’63 Mercury

1963 was described by CBS as “ … the year everything happened”. That’s quite true, but what overshadowed all else was the fateful and heartbreaking assassination of the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, in the early afternoon of Friday, November 22, 1963, as his motorcade passed through Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas.cropped-jfk-assassination He was shot by a solitary gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, hidden in the Texas Schoolbook Depository building overlooking the Plaza. Oswald was certainly an unsavory character with Communist leanings who made a bid to defect to the U.S.S.R. and had married a Russian woman during the attempt. Undoubtedly, there was something psychologically amiss.

Oswald also murdered a Dallas Police Officer, J.D. Tippitt, who had tried to question him after the shooting and while he was still on the loose. He didn’t evade capture for long, and was arrested later that afternoon. Two days subsequent, Oswald was in turn shot and killed by Jack Ruby as the former was being moved from Dallas Police Headquarters to the County Jail. For his part, Ruby had managed two night clubs in Dallas and was overall a fairly disreputable sort.Lee Harvey Oswald

JFK’s Vice-President and Texas native, Lyndon B. Johnson assumed the Presidency and was sworn in aboard Air Force One only two hours after the shooting, with Kennedy’s widow, Jackie, watching.

As a result of rumors and suppositions swirling around the world, President Johnson appointed a blue-ribbon committee, the Warren Commission, to investigate and report on all matters encompassing the assassination. They eventually advised both Oswald and Ruby acted alone.

There were, (and still are), several conspiracy theories surrounding JFK’s death, a few plausible, most utterly fantastic._71296609_bobjackson-oswald

Some believe the CIA was responsible as retribution for internal changes proposed following  the Bay of Pigs disaster. The Mafia was implicated because of Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s, (JFK’s brother) pressure on them at the time. The KGB, Soviet Union and Fidel Castro were embarrassed and angry over the 1962 Cuban Missile crisis and thus had an excuse to want JFK gone, so they too fell under suspicion. Actually Castro was angrier with Khrushchev than JFK because the Soviet Premier had forbidden Castro to unleash several Cuban-based tactical nuclear weapons U.S. surveillance had missed. LBJ was thought suspect in the belief he was making a power play.Fidel Castro lighting a cigar and wearing two Rolex watches during a meeting with Khrushchev, Kremlin, 1963

One has to be a committed conspiracy theorist and able to suspend disbelief to have these arguments make  any sense. None of the theories are particularly convincing, nonetheless several books, movies and documentaries have been produced on both sides of the argument. I am certainly not an expert nor even a student of the whole episode, but one aspect I’ve always found curious was how Oswald managed to pull off such precisely lethal shots from a fair distance, aimed at a moving target and using a notoriously inaccurate rifle, the Italian-made Mannlicher-Carcano.

Do you remember where you were when you heard the news? I do. I was in Grade XI – our teacher announced it to us. I was absolutely stricken and I wish I could say my classmates were too – but some didn’t even know who he was. I wondered whether this meant nuclear war.Former-Nixon-Aide-Claims-Lyndon-B.-Johnson-Arranged-JFKs-Assassination There had been interminable sabre-rattling for several years leading up to the tragedy, and if the USSR was incriminated I didn’t see how the U.S.A. could just let it pass. Had Khrushchev finally over-played his hand? There was lots of speculation but of course nobody knew.

An ordinary citizen, a spectator named Abraham Zapruder was thrust into the spotlight by being right at the scene and filming the whole thing with his home movie camera – you can still find it on You-Tube. Even today the film makes me heartsick so I can’t look at it any more.History_Speeches_1112_Lyndon_Johnson_Fate_Civil_Rights_Workers_still_624x352

Despite subsequent revelations about his Presidency and personal life, Kennedy is rightfully held in great reverence not just by Americans, but much of mankind.

By October, 1964 Khrushchev had been forced from his post as Premier of the USSR by ambitious rivals, while Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were both felled by assassin’s bullets in 1968; Bobby in June while campaigning in Los Angeles for the Democratic Presidential nomination and King in April in Memphis just before making a speech.

president-lyndon-johnson-martin-luther-kingIn April, 1963 Reverend King delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech in Washington, D.C. at the Lincoln Memorial during the Civil Rights Movements March on Washington. It gave the movement momentum and credibility at a critical moment.

Pope John XXIII who had lobbied not only for peace and nuclear disarmament during his reign, and had also sought to help negotiate a nonviolent resolution to 1962’s Cuban Missile Crisis, died on June 6, 1963. He was succeeded by Pope Paul VI.

