer but by 1945 was recording under her own name. Her “A Tree in the Meadow” reached #1 in the summer of 1948 and finished the year in the top 10.

Perry Como’s recording of the 1902 ballad, “Because” surpassed the one million sales mark, reaching #4 on the national best-seller list during the spring months.

With a studio orchestra backing him up and billed on the record label as simply ‘King Cole’, the mellifluous tones of the King Cole Trio’s dean alarmed many of his jazz fans who feared he was abandoning them and betraying his pedigree to crass commercialism.  Nonetheless, his

06 Feb 1956 — Nat “King” Cole on The Ed Sullivan Show — Image by © Michael Ochs Archives/Corbis

performance of the peculiar composition, “Nature Boy” was happily received by millions, spent 7 weeks at #1 on the singles sales chart, and became the most successful effort of his career to that point. Nat King Cole had many firsts as a black artist, one of which was producing a 15-minute radio show called “King Cole Trio Time” in 1946. He was the first black to have his own radio show. His career solidified in the mid to late 40’s as he recorded more pop music.

 Jon and Sondra Steele (married couple, real names John and Sondra McGuire), were a Hollywood area club act whose late 1947 independent-label recording of the 1933 tune “My Happiness” turned into one of 1948’s most memorable hits.  It spent 30 weeks on the Billboard singles charts, peaking at #2 (jukebox), and creating a mild dilemma for the major record companies during this

Jon & Sondra Steele

‘recording ban’ year. The recording companies had all  stockpiled several moths’ supply of unreleased material to trickle out during the strike. Unforeseen major 1948 hits like “My Happiness”  demanded new competing cover versions be recorded, but only as a cappella.

Which is exactly how Ella Fitzgerald’s interpretation of “My Happiness” came to be. Though trailing the Jon and Sondra Steele version, this all-vocal record by Ella and The Song Spinners reached top-10 on the sales, jukebox and airplay charts.  Ten years later Connie Francis would make “My Happiness” a monster hit and return it to the upper reaches of the best-sellers.

Jack Fina, whose 1946 swing arrangement of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumble Bee” for Freddy Martin and his Orchestra, called “Bumble Boogie” reached # 7 in 1948 and was used in the Walt Disney animated film, Melody Time.

Up until 1946, Country Music was called “Hillbilly Music” but whatever you called it, it

Spike Jones

was very popular. “Guitar Boogie” is a guitar instrumental first recorded by Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith in 1945 and updated in 1948 which is the version here. It is credited with introducing “hillbilly boogie” to the masses. It eventually sold nearly three million copies. and was the first guitar instrumental to climb the country music charts, then crossover and also gain high rankings on the popular music charts. “Guitar Boogie” has been covered and adapted many times, even as a Twist!

Novelty songs were much beloved during this era although some wouldn’t pass politically correct muster today. This perennial Christmas favorite topped the record charts and sold a million copies during the 1948 holiday season.  It features the bizarre vocal stylings of Spike Jones’ rather robust trumpeter George Rock. “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” originally released by Spike Jones, has been covered many times since.

Another affectionately-remembered Spike Jones classic is a zany take on Rossini’s famous

Eddy Arnold

William Tell Overture“.  It’s highlighted by the horse race commentary of Doodles Weaver, brother of Sylvester ‘Pat’ Weaver (future president of NBC) and uncle of Pat’s daughter, actress Sigourney.

Eddy Arnold, nicknamed the “Tennessee Plowboy” owned the Country audience in 1948 with a total of six hits during the year. “Anytime” was first published in 1921 and popularized by Emmett Miller later in the 1920s. It would later provide a major career boost for Eddy Arnold. It crossed over into the top-20 of the pop jukebox listings in 1948, as did his best-seller “Bouquet of Roses” which spent 27 weeks on the chart.

The unattributed female harmony voice heard during the final minute of Jimmy Wakely’s “One Has My Name” belonged to Colleen Summers, who would later become known professionally as Mary Ford when performing with future husband Les Paul.  It became a #10 jukebox hit on the pop charts, and spent 11 weeks at #1

Jimmy Wakely

on the country rankings.

A new style of Country called Honky Tonk was starting to emerge and by the end of the decade would dominate the genre. Foremost practitioners were Ernest Tubb and the legendary Hank Williams (Lovesick Blues).

Western Swing is a type of American uptempo country dance music that emerged in the late 1920’s in the West and South among Western string bands. By the 1940’s its popularity was drawing huge crowds to dance halls and clubs in Texas, Oklahoma and California. Imposition of a federal war-time nightclub tax in 1944 severely reduced its following, although it still survives today. A Western Swing band includes strings, drums, saxophones, pianos and, most importantly, the steel guitar. Of course all strings and the steel guitar are electrically amplified and give the music its unique sound. At its peak it boasted artists like Bob Wills

Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys

and the Texas Playboys (Deep Water) and Roy Hogsed (Cocaine Blues). I wonder how many cool cats who rushed out to buy “Rock Around the Clock” or “Crazy Man Crazy” knew Bill Haley was originally a Country Swing Artist who produced such classics as”Behind the Eight Ball

Bull Moose Jackson

As with all forbidden delights, race music (today known as Rhythm & Blues) snuck out of the wrong parts of town and captured the hearts of white teenage America while their elders impotently spluttered and fumed, warning of ruined reputations and other unspecified dire consequences. Who knew where listening to that raw, sweaty music with its hypnotic beat could lead? Perdition probably.

*Trigger Warning* If you are offended by explicit risque material, even in a playful context, you should consider not listening to some of the following songs. You can generally tell by the title which ones they are. These are the songs your mama warned you about, so proceed at your own risk!

In 1948 black musicians had their own charts, formerly known as Harlem Hit Parade, renamed in May, 1948 as Billboard’s “Best Sellers”. Some musicians like Nat King Cole regularly crossed over to Billboard, but in 1948 this was still fairly rare

The year’s #2 R&B song was “I Love You Yes I Do” by Bull Moose Jackson & His Buffalo Bearcats, and I must say it’s pretty tame compared to what anxious parents were imagining, (and to what Bull Moose usually produced). He narrowly avoided being

Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five

labelled a “dirty blues” artist, but still regularly turned out such gems as “I Want a Bow-Legged Woman“, “Big Fat Mamas Are Back in Style” and “Big Ten Inch“.

Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five were usually represented on the list of popular songs. He was one of the most successful African-American musicians of the 20th century, ranking fifth in the list of the most successful black recording artists according to Joel Whitburn’s analysis of Billboard magazine’s R&B chart. In 1948 “Run Joe” is a great song with a calypso beat.

Written and performed by Ivory Joe Hunter, “Pretty Mama Blues” was his second release and first time at #1.

Lonnie Johnson’s “Tomorrow Night” was #3 for the year.

Ivory Joe Hunter

A blues ballad with piano accompaniment and background singers, the song bears little resemblance to much of Johnson’s earlier blues and jazz material.

Roy Brown wrote and recorded “Good Rockin’ Tonight” in 1947 and tried to interest Wynonie Harris in the piece, to no avail. Another artist, Cecil Gant, introduced Roy to a record executive and he sang it over the phone to him. Roy was immediately signed to a recording contract whereupon Wynonie had a change of heart and recorded “Good Rockin’ Tonight” as well, eventually taking it to #1 in 1948. Wynonie’s version can legitimately be called a true rock anthem, one of the earliest rock ‘n’ roll pieces, and perhaps the first rock ‘n’ roll tune. Just between you and I, “rock” was a code word for sex back then. The piece has since been covered by many others and went on to become an early rock classic. It was Elvis’ second single in 1954, Ricky Nelson and Jerry Lee Lewis brought

Orioles at Asbury Park, 1948out their own versions in 1958, Montrose did it in 1973 and the Beatles in 1981. Roy Brown’s big hit for 1948 was “’Long About Midnight”, a follow-up to his “Good Rockin’ Tonight”.

Julia Lee was fond of the sort of song that struck terror into the hearts of white parents and exemplified everything they were trying to get their kids to avoid. Julia had acquired a reputation as a “dirty blues musician”, because of all the suggestive double entendres sprinkled throughout her songs.

Julia Lee & Her Boyfriends

As she more delicately phrased it, she specialized in “the songs my mother taught me not to sing”. “King Size Papa” by Julia Lee & Her Boy Friends was the #1 R‘n’B hit for 1948. I guess we know what sells records.

Pee Wee Crayton is best known as a blues guitarist, and is thought to be the first one to use a Fender Stratocaster to play this musical style. “Blues After Hours” was one of his first, and went to #1 on the R&B charts. “Texas Hop” is another good example of his guitar acrobatics.

Ford Motor Company styling, engineering and planning had labored long and hard to get the company’s line-up of freshly redesigned post war automobiles ready for production, not only in the period after the war ended, but also as time permitted, during the war itself. Company leadership acknowledged the new cars represented the company’s future, if not its very survival. Accordingly all energy and resources were directed to getting the new cars ready.

1948 Mercury Sedan Coupe

Everything was a go for Mercury and Lincoln to go into production of the new designs for the 1948 model year, but unfortunately the Ford car itself had encountered serious problems and wouldn’t be ready. The company wanted to introduce all the new cars at the same time, so the entire production program was delayed.

Everyone had to make do with 1948 Mercurys that were basically warmed over 1947 cars for a little longer. The 1948 Mercurys were unchanged from 1947 models other than the introduction of a few new colors.

1948 Mercury Town Sedan

Interior appointments were not updated either.

The 1948 model year was severely curtailed and ended in March, but despite it being common knowledge the arrival of a fresh new offering was imminent, the 1948 Mercury still sold well.

During the spring and summer of 1948, three new assembly plants were brought on line, devoted exclusively to Mercury, and the exciting new models everybody had been anticipating were launched in the spring of 1948.

1948 Mercury Club Convertible

1948 Mercury Station Wagon

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1949 Mercury – New … All New!

By 1949 Japan was rising from the devastation of its defeat In World War II although it still relied heavily on food and financial aid from the U.S.A. In his normal cynical style, Stalin had declared war on Japan on August 9, 1945.

Emperor Hirohito greets his subjects

Emperor Hirohito greets his subjects

Atomic bombs had been detonated on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9 respectively, so the Soviet invasion of Manchuria amounted to little more than an uncontested land grab and creation of a protected base from which then ally, Mao Tse-tung could launch his Communist Chinese troops against the rival Nationalist Kuomintang army in the Chinese civil war.

Despite detesting each other as much as their common enemy, the Chinese Communists of Mao Tse-tung and Nationalists

1949 Inauguration Ticket

1949 Inauguration Ticket

under General Chiang Kai-shek had jointly, if not collaboratively,  presided over the defeat of the Japanese in China in 1945 but could not co-operate in the country’s subsequent division and governance. In 1947 they subjected the already prostrate and devastated country to a civil war for control. Despite U.S. arms and moral support, the disheartened Nationalists were inexorably pushed off the mainland eventually finding refuge with the remnants of their army on the small islands of Formosa (now Taiwan), Quemoy and Matsu. The Nationalists set up shop here much to the disgruntlement of the local Taiwanese.

Chiang Kai Shek Portrait in Tiananmen Square Beijing

Chiang Kai Shek Portrait in Tiananmen Square Beijing

On October 1, 1949 in front of 300,000 people in Beijing’s (at the same time Mao renamed the city Peking), Tiananmen Square, Mao Tse-tung declared the founding of the Peoples Republic of China. India and Burma recognize the new government in Peking by the end of the year, while the U.S.A. does not acknowledge legitimacy until January 1, 1979. The Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) formally occupied China’s seat at the United Nations in October, 1971, taking over from Nationalist China, (Republic of China or R.O.C.), who had considered itself China’s rightful and only legitimate government to this point.

Mao announces founding of PRC

Mao announces founding of PRC

As part of his occupation of former Japanese protectorates on the mainland, Stalin invaded what is now North Korea amphibiously in August, 1945, with the intention of meeting up with Soviet forces coming overland and thence overrunning the whole peninsula. Russian efforts to resupply their forces already in Korea proved strategically impossible and plans to annex all of the country had to be abandoned. Soviet forces advanced as far as exactly the 38th parallel then stopped, effectively partitioning the territory and setting the stage for the Korean War in 1950.

Japanese troops in Manchuria surrender to Russians

Japanese troops in Manchuria surrender to Russians

Kim Il-sung participated in some eventually unsuccessful guerilla activities against the Japanese army, but finally had to retreat to Russia with a commission in the Red Army. After the Japanese surrender, the Soviets appointed him puppet leader of the new North Korean state from which office he consolidated his power and began to pester Stalin to invade the south. Stalin was at first reluctant to provoke the U.S.A., but he became more receptive following the first successful Soviet atomic bomb test on August 29, 1949. Less than a year later

Kim Il-sung

Kim Il-sung

Kim got his way.

U.S.A., United Kingdom, Soviet Union and the R.O.C. were collectively recognized as the main victors over the Axis Powers in World War II, and were therefore considered charter members of the fledgling United Nations in 1945 and the first members of the Security Council. In fact President Roosevelt had insisted R.O.C. be the first signatory to the U.N.’s founding document in recognition of the suffering its people had endured. There had been a lot of pressure over the intervening years for the R.O.C. to be replaced by the P.R.C. but the U.S.A. could not countenance two major Communist powers on the Security Council and therefore consistently vetoed any resolutions along these lines.

Signing of UN Charter

Signing of UN Charter

In 1949 there was even a movement in the United States endorsed by Herbert Hoover to expel all Communist nations from the U.N., but that would have run counter to its very reason for existence and so the proposal never really gained any traction. The U.S.S.R.’s persistent inability to have the P.R.C. admitted, caused the Soviets to flounce off in a huff from January to August, 1950. Their timing couldn’t have been much worse as they were then unable to veto to censure and militarily oppose the P.R.C. for its invasion of South Korea.

As more and more newly independent nations joined the U.N. in the 1960’s and 70’s, the

New TV circa 1949

New TV circa 1949

organization’s general attitude shifted from one dominated by the Western powers to one sympathetic to Peking and enjoyment at poking a finger in Uncle Sam’s eye. The United States finally had to bow to the inevitable and the R.O.C. was kicked out. It had the last laugh however – it went on to become one of the most successful and economically powerful nations on the planet – unlike many of its detractors who ceased to exist in their 1949 or indeed 1971 incarnations.

The popular music scene of 1949 saw a few interesting events and occasions worth remembering. Les Paul, the father of the electric guitar, married Mary Ford with whom he’d been romantically involved since 1947. They became one of the most successful husband and wife show business teams of the era, producing several hits while pioneering

Les Paul & Mary Ford

Les Paul & Mary Ford

many recording techniques along the way, and hosting a number of radio and TV shows. The early years together were spent mostly on the road earning their stripes, and it wasn’t until 1953 when “Vaya Con Dios” became a huge success that they achieved recognition. They went on to record nine more hits but by the late 1950’s their style couldn’t withstand the rock ‘n’ roll onslaught and they vanished from the charts. The marriage dissolved in 1964.

Teen idol Eddie Fisher is “discovered” by Eddie Cantor in 1949 although the whole episode was later reported as contrived. He’d been singing in night clubs at the time, but then dropped out of sight for a bit when he was drafted and served as an entertainer overseas during the Korean War. His career exploded upon his return and he had his first big hit

The Terrible Troika

The Terrible Troika

with “Any Time” in 1951. An erratic personal life, (5 marriages including a very public and messy divorce with Debbie Reynolds and subsequent marriage to her best friend, Elizabeth Taylor), almost destroyed his career, but he too faded from view as rock took hold. He tried recording a few rock numbers but they turned out to be parodies of the genre; refer “Dungaree Doll”, 1955. By 1957 his star was pretty much extinguished.

Tony Bennett was born in August, 1926. He served as an infantryman in the U.S. Army during World War II, seeing action

Tony Bennett and friend, Stefani Germanotta

Tony Bennett and friend, Stefani Germanotta

throughout the invasion of Europe. His musical career took off in 1949 when Bob Hope invited him along on a tour and suggested he change his name from Anthony Benedetto. His first hit “Because of You” came in 1951, but was followed up with 81 singles and 99 albums. He continues to tour and perform today. He is also an accomplished painter under his original name. How could anyone not be a huge fan of such an enduring and wonderfully accomplished artist and particularly of a player who has so obviously captured Lady Gaga’s heart? Way to go Tony! She’s a magnificently gifted singer but had typecast herself as a flake, so the truth of the matter is their collaboration probably saved her career. I see this as a truly symbiotic relationship – the way they play off and inspire each other is amazing.

Frankie Laine

Frankie Laine

By 1949, Frankie Laine had been around a few years, but his first #1 songs, “That Lucky Old Sun” and “Mule Train” hit the charts this year. There are those that would argue “Mule Train” was the first rock ‘n’ roll song But despite his black affinity, I don’t see Frankie Laine as a rocker.

Album releases for 1949 were dominated by Frankie, Bing Crosby and Doris Day. He died aged 93 in 2007 having enjoyed a remarkable career, but perhaps he will be best remembered for helping break the color barrier by singing “black music”. Artists like Kaye Starr, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Tom Jones and the Beatles all acknowledge their debt to his style and influence.

Theresa Brewer debuted in 1949 when the “B” side of her first release became her signature and best known song – “Music, Music, Music” and went on to become one of the

Theresa Brewer

Theresa Brewer

most durable artists originating in this era. With her unique voice and style, she could turn out hits in almost any genre, eventually pressing over 600 singles, with her last charted recording in 1961. This was “Milord”, an Edith Piaf standard, and one of my favorites although it only reached #74. Her very last was in 1984. Theresa always looked so gosh darn lovable and cuddly, I’m sure it would have taken a lot of willpower to stop yourself from just walking up and giving her a big hug and kiss.

Johnnie Ray, named by Tony Bennett as the “real” father of rock ‘n’ roll, was introduced in a Detroit night club, “The Flame Room”, (the name turned out to be a mere coincidence), and proceeded to become one of the 50’s most popular singers.

Sultan of Sob

Sultan of Sob

LaVern Baker

LaVern Baker

His trademark “rhythm and blues meets pop idol” style and emotional stage presence earned him the nickname “Sultan of Sob”. He readily acknowledged the influence black artists like Ivory Joe Hunter and LaVern Baker had on his music, resulting in his being one of the first white singers to sing “negro music” and help it inch towards respectability. A double-sided single released in 1951, “Cry” and “Little White Cloud That Cried”, really launched his teen idol status, but his fame also brought to light an earlier conviction for soliciting a vice cop in a Detroit public washroom.

Bill Haley & the Saddlemen

Bill Haley & the Saddlemen

Homosexuality was a crime at this time, but his sexuality never became a career issue although he continued to deny it until he died.

One of the certifiable first early rockers, Bill Haley, formed a country group known as “Bill Haley and the Saddlemen” renamed “Bill Haley and His Comets” in 1952. The Saddlemen did a cover of R&B artist Jackie Brenston’s “Rocket 88”, a song some experts say was the first rock ‘n’ roll piece, thus adding to Haley’s rock credentials. Historical footnote: “Jackie Brenston

Ike Turner

Ike Turner

and His Delta Cats” were actually “Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm” – Jackie Brenston was the saxophone player in the band.

The #1 song for 1949 was “Ghost Riders in the Sky”, by Vaughn Monroe who appeared two more times in the year’s top 25, (“Someday” – #12 and “Red Roses for a Blue Lady” – #21). “Ghost Riders” was covered many times right through the 90’s. “Red Roses for a Blue Lady” reappeared many times over the years but perhaps the best known is by Bobby Vinton in 1965.

Perry Como

Perry Como

Perry Como was another regular on the pop charts during this time, and in 1949 began hosting a television show, the “Chesterfield Supper Club”, originally broadcast from an airplane 20,000 feet in the air. Perry Como set the standard for taste and excellence throughout his entire career.

The R&B charts were populated by artists like Louis Jordan, Wynonie Harris and Dinah Washington. The #1 song was “Trouble Blues” by the Charles Brown Trio, but the best known was the #2 song, the “Hucklebuck” which became a Chubby

Dinah Washington

Dinah Washington

Checker hit with accompanying dance step in 1960.

And now we come to the best known and most famous Mercurys of them all – the 1949 to 1951 editions. These are among the most iconic American post-war cars, symbolizing America’s rebirth after the dark years of war, of society’s evolution from the Big Band epoch to rock ’n’ roll, and the transition from Vivien Leigh to Marilyn Monroe. These cars have starred in several movies and TV shows and long been the favorite subject of professional and amateur customizers. So many of them have been chopped, channeled, frenched, nosed, decked and dechromed that today there are not that many unmolested examples remaining.

At a time when America stood unchallenged as the premier manufacturer and authority on

1949 Mercury 6-Passenger Sedan

1949 Mercury 6-Passenger Sedan

all matters automotive, the industry was graduating from warmed over pre-war styling and engineering into a new and exciting generation of technology, fashion and design. The evolution was not smooth nor was it the result of deliberate, considered long-term planning. The story of how the 1949 Ford line-up generally, and Mercury specifically was born, is a long and tortured one, filled with suspense, betrayal and political intrigue.

E.T. “Bob” Gregorie was the primary architect of Ford styling in this era. We were leaving behind running boards and pontoon fenders and entering a period characterized by

E.T. (Bob) Gregorie

E.T. (Bob) Gregorie

integrated front fenders flowing gracefully into plump slab sides. In fact the Mercurys of this period have been nicknamed the “bathtub” Mercs as with a little imagination, their silhouette resembles an inverted bathtub. Packards from this era also carry the “bathtub” sobriquet.

Edsel Ford, (Henry Ford’s son), had been the force behind creation of Mercury in 1939, believing the Ford fleet of cars required something to bridge the price gap between the Ford and Lincoln Zephyr. The Mercury was thus born. Henry and his son had never gotten along particularly well primarily due to the patriarch’s irascibility. Henry in his later years was vindictive, vicious and paranoid, held a number of strange opinions and beliefs, and seemed to be particularly fond of criticizing Edsel, his judgment,

Son & Father, Edsel & Henry Ford Sr.

Son & Father, Edsel & Henry Ford Sr.

his theories and his acumen. Additionally, Henry’s grasp on reality seemed to weaken with age. He was no fan of the Mercury, probably for no other reason than it was his son’s creation.

Although at the time most of Mr. Gregorie’s energies were directed to war planning and production, Edsel Ford had directed him to use whatever spare time he could find to begin planning Ford’s styling direction for after the war. Gregorie enjoyed a virtual carte blanche, the only specific directions being to explore all possibilities in the search for an “all-new” creation that could captivate the notoriously fickle public interest without alienating too many with anything too revolutionary or outlandish. These activities were already underway at the time America entered World War II, but had to be put on the back burner when the country required Ford’s resources and mass production expertise in the war effort.

Bob Gregorie designed 1949 Ford clay mock-ups

Bob Gregorie designed 1949 Ford clay mock-ups

Nonetheless, planning for the car market at war’s end was never far from the corporate mind. Gregorie and Edsel Ford had realized that the first new models would be little more than pre-war cars tarted up a bit, so this part of the planning exercise was fairly simple. As for the second generation of post-war cars, Gregorie picked up on work that had begun on what would have been 1943 models, and had indeed come up with designs that were new and in which Ford, Mercury and Lincoln all bore a family resemblance. These included a new smaller, less expensive Ford, a full-size Ford, two Mercurys and three Lincoln possibilities, all on six separate platforms.

The Gregorie designs for 1949 received final approval from Edsel Ford and minor items

Gregorie designed 1949 Ford

Gregorie designed 1949 Ford

such as trim and ornamentation were all that was left to complete. Expensive new equipment, tooling and dies had all been ordered in the belief all systems were “Go!”.

Henry’s leadership had become eccentric and capricious by the time America entered World War II. Edsel had managed to keep the lid on but In May, 1943 he abruptly and unexpectedly died, throwing the company into chaos. Leadership reverted to the erratic 80-year old Henry who had already brought the company he founded to the brink of bankruptcy once . In 1916, Henry had hired corporate pit bull Harry Bennett ostensibly to thwart union ambitions, but in later years Bennett’s job description was expanded to include insulating Henry from investors, creditors,

Harry Bennett

Harry Bennett

employees and the world in general. Further, Bennett behaved as if he had been handed a mandate to sabotage Edsel’s work including elimination of his entourage and favored colleagues. He set about with a vengeance and Bob Gregorie eventually fell victim to his machinations. A symptom of the turbulent, unpredictable management practices at work can be found in the utter disregard accorded a project – the post-war cars – on which the company’s entire future depended, during this corporate “night of the long knives”.

Henry Ford II, (affectionately known as Hank the Deuce or HF2), was the eldest son of Edsel Ford and at the time of his father’s death was serving in the U.S. Navy. President Franklin Roosevelt had become so dismayed by the inconsistent leadership at Ford and

HF2 in naval uniform

HF2 in naval uniform

with its consequent ability to continue with the war effort, he arranged to release the 25-year old HF2 from his military obligations to give the major defense contractor and one of the country’s largest employers, some credible direction. He joined senior management in July, 1943 and assumed the presidency in September, 1945. One of his first duties was to fire Harry Bennett and rehire Bob Gregorie. At Bennett’s termination interview he drew a pistol! By war’s end Ford Motor Company was losing $10 million a month, ($136 million in today’s money).

While styling for the 1949 cars was pretty much complete, their engineering had fallen significantly behind by war’s end and would not get underway again until the middle of 1946. This included chassis, suspension and drivetrain all of which had to be designed in a natural sequence rather than independently of one another. At this point the most recent automotive chassis

The smaller 1949 Ford

The smaller 1949 Ford

technology available to the engineers was that belonging to the 1932 Ford. It wasn’t looking like there would be any radically new drivetrain ready for the 1949 cars. It was becoming apparent Ford would have to be content with revamping the venerable flathead, while, General Motors was well along in development of its new overhead valve V-8.

Shortly after assuming the Ford presidency HF2 hired Ernest Breech away from General Motors, and brought on board a group of logistics experts known as the “Whiz Kids” who

Ernest Breech

Ernest Breech

had served together in the U.S. military during the war. Their task would be to reorganize Ford’s chaotic operations and halt the tsunami of red ink. As part of this process, Breech talked HF2 into allowing another design consultant, (his friend George Walker), to have a look at the already all-but-finished 1949 cars. Walker was not impressed and despite capital costs already sunk, persuaded HF2 to adopt a more down-sized and conservative approach, while dropping the proposed “small” Ford altogether. The company’s financial wherewithal would be severely strained if the whole process had to return to square 1, but fortunately a workable solution presented itself. Engineering for the small Ford was dispatched to Ford’s French subsidiary in 1947, where it became the successful Vedette.

1949 Ford Vedette

1949 Ford Vedette

The influence of the 1949 Mercury is plainly seen in the Vedette’s lines. What was to have been the large Ford was promoted to be the new Mercury and the two former Mercury designs went on to become the “baby” Lincoln and the Lincoln Cosmopolitan. This is all very easy to say, and certainly represents conventional wisdom, but no pictures of 1949 Mercurys or Lincolns during the development phase, seem to exist.

The company was then left with two main tasks – coming up with a new Ford design and completing styling details for Mercury and Lincoln.

The midwifery surrounding the birth of the 1949 Ford is very murky and mysterious. It seems that Ernest Breech initiated a design contest between a team headed by Walker and one led by Gregorie. The latter group already had the original designs prepared by

The final Walker Design for the 1949 Ford

The final Walker Design for the 1949 Ford

Gregorie, and proceeded to refine them. Walker was slow to get started but enlisted stylists from Studebaker with promises of huge salaries, and this is where the story gets really confusing. One version has the team stealing the plans for the 1946 Studebaker Champion, which was said to resemble the 1949 Ford to a remarkable degree. These pictures have never been published. In any case, Ford’s executive chose the Walker blueprints which, with a few tweaks became the 1949 Ford.

Of course Gregorie was nonplussed by this rejection of his work, and eventually left Ford again, this time of his own volition. Despite the problems it had to transcend, Ford became the first American manufacturer off the mark by introducing the two 1949 Lincoln lines on April 22, 1948, followed by the new Mercury a week later. Starting a cycle that would

Artist Rendering of Walker Design with the Addition of the Spinner Grille

Artist Rendering of Walker Design with the Addition of the Spinner Grille

bedevil Mercury throughout its history the new model was clearly not just a “Ford in a Sunday suit”, but a fresh, new and brilliantly styled automobile standing on its own considerable merits. If anything, it more resembled the Lincoln, its upscale luxurious stable mate. The new Mercury arrived in four freshly distinctive versions: 4-door Sport Sedan, 6-Passenger Coupe, 6-Passenger Convertible and 2-door Station Wagon. The rear doors of 4-door cars were hinged at the rear, creating so-called “suicide” doors. For now, these different bodies were not distinguished by different names.

Given Ford’s precarious financial health, and since the success of the 1949 cars was so

1949 Ford

1949 Ford

critical to the company’s continued survival, being first to the market involved no small amount of risk, although by this time it would have been far too late to respond meaningfully to any lack of public acceptance. This life or death situation came as a direct result of the company’s tumultuous organizational structure, blurred lines of authority and amateurish approach to planning. Fortunately, people loved the new offerings and over the years these cars have become some of the most beloved ever emanating from Detroit, as well as symbols of America’s once unchallenged hegemony of automotive excellence.

1949 Ford

1949 Ford

The 1949 grille was one of the most attractive ever to have been placed on a Mercury, rivalled perhaps only by the 1960 offering. The opening between bumper and hood, (this was still the era when a hood’s leading edge had a strong vertical component forming an important part of the front-end’s “look”), consisted of a series of thin convex vertical bars of stamped stainless steel, with every sixth one wider than its neighbours. A much more prominent vertical bar sat in the middle of the grille, emblazoned with the single word “EIGHT” printed vertically. Individual headlights are set in the front fenders with parking/turn signals located in a rounded square bezel directly underneath. The new Mercury shield emblem is placed in the centre of the hood fascia above chrome block letters spelling “MERCURY”. A chrome

1949 Mercury Convertible

1949 Mercury Convertible

plated aerodynamic sculpture perches on the hood’s top front. Two large bumper guards protect the license plate opening. The overall impression is one of graceful but massive, impregnable nobility. If you saw one approaching in your rear-view mirror, you knew it was something special, deserving a second look as it sped by.

The Mercury’s personal character line is created by the front fenders merging into the front doors in a step-down configuration and then carrying on horizontally almost to the taillights where it swoops down to run parallel with the end of the rear fender. A single stainless spear starts on the

1949 Mercury Convertible

1949 Mercury Convertible

front fender behind the headlight, skirts the top of the front wheel well, continuing horizontally just below the rearward extension of the character crease, and stopping a bit before the line sweeps downward. It has MERCURY stamped where it begins.  Another, thinner stainless belt molding starts at the leading edge of the front door below the “A –pillar” and carries on beneath the side windows as far as the start of the trunk lid. The latter overlaps the rear fenders and is counter-balanced

1949 Mercury 6-Passenger Coupe

1949 Mercury 6-Passenger Coupe

for ease of opening. As well, all windows carry chrome frames while rear side windows on the coupe are of the “flip-open” design. Outside door handles are pull-type. Taillights set within chrome surrounds wrap horizontally around the rear fenders in line with the stainless side spear. On an ongoing basis throughout the year, red glass taillight lenses were replaced by red plastic. The trunk lid’s centre is graced by a large chrome badge on its fascia while exposed hood hinges are also chromed. Plain bumpers are set back from the body by a small body-coloured ledge and display bumper guards similar to those on the front bumper. The gas filler neck is concealed behind a small door on the left rear fender, often framed with a chrome surround.

1949 Mercury

1949 Mercury

The dated looking pop-up cowl vent to provide interior fresh air was replaced by a ducting system with intakes behind the grille directing fresh air through the (optional) heater. Mercury didn’t seriously advertise this new modern system until 1950 when it was introduced as “Merc-o-Therm”. I wonder who thought up these catchy names, and why couldn’t they have used a bit more imagination? Chrysler’s “Airtemp” and Nash’s “Weather Eye” weren’t much better. A little creativity can be a dangerous thing though. In 1955 Ford approached poet Marianne Moore with a commission to propose suitable names for a new car, then in development, (the Edsel). Parameters for suggestions included connotations of elegance, grace, opulence, fleet-footedness and so on. With a completely straight face she offered,

1949 Mercury

1949 Mercury

among others: “Mongoose Civique,” “Dearborn Diamanté,” “Pluma Piluma,” and, astonishingly, “Utopian Turtletop.” So, naming conventions at Ford have an interesting history.

The all-new Mercury was powered by a tried and true flathead configured engine unique in that it wasn’t shared with any other make. It was fitted with a new crankshaft giving a full four-inch stroke and a displacement of 255.4 cid. Along with a 6.8:1 compression ratio the engine was rated at 110 bhp with 200 ft. lbs. of torque @ 2,000 rpm. In addition, the power plant came with a secret weapon – a Holley 2 bbl carburetor that gave great gas mileage. Touch-o-Matic overdrive was introduced as an option in conjunction with the new engine which

Mercury 255.4 cid Flathead

Mercury 255.4 cid Flathead

further improved gas mileage and increased top speed as a happy side benefit. This transmission option was unique to Mercury and the “baby” Lincoln with which it shared a body shell. Unfortunately Ford had still not developed an automatic transmission although this new innovation was available on GM rivals Buick and Oldsmobile.

Such was the state of Ford engineering that Ernest Breech thought it necessary to raid the competition’s personnel department. A young Oldsmobile engineer named Harold Youngren who had worked on that make’s new overhead valve engine, thus came to be a

1949 Mercury Station Wagon Dash

1949 Mercury Station Wagon Dash

Ford employee. As development and production of Ford’s own ohv was still at least five years away, Youngren was set to work on improving the flathead’s infamous cooling system.

Despite the late design start, the 1949 Mercury presents with a completely revamped suspension system. Independent front suspension was finally adopted, in which coil springs together with control arms operating through a stabilizer bar made for maximum control. Ride was modernized and ironed smooth by concentric front shock absorbers centring the coil springs and by heavy duty rubber bushings.

1949 Mercury Coupe

1949 Mercury Coupe

While the 1949 Ford rode on a new ladder type frame, both Mercury and Lincoln had to manage with the older, heavier X-frame mounted on a 118-inch wheelbase. This incarnation is however heavily insulated from engine vibration by rubber reinforced steel motor mounts. Longer longitudinal leaf springs do the job of dampening bumps at the rear axle. As well, Ford finally abandoned the ancient torque-tube drive in favour of the open Hotchkiss type. An innovative method of attaching rear shock absorbers was devised to further control ride and rear sway. Handling and stopping power are improved by larger brake shoes and an improved steering system shared with Lincoln.

1949 Mercury Coupe

1949 Mercury Coupe

Mercury’s greater weight was compensated for by the more powerful engine plus a lower 3.91 rear axle ratio versus Ford’s 3.73.

Inside, the large, round 110 mph speedometer rests in a rotund pod in front of the driver, accompanied by two similar smaller gauges on each side, keeping track of oil pressure, fuel, temperature and generator. Control knobs for wiper, heater, defrost and so on are located in a panel below the gauges. If the radio option is chosen, it is mounted in the centre of the dash below the clock, (either electrical or spring wound). The radio speaker is

1949 Mercury Coupe Dash (note optional steering wheel)

1949 Mercury Coupe Dash (note optional steering wheel)

mounted behind a decorative grille to the right of the radio and the glove box to the right of that. A thick chrome molding runs across the middle of the dashboard above the radio, interrupted by the instrument cluster. A T-type emergency brake is located low on the left side of the large white bullet centred steering wheel. Another nod to modernity could be found in the square versus round brake and clutch pedals. “The times they were a-changin’!”

Exterior colour governed which of green-checked broadcloth, light brown cord-cloth, or blue pin-striped broadcloth the prospective owner could order for his new sedan or coupe. Convertibles came with red or tan leather and tan cord-cloth, or forest green leather and green cord-cloth. Sport Sedan and Coupe interiors were similar except the latter carried

1949 Mercury Convertible interior

1949 Mercury Convertible interior

assist straps on the inside B-Pillar, back seat ashtrays on the sides and “Robe Cords” across the back of the front seat. The new convertible for 1949 featured stock equipment power windows and front seat adjustment.

Standard new appointments this year were smaller interior drive shaft humps, lift-type inside door handles, “press-down” door locks, a two-tone dash and steering wheel centre and chromed window frames.  Optional extras included two-tone paint schemes, a newly designed heater which draws in fresh air, power windows, adjustable front seats, a modern sound system and custom steering wheel.

1949 Mercury Coupe

1949 Mercury Coupe

While the manual choke had been discontinued, (to the chagrin of traditionalists), your new Mercury could be ordered with a custom steering wheel, grille guard, windshield sun-visor, fender skirts and back-up lights. The new hubcaps were stamped “MERCURY 8” around austere centres, while a wide chrome trim ring gave the impression of full wheel covers. This was an option that somehow found its way onto all production cars. A set of matched his and hers luggage was also available – try and find these today!

Body shape demanded curved windshields, yet technology enabling mass-production of 1949 Mercury Station Wagonsafety glass curvature had not yet been fully developed. Both front and rear windshields therefore came in two and three pieces respectively, separated by steel frames.

Mercury presented a new 2-door station wagon in 1949. Its front clip and doors were uniquely Mercury but the rest of the wagon was shared with the Ford equivalent. The roof, front clip and all inner body panels are of steel sheet metal. All other outer body panels are made of genuine laminated birch or maple framing and mahogany sheeting including birch or maple side and rear window frames and the split-windowed tail gate. Both framing and paneling were subjected to heat bending to produce the correct Mercury

1949 Mercury Station Wagon leather interior (note wood door panels)

1949 Mercury Station Wagon leather interior (note wood door panels)

body sculpturing and shape. A chrome belt molding similar to that on other models appears below the side windows. The spare tire is mounted on the tailgate in its own body colour metal carrier. Round taillights are set on stalks mounted on the tailgate, while the fuel filler opening is located on the left rear fender beside the left taillight. The rear bumper guard matches the one on the front.

Wagon interiors were upholstered in red, green or tan leather accommodating 8 passengers, (the second seat could only handle 2). Second and third seat rows were removable. Rear side windows slid open in grooved channels rather than opening

1949 Mercury

1949 Mercury

“butterfly” fashion as on the coupe. Interior door and side panels are also of genuine mahogany, but carry no extra adornment. The dash is fabricated of wood grained metal.

At 5 inches longer, 3.5 inches wider, 4.5 inches lower and 132 pounds heavier, the 1949 car was considerably heftier than its 1948 forebear. While the Merc still provided a stepping stone from Ford to Lincoln, it was also now clearly intended to entice mid-market buyers from other manufacturers.

Production of the 1949 Mercury began in mid-March 1948 and ended in November, 1949. During this obviously extended manufacturing year, 301,307 cars were made, an all-time high. Many 1949 Mercs were assembled in brand new plants with brand new up-to-date

1949 Mercury Sedan

1949 Mercury Sedan

equipment such that the make soon acquired a reputation for its high quality. The most popular model was the 4-door Sport Sedan of which 155,882 were produced. Owing to all the engineering improvements involved plus inflation and demand, prices were up over 20% from 1948. Sales activity was sufficient to put Mercury in ninth spot among the 20 major domestic makes.

Ford’s market success in 1949 ensured the company at least had a future, an eventuality that had been far from certain only a few years before.

1949 Mercury Convertible

1949 Mercury Convertible

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Better than Ever – 1950 Mercury

1950 in history became symbolic for Communism’s deceit and duplicitous chicanery. I can think of no other phenomena or mortal creation that has been responsible for greater human misery, suffering and death than Communism in all its various forms. Mao Tse-tung’s quotation, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun”, clearly illustrates Communism’s guiding philosophy.