The Beatles as a phenomenon broke upon North American shores in February, 1964 and so commenced Beatlemania. They did not chart in the U.S. until January, 1964, with their first hit single being “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, followed quickly by several others. All these songs had already been released between 1961 and 1963 in the U.K. and Europe, but were still new to North American ears.beatles.london.1963

American singer, Doris Troy, was signed to the Beatles’ Apple label in 1969 where she collaborated with George Harrison, but her biggest hit had come in 1963, (Just One Look).

Prior to 1958 when Elvis was inducted into the Army, rock had a raw, gutsy, rebellious feel and sound that teens loved and parents abhorred. RCA had braced themselves well for his two-year absence with a collection of unreleased material they slowly issued over that time, resulting in ten top 40 singles. Other than a few rockin’ songs, the old raunchy Elvis had retired and been replaced by a balladeer and movie actor. Colonel Tom Parker, his manager, was of the view Elvis should be more middle of the road, appealing to a larger audience. During 1963 we were treated a4661defb1e1243a30681c88218d66ffto such fare from Elvis as “Devil in Disguise” (his biggest hit for the year reached #3 and charted #47 for the year) and “Bossa Nova Baby”, (reached #8 and ended the year at #97). This stuff is a far cry from the songs that made Elvis famous.

Hootenanny was a word that had been around for a while but in the early 60’s it became popularized as an informal gathering of folk singers and musicians. Certainly folk singing was starting to come into its own and even had its own annual gala in the annual Newport Folkfest. In 1963 the event attracted such luminaries as Joan Baez; Peter, Paul & Mary, (Blowin’ in the Wind, Puff the Magic Dragon); Paul & Paula, (Hey Paula, Young Lovers); Burl Ives and Pete Seeger in a celebration of love, pharmaceuticals and leftist anti-war agitation. United States involvement in the Viet Nam War was beginning to actively simmer and in 1963, 80 American advisors had died at the hands of the Viet Cong.VFLK_PeterPaulMary1963_tx800

Berry Gordy had founded Motown Records in Detroit in 1960, but it wasn’t until 1963 the firm and its artists enjoyed real commercial success: Martha & the Vandellas, (Heat Wave, Quicksand); Mary Wells, (Two Lovers); Miracles, (You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me).

The now infamous Phil Spector was a record producer in 1963, and creator of the technically marvelous “Wall of Sound”. His wife Ronnie, (the former Veronica Bennett), with her group the Ronettes was one of the earliest and best practitioners (Be My Baby). Ronnie Spector was one of the original “bad girls” of rock – if you want a real treat, find her interview with David Letterman. The Crystals also provide many fine examples of the technique, (Da Doo Ron Ron, Then He Kissed Me).MTE4MDAzNDEwODEwOTMwNzAy

The Shirelles, (Foolish Little Girl), are said to be the originators of the girl group template, and included such others in 1963 as the Chiffons, (He’s So Fine, One Fine Day); Angels, (My Boyfriend’s Back); and Cookies, (Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad About My Baby).

Surf Music was in full swing in 1963. Jan & Dean’s “Surf City” charted #1 in July, while other notable offerings were provided by the Surfaris, (Wipe Out); Chantays, (Pipeline); Rebels, (Wild Weekend); and the Beach Boys, (Surfin’ USA, Be True to Your School, Surfer Girl).

Billboard’s #1 song for 1963 was “Sugar Shack” by Jimmy Gilmer & the Fireballs, who were better known as an instrumental group. A happy, inoffensive song with some interesting organ work sort of characterizes pop music for the year.

Little-Peggy-MarchOne of the year’s bright spots comes courtesy of Little Peggy March who recorded a song originally written by French orchestra leader Franck Pourcel and which had enjoyed great success in Europe. “I Will Follow Him” achieved #7 for 1963.

Walk Like a Man” was the Four Seasons third #1 hit since their star began to rise in 1962, followed up later in the year by “Candy Girl” Anybody who has seen Jersey boys will recognize these songs.

Lesley Gore placed three tunes in the top 100 for 1963, her first year out, (It’s My Party, Judy’s Turn to Cry and She’s a Fool). In 2004 Lesley came out as gay and was a tireless activist until her death of lung cancer in 2015, aged 68.

On his way to recording three songs ending the year in Billboard’s Top 100, (Ruby Baby, Donna the Prima Donna, Drip Drop), Dion abandoned the one name moniker and changed to Dion di Muci.Lesley Gore

In 1980 Guitar World magazine ranked Lonnie Mack’s 1963 recording of “Memphis”, the top landmark guitar record of all time.

Skeeter Davis, (The End of the World, I Can’t Stay Mad at You), so named by her dad as she was tiny like a mosquito and Ned Miller, (From a Jack to a King), were responsible for the top country cross-over songs for the year.