Together Against the World

Together Against the World

Stalin only deferred to American power and political views, and only respected his own commitments and international guarantees until he had his own atom bomb. Then he had a huge gun barrel and could do what he wanted, (sort of the present day North Korean and Iranian view of the world). Russian diplomatic techniques have not changed much in the interim – you go with what works, and Western leaders never seem to learn. Mr. Putin recently tore up his solemn guarantee of Ukrainian sovereignty in return for the surrender of Soviet nuclear arms left in that country after the U.S.S.R. disintegrated. I don’t know why anybody bothers negotiating and entering agreements with a Communist dictatorship unless you have a bigger gun barrel, (and let’s not kid ourselves; Putin is a Communist dictator no matter what Angela Merkel thinks). Honor and reputation mean nothing to a dictator. But I digress.

Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance

Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance

On February 14, 1950 the Soviet Union and Peoples’ Republic of China signed the “Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance”. The treaty embodied recognition of the PRC and a loan to China. China issued a new postage stamp to commemorate the occasion.

Chinese Postage Stamp

Chinese Postage Stamp

On June 25, 1950, the North Korean Peoples’ Army crossed the 38th parallel, effectively invading South Korea. American forces had been withdrawn from the peninsula and the South Korean Army was badly overmatched. By June 28 Seoul had fallen.

The United Nations passed a resolution on June 25 condemning North Korea and authorizing a military response. American troops began arriving in July but were also no match for North Korean tanks and artillery and eventually were forced back to the Pusan Perimeter in the country’s south-east. U.N. troops within Pusan were reinforced from American armed forces in Japan while the NKPA had become severely depleted due to resupply deficiencies.

Inchon Landing

Inchon Landing

To relieve Pusan, General Douglas MacArthur in September ordered an amphibious allied landing at Inchon behind North Korean lines, with the result the NKPA was decimated when U.N. forces broke out of Pusan to meet the Americans at Inchon, and had to retreat back north of the 38th parallel. On September 25, Seoul was recaptured and on October 1 U.N. soldiers pursued the by now destroyed NKPA across the 38th parallel, taking Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, on October 19. On October 25 the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army crossed into North Korea and joined the fray, pushing the allies back to the 38th parallel by the end of the year and changing the whole complexion of the war.

Chinese P.O.W.'s

Chinese P.O.W.’s

Kim Il-sung, the North Korean leader and author of the war, was humiliated and relieved of command of the Communist armies in December – from that point on, the war became a Chinese effort.

Prior to 1904 Tibet had been a province of China, however the British took and held control until 1917 when Tibetan independence was granted. Up until 1950 Tibet approximated a medieval theocracy, almost completely insulated from the rest of the world, and headed by a Buddhist monk known as the “Presence”, His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Tibetan Army, 1950

Tibetan Army, 1950

China was never completely reconciled to the loss of Tibet and in 1949 began agitating for its return. While determined to remain independent the Tibetan government entered negotiations with the newly created Peoples’ Republic of China, the results of which have never become clear. In October, 1950, the Peoples’ Liberation Army of China invaded a small portion of Tibet, surrounded and accepted the surrender of Tibet’s army. The Chinese paid the Tibetan soldiers a small stipend and sent them home, effectively disbanding any armed opposition. Tibet had to accept a de facto Chinese takeover, but China then pretty much left the country alone to rebuild a more Sino-friendly regime at its own pace. In 1956, disappointed with the rate of progress, China started to implement land reforms.

Dalai Lama flees Tibet

Dalai Lama flees Tibet

These were resisted by Tibetan militias and in 1959 China, fed up with Tibetan recalcitrance, dissolved the government and installed their own authority. The Dalai Lama fled to India and has since travelled the world over trying to win sympathy for Tibet’s plight. The movie “Kundun” does an excellent portrayal of this whole story.

Klaus Fuchs was a German-born theoretical physicist trained initially at the University of Leipzig, where he first began flirtations with communism. In 1933 he fled to England to escape Nazism, and earned a doctorate. In 1940 he was approached to work on Britain’s atom bomb program and almost immediately began passing scientific secrets to the Russians.

Klaus Fuchs

Klaus Fuchs

In 1944 he was seconded to work on the Manhattan Project at Columbia University in New York, where he continued his espionage activities. His name came up during some undercover investigations and Fuchs confessed in January, 1950. After a 90 minute trial he was convicted and sentenced to 14 years, served 9 and left for East Germany where he continued his research undisturbed. Probably the only reason he escaped execution was that the Soviet Union was an ally during much of the period covered by Fuchs’ betrayal. The resulting damage was not more severe, as the infamous Lavrenty Beria, a politico almost as evil as Stalin who was head of the Soviet atom bomb program did not trust foreigners and failed to make full use of the information supplied. The British establishment at the time was riddled with communist sympathizers and

Stalin and Beria

Stalin and Beria

moles to the extent the United States stopped sharing secrets with them. It is indeed somewhat odd that nobody picked up on his communist leanings, as his background should have been well known.

Patti Page had been recording with modest success since 1946. Near the end of 1950 she recorded her biggest hit which also became her signature tune, and one of the most popular songs of the 20th century, the “Tennessee Waltz”.  Surprisingly it charted #2 for the year, behind Nat King Cole’s “Mona Lisa”, which won the Academy Award for Best Original Song and was the theme song for an otherwise forgettable,

Patti Page

Patti Page

(although it starred war hero Alan Ladd), movie named “Captain Carey, U.S.A. The tune’s silky orchestral arrangement was done by Les Baxter’s Orchestra and it was actually the B-Side for “The Greatest Inventor of Them All”.

The song that spent the longest time on the Billboard charts was Gordon Jenkins and the Weavers’ remake of Leadbelly’s 1933 song “Good Night Irene”. The Weavers were one of the first folk groups, one of whose founding members was Pete Seeger. The group always had a proletarian pro-Soviet flavor about it, as a result of his political views. Many of their songs bore a left-wing tilt and during the “Red Scare”, (more commonly known as McCarthyism), of the early Fifties Pete Seeger was branded a “Communist” and the Weavers black-listed, making them completely commercially unviable. They disbanded in 1952, but regrouped later in the decade and today have been largely rehabilitated.

Pete Seeger & the Weavers

Pete Seeger & the Weavers

Gordon Jenkins was a band leader who played no part in any of this political nonsense.

Interestingly, singer Jo Stafford began working pro bono for “Voice of America” in 1950, broadcasting U.S. programming into Eastern Europe so as to help subvert communism. Collier’s magazine published a piece in 1951, lauding her work under the title “Jo Stafford: Her Songs Upset Joe Stalin”. Of Course the U.S. Communist newspaper, “The Daily Worker” was apoplectic.

Georgia Gibbs was one of those white singers who sometimes remade and popularized black songs in what was known derogatorily as ‘whitewashing’. LaVern Baker and Etta James were often replicated in this fashion. LaVern made Georgia a beneficiary of a life insurance policy she bought before a flight to Australia, saying, “… if anything happens to me, you’re out of business”.

Georgia Gibbs

Georgia Gibbs

This was a bit unfair, as she did lots of original songs as well, but her aptitude for rock ‘n’ roll made her a natural for R&B covers.

Al Cernik had sung with some big bands after the war and had a few minor acting roles but got his big break in 1950 when he was discovered by Mitch Miller who changed his name to Guy Mitchell. His first gold record came in 1950 with “My Heart Cries for You”, but he went on to have further notable success during the rock era – his “Singin’ the Blues” was #1 for 1956 and “Heartaches by the Number” reached #1 in 1959.

Guy Mitchell

Guy Mitchell

A couple of novelty songs deserve mention. Gene Autry, the singing cowboy, originally released “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” for Christmas, 1949, and it charted every year throughout the 50’s and 60’s. For an encore in 1950 Gene recorded “Frosty, the Snowman”. Both songs became much beloved Christmas institutions that have lived on ever since. The #3 charting hit for 1950 was “The Thing” by Phil Harris, a song about a mysterious discovery on the beach that ruins the narrator’s life. Although its identity is never revealed, the concept spawns many science fiction TV shows and movies.

Gene Autry

Gene Autry

The motoring public had embraced the 1949 Mercury with a gusto sufficient to gladden the heart of even the most hard-boiled Madison Avenue pragmatist. Fortunately, proposed styling changes for 1950 were minimal. An aficionado could tell the difference but he would have had to look pretty closely. The chrome trim along the side bore a more spear-like appearance, but was situated identically to the previous year and carried MERCURY 8 in block letters impressed and highlighted in black near its front end. The hood fascia still displayed a plastic Mercury “shield” medallion, but for 1950 it topped a broad horizontal chrome bar running the width of the hood and into which MERCURY had been stamped and picked out in black. The circular front signal lights were embedded in a rounded square decorative device which appeared to be integral to the grille.

1950 Mercury Station Wagon

1950 Mercury Station Wagon

This year’s grille centerpiece affected a vertical ridge where letters spelled EIGHT in 1949. Rear deck badging was changed to resemble a semi-circular medallion in which the Mercury head appears t in relief on a red background. Front and rear bumper guards remained unchanged except for 1950 the latter’s cross-piece was stamped MERCURY in black. The front windshield was still two-piece, however the backlite was now a single curved pane, outside door handles had become push-button – and that was about it for the exterior.

The interior was completely remodeled, starting with a new dashboard critics alleged was a blatant rip-off of the same-era Cadillac. There are similarities but outright theft – I don’t think so.

1950 Mercury Sport Coupe

1950 Mercury Sport Coupe

All controls are contained within or under a large rectangle comprising two-thirds of the entire dash board, called the Safe-T-Vue dash. Gauges are all found closer to eye-level across the upper portion, directly in front of the driver and are indirectly lit to reduce glare. The speedometer is encased in a semi-circular housing partially shielded by a prominent brow surmounting the dash, and across which the indicator needle sweeps to show speeds up to an optimistic 110 mph. Rectangular gauges for oil pressure and fuel are located left of the speedometer, engine temperature and battery charge/discharge to the right. The electric clock, if so equipped, is to the right again and the push-button radio is in the middle of the dash.

1950 Mercury Dash

1950 Mercury Dash

The lower two-thirds of the control panel is decorated with a grille-like layout having thin chrome vertical slats alternating with a gold-painted background. The radio speaker is located behind the right side of this grille, while the ash tray is between the speaker and steering wheel. The ignition switch is in the grille above the ash tray. A horizontal chrome strip bearing the starter button as well as labeled controls for headlights, windshield wipers, heater fan and cigar lighter separates the gauges from the grille. Vertically sliding “aircraft” styled levers left and right of the steering column control temperature and air flow. From left to right below the dash we find the hood latch and parking brake releases, and the overdrive handle. The glove compartment is in front of the passenger, topped with a thin horizontal chrome molding in which MERCURY is written in script.

1950 Mercury Sport Sedan interior

1950 Mercury Sport Sedan interior

The black bullet centred steering wheel was huge – presumably to give the driver sufficient leverage while maneuvering – and had a full horn ring. For some reason these cars often had those after-market “suicide” knobs on the steering wheel. My grandfather had one on his 1952 Ford wagon and he was very fond of telling me it was illegal and only specially trained people knew how to use them – I got the impression it was one of those secret rites only Masons knew about. In any event, whenever he had to make a quick turn, the flailing and careening were truly impressive.

1950 Mercury Station Wagon Dash

1950 Mercury Station Wagon Dash

My grandfather needed to make several trips a month across the U.S. border south of Vancouver as part of his work, and I usually got to go along for the ride. I was duly apprised of the serious nature of crossing an international border and the risks of being whisked off to jail for certain never specified breaches of diplomatic protocol. I was assured of my personal safety while in his company however, as he knew the “secret handshake”. I wonder if he also knew how many nightmares I had concerning the possibility of being forced to cross the border by myself.

Mercury continued to use the 255.4 cid L-head V8 of 110 bhp, essentially unchanged from 1949, and persevered with its claim respecting the superiority of its V8 engines versus the in-line sixes of the competition.

1950 Mercury Sport Sedan

1950 Mercury Sport Sedan

Ford also kept on with carburetion research on its historical vapour lock issues and by 1950, it appeared the dual, concentric type system had the problem resolved. Some still did not see the automatic choke as a worthwhile advance although Mercury maintained cold weather starts were actually easier. Another technical innovation this year was embodied in the introduction of two high capacity water pumps, (one for each cylinder bank), which vastly improved engine cooling. Advances in spark timing, valve precision engineering, high pressure internal lubrication and piston ring efficiency further improved engine operation. Revamped fan, water pump and generator belt drives pretty much complete engine advances. Finally, the accelerator linkage was reworked to fix a complaint concerning “stickiness” during hard acceleration.

1950 Mercury Station Wagon

1950 Mercury Station Wagon

This engine had been unique to Mercury in 1949, but in 1950 it became available as part of the “Police Interceptor” package in Ford law enforcement vehicles where it performed yeoman service as “America’s Badge of Authority”.

Transmission linkage was enhanced to make gear changing more effortless, while Touch-o-Matic overdrive continued to be promoted as an extra cost option that could reduce your gasoline bill by 20%. This was the era of gasoline at 20 cents a gallon so the economy craze wouldn’t take hold for another 10 years, but even if that didn’t grab your attention, a higher top speed should have been of interest.

1950 Mercury Sport Coupe

1950 Mercury Sport Coupe

The 1950 Mercury won its class in the then-noteworthy and much-quoted Mobilgas Economy Run, coming in at 26.35 mpg, only .05 mpg behind the overall winner. Credit was duly given to the Econ-o-Miser carburetor and Touch-o-Matic overdrive.

The advent of “Merc-o-Therm” in 1950 was an occasion much hyped by the Madison Avenue boys. In truth the interior heating/ventilating system thus named had been introduced in 1949, but was being advertised as “new” in 1950. The pop-up fresh air intakes in front of the windshield were replaced by screened ducts behind the grille leading into the car. If you purchased the extra-cost heater, fresh air could be heated as it entered and then directed towards the floor or to the defroster.

1950 Mercury Convertible

1950 Mercury Convertible

In 1946 Chrysler pioneered the idea of a pillarless hardtop with its Town & Country. General Motors started introducing the new hardtops to its line-up in 1949, beginning with Cadillac, Buick and Oldsmobile. By 1950, the new design concept had been adopted by Pontiac and Chevrolet, and by the three senior Chryslers as well, catching Ford completely looking the other way. They were able to mitigate some of the damage to their honour with the hasty introduction of the Ford Crestliner, Lincoln Lido and Capri. Mercury acquired the new Monterey – the first Mercury with a model name. It was a Club Coupe and came in your choice of three exclusive colours – Turquoise Blue with dark blue top, Cortaro Red metallic with black top, and Black with yellow top – with the dashboard painted two-toned to match the main body colour.

1950 Mercury Monterey

1950 Mercury Monterey

The tops mentioned were Mercury’s first stab at vinyl covered roofs, and they appeared as canvas or leather-grained vinyl. To heighten luxury and prestige, interiors were offered in two-toned full leather or turquoise cloth with matching leather bolsters, and all interior moldings around the windows were chrome plated. Other standard accoutrements included simulated leather headliner, wool carpets, special black steering wheel, fender skirts, dual outside rearview mirrors, full wheel covers, a gold winged hood ornament and a gold Mercury head logo and stainless nameplate for the door. All this could be yours for a mere additional $165 plus $10 if you wanted an all-leather interior.

1950 Mercury Sport Sedan

1950 Mercury Sport Sedan

Montereys were rare when new and are even more so today – even given their special historical stature, several have fallen victim to the choppers’ cutting torch. One can’t help thinking the first Monterey was a coals-to-Newcastle gilding the lily kind of endeavor. You had a damn fine looking car that could compete with GM’s hardtops in the classy stylishness department on its own merits, without resorting to unnecessary frippery.

As well as the Monterey, other Mercurys available in 1950 include a four-door Sport Sedan, 2-door Club Coupe, two-door convertible and two-door station wagon. Halfway through the model year a Business Coupe was added, which was basically a stripped down Club Coupe. Absent were stainless window moldings, wheel hub trim rings and the rear side windows were fixed.

1950 Mercury Sport Coupe

1950 Mercury Sport Coupe

Paint selections numbered 9 for coupes, sedans and station wagons, and 10 for the convertibles. Running to grays, tans and beige, they were a pretty conservative array – you could order your new convertible in Mirada yellow, (the extra shade available only on that body style), if you were feeling particularly flamboyant. As well, 5 two-tone combinations could be chosen. We were still a few years away from the bright pastels and vividly hued cars for which the fifties were famous, but I do have one further interesting observation before we leave the subject. It was not unusual to see cars where interior and exterior colours did not match in the conventional sense – you could see a red or blue interior on a yellow convertible for example, but I’m not into judging our ancestors on the basis of today’s social mores.

1950 Mercury Sport Coupe

1950 Mercury Sport Coupe

A variety of matching and contrasting nylon and broadcloth fabrics in complementary colours could be had for the sedans and coupes, three choices of all-leather were available to swath the station wagons, and four full leather and one leather and nylon combination for the convertible. Convertible tops were obtainable in green, tan, black or black with red binding. Front door armrests, new courtesy lights and increased fiberglass roof and dash soundproofing were welcome additions in 1950.

Ford, including Mercury, was transitioning from true “woodie” wagons consisting of a wood frame and paneling applied over steel architecture in 1949-51, to all-steel station wagons with wood paneling and accents in 1952, eventually surrendering in turn to wood look-alike fiberglass frames and faux wood paneling appliques.

1950 Mercury Dash

1950 Mercury Dash

The 1950 wagon was still a Mercury front clip wedded to a Ford body and other than trim was little changed from its 1949 forebear until June, when the tailgate was replaced by an all-steel gate stamped with faux panel indentations. The folding second seat was also adopted at this time, and the exterior mahogany panels were replaced with DI-NOC grained steel having the happy side benefit of lowering the price by $155. The wagon could carry half a ton on its nine-foot deck, but this would mean removing the rear-most two rows of seats – no mean feat. Total cargo area was 118 cubic feet.

Conventionally, 1950 Mercurys had a painted dashboard, but the station wagon

1950 Mercury Door Panel

1950 Mercury Door Panel

complemented its wood exterior with a steel, simulated wood grain one. This motif carried on to the door panels, which also had a matching grain pattern. In the back, the side glass slid both forward and aft, allowing ventilation for the rear seats. The tailgate was counterbalanced to compensate for the weight of the spare tire mounted on the outside.

A 1950 Mercury convertible served as that year’s Indianapolis 500 pace car – always an illustrious accolade. Henry Ford II’s younger brother Benson was at the wheel. The tribute was announced on Ed Sullivan’s “Toast of the Town” TV show, thus commencing Mercury’s long running relationship with the media personality. Actress Jane Wyman, the first Mrs. Ronald Reagan, also participated in Mercury advertising.

1950 Mercury Sport Coupe

1950 Mercury Sport Coupe

Contrary to popular belief, this was not the last year a flathead engine would equip the pace car – that honour would belong to the 1953 Ford. Lastly, the 1949 Mercs had played second fiddle to their Ford cousins in NASCAR competition, but a slight cam change for the 1950 models allowed them to win two Grand National races and regain some of their credibility. As well, Mercury finished a commendable five of eleven cars entered in the first Carrera Panamericana Mexican Road Race, a punishing test of endurance.

The 1949 sales year lasted from March, 1948 to November, 1949, while the 1950 model year ran from December, 1949 to mid-October, 1950. Despite the abbreviated time on market, the 1950 offerings managed to sell 293,658 units, including the millionth Mercury, a most creditable showing.

1950 Mercury Sport Coupe

1950 Mercury Sport Coupe

Two factors helped things along a bit. First, even though the 1950 car was technologically more advanced, Mercury managed to keep prices at 1949 levels. Second, the car-buying public feared another suspension of civilian vehicle manufacturing when North Korean troops poured over the 38th parallel to start the Korean War in June, 1950. 1942 was still fresh in everyone’s mind, so prospective purchasers consequently flocked to dealerships in a serious buying mood.

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For the Drive of Your Life – the New 1951 Mercury

The Korean War labored on with no end in sight, and nobody sure about the size of the Chinese presence in Korea or even if they intended to engage in combat. Both questions would soon be answered.

People Volunteer Army soldiers

People Volunteer Army soldiers

The Chinese army (Peoples Volunteer Army – separate unit of Peoples Liberation Army organized so the Chinese government could plausibly deny they were actually at war with the U.S. This is the same farfetched deceit employed by Putin today), moved at night and hid during the day such that reconnaissance never picked up on the looming threat until they attacked in force in late November, 1950. U.N. forces sustained heavy casualties and were pushed out of North Korea altogether.

U.S. Eighth Army commander Lt. General Walton Walker had been killed in a vehicle accident just before Christmas, and was replaced by Lt. General Matthew Ridgway. Upon his assuming command, the PVA attacked again, this time retaking Seoul in January, 1951.

General MacArthur visits the front

General MacArthur visits the front

General Douglas MacArthur suggested using atomic bombs against the Chinese, to disrupt their supply lines and so alarmed America’s allies they lobbied for his removal. As it turned out, the PVA had already outrun its ability to resupply and a counter-attack by Ridgway successfully assaulted the exhausted PVA and once again forced them out of the South Korean capital. By this time Seoul had been taken and re-taken four times and was virtually a ghost town.

Logistical support for the PVA was critically deficient and probably explains why they were not more successful. Sheer weight of numbers should have allowed them to dominate any opponent, but lack of even basic necessities ruined morale. Since they had almost no air support and no trucks, all supplies had to move at night by foot or bicycle.

U.S. soldier with BAR

U.S. soldier with BAR

Military commanders understood the problem, but political leadership did not want to admit the intrinsic failings of the system nor their inability to master the problem. Most of all they didn’t want to have to go hat in hand to Stalin and ask for help, but the predicament was confounding the whole war effort and the appalling prospect of defeat threatened. Pride was swallowed, the U.S.S.R. supplied air cover, pilots and vehicles, and the struggle once more gained momentum.

Peace negotiations in January, 1951 failed partly because MacArthur had insisted the Chinese admit defeat. This eventuality was seen as obviously impossible by everyone but MacArthur, and was never going to happen for any number of reasons.

Seoul 1951

Seoul 1951

As a result, the U.S. negotiating position and strategy were severely undermined and the resulting embarrassment proved too much for President Truman. MacArthur was fired in April and replaced by Ridgway. There was still significant combat after this, but by the summer of 1951, the war had degenerated into a blood-drenched stalemate in which little real estate was taken or lost.

The trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for espionage against the United States of America began March 6, 1951. The accused were a married couple with long-term Communist sympathies who had apparently operated a spy ring passing American atomic secrets to the Soviets. Reading about their exploits now it sounds more like they were running an incompetent slapstick routine than anything particularly sinister.

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

Julius was an amateurish spy wannabe and there is now some question Ethel knew about or participated in any mischief at all. The most serious transgression seems to have been Julius’ facilitation of passing along a clumsy hand-drawn atomic bomb diagram produced by David Greenglass, Ethel’s brother and a machinist at Los Alamos. The Rosenberg operation fell apart when Klaus Fuchs a Soviet spy working in Great Britain got caught and fingered his courier, Harry Gold, who also emerged as the Rosenberg go-between. Gold turned on the Rosenbergs to save himself.

The Rosenbergs were convicted and executed June 19, 1953, becoming the only American citizens ever executed for espionage. All of their accomplices spent some time in prison, but none faced the electric chair. Soviet archives opened recently indicate the Rosenberg’s efforts were not helpful to them at all. When told about this revelation many years later, the presiding judge said it didn’t matter, the intent was still there.

Marilyn Monroe, 1951

Marilyn Monroe, 1951

Black music was completely unacceptable for consumption by white audiences, especially impressionable teenagers. It was too impassioned, fiery, explicitly sexual, (by contemporary standards – by today’s norms it’s no worse than naughtily playful), confrontational and too much identified with black culture. Pressure for acceptance of rhythm and blues emanated from rebellious teenagers looking for something edgy, forbidden and vaguely dangerous – the same things that have always motivated teens. The earliest rock was an attempt to satisfy this demand while toning black music down just enough to mollify parents’ fears. Rock became a synthesis of black rhythm and blues, black gospel, white rockabilly, white country & western, and the then popular but bland “crooner” product.

Dominoes, 1951

Dominoes, 1951

The #1 rhythm and blues offering in 1951 was “Sixty Minute Man” by the Dominoes, with the lead on this particular song done by the bass player, Bill Brown. This was a bit unusual as Billy Ward, Clyde McPhatter and Jackie Wilson, all extremely accomplished singers, were members of the group. Being blatantly sexual, the piece certainly tested the limits of what was permissible, but any question was answered when it crossed over to the pop charts, coming to rest at #17. Black music was starting to reach the mainstream. Some have argued this was the first rock ‘n’ roll song.

Alan Freed, WJW Cleveland

Alan Freed, WJW Cleveland

In 1951 the legendary Alan Freed had coined the term “rock ‘n’ roll” to describe the type of music he played on his “Moondog House” radio show after midnight on Cleveland radio station WJW. In actual fact he played unadulterated rhythm and blues for teenagers to listen to in bed under the covers late at night without their parents’ knowledge. Rock was born and had found its audience.

Nat King Cole began his career in the mid 1930’s as a jazz pianist. He was never known as a rhythm and blues artist despite his race and the times. A few of his original compositions were based on black folk music, and some have said presaged rock ‘n’ roll but I think that’s a bit of a stretch. By the late 40”s, he had gone to conventional pop and in 1951 placed two pieces in the year’s top 5.

Nat King Cole

Nat King Cole

 

 

 

These were “Unforgettable” at #2 and “Too Young” at #4 – the former became his theme song. This was a remarkable feat considering he was black and the context of the era. His craft continued to struggle with latent racism throughout, but he went on to enjoy huge success and sold a ton of records. He appeared in a number of movies and in 1951 did three guest appearances on “Texaco Star Theatre”. Bo Diddley considered Nat King Cole a big influence. Nat was a heavy smoker, believing the habit contributed positively to the quality of his singing voice – unfortunately lung cancer claimed him in 1965.

Johnnie Ray

Johnnie Ray

The #1 song in 1951 was “Cry” by Johnnie Ray, (back-up from the Four Lads), with #3 taken by “How High the Moon” done by Les Paul & Mary Ford.

Mercury approached 1951 with a freshened-up style, but also with a design that was clearly an evolution of the foregoing two years. The marque owed its classically graceful yet vaguely menacing stance at least partly to the depth and pitch of its hood and trunk lid in relation to its fenders and beltline. The overall effect was irresistible. The step-down character line in which the front fender flows smoothly into the car’s flanks eventually dipping down towards the rear bumper, was retained, however with the rear quarter panels significantly lengthened and fenders rounded, it terminated somewhat further forward. The space thus created between it and the bumper was occupied by a vertically ribbed stainless panel – on appropriately equipped cars “Merc-o-Matic” appeared above this covering.

1951 Mercury Sport Sedan

1951 Mercury Sport Sedan

The rear fenders protruded rather aggressively beyond the trunk lid and were finished with prominent vertically-oriented cathedral-style taillights sheltered in eye-catching chrome bezels. Otherwise, rear end treatment echoed that of 1949, including a very similar trunk lid decoration and twin bumper guard arrangement including a connecting cross-piece. It was necessary for the bumper’s outboard portions to project somewhat to accommodate the out-thrusting, trailing fenders.

1951 Mercury Sport Sedan

1951 Mercury Sport Sedan

The front bumper is also home to two guards between which the license plate housing resides. These bumper sentinels could be significantly enlarged and embellished as part of an extra-cost dress-up option. The grille itself consists of several equally spaced vertical bars reminiscent of the previous two years but wider and more boldly convex. It wraps around into the front fenders incorporating integral turn/signal lights. A circular opening appears in the grille behind each bumper guard, adding visual interest to the overall design. The hood’s leading edge is graced with a full-width chrome bar centred by a half-moon shaped medallion housing a red plastic Mercury head emblem and MERCURY embossed in semi-circular block lettering around its top. The same mascot from prior years perches atop the hood. Hubcaps this year are slightly concave, centred with a red plastic Mercury head medallion in relief.

1951 Mercury Sport Sedan

1951 Mercury Sport Sedan

The roof-line assumes a slightly changed silhouette in 1951, owing to a reshaped C-pillar which permits a larger backlite. Mercury played up the safety aspect of the 1,000 square inches of glass in the new rear windshield, noting the increased visibility available to the driver, (although the C-pillar was still pretty large and inhibiting). The overall effect is to imply less of a “stubby turtleback” and more of a longer, lower look. The front windshield is still split, the side windows remain unchanged and the single spear running along the beltline underneath the side windows from the A-pillar to the leading edge of the trunk, remains untouched.

1951 Mercury Sport Coupe

1951 Mercury Sport Coupe

With the demise of the entry level business coupe, available models were reduced to five. The Coupe was re-christened the Sport Coupe. Your new Mercury could be ordered in one of sixteen solid colors or nine two-toned combinations. Hues for 1951 were definitely taking a step away from the somber to the more bright and cheerful, but still couldn’t be described as vivacious. Monterey once again enjoyed its own palette, comprising four colors unique to this line with contrasting cloth covered roofs. Monterey lost its chromed interior garnish moldings and custom steering wheel this year, but gained an ashtray light and a vanity mirror on the passenger’s sun visor. A coat-of-arms emblem replaces the Mercury head on the doors.

1951 Mercury Monterey Coupe

1951 Mercury Monterey Coupe

Inside, instrument panels and garnish moldings came in one of six shades, all chosen to compliment exterior colors, and four of which were carried over from 1950. Other than a few very minor tweaks, redesign of control knobs and new steering wheel hub, the dashboard is identical to 1950. The automatic transmission selector is on the column complete with a small indicator gauge atop the steering column, showing which gear you were in.

1951 Mercury Upholstery

1951 Mercury Upholstery

Upholstery fabric alternatives were many and pleasing, featuring the new hard-wearing nylon cloth. Altogether there were six combinations from which to choose for the sedans and coupes which also included vinyl and leather. Convertibles, Montereys and station wagons highlighted their standard leather possibilities – you could only get a Monterey with cloth inserts in turquoise. Other interior refinements include coat hooks, separate left and right vent controls, a front seat adjustment knob and a dome light.

Engine size remained at 255.4 cid, but horsepower was upped a bit to 112 owing to some internal modifications which increased efficiency. This slight increase helped compensate

1951 Mercury Dash

1951 Mercury Dash

for power lost via the new automatic transmission. For those interested few, Mercury once again won its class in the Mobilgas Economy run.

Oldsmobile and Cadillac had been able to offer the Hydramatic automatic transmission since 1940. Lincoln had tried and failed with its Liquamatic in 1942 – all those that actually made it into production automobiles had to be withdrawn and replaced with manual shifters such that no installed examples exist today. Little is known about them except they were unbelievably complicated and so spooked Ford they took another 10 years to develop a home-grown automatic. Since 1949 Lincoln had been quietly putting Hydramatics acquired from G.M. into their cars but in 1951 Ford, Mercury and Borg-Warner unveiled

1951 Mercury Grille

1951 Mercury Grille

the new Ford-o-Matic and Merc-o-Matic automatics. The new transmission had been the subject of extensive engineering and rigorous testing such that it could enter service with confidence. Buyers were very excited about the innovation, but the comprehensive testing program curtailed production such that only 28% of new Mercurys were thus equipped. The option added $168 to the cost of a new car, but by 1959 over 90% of Mercurys leaving the factory sported a Merc-o-Matic. Unfortunately the Merc-o-Matic was not as smooth nor as peppy as the Hydramatic.

Ford was first to use the P-R-N-D-L sequence for automatics, placing neutral between reverse and forward gears. This was originally done as the engineers thought this a logical layout for a motoring public accustomed to standard shift manual transmissions, but in time the built-in safety aspect became obvious too. Attributes included engine slowing on

1951 Mercury Station Wagon

1951 Mercury Station Wagon

manual downshift, neutral only starting, and downshift under load. Normal starts occurred in second gear, with low used only on demand when chosen manually.

Chrysler was the last of the major American car manufacturers to get on board the automatic transmission band wagon, 14 years after the Hydramatic debuted and almost 3 years after the Merc-o-Matic (and Ford-o-Matic). Packard and Studebaker had introduced their versions in 1949 and 1950 respectively. Most companies had launched semi-automatic transmissions as early as their last pre-war models, but these continued to require a fair amount of driver involvement and concentration.

1951 Mercury Convertible

1951 Mercury Convertible

Americans still feared the Korean conflict could necessitate restrictions on automobile production and so continued to inundate dealerships. Entire Mercury production of 310,387 beat 1950’s total and even bested 1949’s extended selling season, despite an 8% increase in average price. The Sport Sedan with 157,648 copies was the best seller.

As 1951 drew to a close there were in fact some material and capacity shortages as Ford started manufacturing jet engines and such raw materials as copper, chromium and zinc were channeled into military production.

1951 Mercury Convertible

1951 Mercury Convertible

With the inauguration of the restyled 1952 Ford cars, we bid farewell to E.T. “Bob” Gregorie, one of the industry’s premiere pioneer designers. The durability of his cab-back, elliptically fendered, prominently bulbous hood and trunk “look” from this era continued on with General Motors, Chrysler and Hudson until 1957. Even after this time, whenever a designer wanted to convey an image of luxury and prestige they often reverted to this stylistic approach, (the 1992 Buick Park Avenue or 1998 Lincoln Town Car for example).$_57 (41)

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1952 Mercury – The Most Challenging New Car of Any Year

By 1952 the Korean War had degenerated into a bloody stalemate – a comparison to World War I’s trench warfare has been made, and accurately so. Prolonged and frustrating peace negotiations had begun in 1951, but the combatants still sought tactical advantage before agreeing to stop the slaughter and so fighting carried on in the midst of negotiations.

Korean War

Korean War

It was becoming clear to some in the Chinese leadership that the logistics of keeping a large army in the field were beyond the nation’s capability. But instead of looking for a graceful face-saving exit, they were still actively exploring ways of limiting the carnage but only if the solution led to strategic dominance. The PVA, (in one of those ironic communist naming conventions where something is labelled the exact opposite of what it really is, the Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army changed its name to the Peoples’ Volunteer Army), suffered from poor supply of basic equipment and materials, antiquated weaponry and a serious lack of air power to protect troops and supplies on the ground.

PVA Soldier

PVA Soldier

Even though their shorter supply lines should have afforded a significant edge, about the only advantage the PVA held was an overwhelming number of men to send into the cauldron – resulting communist casualties were truly breathtaking. A few extremely blood-soaked battles took place during 1952 as the PVA sent wave after wave of starving, poorly trained soldiers into battle against superior firepower. As often as not these situations degenerated into vicious hand to hand combat, as the crush of Chinese manpower eventually overpowered even well defended positions. Strategically important geography was taken, lost and retaken again. Stalin was very circumspect in not committing Soviet troops to actual combat, being

General Douglas MacArthur and South Korean leader Syngman Rhee

General Douglas MacArthur and South Korean leader Syngman Rhee

quite content to watch division after division of PVA soldiers decimated, thus further cementing his primacy in the communist world. Russian pilots flew DPRK and Chinese marked Mig-15’s but the Soviets characterized them as “volunteers” so as to avoid formal military confrontation with the USA.

DPRK Mig 15

DPRK Mig 15

Former 5-star General, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Commander of Allied forces at the D-Day landings, was elected President of the USA in November, replacing Harry S. Truman who had declined to run again. Eisenhower had campaigned against “Korea, Communism and Corruption”, pledging to end the war, take a harder line with the Communist International, and root out suspected communists and corrupt officials in government. President Truman’s popularity was in the basement as charges of communist spies in the highest levels of the US government along with official malfeasance were laid at his door. The buck really did “stop here”. It’s hard to over-emphasize the fear the communist menace along with Soviet nuclear weapons insinuated into our daily lives – every week brought some threatening new revelation. Unlikely as it may seem today, rule of the proletariat was a fashionable political philosophy among many of our so-called intellectual elites.

Korean War

Korean War

Public angst over the “Red Menace” was incited by Senator Joseph McCarthy (R) of Wisconsin who made a career out of accusations and allegations of communist subversion throughout all strata of American life. New York state even passed legislation banning teachers with communist leanings from the classroom. McCarthy’s “investigations” were just starting to gather steam by 1952 and would peak in 1954, but so far he had been instrumental in derailing whatever plans Truman might have entertained for another term. Historians remain divided over whether there was any legitimacy behind McCarthy’s recriminations, but the opening of Soviet archives since the collapse of Russian communism reveals many of his suspicions were in fact correct. In popular culture today, “McCarthyism” is a pejorative insult.

Joseph Stalin

Joseph Stalin

Richard M. Nixon was Eisenhower’s Vice-Presidential running mate. Paradoxically he got caught in the “corruption” net when accused of receiving illegal campaign contributions. In response Nixon gave a half hour televised homily, since christened the “Checkers” speech,

Nixon with Checkers

Nixon with Checkers

in which he denied all allegations and praised Eisenhower. The climax of the address came when he admitted to receipt of a gift of a cocker spaniel named Checkers, but since his daughters Julie and Tricia loved the dog so much he wasn’t going to return it. The collective tug on America’s heartstrings worked, and Eisenhower kept him on the ticket.

In other leadership changes, voluntary and involuntary, Queen Elizabeth II becomes regent upon the death of her father, King George VI – she received the sad news while on her honeymoon in Kenya. Gamal Abdul Nasser comes to power in Egypt, ousting King Farouk after a successful military coup. Nasser was the first of the secular pan-Arab nationalists. Farouk was well known for his corpulence and excessive lifestyle and had been described as “ … a stomach with a head”. Fortunately he got to keep his head, as it would seem Middle Eastern dictators were a kindlier lot back then, not yet disposed to decapitation of their predecessors.

Princess Elizabeth on Honeymoon

Princess Elizabeth on Honeymoon

Nelson Mandela before Robben Island

Nelson Mandela before Robben Island

Farouk retired to a life of leisure in Monaco. Elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa, Albert Einstein declined the presidency of Israel when offered, while Nelson Mandela was arrested and began his long confinement in Robben Island prison.

Mother Teresa opens her first home for the destitute and dying in Calcutta, India, subsequently founding the “Missionaries of Charity” and devoting her entire life to caring for India’s impoverished and afflicted. She was beatified as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta by Pope John Paul II shortly after her death in 1997. As is often the case with someone who dedicates themselves to charitable works in the alleviation of suffering, especially in a Christian sense, her methods and motives are now being questioned.

Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa

The terrifying Mau Mau rebellion erupts in Kenya primarily as a revolt by Kikuyu tribesmen against British rule. It manifests itself in murders of white families on isolated farms, and assassination of uncooperative black leaders. By November the Mau Mau had declared open revolt to which Britain responded by deploying troops and arresting 2,500 suspected militants. The affair didn’t end until 1956 with the death of the insurgency’s leader. Interestingly, five very old Kenyan men recently successfully sued the British government for torture while under imprisonment related to the Mau Mau rebellion. On behalf of 5,228 surviving Mau Mau they settled for 20 million pounds – the present day practise of financial redress for historical grievance will surely open the floodgates to all manner of complaint both real and imagined from former territorial subjects, although the British government was at some pains to declare no precedent has been set. Britain has also agreed to erect a monument in Nairobi, dedicated to the victims of colonial injustice.

Mau Mau on trial

Mau Mau on trial open the floodgates to all sorts of lawsuits for real or imagined injustices inflicted on former colonial subjects.

Contagious childhood poliomyelitis has always been a frightening disease but its incidence really escalated in 1952. Thanks to the successful research of Dr. Jonas Salk funded by “The March of Dimes” initiated by Franklin Roosevelt, it has been all but eradicated in the first world, although it remains a scourge in many parts of the third world.