About the time he became General Manager of General Motors’ Pontiac Division in 1956, “Bunky” Knudsen prophetically said. “You can sell a young man’s car to old people, but you can’t sell an old man’s car to young people.” Thus was initiated the principle philosophy guiding Pontiac’s strategic direction and success for the next several years.

1963 Mercury Monterey Custom

1963 Mercury Monterey Custom

Pontiac gained the reputation as GM’s “performance” division and at the same time shed its erstwhile image as a frumpy old man car. Pontiac’s continuing ascendancy would bedevil Mercury for some time to come.

Mercury should have taken that particular page from the Pontiac playbook. The years 1957 to 1960 produced fast, powerful, gorgeous Mercurys – all those factors the buying public, (including young people), seemingly wanted, but sales were dismal.

1963 Mercury Monterey S-55 convertible

1963 Mercury Monterey S-55 convertible

Something was missing. Mercury went seriously down market in 1961 and 1962, remaking the big Mercury yet again as a glorified Ford, (with whom it competed on a model-for-model basis but without a Starliner equivalent), introduced the Meteor first as an entry level large Mercury, then as an “intermediate” size between compact and full-size, offered a six cylinder engine as standard equipment for the first time in Mercury history, tried to cultivate an “economy” image, and initiated other measures to give the brand some cachet and improve sales. What actually happened was the full-size Mercury’s stature and reputation were all but destroyed – the Ford brain trust had unintentionally turned it into an “old man car”. In today’s vintage car market, a 1961 or 62 Ford Galaxie 500 will bring approximately twice what a comparably equipped Monterey fetches. And when new, a Monterey 2-door hardtop cost almost $200 more than an equivalent Starliner!

1963 Mercury Monterey Custom

1963 Mercury Monterey Custom

Fortunately, the brand’s savior had arrived in 1960 and was really making a name for itself. Comet was the star in the Mercury show and likely saved her from an earlier demise.

True, a 406 cid, 405 bhp, 3×2 bbl tire-shredder had been introduced along with the sporty S-55 option part way through the 1962 model year. While this was a huge image-burnishing step in the right direction there was no escaping that at only 107K units, the full-size version of the marque had suffered its worst sales year since 1948. Certainly, overall Mercury had sold 341K cars, but 165K of these belonged to Comet and 69K to Meteor, (Comet sales had declined from 1961, but most of this could likely have been attributed to theft by Meteor and other family members).

1963 Mercury Monterey S-55 (early 2-dr Hardtop)

1963 Mercury Monterey S-55 (early 2-dr Hardtop)

To compound the humiliation, Monterey was outsold by both Cadillac and Chrysler, and had it been forced to stand on its own against other full-sized American cars, would have bested only Lincoln and Imperial. And this all occurred against a backdrop of an expanding industry. Chrysler had seriously stumbled in its 1962 restyle of the Dodge and Plymouth brands and the mid-market no longer had DeSoto to worry about, but still Mercury couldn’t capitalize. General Motors’ total sales increased 49%, Ford 15% and Chrysler 20%.

Nonetheless, Mercury approached 1963 if not with confidence, at least with spunk and courage, (Ben Mills’ probable first reaction was likely enormous relief since the 1961 restyle was really the first effort for which he was fully responsible – and he still kept his job. He couldn’t even take credit for Comet as it was already well underway by the time he appeared).

1963 Mercury Monterey Custom Marauder

1963 Mercury Monterey Custom Marauder

Lincoln – Mercury actually had three separate product introductions in the 1963 sales year. The first was the normal fall launch, the second came in late winter and the last in spring. Comet and Meteor were refreshed while the big Mercurys received a whole new makeover, although still retaining the Ford body shell and engineering.

The hugely unsuccessful down-market move was thankfully abandoned for 1963, and Mercury was once again making itself competitive in the mid-price field. An attempt was made to further differentiate itself from Ford by offering a distinctive 2 bbl 390 cid engine of 250 hp as standard, (named Marauder 390 V8), and by resurrecting the reverse-slant roofline design reminiscent of earlier Lincoln Continentals and the Turnpike Cruiser.

1963 Mercury Monterey S-55 interior (rare 4-dr Hardtop)

1963 Mercury Monterey S-55 interior (rare 4-dr Hardtop)

The design was dubbed “Breezeway”, highlighting the backlite’s powered roll down centre section flanked by two fixed panes. The design was intended to promote a “flow-through” ventilation concept with all the invigorating benefits that implies. As well the optional two-speed Merc-o-matic was dropped.