Johnnie Ray

Johnnie Ray

“Mad” magazine makes its first appearance on the nation’s newsstands, but Alfred E. Neumann wouldn’t show up for a few years yet. The musical “An American in Paris” takes the Oscar for Best Picture, but the movie most nostalgically remembered is “The African Queen”, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn.

African Queen

African Queen

Bogart won the Oscar for Best Actor. The film originally had trouble with the censors by portraying an unmarried couple cohabiting, so the script was changed. Bogart had trouble reproducing the heavy Cockney accent peculiar to the protagonist from C.S. Forrester’s 1935 novel, thus necessitating another story adjustment. On TV, the “I Love Lucy” show slipped one past the censors by depicting a pregnant Lucy – a TV first.

“American Bandstand”, (originally just “Bandstand”), debuts on WFIL-TV in Philadelphia. The show ran in various forms until 1989 with the inimitable Dick Clark as host from 1956 to the end. Starting off featuring musical film clips it later included appearances by contemporary recording artists lip-synching their hits, accompanied by teenagers showcasing the latest dances.

"Bandstand" on WFIL-TV

“Bandstand” on WFIL-TV

In 1952 the crooners like Perry Como, Eddie Fisher, Frankie Laine and Patti Page reigned supreme. Musically, there had never been any kind of natural evolution from childhood to adulthood – the teen years of course existed but no one had ever targeted them as a demographic having its own musical tastes, and therefore worth appealing to. This was subtly changing, but for now young rebellious suburban types secretly listened to R & B. Top song for the year was “You Belong to Me” by Jo Stafford who presumably was singing to her new husband, band leader Paul Weston. Kay Starr came in at number 2 with “Wheel of Fortune”. Joni James starts her singing career in 1952 with the year’s number 5 hit, “Why Don’t You Believe Me”. Interestingly, the top 5 hit singles for the year were all captured by girl singers.Jonathan & Darlene Edwards - The Piano Artistry Of Jonathan Edwards 1955 Jo Stafford and Paul Weston appeared incognito and even released albums under the pseudonym Johnathon and Darlene Edwards, an inept and tone deaf lounge duo. There was much speculation as to their actual identity, some even suggesting Harry and Bess Truman.

Patti Page replaced Jo at number one with her two-sided hit, a cover of “You Belong to Me” and the more popular song, “I Went to Your Wedding”. Bill Haley & His Saddlemen changed their name to Bill Haley and His Comets, although they didn’t actually chart any hits until 1953. Jerry Lee Lewis was also recording by 1952 but more as an unknown boogie woogie piano player. The first rendition of holiday favorite, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” was presented by Jimmy Boyd in time for Christmas, 1952.

Jo Stafford

Jo Stafford

R&B was still the only outlet realistically available to black artists, but many future rock and roll stars were becoming active and well known – B.B. King, Ruth Brown, Lloyd Price and the Clovers to name a few. The top R&B hit of the year was “Have Mercy Baby” by the Dominoes, a New York City group headlining both Clyde McPhatter, (later of the Drifters), and Billy Ward. The group hit the charts again later in the year with “I’d Be Satisfied”, but this recording peaked at #8. Fats Domino charted three hits, with “Goin’ Home” hitting #1. The only top hit that crossed over from the R&B charts to Billboard was “Cry” by Johnnie Ray & the Four Lads, a quintessentially white group.

OK Darlene, Ya Got Me!

OK Darlene, Ya Got Me!

All major American car manufacturers recycled their pre-war designs and technology into the new automobiles of 1946 – 48. This strategy gave them a little breathing space while they switched production facilities from a war-time footing back to the manufacture of vehicles for civilian consumption. Ford was first off the line.

Most readers will know the success of the 1949 – 1951 “shoebox” Fords and the “Jimmy Dean” Mercurys was instrumental in rescuing FoMoCo from a premature and self-inflicted early demise. mercury 1952 netMany might not be aware of the politics and smoky back-room maneuvering that also went into their creation, (you could smoke in back rooms in those days). Chaos and internal political friction reigned supreme in the company’s executive and senior management ranks, partly as the result of the arrival of Ernest Breech as Chief Executive Officer in 1946. Breech arrived with a mandate to return Ford from a giant staggering on the edge of bankruptcy to a healthy and profitable company. He succeeded quickly and decisively, thereby earning virtually unlimited credibility and a carte blanche from Henry Ford II for any further strategies he may envision.

1952 Mercury Custom

1952 Mercury Custom

One of his subsequent ideas was to re-open discussion on the already finalized designs for the 1949-51 automobiles. This came despite Henry Ford II already having approved them for production. Breech engaged his friend, industrial design consultant George W. Walker to preside over reworking blueprints previously fully developed by long-time styling chief Bob Gregorie and his team. Gregorie ultimately and understandably resigned; was replaced by Walker; and the Fords, Mercurys and Lincolns of this era came into being as we now know them. However tumultuous the gestation period and birth, these cars were an instant success and are still much loved today.

1952 Mercury Custom

1952 Mercury Custom

Given the long lead times necessary to bring a new car into reality, Walker immediately needed to turn his attention to 1952 and subsequent years. This was the third incarnation of Mercury post World War II and embodied a radically modern styling approach – fenders were higher, sides were flat and lanky and the cabin was broader and offset by curved windshields, front and rear. There’s no mistaking the 1952 Ford line-up as a complete styling departure from previous generations.

1952 Mercury Station Wagon

1952 Mercury Station Wagon

While the 1949 to 1951 Mercurys enjoyed a uniquely different body from the Fords, 1952 was a return to the concept of sharing Ford sheet metal and chassis constituents. Different badging and exterior trim including bumper, grille and rear end distinguished the Mercury however, and gave it a distinctive look. A family resemblance remained among the makes, but a new contemporary look was the order of the day.

1952 Mercury Monterey

1952 Mercury Monterey

The 1952 Mercury retained the “presence” and “don’t mess with me” attitude of its forebears, but in a completely different way. Its styling affinity to the new Lincoln is hardly accidental. Bulbous bathtub designs were left to the competition.

With its proud new visage, Lincoln was now aimed squarely at the high-priced market, leaving the mid-priced field to Mercury.

1952 Mercury Monterey

1952 Mercury Monterey

Not only did Lincoln look all-new, much of its engineering and technology were also fresh, including a new overhead valve V-8. Mercury was falling sorely behind in this department, but still wouldn’t obtain an ohv engine until 1954.

Aside from the Monterey Specials of 1950 and 1951, Mercury had only ever used the “Mercury-8” model designation. In 1952 the brand was merchandised as Custom, considered the standard offering, and the ritzier Monterey.

1952 Mercury Custom

1952 Mercury Custom

Both lines could be had as a 4-door sedan or 2-door Sport Coupe, while you could also get a 2-door sedan Custom or Monterey convertible. Minus a “B”-pillar, the Sport Coupe was Mercury’s first true hardtop, although Buick, Cadillac and Oldsmobile had introduced the pillarless hardtop in 1949.

1952 Mercury Monterey Sport Coupe

1952 Mercury Monterey Sport Coupe

The Merc didn’t have a grille as we would commonly picture one, but instead a wide oval opening sweeping across the front, having as its boundaries the hood lip at the top and a new massive bumper at the bottom. A heavy horizontal chrome bar splits the oval horizontally, joins the bumper at its outboard ends and wraps around to the front wheel wells on either side. Turn/signal lights are embedded in the bumper at either end, while its upper surface is highlighted by seven ridges giving the impression of air intake guides

1952 Mercury Monterey Dash

1952 Mercury Monterey Dash

for the rapacious monster lurking behind. A final flourish are the tall vertical chrome bumper guards, reaching up to the hood and having a fog light, (imitation or real), at the bottom. Between the guards, a series of six stylized chrome vertical teeth are placed, but these are partially hidden by the license plate. If they look like anything, I would say they resemble a 1951 Mercury grille.

1952 Mercury

1952 Mercury

Protruding headlights positioned in the fenders as well as the forward rake of many of the car’s accents and highlights imply speed and motion even while at rest. Mercury’s shield emblem appears in the middle of the hood fascia above individual chrome capital letters running across the front of the hood spelling MERCURY. The hood lip is trimmed with a chrome edging strip which also provides definition to that portion of the grille opening extending into the front fenders. There’s a prominent faux air intake atop the hood near the front, again adorned with chrome highlighting but much heavier and more substantial, and capped with a stylized chrome

1952 Mercury Station Wagon

1952 Mercury Station Wagon

spear trailing back from its centre. This air scoop fronts a hood bulge which broadens as it runs back to the windshield. One might be forgiven for thinking the scoop is completely non-functional, however it does provide clearance for the air cleaner – so it’s actually more than a pure styling touch despite its pleasing ostentation.

1952 Mercury Trunk Lock and Badge

1952 Mercury Trunk Lock and Badge

The car’s rear flanks carry a solitary stainless spear starting mid-fender just behind the “B” pillar and running straight back almost to the taillights. A wider forward canted chrome highlight starts at the front of the horizontal strip and is vertically ridged with small imitation air intakes, again mimicking an air scoop. It drops back to the rear end of the rocker panel. In the Monterey the rocker panels are chromed, so the overall effect is of an exaggerated “Z”, but once more giving the impression of speed and forward motion.

1952 Mercury Convertible

1952 Mercury Convertible

Chrome script denoting “Monterey” is placed on the rear fender in the upper corner of the “Z”. On the Custom and station wagon, similarly placed script says “Mercury”. Flush mounted rear fender skirts and full size hubcaps are standard on the Monterey, optional on the Custom. The wheel discs manifest red centres with the Mercury head in relief.

1952 Mercury Monterey Sedan

1952 Mercury Monterey Sedan

Stacked tail- and optional backup lights seem dwarfed by the massive fender capping chrome pods in which they’re mounted, although the whole unit including the bumper fits together well visually and is quite appealing. The rear bumper has two smaller bumper guards bracketing MERCURY in black letters impressed in the metal. A circular medallion is placed on the trunk lid, just above the middle of the bumper and contains the trunk lock. Except in the station wagons, the fuel filler pipe sits behind a hinged plate to which the license plate is bolted.

1952 Mercury Interior

1952 Mercury Interior

“C”-pillars on all models are much narrower than previous years and the windshield and wrap-around rear backlight are 17% larger than predecessors. Nonetheless, sedan rooflines are pretty much the homely affair you would expect for the period, although they do have rear quarter windows. The Monterey “C”-pillar was trimmed with a vertically ridged chrome cap similar to the hardtop. The Sport Coupe is another matter. Its silhouette exudes attitude, helped along by a sleek roofline that almost appears “chopped”, the look of course enhanced by fender skirts.

1952 Mercury Front Bumper Guards and Running Lights

1952 Mercury Front Bumper Guards and Running Lights

All windows are framed with chrome edging strips except for “B”-pillars on sedans and the Custom sedan’s drip rail. In addition the Sport Coupes’ rear backlight sports two vertical chrome dress-up struts separating the window into ¼ – ½ – ¼ segments. The windshield is now mildly curved and one piece. Mercury abandoned “suicide” doors with the new 1952 cars – all doors are now hinged at the front.

1952 Mercury Custom Sport Coupe

1952 Mercury Custom Sport Coupe

Somewhat limiting the stylistic range of options, engineering insisted on a 118 – inch wheelbase, a carry-over from prior years. The resulting car was of necessity 202.2 inches long and 73.5 inches wide, with a front tread width of 58.0 inches and rear of 56.0 inches. Overall height is a sleek 62.5 inches contributing to its long, low bearing. Externally, the 1952 Mercury is a bit shorter, narrower and lower than its ancestors – it’s not at all clear the public was ready for this unexpected downsizing, normally equating quality and prestige with size.

1952 Mercury Engine

1952 Mercury Engine

Bathtub Styling - Packard

Bathtub Styling – Packard

Despite the new jet age look, this minor reduction in dimensions may have contributed to Mercury’s slow sales. A new frame is of a ladder design with five cross members and double channel box section side rails. Hardtops are further reinforced and the convertible had an added X-member for increased rigidity. As well, the floor and dash are reinforced and insulated with fiberglass  against heat, cold, dirt and road noise. Both hood and trunk are counter-balanced for ease of operation.

More Bathtub Styling - 1952 Chrysler

More Bathtub Styling – 1952 Chrysler

Front suspension consists of telescopic shock absorbers mounted inside coil springs, with a stabilizer bar to reduce roll. Rear suspension is semi-elliptical leaf springs with telescopic shock absorbers mounted so as to reduce side sway. Tires are extra low pressure 7.10×15 with 760×15 on the convertible and station wagon.

Station wagons are all 4-door, have no further model designation and rear quarter side scripts read “Mercury”. Although real wood paneling dressed up the sides, this was the first year station wagons featured all steel construction.

1952 Mercury Monterey Convertible

1952 Mercury Monterey Convertible

Paneling starts at the “A”-pillar and carries on back almost to the taillights. Framing rails are of a lighter colored wood and normal chrome side ornamentation appears over top of the wood paneling. The tailgate door consists of a two piece fold out arrangement hinged at top and bottom, making for lots of bumped heads, banged knees and exciting new words for the kids to learn. The lower rear tailgate sports external wood paneling while side windows and the tailgate transom between the drip rail and the belt-line are all framed in the same finish as the paneling rails. Wagon rear bumpers do not have bumper guards and the fuel filler neck is located at the back beside the left rear taillight.

1952 Mercury Rear Seat

1952 Mercury Rear Seat

The rear-most side windows slide open. While wagons could be ordered as 6- or 8-passenger, the latter seating arrangement was 3-3-2 all facing forward, with both rear seats capable of folding flat for a much larger cargo space.

Mercury offered 11 solid and metallic colors which could be incorporated into 19 two-tone combinations, the latter available on the sedans and Sport Coupes only. Interestingly, cars assembled at the Dearborn plant were painted with lacquer, while all others including the brand-new Wayne plant, used baked enamel.

1952 Mercury Monterey Sport Coupe

1952 Mercury Monterey Sport Coupe

Inside, the potential buyer was greeted with a plethora of fabrics and designs from which to choose. One could order bolster and inserts in combinations of broadcloth, nylon-cloth or leather inserts with vinyl bolsters for seats and all leather for the convertible. Interior side styling copies the outside rear quarter stainless trim. Except for the convertible, interior colors are still muted shades of brown, gray and green. Station wagons come in all vinyl patterns with woven plastic inserts. Much was made of increased room and comfort – doors, seats, and windows are all bigger. Seats are wider and padded with foam rubber. Roof bows are highlighted with stainless strips.

In keeping with jet-age themes running throughout North American life, Mercury presents the “interceptor” dash. A semicircular speedometer registers up to 110 mph and also provides a home for fuel, amperage, engine temperature, and oil pressure gauges plus the odometer.

1952 Mercury Monterey Convertible

1952 Mercury Monterey Convertible

Flanking the speedometer and sitting on a ledge projecting out from the dash are jet throttle style levers controlling heater, defroster, fan and vent functions. All other controls such as lights, wipers, cigar lighter and so on are operated with conventional knobs. A Ford engineer solved the common complaint of drafts, dust and dirt entering the cabin through the floorboard holes for the clutch and brake, by suspending pedals using a system of levers to operate them. A happy side benefit is that the system actually created a mechanical advantage allowing less effort to use the brake pedal. Steering wheel is still of the large style with a protruding bullet shaped hub embellished with a Mercury head.

Under the hood one can find the venerable 255.4 cid, 125 horsepower flathead V-8, first

1952 Mercury Custom Sedan

1952 Mercury Custom Sedan

put into service in 1939 and the only engine available to the whole line. Compression ratio is 7.2 to 1 provided by aluminum alloy pistons fitted with two compression rings and two oil rings. Rotating valves help extend their life. Carburetor is a two barrel downdraft mounted inside an oil bath air cleaner. Desoto had introduced a new “hemi” engine rated at 160 horsepower, while this year’s Cadillac put out 190 hp – both were ohv type. Oldsmobile was first to offer an ohv engine with the 1949 Rocket V-8. While Ford may have lagged some of the competition, its flathead V-8 was no slouch and much-beloved by hotrodders for its dependability and potential.

Base transmission is a three-speed, column shift standard. Optional at extra cost you could order the Touch-o-Matic overdrive which improved gas mileage and top speed or the air-cooled Merc-o-Matic 3-speed automatic which was becoming increasingly popular. The latter two were developed in conjunction with Borg Warner.

1952 Mercury Monterey Sport Coupe

1952 Mercury Monterey Sport Coupe

Comfort and convenience options included push-button radio, tinted windows, back-up lights, gas tank lock, combination outside mirror and spotlight, blower type rear-window defroster, and combination cigar lighter and map light. Some literature implies the front bumper guards are extra cost options, but in truth I have never seen a 1952 Mercury without them. You could have real road lights mounted in the guards and this was an added option; if not you got a pleasant option delete disc. Mercury was not offering any power equipment. Chrysler was the first to offer power steering, bringing it out in the 1951 Chrysler Imperial. Cadillac followed in 1952.

1952 Mercury Sedan

1952 Mercury Sedan

As mentioned earlier the USA was still at war – the so-called “police action” in Korea ground on in defense of South Korea against the combined predatory communist power of North Korea, Peoples’ Republic of China and the Soviet Union. It became necessary to restrict domestic consumption of some strategic raw materials including cadmium and copper used in the chrome plating process. Car manufacturers developed an ersatz substitute consisting of a thin layer of copper overlaid with a faux chrome finish followed by several coats of lacquer to protect the delicate result. Consumers were prepared to accept this inferior alternative as all car makers were in the same boat and nobody wanted to see a full auto shutdown in favor of military production again. As well, the government realized the car industry was a locomotive of economic growth for a recovering economy. Early advertising and photos show the car fitted with blackwall tires – whitewalls were not available until spring, again because of material restrictions.

1952 Mercury Monterey Convertible

1952 Mercury Monterey Convertible

As with all makes, the 1952 Mercury’s overall sales were hit hard by government raw material embargoes and a two month steel strike, falling from 310,387 units in 1951 to 172,087 in 1952, despite the all-new styling. President Truman tried to avert the strike by nationalizing the steel industry, but he was overturned by the Supreme Court.

Ford snuck past Chrysler into the number two spot overall for manufacturers for the first time post-war. Mercury’s performance placed it number 8 in sales, behind Dodge.

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1953 Mercury – Further Than Ever Ahead of Its Field

Two events in 1953 shook the communist world to its foundations. On March 5 Stalin died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage. The evening of March 1 Stalin had enjoyed a late dinner and drinking session with sycophants Beria, Malenkov, Bulganin, Khrushchev and Molotov at his Kuntsevo dacha outside Moscow.

Beria, Malenkov and Voroshilov in happier times ...

Beria, Malenkov and Voroshilov in happier times …

Getting his underlings drunk and then waiting for them to accidentally admit to some transgression or other was a familiar ploy. He retired to bed in the early hours but did not get up the next morning at his usual time. Staff and visitors were so terrified of incurring his fury by disturbing him or doing anything without his explicit instructions that he was left alone until the following night when the bodyguard commander finally and with extreme trepidation went into the bedroom to check on the situation. Stalin was found helpless on the floor, incontinent and only partially conscious. Seeing Stalin in such a humiliating and vulnerable state was an egregious lapse and would almost certainly invite capital sanction.

Lavrenty Beria, Secret Police Chief

Lavrenty Beria, Secret Police Chief

Doctors were eventually called however. Stalin was cleaned up but never regained consciousness and died March 5 – he was 74. Khrushchev’s memoirs depict Beria as alternating between spewing caustic venom at his comatose boss and obsequious groveling when he thought Stalin was conscious. Beria eventually jumped in his limo and headed for Moscow and the Kremlin – jockeying for succession would now begin in earnest.

The body lay in state for three days while millions of weeping and distraught Russians filed past to pay their final respects. The crowds were so large and emotionally distressed it has been estimated 500 mourners were trampled or crushed to death trying to catch a glimpse of the casket. The embalmed body was then transported by gun carriage to the mausoleum in Red Square where it was reverently laid to rest on public display next to Lenin’s similarly preserved remains. In life, the two old comrades would probably not have relished the prospect of spending eternity together.