Other optional engine possibilities included the Super Marauder 390 V8, a 390 cid 4 bbl with increased compression of 9.4:1 generating 300 hp which was base on the S-55, and the 390 cid 4 bbl Police Interceptor of 9.6 compression ratio and 330 hp. At the beginning of the model year the endorphin enhancing 406 cid Marauder 406 V8 4 bbl of 385 hp and the Super Marauder 406 V8 developing 405 hp from 3×2 bbl carburetion were still available on all full-size models except station wagons.

1963 Mercury Monterey S-55 4-dr Hardtop

1963 Mercury Monterey S-55 4-dr Hardtop

In other technical news, this was the year alternators replaced generators and amber parking light lenses replaced clear. Chrysler had gone to a 5 year, 50,000 mile power train warranty. Ford partially countered with a 12,000 mile body lubrication and 36,000 mile chassis lubrication schedule versus the previous 6,000; new car inspection was raised from 1,000 to 6,000 miles; and Lincoln’s 24 month 24,000 mile power train warranty was expanded to include all Mercurys.

Transmission choices ranged from a 3-speed column shift as base for the 250 hp 390 cid; the Multi-Drive Mercomatic or 4-speed manual was optional on all 390 engines, and a 4-speed manual with floor or console mounted shifter was mandatory on either 406.

1963 Mercury Monterey Custom convertible

1963 Mercury Monterey Custom convertible

Strategies for the big Merc in 1963 included fielding three distinct models, all marshalled under the Monterey battle flag. These were Monterey, Monterey Custom and Monterey S-55, all debuting at the start of the model year and all featuring the “Breezeway” roofline. The base Monterey was available as a 2- or 4-door sedan, and 2- or 4-door hardtop; Monterey Custom could be ordered as a 4-door sedan, 2- or 4-door hardtop or convertible; S-55 came as a 2-door hardtop or convertible. Convertibles excepted, these cars all bore the “Breezeway” look. Half-way through the 1963 model year, the Marauders were introduced. These were 2-door hardtops – one each in the Monterey Custom and S-55 lines, and showed off a new, dramatically striking fastback roofline. Having more steeply sloped windshields and devoid of the Breezeway backlite, the Marauders were significantly more streamlined.

1963 Mercury Monterey S-55 Marauder

1963 Mercury Monterey S-55 Marauder

The rather awkward Breezeway green-house had capped off quite a dowdy looking presentation, wherein the cabin appeared too big for the rest of the car. It comes off as a complete afterthought that doesn’t share any styling cues or kinship with the rest of the body. The new roof completely transformed the large Mercury. It now looked sporty, fast and brazenly flamboyant – the various styling components are in harmonious balance – now here was a car you could be proud of! Lost in the glitz of the new Marauders was a 4-door hardtop Breezeway style S-55, launched at the same time – it turned out to be the rarest 1963 Monterey – both it and the 2-door hardtop continued through to the end of the year.

1963 Mercury Colony Park

1963 Mercury Colony Park

Finally, the Commuter station wagon was dropped in deference to the new Meteor Country Cruiser wagon, leaving the 6- or 9-passenger, 4-door Colony Park as the sole full-size wagon version on offer. Colony Park sported faux mahogany wood paneling on its flanks. As well, only 390 cid engines were available on the Colony Park with transmission selections the same as for the cars.

The Monterey’s hood forms a prominent brow over the new angularly bowed concave grille consisting of a stamped stainless framework of thin vertical uprights wherein each set of ten forms a discrete panel separated by thicker vertical bars tapering from the centre to the grille’s top and bottom where they meet a chrome surround framing the whole. Six of these panels compose the main central part of the grille with separated dual headlights at each end partitioned by another similar panel.

1963 Mercury Monterey grille

1963 Mercury Monterey grille

A chrome rail bisects the grille horizontally across the middle where it angles outward, with a subtly refined badge in its centre. MERCURY appears in chrome script on the driver’s side of the hood’s leading edge. Also present is an elongated nondescript hood ornament front and centre. The hood and cowl are more noticeably arched side-to-side than in prior years, while two barely noticeable character creases run the length of the hood, roughly splitting it into thirds. These slightly increase in depth towards the windshield.

The front bumper is a fairly plain affair, having a somewhat flat face, favoring a forward tilt and reaching around to the front wheel wells. Rectangular amber signal lights are located in the bumper’s outboard ends.

1963 Mercury Monterey

1963 Mercury Monterey

While Monterey and Ford Galaxie share sheet metal, Monterey is differentiated from its cousin by the application of plastic appurtenances to the tops of the doors and fenders creating a protruding sill below the side windows, continuing rearward along the fenders until it ends in a small muted, outwardly canted fin. This ridge is capped by a narrow stainless molding along its entire length from the top of the front fenders all the way to the rear. Imagine that – Mercury, never having laid claim to a proper fin in its entire existence, (was that a fin in 1961?), adopts these styling accessories when almost everybody else is abandoning them. At least we’re in good company – Cadillac and Imperial also seemed to remain committed.

1963 Mercury Monterey Custom

1963 Mercury Monterey Custom

Body sides between the wheel wells bear a slight horizontal concave indentation just above the door bottoms, which continues on rearward into the quarter panels as a narrow ridge. Monterey Custom embellishes this look by starting the above ridge directly behind the front wheel well and running it slightly above the side indentations, up along the rear wheel well lip to join the quarter panel ridge and then capping it all off with a narrow stainless molding. MONTEREY appears in chrome script on front fenders directly behind the headlight trim, and on Customs a small shield is incorporated into the script.

1963 Mercury Monterey S-55 Marauder

1963 Mercury Monterey S-55 Marauder

If the car sports a fastback roofline, MARAUDER script surmounted by a checkered flag is displayed in place of Monterey on front fenders. Custom and S55 have three vertically ridged hash mark plaques on the sides of the rear fenders in front of the taillights. As well, if appropriate, an S55 medallion is placed in front of the hash marks.

Montereys feature a full rear grille valance in the space between the trunk lid’s trailing edge and the rear bumper. Except for being convex, it echoes the front grille’s theme including a chrome bar across the centre horizontally which additionally incorporates three round taillights at each end. The middle one is a back-up light and each taillight is encased in a chrome bezel.

1963 Mercury Monterey Rear Grille

1963 Mercury Monterey Rear Grille

The rear bumper is cantilevered straight across except for a modest allowance for the license plate and flared downward pointing bulges at each end, each displaying a crimp on the side to represent a continuation of the quarter panel ridge. The rear grille is framed at the top by a heavier chrome bar following the grille’s shape and forming the trailing lip of the trunk lid. The gas cap door is located in the centre of the grille and is decorated with the same motif.

Montereys abandon the venerable “Thunderbird” C-Pillar for 1963, in favor of a rather elegantly attired truncated inverted triangle very similar to the 1957-58 Turnpike Cruisers and 1958-60 Lincoln Continentals. This shape most easily accommodates the “Breezeway” backlite.

1963 Mercury Monterey S-55

1963 Mercury Monterey S-55

The lower third of the C-Pillar is capped with a horizontally ridged stainless decoration featuring the Mercury “head” while a chrome spear trails out about 8 inches along the rear fender from the bottom edge, presumably to imply forward motion. An 8-inch stainless molding appears on convertibles in the same location. All windows are framed with stainless moldings, including drip rails on Custom and S55, but excluding below side windows.

Colony Park was the only station wagon offered by Monterey this year. It adopted the imitation hardtop look with all roof pillars fixed and chrome-clad. The wagon had either of the 390 cid engines available, and was otherwise trimmed like a Monterey Custom except interiors were all vinyl.

1963 Mercury Colony Park

1963 Mercury Colony Park

Cargo space is 91.5 cubic feet with rear seats folded. Taillights were two (rather than three) per side with the inboard one doubling as a backup light. The roof luggage rack is listed as an option but I’ve never seen a 1963 Colony Park without one. In case, as a Colony Park owner, you’re miffed about missing out on the whole Breezeway thing, Mercury says don’t worry – you can lower the power tailgate window and get the same effect. Front fender scripts read COLONY PARK rather than Monterey, and the wagon carries a rear “grille” similar to the cars, rather than the imitation mahogany paneling.

1963 ushered in a new look for Mercury interiors and may I say they are quite eye-catching.

1963 Mercury Monterey S-55 Instrument Panel

1963 Mercury Monterey S-55 Instrument Panel

Instrument panel and overall dash presentation are considerably more becoming than the previous two years. Gauges are heavily hooded to prevent glare, (and to prevent front seat passengers from complaining about your speed), and are comprised of an array of four individual circular dials, each in its own pod, reporting fuel level, engine temperature, oil pressure and ammeter. The sweep speedometer surmounts the other gauges and is also cowled. A wide vertically ribbed chromed decorative transition strip runs horizontally across the dash, separating the vinyl sheathed padded dash above and painted metal below. The portion below the instrument panel is half the width of the rest, and houses control knobs within the driver’s easy reach.

To the right of the instrument cluster and in the bottom half of the chrome band are located heater controls, push button radio, clock and last, the glove box door, where a discreet plaque on the fascia announces “Monterey”.