Stalin lying in state

Stalin lying in state

Beria was eventually appointed First Deputy Premier under Malenkov’s nominal leadership, but the rest of the Politburo were so frightened of the prospect of him attaining supreme power that on June 25, 1953 he was arrested at a meeting of the Presidium expressly called for that purpose. After a show trial he was executed in the basement of the secret police prison in Moscow with a bullet to the forehead, cringing and blubbering to the end.

Khrushchev eventually emerged supreme after the dust settled. Of those other senior officials present at the dacha that night, Malenkov had a short career as Premier but by 1961 he was in extreme disfavor and exiled to Kazakhstan as manager of a hydro-electric plant. He died in his bed aged 85.

Dignitaries at Stalin's Funeral

Dignitaries at Stalin’s Funeral

Bulganin was disgraced, fired from the Politburo in 1958 and exiled to Stavropol as Chairman of a local Economic Council. Except for the most dangerous and brutal Beria, Khrushchev allowed his former colleagues to keep their lives, which was more than Stalin would have done in similar circumstances. Molotov and Kaganovich enjoyed similarly ignominious retirements from the Party.

General Dwight Eisenhower was elected President of the USA in November, 1952, taking over from Harry S. Truman. Under Mr. Truman’s guidance a number of military leadership changes had transpired in an attempt to find a formula which would end the conflict once and for all.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Of course in proxy wars, which this basically was, the surrogates will keep fighting as long as they continue to enjoy the logistical and financial support of their backers. General MacArthur thought China could be knocked out of the war if a few nuclear bombs were dropped on them, but Truman wouldn’t hear of it. MacArthur was replaced by General Ridgway who was in turn replaced by General Clark.

President Eisenhower was determined to end the euphemistically named “police action”, and let it be known that unlike his predecessor he was not above dropping a few nuclear bombs. Thus incentivized, and with such strong players on all sides, the combatants were beginning to realize a military solution was highly unlikely. Negotiations commenced at Panmunjom and a cease-fire was established in July, 1953, although three major actions were still underway at the time including the famous Battle of Pork Chop Hill.

Pork Chop Hill

Pork Chop Hill

This was not a peace treaty and the Korean War technically never actually ended. Thankfully it has never gone “hot” again despite the best efforts of North Korea to be as obnoxious and confrontational as possible. North Korea continues to insist it won the war. The UN forces lost almost 90,000 men while the communist armies are estimated to have suffered 1.5 million soldiers dead.

One of the main difficulties negotiators encountered was repatriation of captured POW’s, (Prisoners of War). Many Korean Peoples’ Army, (North Korean Army) and PVA troops did not want to be repatriated. This of course was unacceptable to communist authorities, not least because it represented a tremendous loss of face, but they eventually relented.

Korean War

Korean War

As a result several Chinese and North Koreans did not return home. Interestingly, 21 Americans and 1 Briton declined repatriation as well, and stayed in North Korea. In another POW repatriation, the first German soldiers return home from the Soviet Union.

Senator Joe McCarthy continued to flail about investigating communism in American life. In 1953 he variously examined Voice of America and the US Army – neither inquiry came to anything other than to disrupt, upset and ruin morale of all involved. With his credibility rapidly waning it was becoming increasingly clear McCarthy was chiefly interested in his own aggrandizement.

Senator Joe McCarthy

Senator Joe McCarthy

Interestingly, McCarthy enjoyed the support of the Kennedy family – Robert F. Kennedy was appointed assistant counsel to the investigative Senate Subcommittee.

Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation occurred on June 2, and the Royal Yacht Britannia was launched shortly thereafter. In other royal news, King Hussein of Jordan is crowned, while King Mohammed V of Morocco is deposed by the French and exiled to Corsica.

On May 23 Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay become the first to conquer Mt. Everest.

Norma Jean - Playboy's First Centerfold

Norma Jean – Playboy’s First Centerfold

Playboy magazine publishes its first issue with Marilyn Monroe on the cover and gracing the inaugural centerfold. In other sex news, Christine Jorgenson returns home to the USA after undergoing the world’s first sex change operation in Denmark.

Everyone expected “High Noon” to win Best Picture at the Oscars, but “The Greatest Show on Earth” walked away with the prize. Gary Cooper took Best Actor for his role in “High Noon”.

High Noon

High Noon

This was the first Oscar ceremony to be televised.

Ian Fleming publishes the first James Bond novel, “Casino Royale”. Lucille Ball finally gives birth to Desi Jr. on January 19, 1953 and the delivery is timed to coincide with the TV episode, “Lucy Goes to the Hospital”, (or vice-versa; take your pick). The show drew the largest audience for a TV show up to that time. You could watch it on your black & white TV which cost $535 (about $5,000 today), or on a new color TV just introduced this year. That would set you back $1,175 ($10,000 today).

Lucy is enceinte

Lucy is enceinte

Of course your new TV came in a tasteful mahogany console together with an AM radio and record player which allowed you to listen to all the latest hits on your new HiFi. The Billboard charts were of course dominated by white artists, although the odd black performer would sneak in from time to time. Nat King Cole had 10 Billboard hits in 1953, the most successful being “Pretend”, a genuine million seller, that rose to second spot in February. While the Billboard songs were “pleasant”, often cute, (“How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?”), frequently funny, (“St. George and the Dragonet”), there were depressingly few real toe-tappin’, knee-slappin’ barn burners. Most of them were sweet but bland.

Nat King Cole

Nat King Cole

Lyrics were agreeable and certainly far superior to anything you might be unfortunate enough to hear today, but your ears only perked up when an R&B cross-over slipped into the radio station’s play list. These songs were almost a guilty pleasure and we seemed reluctant to reward them by placing them too high on the Billboard charts. But by 1953 we realized the inevitable, if only subconsciously – as a contemporary Les Paul and Mary Ford song put it – “The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise”.

Fats Domino’s “Goin’ to the River” hit number 24, while the Orioles’ “Crying in the Chapel” made it to number 11. The Orioles’ rendition was the original, (and the best!),

Orioles

Orioles

but it was covered by three white singers all of whom charted higher: June Valli (#4), Darrell Glenn (#6) and Rex Allen (#8), and by Ella Fitzgerald backed up by Bill Doggett’s Orchestra and the Ray Charles Singers. With all that star power it only made #15. This was the way of the world in 1953 – black artists with a good song were covered by white crooners who “cleaned it up”, made it acceptable for white audiences and achieved a higher ranking. A number of songs were starting to cross over from the R&B charts in their own right, and most of these, including the above, would qualify as genuine rock ‘n’ roll. Even some of the more primal and coarse offerings were crossing over and doing rather well in the rankings: “Honey Hush” (#23) by Big Joe Turner, “Shake-a-Hand” (#22) by Faye Adams and “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean” (#23) by Ruth Brown. All these songs were million sellers, reached #1 on

Fats Domino

Fats Domino

the R&B charts and made the year’s top 10 for R&B. Interestingly, the top R&B song for 1953, “Money Honey” by Clyde McPhatter & the Drifters, did not cross over. Obviously a lot of mainstream listeners were enjoying R&B and they were exerting continual pressure on Billboard – its popularity couldn’t be ignored or denied much longer.

Meanwhile, the only genuine white rock ‘n’ roller in 1953 was Bill Haley, and while one of the true pioneers he was actually more rock-a-billy and didn’t crack the top 10 that year. Bill charted three songs: “Crazy Man, Crazy” (#12), “Fractured” (#24), and “Live It Up” (#25). Billboard’s #1 song for the year was “Vaya Con Dios”, a very pretty number by Les Paul and Mary Ford.

Les Paul & Mary Ford

Les Paul & Mary Ford

Les Paul was father of the electric guitar. When the electric guitar met Elvis Presley in 1954, the white boy who sounded black, rock ‘n’ roll was truly born. Elvis gave a white face to R&B and made it respectable, finally opening the door for black performers to become welcome in normal society.

What’s a little odd, even hypocritical, about all this is that some racially questionable songs were commonplace on the Billboard charts. For example, “The Chinese Waiter” by Buddy Hackett did not raise any eyebrows in 1953.

1953 marked the 50th anniversary of Ford Motor Company. They celebrated by decidedly dragging the enterprise back into the black and firmly making it the number 2 car maker in the world. The auto manufacturers had continued to build cars despite restrictions on some strategic raw materials, but these too were lifted in February, 1953.

1953 Mercury Monterey convertible

1953 Mercury Monterey convertible

The public’s patience was rewarded with a virtually unchanged 1953 Mercury. Dimensions and mechanics were identical to those for 1952. Exterior enhancements were mostly changes to the chrome and stainless. These alterations enjoyed a restriction-free chrome plating process so that was good news. The two vertical bumper guards are replaced by two similarly placed “Dagmars”.

1953 Mercury Custom

1953 Mercury Custom

The space between the new bumper guards is filled with a horizontally ridged panel, while the small fins on the top side of the “grille” divider bar are replaced with four much more prominent teeth. The imitation chrome hood scoop receives an additional centre highlight. Optional road lights are mounted below the bumper guards. That was about the extent of changes to the front.

1953 Mercury Monterey convertible

1953 Mercury Monterey convertible

On the sides, a single chrome strip runs virtually the entire length of the car in the mid-section, while three small horizontal chrome spears grace the leading edge of the rear fender relief, with the third or bottom one incorporating a larger accent just in front of the rear wheel wells. Chrome “curb buffers” cover the rocker panels on Monterey.

1953 Mercury Monterey interior

1953 Mercury Monterey interior

“Mercury” appears in stainless script on the rear fenders of all models, while an additional “Monterey” script is mounted on the front fenders along with a small badge, just in front of the doors and slightly above the side spear.

1953 Mercury Monterey Sport Coupe

1953 Mercury Monterey Sport Coupe

Divider bars are gone from the rear backlight which is now one-piece, while the black MERCURY stamping in the middle of the bumper is reduced in size. The trunk lock arrangement and badging has been redesigned and “Merc-0-Matic” in script appears on the right side of the trunk lid, on cars so equipped. Full wheel discs still display the Mercury Head in relief on a red centre, but now also have red concentric rings.

1953 Mercury Monterey Station Wagon

1953 Mercury Monterey Station Wagon

Station wagon trim remained essentially the same, although one wooden rail crossing the middle of the front door diagonally, and one vertical rail conflicted with the new car-length stainless spear, and so were deleted. In mid-1953 the real wood rails were exchanged for fiberglass ones in wood finish. Finally, the six-passenger version never sold well and was therefore dropped for 1953 – the eight-passenger version became part of the Monterey line-up.

1953 Mercury Monterey Station Wagon

1953 Mercury Monterey Station Wagon

Wagon interiors comprised tuck and roll vinyl in red or turquoise, combined with a durable plastic weave in tan or ivory. The cargo area linoleum flooring was replaced with a heavy rubber mat highlighted by bright skid strips.

With this sole exception, models offered for 1953 were identical to 1952: buyers could choose a Custom 2- or 4-door sedan or a 2-door Sport Coupe, while for those preferring something a bit splashier, Monterey came as a 4-door sedan, 2-door Sport Coupe and convertible.

1953 Mercury Custom

1953 Mercury Custom

Part way through the year, Mercury added power steering, brakes and seat, to better position it to compete with Oldsmobile.

Buyers had 15 different solid colors available for the exterior or a possible 42 two-tone combinations. Several different types of material were offered for the interior including broadcloth, nylon plastic weave, vinyl and leather. Interior roof arches became more prominent and were emphasized with stainless ribs.

1953 Mercury Dash

1953 Mercury Dash

Dashes carried a two-tone motif while the semi-circular speedometer featured gold rather than the previous year’s silver highlights. In recognition of Ford’s 50th anniversary in 1953, each Mercury received a dash-mounted medallion.

The same 125 hp flathead V-8 as the previous year continued to provide sterling service under the hood,

1953 Mercury Monterey Sport Coupe

1953 Mercury Monterey Sport Coupe

but this was to be its last year. While to all appearances the mechanics remained unchanged, performance was markedly improved. Torque increased with revamped carburetion, a repositioned air cleaner and 3.91 rear end for manual transmissions. Efficiency was also improved with “straight-through” rather than “reverse-flow” mufflers.

1953 Mercury Custom Sport Coupe

1953 Mercury Custom Sport Coupe

Meanwhile, Dodge receives a new “Red Ram” hemi producing 160 hp, but the Hudson Hornet introduces Twin H – power, a dual carburetor set-up on its own flathead, putting out 210 hp. Lincoln was the only Ford manufactured car to receive improvements to its power plant, and these were indeed significant. Horsepower was increased to 205, providing Ford’s flagship with the industry’s best power to weight and horsepower to displacement ratios.

1953 Mercury Monterey Station Wagon

1953 Mercury Monterey Station Wagon

As well, the Lincoln generated sufficient torque to pull a train. Mercury was soon to enjoy the trickle-down effect of its senior cousin’s improved technology – its new ohv engine was about to arrive in the nick of time.

The year should have been smooth sailing, however the newly commissioned Wayne, Indiana plant was hit by a UAW wildcat strike in January and February, also affecting Lincoln production.

1953 Mercury Monterey Sport Coupe

1953 Mercury Monterey Sport Coupe

Labor unrest at the Borg-Warner facility turned out to be an even more serious blow – availability of the Merc-o-Matic automatic transmission and Touch-o-Matic overdrive was significantly curtailed.

Despite these challenges, Mercury went on to post a very successful sales year, second only to 1950, capturing an overall 8th spot in sales, just behind Dodge. Total sold was 305,863: Custom delivered 149,524 cars while Monterey accounted for the remaining 156,339. Ford remained in second place among the manufacturers.

1953 Mercury Monterey convertible

1953 Mercury Monterey convertible

A siren red Monterey convertible produced in September was nominated as the 40 millionth Ford product manufactured. It spent its life in various museums.

General Motors spiced the market up by introducing the Corvette this year, (“ … a car made out of plastic?” sneered the nervous competition). Only 315 copies were sold. GM went one step further by introducing uniquely memorable, prestigious, luxurious, limited production convertibles to each of Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac – the 98 Fiesta, Skylark and Eldorado respectively.

1953 Mercury Monterey Sport Coupe

1953 Mercury Monterey Sport Coupe

The Fiesta was made one year only, the Skylark was made in 1954 as well, while the Eldorado hung on for quite a few years more, but subsequent editions were all pale shadows of the original. All these 1953 cars are of inestimable value today. The cutthroat nature of the market was further reflected in the first of the post-war mergers when Willys-Overland combined with Kaiser-Frazer. While it managed to stagger on until 1958, Packard’s breathing was becoming labored – an ill-fated attempt at

1953 Mercury Custom Sport Coupe

1953 Mercury Custom Sport Coupe

rejuvenation failed when insufficient financial resources were available to carry it through. While it’s never pleasant to witness the death of a marque, this one devolved to Mercury’s benefit. Not only did rivalry become less intense, but many Packard engineers and stylists found a new home at Mercury.

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1954 Mercury – A New Kind of Car That Makes Any Driving Easy

Dien Bien Phu

Dien Bien Phu

After having had a presence in Viet Nam since the eighteenth century, France was forced to watch its hold over its Indochinese colonial dependencies start to crumble. The Viet Minh communist insurgency was gathering steam and preparing for the culminating battle at France’s Dien Bien Phu fortified air strip. Curiously, the French High Command welcomed this confrontation as an opportunity to crush the Viet Minh once and for all. Unknown to the French, the Viet Minh commander, General Giap had spent months preparing his assault by secretly moving heavy artillery into concealed positions from which they could rain down shells on the French garrison.

1954 Mercury hood scoop

1954 Mercury hood scoop

On March 31 the heavy assault began and by May 7 the French had been overrun and surrendered – not only the battle had been lost, but so was the war. The French artillery commander who had so seriously underestimated Viet Minh strength committed suicide. French possessions in North Africa were also coming under pressure for independence. Nationalist terrorists pillaged and burned French property in Algeria and murdered several French citizens. Tunisia and Morocco were as well suffering violent protest.

1954 Mercury Monterey Sun Valley

1954 Mercury Monterey Sun Valley

Algeria

Algeria

The Cold War continued to get chillier, and the US was getting more paranoid about Communist predation. As the famous quote declared “ … sometimes you’re paranoid and sometimes they really are out to get you.” Stalin had died in March, 1953 and those of his former colleagues as still survived were jockeying for position. This all made the USSR more unstable and dangerous as each leadership contender tried to prove how ruthless and tough he was. It seemed everywhere you turned the Communist International was up to no good: East Berlin; Eastern Europe; Indochina; Korea still wasn’t settled; Chinese and Taiwanese artillery were dueling across the Formosa Straits;

Nikita Khrushchev

Nikita Khrushchev

The Rosenberg spy trial had ended with their execution; J. Robert Oppenheimer, father of the American A-Bomb, was being investigated as a spy; and Senator Joseph McCarthy continued to whip up anti-communist frenzy at home, accusing everybody from the Army to Harry Truman of collaboration.

1954 Monterey 4-dr sedan C-Pillar

1954 Monterey 4-dr sedan C-Pillar

 

Things were not going smoothly for the British empire either. In April, over 700 Mau-Mau terrorists were put on trial in Nairobi. The Mau-Mau were Kikuyu tribesmen protesting European ownership of farmland, by killing European farmers and other Kikuyu who didn’t support them.

Mau Mau

Mau Mau

After talks for their surrender failed, the British military responded harshly, stamping out the rebellion but leaving the resentment. After 72 years the British end their occupation of the Suez Canal, turning it over to Egypt and setting the stage for more mischief in a few years.

 

Ed Sullivan’s new TV show, “The Toast of the Town” debuted on CBS, while Steve Allen took over “The Tonight Show” to critical acclaim. Other shows returning this year were “I Love Lucy”’,

Ed Sullivan Show

Ed Sullivan Show

“Dragnet”, “Topper” and “Ozzie & Harriet”. “Lassie” had puppies and became more popular than ever.

Ozzie & Harriet

Ozzie & Harriet

To watch this entertainment cornucopia, Westinghouse introduced its new 12.5 inch color TV at a discounted price of $1,110. In today’s dollars this is about $9,000 – nearly half the price of a new car.

1954 Monterey Sport Coupe

1954 Monterey Sport Coupe

 

J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous trilogy, “Lord of the Rings”, was published in December, creating a lifetime passion for university students everywhere. Joe DiMaggio marries Marilyn Monroe on January 14 in San Francisco. Marilyn had just starred in a new film, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”, with Jane Russell.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

The movie contained several rather risqué bust line references. Frank Sinatra received a “Best Supporting Actor” Oscar for his role in “From Here to Eternity”.

 

Elvis Presley celebrated his 19th birthday on January 8 by paying $4 to record two singles, “Casual Love” and “I’ll Never Stand in Your Way”, at Sun Records in Memphis. Neither song went anywhere, but Sam Phillips was impressed enough to invite Elvis back.

Elvis

Elvis

He recorded a number of other tracks for Sun in 1954, and although none reached the charts Phillips had found his Holy Grail – a white kid who sounded like a Negro.

In the evolution of American Pop Music, 1954 was a definitive transition year. By 1954 the electric guitar was starting to replace the piano or saxophone as the lead instrument. The beat was basic rhythm and blues with a snare drum back beat. A traditional grouping is a lead guitar, rhythm guitar and bass guitar, all electric, and a drum set. Bill Haley and his Comets continued to use a stand-up bass. Rock and roll came to have a significant impact on societal mores, fashion, slang and many other aspects of daily life. Leather motorcycle jackets, ducktail haircuts and jet boots all had their genesis  in our desire to look like Gene Vincent and his colleagues. Musical groups, whether amateur or professional tended to wear the same “uniform”, tending to colorful sartorial splendor usually including tie, sport jacket or suit, shiny black shoes with “clickers” on the heels and white socks – and the more buckles, chains and belts, the better.

“Billboard’s Top Hits” continued to be dominated by the white crooners such as Perry Como, Eddie Fisher and Patti Page. Perry Como’s top hit in 1954 was “Wanted” which was charted for 22 weeks of which it spent 8 weeks at #1, and was a genuine million-seller, which in these days was no mean feat.