1963 Mercury Monterey Dash

1963 Mercury Monterey Dash

Monterey’s foam padded bench seats are designed as crushed vinyl bolsters with seating area inserts of dot patterned fabric divided into thirds by vertical pleats with one horizontal pleat running across the seat back at about shoulder blade height. An ornamental fabric covered button is placed at points where vertical and horizontal pleats intersect. All-vinyl solid colored interiors were also available. Monterey’s door panels are of embossed vinyl in a plain but pleasing arrangement to which arm rests are bolted. Floors are carpeted and the headliner is vinyl.

1963 Mercury Monterey Custom upholstery

1963 Mercury Monterey Custom upholstery

Monterey Custom interiors are decidedly upscale. Foam padded seats are covered with a tweedy look triple- yarn insert surrounded by crushed vinyl bolsters. Inserts run completely across seating areas and two-thirds of the way up the seat back, where a horizontal vinyl decorative band containing three evenly-spaced ornamental chrome buttons separate it from a vertically pleated shoulder support area. Stainless side seat supports also distinguish Custom from lesser models as does the small black/chrome plaque announcing CUSTOM accompanying the Monterey script on front fenders. The Custom interior also featured paddle door handles, standard electric clock and C-Pillar courtesy lights.

1963 Mercury Monterey S-55 interior

1963 Mercury Monterey S-55 interior

The S-55 interior is wondrous to behold, although virtually identical to that of 1962 S-55. The focal point remains two imitation leather vinyl bucket seats centred by a sweeping floor console in which a ribbed shift plate resides for the shift lever. Contrasting and complementary colors along with chrome highlights blend together in a gorgeous symphony of luxury, (although armrests are still bolt-ons), everywhere you look. S-55 appears in the steering wheel hub and on the glove box door. The steering wheel is the swing-away type like Thunderbird and a tachometer was standard. This is one of the prettiest car interiors I’ve ever seen!

NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Racing) had been formed in 1947, and at its inception had concentrated on older hopped up “hot rods”. By 1949 NASCAR’s governing body had realized there was an audience for pitting new cars against one another, and of course the manufacturer’s soon became involved.

1963 Mercury Monterey S-55 convertible

1963 Mercury Monterey S-55 convertible

No matter what the public said about economy and safety, customers were still dazzled and influenced by power, speed and style. Advertising NASCAR related success drew youthful (and those still young at heart) customers to auto dealer showrooms. By 1955 Ford had notched only one NASCAR win since 1947 and Chevrolet by then had introduced its potent little 265 cid V-8. Ford was no longer king of the V-8 realm and was in danger of having its lunch totally eaten by the new usurper. GM had also begun advertising power and performance, judiciously trumpeting its undeniable racing success.

1963 Mercury Monterey S-55

1963 Mercury Monterey S-55

To its credit, Ford took the new threat seriously and was soon fully and enthusiastically engaged in the new rivalry. In 1956 a racing team had been formed and ostensibly sponsored by a Charlotte, N.C. Ford dealer, but in reality backed by Ford at a corporate level. Ford provided engineering expertise, financial assistance and contracted a professional racing team. In 1956 Ford won 14 NASCAR contests and captured the prestigious NASCAR Manufacturers Championship. 1957 saw another 17 wins in 23 races and all looked rosy indeed. As a footnote, 1957 saw one of the few model years Ford outsold Chevrolet, (and although GM still retailed more cars than FoMoCo, the gap had closed by over 600K cars).

1963 Mercury Monterey Custom Convertible

1963 Mercury Monterey Custom Convertible

As another point of interest 1957 Pontiac Bonneville convertible offered either fuel injection or triple carburetors, (famed Tri-Power). Was Ford’s success due to the new focus on performance? I don’t know, but it sure didn’t hurt. Top-of-the-line Fairlane 500 was far and away the Ford stable’s best seller and Thunderbird outsold Corvette by over 3:1.

Fortune is a fickle mistress however, and storm clouds loomed. Following the untimely death and injury of many drivers and spectators directly attributable to racing, the American Automobile Manufacturers Association (AMA), placed a moratorium on any involvement in the sport.

1963 Mercury Monterey Custom interior

1963 Mercury Monterey Custom interior

This prohibition included any advertising extolling speed and power or factory participation in such contests as required these now demonized virtues.

In a remarkable coincidence Robert McNamara became President of Ford about this time. It would not have been an exaggeration to describe him as an apostle of economy and safety. It was he who either introduced or promoted the dished steering wheel, padded dash and sun visor, and seat belt as well as the popular and inexpensive Falcon and smaller 1961 Lincoln Continental. In truth, McNamara was a numbers guy and an expert on the cost-benefit question.