1954 Mercury Custom Sport Coupe

1954 Mercury Custom Sport Coupe

The top song for the year was “Little Things Mean a Lot” by Kitty Kallen. It was on the charts for 26 weeks, 9 of which were at #1.

Kitty Kallen

Kitty Kallen

The #2 hit was “Sh-Boom”, offered by the Crew Cuts. It has the distinction of being the very first #1 charted rock & roll song. Bing Crosby’s last ever song on the hit parade was his legendary “White Christmas”, which came in at #23 in December. This song was first recorded in 1942 from the movie “Holiday Inn” and is the biggest selling single of all time. The only black singer with a consistent presence on the so called “white” charts was Nat ‘King’ Cole. His big hit for 1954 was “Answer Me My Love”, which peaked at #6 in February. Kay Starr was singled out by no less a personality than Billie Holiday as “… the only white woman who could sing the blues”. Apparently Billie didn’t realize Kay was 75% Iroquois. Asked to characterize her own personal style, Kay Starr replied she was a jazz singer.

1954 Sun Valley in Bittersweet

1954 Sun Valley in Bittersweet

 

“Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets was originally released in May but only hit #23. It became a monster hit when released again a year later as the soundtrack for the movie “Blackboard Jungle”, going on to become a strong influence on the entire genre.

Bill Haley & His Comets

Bill Haley & His Comets

In August the group released “Shake, Rattle & Roll” which became a million seller. Interestingly, this song had been released on the R&B Charts in May, by Joe Turner & His Blues Kings where it hit #1, and by August had crossed over to the Billboard Charts. “Honey Love” by Clyde McPhatter & the Drifters was another R&B single to hit #1, and later crossed over. Black artists did not fare as well on Billboard, but at least there was now some cross-pollination.

1954 Mercury hood fascia

1954 Mercury hood fascia

There was no doubt that R&B remained the progenitor and incubator for rock & roll. The year’s top R&B hit by far was “The Things That I Used to Do” by Guitar Slim, accompanied on the piano by Ray Charles – it crossed over at #22.

Guitar Slim

Guitar Slim

Guitar Slim was a revolutionary guitar player who influenced many who came after, including Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Unfortunately, his star faded, Guitar Slim died an alcoholic at age 32.

 

In 1954, there was little doubt the American car was master of the highway, (by 1957 there was even a Mercury named after the quintessential American highway – the Turnpike Cruiser). In deliberating over what sold cars in North America,

1954 Mercury

1954 Mercury

the manufacturers settled on three main factors: styling, simplicity of use and horsepower. Economy, roominess and safety took a back seat, so to speak. Chrysler still wouldn’t figure out for a few years yet that frumpy practical cars wouldn’t sell.

 

As the new year dawned Ford Motor Company had every reason to be optimistic about the future. They had celebrated their 50th anniversary with dash and flair in 1953, including a huge increase in production and sales. Active (key word being “Active”) hostilities in the Korean War had

1954 Mercury Custom Sedan

1954 Mercury Custom Sedan

ended in July, 1953, allowing the country to lift wartime constraints on raw materials and production facilities, which then allowed these to be reassigned to normal manufacturing activities including automobiles.

This good news was partially offset by the effects of a post-Korean War recession. By 1954 a lot of the pent up demand the industry had experienced following World War II had petered out. With profit margins starting to suffer, some of the major independent manufacturers began to fall by the side of the road. The Hudson Motor Car Company merged with Nash Kelvinator to become American Motors Corporation on May 1.

1954 Mercury Monterey Sport Coupe

1954 Mercury Monterey Sport Coupe

1954 Sun Valley

1954 Sun Valley

On October 1 Packard and Studebaker combined as Studebaker-Packard Corporation. By 1958 the venerable Packard disappeared altogether, its glory days and reputation long since gone.

1954 Monterey

1954 Monterey

 

Overall, Ford enjoyed a big increase in production during 1953, a success in which Mercury shared. Sales increased 64% over 1952 and Mercury pulled into sixth place in sales, just barely surpassing Oldsmobile and enjoying its second best year ever. By 1954 all the majors had suffered sales losses although Ford declined by only 8.3%. GM was down 10.4% and Chrysler a whopping 37.2%. For one of the few times in history, the Ford make itself outsold Chevrolet.

1954 Monterey dash

1954 Monterey dash

 

In fact despite the onset of a buyers’ market, the entire American car industry after taking a breath, was just entering a halcyon period in which newly increased production availability and capacity combined with a war-weary public’s desire to spoil themselves a bit. The result was a tremendous opportunity for those able to create and fulfill dreams. Mr. and Mrs. Consumer, obsessed with all things modern were seeking a way to express their sophistication, up-to-the-minute tastes and prosperity, and weren’t shy about spending cash to do so.

1954 Monterey

1954 Monterey

Often a new car was the most ostentatious and effective means to so demonstrate, and flamboyance was quickly becoming synonymous with refinement and style. The industry reacted by coming up with a vast array of new mechanical innovations, comfort and convenience features, and colorful new styling options. Wisely, Mercury management gave lots of free rein to their design and technical staff.

1954 Monterey interior

1954 Monterey interior

Ford’s future indeed looked bright and the company was poised to demolish sales records in 1955. In addition, Mercury led its price class in resale value.

 

A total of 259,305 Mercurys were produced for 1954 and the brand had fallen back to seventh spot, having been overtaken by Oldsmobile. This was 15% less than 1953, but an 8-week strike at a major plant had curtailed production by about 17,000 cars.

1954 Monterey convertible

1954 Monterey convertible

 

Unveiled on December 10, 1953, the 1954 Mercury certainly bore more than a passing family resemblance to its immediate predecessors, but its looks had been freshened and modernized.

The front end featured a contemporary massive grille and bumper assembly set off by two “Dagmar” bumper guards, (as an aside you may often read of automotive styling touches nicknamed “Dagmars”.

1954 Monterey Station Wagon

1954 Monterey Station Wagon

The reference is to bullet shaped bumper guards christened after a contemporary actress named Dagmar, – she was known by one name, like Dion or Liberace or Mantovani – and was a frequent guest on several early 50’s TV variety shows.

She possessed certain prominent architectural assets of which she was obviously and rightly very proud). Wrap around parking lamps were also new.

 

A faux air scoop is molded into the hood, with its leading edge heavily encased in a chrome highlight centred by a rocket-like ornament.

1954 Mercury Monterey Sport Coupe

1954 Mercury Monterey Sport Coupe

The hood fascia carries a large single piece molding incorporating a badge and nameplate. Red-centred wheel covers were also new this year.

A chrome spear runs the length of the side emphasizing a longer, lower silhouette. Three shorter spears accent a slight bulge where the rear fenders would be. The rear end treatment showcases a wrap around bumper with large wrap around taillights in replacement of the rather small and much less prominent ones of prior years and those of competing makes. The bumper is stamped with “Mercury” in script.

1954 Mercury Monterey Sport Coupe

1954 Mercury Monterey Sport Coupe

.

 

In addition to new styling, the year also saw a number of technical innovations putting Mercury on a par with Lincoln. Most prominent among these was a suspension improvement pioneered by Earle S. MacPherson who originally had come to Ford via their British subsidiary. He invented the famous MacPherson strut for smaller European cars which was then adapted to their larger, heavier American counterpart.

1954 Mercury Sun Valley

1954 Mercury Sun Valley

The king-pin arrangement revolutionized front end suspension and consisted of wheel spindles held in place by upper and lower A-arms, which were in turn joined by a single coil spring with a hydraulic shock absorber in its centre. Steering control, stability, ruggedness and ride were all vastly improved over the king-pin setup that had been the norm for many years. A massive new hood lock support reduced front end vibration to nil, and an additional steering column support greatly diminished road vibration up through the steering wheel.

1954 Monterey Station Wagon

1954 Monterey Station Wagon

 

New this year as well was Mercury’s first overhead valve V8, replacing the now antiquated flathead which had been in service since 1939. This engine had been under development and testing since 1948, so it was well ready for its timely introduction. While the 1953 flathead displaced 255 cubic inches, advertised horsepower was 125 at 3,800 rpm.

1954 Mercury 256 cid

1954 Mercury 256 cid

In contrast the 1954 overhead valve engine displaced 256 cubic inches, but put out 161 horsepower! Initial development objectives included reduction of internal friction and weight, so that less power was wasted in moving the engine’s various parts. Use of new alloys and forging methods accomplished the weight reduction part of the equation, while new and more efficient methods of providing lubrication to moving parts reduced friction. The engine’s shorter stroke also contributes to reduced inherent resistance.

1954 Mercury Wheel Cover

1954 Mercury Wheel Cover

The result was more power from the same cubic inch displacement. A further innovative plus was the interchangeability of some engine parts with Ford and Lincoln.

1954 Mercury Monterey Sport Coupe

1954 Mercury Monterey Sport Coupe

Carburetion was redesigned and the first 4-barrel carburetor introduced. Two barrels were in constant use, while the other two kicked in to provide extra help when the engine came under load such as in sudden acceleration. The carburetor was also positioned up away from the manifold so that the common Ford “vapor lock” problem was resolved. Gasoline was kept cooler and in liquid form until the carburetor was ready for it.

1954 Mercury door panel

1954 Mercury door panel

 

The cylinder shape was redesigned to allow more thorough “mixing” of air and gasoline just prior to ignition, and thus provide a little extra oomph during the power part of the cycle. Additionally a higher capacity fuel pump was mounted lower on the engine to permit easier sipping from the fuel tank. Other technical design innovations included a new starter fail safe that stopped its operation once the engine caught, a low cut-in generator, (the low cut in nature of the generator means that it will produce 40 amps at a lower RPM so that cars with extra lights and power needs at idle will have the power needed),

1954 Mercury Monterey

1954 Mercury Monterey

heat shielded spark plug wires, a larger cooling system powered by a higher adequacy water pump improved thermal efficiency, the latter accompanying a larger four-bladed fan and an oil bath air cleaner. Enlarged exhaust manifolds and tail pipes improved combustion gas removal, reduced back pressure and made for a much sexier rumble.

1954 Monterey 4-dr sedan

1954 Monterey 4-dr sedan

 

Most of these technical improvements were ready to go for Ford’s 50th anniversary model year, but government war-time production and raw material restrictions had not yet been lifted, so they were delayed until 1954. Some of these innovations had already been introduced on 1952 Lincolns where durability and practicality had been proven by Lincoln’s first place finishes in the Carrera Panamericana road races of 1952 , 1953 and 1954.1954 Sun Valley This race, considered the world’s most dangerous during its 5-year run from 1950 to 54, was from border to border in Mexico. In the 1952 race a vulture shattered the windscreen of a Mercedes SL and knocked the navigator unconscious. The bird was said to weigh as much as “five fattened geese”.

1954 Mercury Monterey Station Wagon

1954 Mercury Monterey Station Wagon

1954 Monterey Sun Valley

1954 Monterey Sun Valley

 

The new more powerful engine could be mated with a choice of two transmissions. The base offering was a three speed standard which could be combined with Touch-o-Matic overdrive for an additional $89. The Merc-o-Matic automatic had been introduced in 1951, but proved no match for 1954’s stronger engine. Accordingly the former “FX” Merc-o-Matic was beefed up and designated the “MX”.

1954 Monterey Sun Valley

1954 Monterey Sun Valley

A significantly larger proportion of cars were delivered with automatics than in previous years even with the $190 additional price tag, while the overdrive was waning in popularity despite its proven gas saving attributes. Although the public said they were interested in economy, their cheque-books sang a different tune. I’m a bit mystified by this, as a power-hungry public must surely have realized the overdrive would deliver a higher top speed, along with attendant bragging rights. Final drive ratio for overdrive was 0.7 to 1.

1954 Sun Valley interior

1954 Sun Valley interior

 

Introduced in 1953, power steering and brakes were also increasing in popularity. Other optional equipment included 4-way power seats, electric windows and curb buffers. In addition, one could order at extra cost, a remote control outside mirror, (incorporating a spotlight if you wished), door edge guards, safety door locks, a tissue dispenser and arctic wiper blades. Other items listed as options were full wheel covers and bumper guards, but nobody’s ever seen a car equipped without them. Stainless rocker panel moldings were extra-cost possibilities on the Monterey.

Sun Valley

Sun Valley

Rear fender skirts were standard on Monterey only, (including station wagons), optional on other models.

 

Although all models were technically members of the Custom series, the price leading base Custom series consisted of 2- and 4-door sedans and a 2-door “Sport Coupe” hardtop. All are identified by stainless “Mercury” script above the chrome spear on the rear fenders.

1954 Monterey Sun Valley

1954 Monterey Sun Valley

All came equipped with a pleasant woven plastic seat insert in a vertical ladder pattern. Next up the line is the “Monterey” which was offered as a 4-door sedan, a 2-door “Custom Sport Coupe” hardtop, a convertible, a faux wood-trimmed station wagon and the talk of the automotive year, the Sun Valley 2-door hardtop. The Monterey Sport Coupe was Mercury’s most popular offering for 1954. The Monterey series was identified by the name in script on the rear fenders, while in addition, the Sun Valley had its designation in gold-colored script on the front fenders.

1954 Monterey Sport Coupe

1954 Monterey Sport Coupe

The Monterey also had a chrome encased “Mercury head” medallion near the front on the side spear. The Monterey sedan was the year’s second best selling model and carried a Mercury-head badge on the C-Pillar.

1954 Mercury Custom 2-dr Sedan

1954 Mercury Custom 2-dr Sedan

 

The Sun Valley was truly revolutionary, (as well as its Ford equivalent, the Skyliner). The front half of the roof consisted of a specially developed, see-through, green-tinted, half-inch thick, space-age plastic panel, fixed in place, mounted flush and trimmed with stainless. Predating the moonroof by two decades the model had a second chrome molding starting at the windshield header and following the drip rail around to the C-Pillar.

1954 Monterey

1954 Monterey

You could relax in the front seat and enjoy an outdoorsy feel from inside a coupe. Mercury’s own tests of the cabin temperature of a Sun Valley versus an ordinary Monterey hardtop indicated a 5 degree Fahrenheit temperature difference – which is actually quite a lot when you think about it.

1954 Custom Sport Coupe

1954 Custom Sport Coupe

In any case if all that sunlight or lack of privacy proved too much for your sensibilities, you had a zip-in reflective liner you could use. The Sun Valley might have been a trifle gimmicky, but it certainly generated lots of buzz, and this was probably its primary purpose anyway. You couldn’t get much more space age than the Sun Valley and advertising copy emphasized this aspect. Unsurprisingly total sales amounted to only 9,761 units – but try and find one today!

1954 Monterey Sun Valley

1954 Monterey Sun Valley

 

By 1954 the buying public was looking for something bold in the way of exterior colors that made a statement about the owner’s adventurous taste and sophistication. Gone were the days when Henry Ford said you could have any color as long as it’s black.

1954 Custom interior

1954 Custom interior

Mercury offered 14 discrete solid or metallic colors which could be had solely or combined into a total of 22 two-toned offerings. Only certain colors were available for the Sun Valley, as the thinking was not everything would look good with the green tinted plexiglass – most cars I’ve seen had a dark (Glenoaks) green roof and (Yosemite) yellow body with a similarly hued interior.

1954 Mercury interior

1954 Mercury interior

 

Continuing a trend started in late 1953, actual wood trim and paneling were no longer used on the Monterey station wagon. The real thing was proving very expensive to engineer and install, making the wagons the costliest model offered. Additionally, it represented a significant investment in time and effort by the owner to keep the wood properly maintained and reconditioned.

1954 Monterey Sport Coupe

1954 Monterey Sport Coupe

Frame rails were now fashioned from fiberglass and finished to resemble blonde maple, with the paneling consisting of a look-alike mahogany plastic sheet. The Monterey script was carried low on the rear fenders, below the stainless spear and in front of the wheel openings.

1954 Sun Valley

1954 Sun Valley

 

 

Several different and tasteful interior options were available, with the emphasis on striking audacity moderated by the bounds of cultivated refinement. Interior changes included a new hooded, flush mounted instrument panel and two-spoke steering wheel with a Mercury head and red centre, plus more sumptuous appointments. Base level models featured a black steering wheel, while Monterey’s were white.

1954 Monterey interior

1954 Monterey interior

The push button starter was replaced with a key operated unit. Heater controls were modernized while the rest of the dash was carried over from 1953. Public tastes were changing. While we wanted to appear adventurous we didn’t want to seem at all low-brow or out of the fashion loop.

1954 Monterey Station Wagon

1954 Monterey Station Wagon

Up to this point it was not all that unusual to see color combinations that would later be considered somewhat weird and unsightly, especially on the sportier body styles. For example a blue car with a red and white interior or similar, was certainly not impossible to find.

The number and variety of interior offerings was truly staggering. The Monterey sedan presented a choice of six color options in nylon, vinyl or broadcloth weaves. The Monterey Special Custom Coupe and Sun Valley made available vinyl, leather and broadcloth weaves in 15 distinctive colors for the former and 6 for the latter. Station wagons displayed carpeted floor for the first time this year, along with two-tone combinations of white with either red or turquoise. The Monterey Special Custom convertible was available in 13 different combinations of vinyl, leather and basket weave in six color possibilities. 

You could order black with red or bittersweet, or ivory with red, bittersweet, turquoise or blue. Each model featured distinguishing patterns. Convertible roofs came in black, tan or green. Interior designers could not afford to ignore the tides of style, and Mercury was certainly in the vanguard of chic.

 

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1955 Mercury – Brilliantly Engineered in Three Great Series

North America continued to enjoy the post-war economic glow and everyone seemed to have caught the optimism bug. Although it cost an unheard of $17 million, Disneyland seemed like a miracle when it opened in Anaheim in 1955.

Disneyland 1955

I can remember thinking I had as much chance of seeing it as visiting the far side of the moon. I was 8 years old at the time and my travel experiences revolved around four kids plus two adults  piling into my dad’s 1953 Vauxhall every summer to visit my grandparents 650 miles away. It seemed like Moses crossing the Sinai. No air conditioning in those days, and somebody was always car sick. Highways were often dusty gravel, so open windows were not permitted – the roads plus the heat and cigarette smoke seemed designed to provoke maximum nausea. The highlight of any day was waiting to see if that night’s motel had a swimming pool or one of those TV’s you stuck a quarter into to get an hour’s worth of mediocre reception. My dad seemed to think foregoing these modern luxuries was character building, because given the choice of a motel with or without a TV he’d invariably choose the latter. One way, it took about 5 days to complete the journey.

1953 Vauxhall

 

My grandmother bought me a Disneyland tour book with plastic covered paper punch out phonograph records on one of these trips. I was ecstatic and could hardly wait to try them out, but my dad said they’d wreck his record player so that was that.

 

Disney was active in other spheres as well – Davy Crockett was everywhere – TV, Hit Parade, books, movies, clothing. A coonskin cap was the essential fashion accessory. The Mickey Mouse Club continued to be the club every kid wanted to join and Annette was the girl everyone had a crush on.

1955 Mercury Montclair

“Gunsmoke”, “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”, The Honeymooners”, “The Lawrence Welk Show”, and the scandal ridden “$64,000 Question” all debuted on TV this year.

Honeymooners

 

While there continued to be several “charts” tracking hit songs, and all purporting to be the definitive authority, they all eventually devolved into Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1958. Up until 1955 these industry statistician’s followed white artists almost exclusively. Black musicians and singers had their own chart, “Top R&B Singles”, as well as radio stations that catered to a black audience. Respectable white kids did not admit to their parents listening to these stations , but many of course did, on the sly.

1955 Mercury Montclair

What came to be known as Rock ‘n’ Roll had its roots in Rhythm & Blues, and in 1955 R&B hits first started to cross over to the white charts. This new sound, (at least new to white mainstream ears), collided head on with the “crooners” who had dominated the pop scene to this point, and appealed directly to a rebellious younger demographic. The Hot 100 was still monopolized by white singers offering antiseptic lullabies – Nat King Cole was the highest ranked black artist, bringing in “A Blossom Fell” at number 20 – but Nat King Cole was still pretty syrupy mainstream and certainly not rock ‘n’ roll.