Note S-55 seat backs are carpeted

Note S-55 seat backs are carpeted

Every successful business has had one in their history somewhere.

In any event, financial analysis is not glamorous and FoMoCo became rather conservative and stuffy under McNamara’s watch. Fortunately, the competition was required to follow a similar path, so there were few market ramifications. In 1960 Mcnamara was tapped by newly elected President John F. Kennedy to become the new Secretary of Defense and Ford’s corporate guard changed once again. McNamara’s departure made room for the energetic Lee Iacocca to once again get shuffled upward – which just goes to show even inept bureaucracies make a good decision once in a while. Iacocca had joined Ford in 1946 and had been steadily advancing through the ranks ever since – with McNamara’s exit, Iacocca became Vice-President & General Manager of Ford Division. From this perch he was able to guide Ford’s “Total Performance” program.

1963 Mercury Monterey backlite

1963 Mercury Monterey backlite

GM had found loopholes in the AMA proclamation sufficient to allow development of the Chevy 409 and Pontiac “Super Duty” 421. While Ford had been shipping heavy duty parts for their FE 390 designated as “Police” engines, they actually wound up in streamlined Ford “Starliners”. Despite these efforts to raise Ford’s performance profile, all major 1960/61 NASCAR trophies were taken by Chevrolet and Pontiac. Although they stayed within the letter of the AMA “law”, the GM brothers were clearly gaining publicity benefit from their racing activities.

In June, 1962, Ford formally abrogated the 1957 AMA agreement prohibiting corporate participation in advertising high performance equipment. The introduction of “Total Performance” was Ford’s first salvo in the developing marketing campaign, aimed at countering GM’s racing dominance.

1963 S-55 Wheel Covers

1963 S-55 Wheel Covers

The centerpiece of “Total Performance” was the new FE 427 cid “top oiler” (referring to its method of delivering oil to the engine’s internals, i.e. cam & valve train first, then crankshaft). By the way, this is a very impressive tidbit to toss into the middle of a conversation about performance engines – your friends will be suitably dazzled. It debuted about the same time as the Marauder roofline as strictly a racing engine, but we all know what happens next. Information about these mighty contenders is scant however we are told from fairly authoritative sources a total of 83 were installed in Mercury Marauders in 1963. The engine came in two versions: the Q-Code featured a single Holley 4 bbl carburetor and generated 410 hp; the R-Code arrived with 2×4 bbl Holley carburetion and put out 425 hp. We are further advised sales of the Q-Code totaled 25 units and 58 of the R-Code.

1963 Mercury Monterey Custom Convertible

1963 Mercury Monterey Custom Convertible

Ford was always quite vague about details surrounding these brutish bad boys which lent them an attractive air of mystery. Whether this bashful modesty can be attributed to corporate ignorance, (if we don’t know, we can’t be blamed if anything goes wrong), a desire to keep AMA in the dark, or a deliberate marketing ploy, (fascination with the mysterious makes the subject more attractive). The 406 cid engine was finished and retired.

As a completely irrelevant aside, I’ve always wondered whether the 1985 introduction of “New Coke” was a premeditated marketing maneuver or a foolish fiasco. Everybody knew the new stuff tasted like crap, although corporately Coca-Cola said it tasted like Pepsi. Coke’s brain trust eventually saw the light and reinstated old Coke, but the resultant buzz was incredible, and couldn’t have turned out better had it been planned, (which it probably was).

1963 Mercury Monterey

1963 Mercury Monterey

If your car hosted a Q- or R-Code designation, you were required to order 15-inch wheels, (Mercury had only 14-inch hubcaps and no 15-inch templates readily available, so added a three tine spinner to a 1954 hubcap and voila!), as well as a 4-speed manual transmission, heavy duty suspension and brakes. Motor Trend reported such niceties as power equipment or air conditioning were unavailable, as such pretentious fripperies could not withstand the torque these new monsters could produce.

Mercury was a willing participant in the “Total Performance” program. With the new 427 engine and drag-minimizing fastback body design, Mercury’s introduction to NASCAR was inevitable.

1963 Mercury Monterey S-55

1963 Mercury Monterey S-55

Famous automotive conjurer Bill Stroppe, who was no stranger to tuning Mercurys, was recruited to work his wizardry on the 1963 version. He managed to squeeze every ounce of performance from the big cars which then went on to earn several honors including NASCAR’s Grand National. As well, Parnelli Jones piloted a Stroppe-built Mercury, running the 410 hp version of the 427, to a new record for the Pike’s Peak climb.