1955 Mercury Montclair

 

Another interesting phenomenon was starting to become widespread. Everyone acknowledged the raw, sweaty magnetism of R&B music, so as soon as a good raunchy song appeared on the black charts, a white artist would clean it up, cover it and turn it into a hit. Pat Boone was by far the biggest benefactor of this nefarious activity. He took Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame” to number 12 for the year, while the Fat Man’s version came in at 75.

Fats Domino

There are several other examples. Unfortunately, the mass audience had little idea where these sanitized hits came from. Only the few who listened to radio shows like Allan Freed’s on WJW Cleveland (850 AM) knew the truth. Under the alias “Moondog” he spun R&B exclusively.

 

Many white artists also covered each other’s songs so it was not uncommon to see several versions of the same song all charting, and playing on the radio, together – “Ballad of Davy Crockett” is a good example – there were three renditions on the Hot 100 in the spring of 1955.

Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier

 

The number 1 song for the year was “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” by Cuban band leader, Perez Prado who owed his eminence to the contemporary mambo craze. The top rock and roll song was “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets at number 3, while the highest charted rock offering by a black artist was Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene”, coming in at number 40. Chuck Berry was probably the single artist most responsible for making R&B respectable and opening the door to conventional gentility for black music.

Chuck Berry

 

Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” was the theme song for the movie “Blackboard Jungle”, a story about “juvenile delinquents” and other disaffected youth – a hot topic in the day. Parents were mightily concerned their offspring were turning into unmanageable rebels and blamed it all on the influence of rock & roll, which was in turn influenced by rhythm and blues which was itself directed by some secretive satanic force – perhaps communism even! Not to worry – a new and powerful parental ally appeared on the scene to dispense supportive advice and sage counsel – Ann Landers launched her syndicated column in the Chicago Sun-Times. If you haven’t seen the movie “Pleasantville”, you should – it’s a great metaphor for how North American society came of age in the mid 50’s. In my humble view, 1955 offered one of rock’s most legendary songs to posterity, which was also one of the best examples of white singers appropriating a song from black artists and making it a bigger hit. The Penguins “Earth Angel” released in October, 1954, peaked at #8 on Billboard in February, 1955, and ended the year as the #65 song. The Crew-Cuts version of “Earth Angel” also peaked in February, but at #5, (#29 for the year). Another white rendition of “Earth Angel” was released in November, 1954, by Gloria Mann, which ended 1955 at #143. The Penguins song spent many weeks at #1 on the R&B charts, but what’s really remarkable is that it cracked Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1955.

Blackboard Jungle

 

Meanwhile over at Ford, 1955 saw Mercury’s third major restyling since the introduction of the 1949 cars, (maybe fourth depending on whether you think 1954 was an evolution of the 1952-53 design). This year also represented a giant step forward toward the styling philosophy prevalent in the mid to late 50’s.

1955 Mercury Montclair

 

Ostentation seemed to be the watchword. Everywhere you looked you saw “excess”, and we loved it. People ogle behemoths from this era at car shows today, and marvel at their beauty and individuality – how you can actually tell one make and model year from another. The comment, “… they sure don’t make cars like they used to …” is frequently heard. That’s true and is probably a good thing. With the common human propensity to view the past through rose-colored glasses, we forget cars from this era were on their best behavior only when going in a straight line on a smooth road. We forget 15 miles per gallon was considered good mileage.

1955 Mercury Montclair

 

This state of affairs wasn’t entirely the fault of the automobile manufacturers. The North American car buying public demanded newer, more dramatic styling concepts with each succeeding year – strains on designers were palpable – almost to the point where good taste became irrelevant – more, gaudier and bigger substituted for innovation. Although we eagerly crowded automotive showrooms, breathlessly awaiting the arrival of each year’s new cars, the industry was leaving itself open to a charge of planned obsolescence. Sure enough, in February, 1959 the US Department of Justice opened an investigation into General Motors’ apparent manipulation of the public taste to its own financial benefit.

1955 Mercury Montclair Sun Valley

Consumers Report was ecstatic – as custodian of the public well-being they wouldn’t rest until we were all wearing tweed sports jackets, smoking pipes, (yes, that was acceptable), voting Democrat and driving Ramblers.

 

But my prejudices and personal inclinations are showing – I obviously love every compound curve, the massive grilles and larger than life bumpers, every acre of glass, inch of height in the fins and ounce of chrome – especially the chrome.

1955 Mercury Montclair

Glitz got started rather tastefully in 1954 and hit its zenith in 1959 or 60 depending on the make. Although some diehards carried on another year, (Chrysler, Imperial, Cadillac), this fulsome festival of exorbitant exuberance ended suddenly in 1960. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

1955 Mercury Montclair

 

Since assuming stewardship of Ford Motor Company in 1945, Henry Ford II had been fascinated with the General Motors’ business model and had been busily, but so far unsuccessfully, trying to remake Ford in that image. The idea was to introduce and foster “division versus division” competition between Ford and GM. To that end, several former GM executives had been brought on board together with a number of modern finance and logistics experts.

1955 Mercury Monterey

These newcomers were busily and informally organizing themselves into two disparate and conflicting camps. One group included Robert S. McNamara who would eventually go on to become Secretary of Defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. This tightly knit cadre, christened the “Whiz Kids”, had served in the US military together during World War II as experts in the emerging science of systems strategies. Their main goal at Ford was to reconstruct its tumultuous and erratic administrative structure. Existing Ford number two man,

1955 Mercury Montclair

Executive Vice President Ernest R. Breech, formed a tight bond with McNamara almost immediately and took the whole group under his auspices. They cared little for automotive design, engineering and technological niceties, except in relation to how these factors affected their ultimate objective of producing a saleable automobile as economically and efficiently as possible.

1955 Mercury dash

 

The second group preferred to concentrate on cutting edge styling and design concepts, and turning them into real life products. They were led by the Ford Division head, Lewis D. Crusoe, a former GM executive, and Francis “Jack” Reith, one of the original “Whiz Kids”. It was inevitable the two groups would clash – the first confrontation brewed over the venerable Ford V8 engine.

1955 Mercury Montclair

 

Breech, encouraged by McNamara, became possessed of the idea production costs could be reduced without any sacrifice in sales if the V8’s in Ford cars were replaced with in-line Sixes, a la Chevrolet. After all, Chevrolet consistently outsold Ford, and savings in the range of $100 per car could be anticipated. Both Crusoe and Reith were horrified. They went to work on Breech, citing Ford’s long tradition with the V8 and their belief customers would happily pay the extra $100. A short reprieve was granted to allow them to back up their case. Studies showed the actual incremental cost of a V8 turned out to be $16. The V8 stayed and Reith was hailed as a conquering hero.

1955 Mercury Monterey

 

Damn good thing too – Chevrolet introduced a V8 in 1955 and the public went crazy – imagine what would have happened if Ford had gone to 6 cylinders at exactly the same time. The automotive press gushed over the 1955 Chevrolet, proclaiming it would be the most popular car of the year. Sure enough … it was … you can’t swing a blown gasket at today’s vintage show and shines without hitting a ’55 Chev. That’s a bit unfortunate as the Merc handily beat it in looks and horsepower, the very characteristics the public seemingly wanted.

1955 Mercury Montclair

 

Reith was promptly bundled off to France to rescue Ford’s ailing operation there, a task he again successfully completed. His stock was riding very high indeed.

 

Upon his return, Reith set about his next project. Together with Crusoe he proposed a redesign of Ford’s corporate architecture which would see each make become a separate Division – in other words five separate automobile divisions, each with considerable autonomy. Since this was a step along the road to emulating General Motors, Henry Ford II was delighted and gave the green light.

1955 Mercury Monterey

Messrs Breech and McNamara were more skeptical, although both received promotions under the new plan.

 

The new Division heads were given the title “Vice-President and General Manager’, and McNamara received Ford, including passenger cars, trucks and commercial vehicles. Jack Reith got Mercury and Lewis Crusoe was named Executive Vice-President with only Breech and Henry Ford II above him. The other Divisions were Lincoln, Continental Mark II, (which at this time was still under development), and “Special Products” which evolved into Edsel.

1955 Mercury Monterey door panel

 

Reith’s first order of business was to promote the Mercury as a totally new automobile.

 

Mercury’s offerings for 1955 were longer, lower, wider and more powerful. They came in a profusion of new colors and models to delight the eye and arouse envy in the neighbors.

1955 Mercury Montclair

 

The entry level Mercury was the Custom which came in four body types: 2-door sedan, 4-door sedan, 2-door hardtop and 4-door station wagon. The Custom wagon was the first Mercury with an all-steel body not adorned with wood trim, not even the faux wood paneling gracing more senior wagons. The next level up was the Monterey offering a 2-door hardtop, 4-door sedan and 4-door, 8-passenger station wagon, which did indeed sport imitation wood trim.

1955 Mercury Monterey

Top of the line was held by the Montclair and consisted of a 2-door hardtop, convertible and the plexiglas-roofed Sun Valley 2-door hardtop.

 

Power was provided by one of two versions of the “Super-Torque” 292 cid V8. To equip your car with the stronger 195 horsepower engine you first had to order the Merc-o-Matic automatic transmission. This engine then became standard on the Montclair and optional at extra cost on Custom and Monterey.

1955 Mercury Monterey

Otherwise, you received the 185 horsepower motor mated to a standard or overdrive transmission. This powerplant was base for Custom and Monterey. The difference between the two engines was solely compression ratios, (8.5 and 7.6 respectively).

 

A new transmission feature this year was the ability to start in “Low” even though the selector was in “Drive” – you did this of course, by flooring the accelerator at which point the automatic would kick down one gear. Some 87% of total Mercury production for the year opted for the automatic transmission.

1955 Mercury Montclair door panel

 

Fuel mileage was better in 1955 too, due to a higher, (lower numerically), rear end ratio. This also allowed for a higher top speed – performance remained unaffected because engines were more powerful and the transmission more efficient in torque multiplication.

1955 Mercury Montclair

 

Cars were all mounted on a 119 inch wheelbase, while station wagons sat on a 118 inch wheelbase. Total length was 206.3 inches and 201.8 inches respectively. Custom and Monterey are 61.2 inches high, while the Montclair slinks in at 58.6 inches. Interestingly, station wagon sheet metal from the windshield back was shared with Ford, but was shrewdly disguised with a few deft styling touches.

1955 Mercury Montclair

 

The grille and bumper were one massive integrated unit. The bumper portion was fairly conventional and wrapped around to the front wheel well. A pronounced chrome bar sat parallel to, and above it, protruding slightly, and serrated on top. This cross bar sat on three equally spaced, vertical chrome supports between it and the bumper, and connected to both. This chrome bar also wrapped around both ends, joining the bumper in front of the wheel wells. Two large “Dagmar” style bumper guards sat outboard of the vertical supports. Heavily hooded headlights were placed in the front fenders above the grille and bullet-shaped bumper guards. MERCURY was spelled out in individual chrome letters across the hood fascia, just below a chrome-bordered plastic insignia in the centre. The chrome hood ornament shaped like a futuristic jet was placed above this emblem.

1955 Mercury Montclair

The hood lip was decorated with a single narrow chrome molding, which visually continued across the front of the car, around the front fenders and down the side, reaching almost to the back of the front door. The rear quarters are home to a stylized bulge, (a nod to rear fenders of previous years), starting just behind the front doors and extending back to cover the rear fenders. This bulge is shaped to give the impression of speed – its lower leading edge in front of the wheel wells is capped by a forward canted chrome accent. In the Custom series a chrome spear starts behind the front door and runs almost the full length of the rear fenders, ending just in front of the taillights – the front point is capped by a stylized, ribbed chrome flare which also partially covers and accentuates the leading edge of the outcurved rear fenders. This chrome strip is level with the spear on the front fenders.

1955 Mercury

 

The Monterey displays a larger chrome flare capping the leading edge of the bulge, and the rear fender spear is offset lower on the car’s side. The front fender carries a chrome surrounded plastic medallion above the stainless strip and directly above the wheel’s leading edge. The Montclair is the same as the Monterey except it has “saddle” trim in which a wide “U-shaped” chrome accent surrounds and outlines a narrow channel of sheet metal directly under the side windows – usually painted the same color as the roof.

1955 Mercury Monterey

In addition, the Montclair’s rocker panels are encased in a chrome panel. Montclair and Monterey display the model name in chrome script on the front fenders immediately behind the side medallion. The Custom script just says “Mercury”. Sun Valley displays its name in chrome script on the rear fenders.

1955 Mercury Montclair

 

The Merc’s rear end features chrome encircled oblong shaped taillights with the edges recessed – back up lights reside in the bottom quarter of each taillight. A large chrome circle shot horizontally through the middle with a stainless spear surrounds a smaller plastic medallion in the centre of the trunk lid. Two tallish bumper guards are mounted outboard on the rear bumper with chrome tubular extensions running through the middle of each guard, around the side, parallel to the bumper, then down to meet it on both sides. MERCURY is imprinted in black block letters in the middle of the bumper.

1955 Mercury Montclair Sun Valley

 

The two station wagons are identical to the passenger cars up to the windshield but do not share the rear quarter bulge at all, nor any of the other styling accoutrements mentioned above. The Custom displays an elongated U-shaped chrome molding laying on its side, with the bottom of the “U’ pointing to the front and raked forward, highlighted with a chrome flash and a plastic emblem. “Mercury” is spelled in script between the arms of the “U”.

1955 Mercury Monterey

 

The roof and all windows are outlined in stainless accents, except below the side windows on coupes, the B-pillars on sedans and B,C and D pillars on station wagons – these are painted the body color on sedans. Custom wagons are painted a contrasting color and Monterey wagons feature faux maple trim made out of fibreglass. The Monterey station wagon carries all the specialized chrome trim mentioned for the Custom wagon, but in addition enhances the look with imitation mahogany paneling trimmed in maple on the sides and the tail gate. Wagon taillights are smaller versions of the oblong shape, designed to fit a Ford opening. This apparently was a bonanza for customizers of the era as the Mercury wagon taillights fit a Ford or a Thunderbird with minimal fuss.

1955 Mercury Montclair

 

 

Rooflines throughout the lineup certainly bear a family resemblance but are subtly different. A-pillars and vent window frames are vertical to accommodate the wrap-around windshield. C-pillars are ribbed chrome forward slanting posts with the Monterey adding a medallion. The Montclair C-pillar is thinner and the rear windshield larger. The roof definitely has a ‘chopped” look and the stock, (for Montclair and Monterey, optional for Custom), fender skirts add a “don’t mess with me” attitude.

1955 Mercury Montclair

 

The new Merc certainly had some interesting styling quirks that don’t particularly complement one another, but they somehow come together in a unified whole as a gorgeous car. I think it’s the sleek roofline and fender skirts that do the trick. Interestingly, Mercury did not carry a 4-door hardtop for 1955, but in February introduced a Montclair 4-door sedan

1955 Mercury Montclair Sun Valley

in an effort to counter new 4-door hardtops from Buick and Oldsmobile. Motor Trend magazine described the new Montclair as the best looking sedan in America.

 

This year saw the introduction of several stylish pastels to make a total of 18 exterior colors available. These could be put together in 34 combinations if you wanted a two-tone effect. This meant the roof, (and Montclair saddle trim), were one color and the body another.

1955 Mercury Montclair

 

This year’s instrument panel is V-shaped, with gauges contained within three semi-circular concentric arcs. The top one holds the generator, fuel, oil and temperature gauges, the middle holds the 120 mph speedometer, and the bottom one the odometer. The rest of the dash houses the heater controls, radio, clock and glove compartment.

 

Mercury’s interiors were colorful, startling, unconventional and perhaps not to everyone’s taste, (although sales figures for the year would seem to contradict an absence of popularity). Montclair’s seat inserts were trapezoidal shaped and woven of either chromatex or tapestry weave nylon. The former had silver thread running through it. Bolsters were of white or yellow vinyl depending on the insert color.

1955 Mercury Monterey

Top and bottom of the seat and back cushions were horizontally pleated vinyl in a color matching the seat insert. Floors were covered in deep pile carpeting. Door sills were painted the same color as the seat inserts while a wide ribbed chrome panel separated the sill from the rest of the door. Lower door panels featured contrasting vinyl applications matching the two vinyl seat colors. The rear seat featured a pull down armrest in the middle of the seat back which folded into a recess when not in use. A decorative chrome plate sits above this recess and houses a Mercury head which lights up in relief, as a courtesy light -just one of the many little novel gimcracks to delight the eye.

1955 Mercury Montclair

The Monterey wagon carried basic Montclair interior design except for the chrome panel.

 

Monterey seats were upholstered in a designer weave nylon with the upper portion of the seat backs carrying vertically pleated vinyl in a complementary color and highlighted with silver piping. Door panels were much like the Montclair except the chrome molding was replaced with vinyl and lower portions of the door were covered in horizontally pleated contrasting vinyl.

1955 Mercury Monterey Station Wagon interior

 

As we move down the line, interiors become more conventional and less flamboyant. Your Custom upholstery was of a chevron nylon weave and plain vinyl in the same configuration as Monterey – colors available were grey, blue or green.

1955 Mercury dash

 

Tubeless tires were introduced to the industry this year, representing a significant engineering advance. These were billed as “anti-squeal” tires. I’m not sure that was a good idea as half the fun of commanding all that power was lighting up your tires at a red light or in front of your girl friend’s house and blowing gravel all over her dad’s lawn. Passenger cars mounted 7.10×15 tires while convertibles and wagons used 7.60×15, (in today’s lexicon this would translate as 265/50R15 and 275/50R15 respectively).

292 V8

Blackwalls were standard but anybody with any pride at all would pop for the extra cost whitewalls. Wheels were usually painted red to highlight hubcap centres of the same color. Hubcaps were basically carryovers from 1954 with a few minor modifications.

 

A host of other additional cost options were offered to enhance the lucky new owner’s motoring pleasure and excite envy among the neighbors. These included sea-tint windows, full-disc hubcaps, chrome curb buffers (those flashes in front of the rear wheel wells), rear fender shields (skirts),

1955 Mercury Montclair

“sport” spare tire carrier, spot lights, power steering and brakes, 4-way power seat, electric window lifts, push-button automatic lubrication system and dual exhaust, (standard on Montclair). Single exhaust systems tried to retain the advantages of dual exhaust by using two exhaust manifolds with the two tailpipes forming a “Y” behind the engine, rather than the usual cross-over pipe connecting the two manifolds. This helped eliminate a lot of back pressure and made the engines more efficient. Other extra cost options included a special steering wheel finished in white and chrome, an exterior visor over the windshield and road lamps housed in the front bumper.

1955 Mercury Montclair Sun Valley

 

Mercury was able to offer factory installed air conditioning this year, for the first time, albeit a fairly primitive version. The compressor and collector resided under the hood, while the fan, evaporator and cooler were found in the trunk. Extra air intakes were mounted on the body just below the C-pillar. Air conditioning was available as an option across the whole line-up.

1955 Mercury Montclair interior

 

Despite a precipitous industry-wide rise in prices during the first few months following introduction of 1955’s new cars, the sector enjoyed its best sales year post-war, and Mercury was no exception. Although less than half the General Motors tally, Ford Motor Company sold 1,808K automobiles of which Mercury comprised 329,808, placing it seventh for the year. The most popular model was Monterey at 151,453 units followed by Montclair with sales of 104,667 cars and Custom selling 73,688. The most popular single model was the Montclair 2-door hardtop followed by the Monterey sedan and hardtop respectively.

1955 Mercury Montclair

 

Jack Reith and company were very pleased with the Big M’s sales performance in 1955, and looked forward eagerly to the following years. And why not? Records had been set, the public seemed to like the product and the automotive press almost universally waxed effusive about all its aspects from styling to engineering. All hoped this level of quality and acceptance could be maintained

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