Permit me one small digression before we leave the full-size 1963 Mercury. The little known Mercury 400 was a made only in Canada version of the Monterey which it resembled in all things except the “Monterey” name did not appear anywhere, (wherever it would normally appear it was replaced with “Mercury”).

1963 Mercury Monterey S-55

1963 Mercury Monterey S-55

For that matter, “400” did not appear either. Further, while the 400 had the Breezeway reverse canted rear windshield, the window was fixed in place and did not have the roll down centre section. Finally, base engine for 400 and Canadian-built Monterey Custom was the 223 cid inline-6 of 138 hp while base V8 was the 352 cid 2 bbl 220 hp Marauder. All other engines otherwise available to Monterey could be ordered by the Canadian buyer except the 390 cid 2 bbl. A three speed manual transmission was base for the 223 and 352 with the 4-speed and Merc-o-Matic Multi-Drive optional on all engines, (except automatics couldn’t be ordered with a 406). This was the year Canadian and American built Mercury power trains started to diverge, with Canadian cars generally using smaller base engines.

1963 Marauder

1963 Marauder

Mercury 400 was offered only as a 2- or 4-door sedan, and was barely advertised at all. Even at that it earned a surprisingly robust market presence, accounting for a third of all Canadian full-size Mercury sales. The brass must have wondered what was up – when they pulled out all the stops to market a car, nothing much happened; when they were nonchalant, sales took off. Everyone was pleasantly surprised, so much so plans were made to do the same thing in 1964 but replace the 400 with another reincarnation of the Meteor – this time as a full-size car to replace Monterey in Canada.

Although the automotive press seemed to love the new Mercury Monterey and had been generating rave reviews like snowflakes in an Edmonton winter, full-size Mercury sales were not staggering.

1963 Mercury Monterey S-55

1963 Mercury Monterey S-55

At least it looked like the corner had been turned from the disastrous 1962.

Total output was 121K cars, the most popular model being the Monterey Custom, (including the Marauder), at 83,896 units sold. The people behind 1963 Mercury had high hopes for “Total Performance” and the fresh new Marauder rooflines, but were understandably disappointed. Previous years’ missteps had wreaked a lot of damage on Mercury’s image, and the resulting brand impairment would take more than one year to overcome.

Unfortunately, the new 1962 Meteor had not met its admittedly ambitious sales expectations either,

1963 Mercury Meteor

1963 Mercury Meteor

despite high hopes and considerable advertising effort. Mercury’s brain trust met the challenge by expanding the number of models and options available to buyers – sort of the opposite way in which they met Edsel’s tribulations.

Despite Meteor’s styling titivations there was no mistaking its heritage. It looked like what it was – an evolution of 1962’s design including the Galaxie C-Pillar on some incarnations. A few automotive writers were starting to call this look “clichéd” and “time-worn”, but I’m not one of their number. I’ve always liked the wide C-Pillar, and Thunderbird would continue to employ it until 1966.

1963 Mercury Meteor S-33

1963 Mercury Meteor S-33

Lincoln would use a variation well into the 60’s and indeed some other manufacturers unabashedly copied it – 1963 Studebaker Hawk for example. Corporately, Ford was phasing it out in favor of the Marauder fast-back styling.

I’ve said before Ford’s grilles of the era were elaborately intricate, and gratuitously so. Somebody must have thought a fashionable air communicating sophistication was thus implied. I think simpler is better and the designers should have stuck with some variation of the 1960 Mercury grille – the all-time best looking Mercury grille. By 1963 imaginations were drying up and Lincoln-Mercury started to trade grilles among its members. The 1963 Meteor borrowed the 1962 Comet’s grille;

1963 Mercury Meteor

1963 Mercury Meteor

1962’s Meteor had been heavily influenced by the 1960 Comet grille and 1964 Comet copied the grille from the 1964 Lincoln (or vice-versa). Except for the latter these grilles were artistically complex and a picture truly is worth 1,000 words.

The entry level Meteor line included a 2- and 4-door sedan and 4-door station wagon. The next level up was Meteor Custom comprising a 2- and 4-door sedan, a 2-door hardtop and 4-door station wagon. Country Cruiser was the flagship station wagon but considered a member of the Custom line. For the sporty folk, Meteor offered the S-33 2-door hardtop.

1963 Mercury Meteor

1963 Mercury Meteor

Base engine at the start of the year was the 170 cid 101 hp inline-6 first seen in the 1961 Comet. Along with all the other mid-year news, Meteor announced a newer bored out version of the 170 cid I-6 – 200 cid I-6 putting out 116 hp with a single barrel carburetor, but higher compression. The 221 cid V8 of 145 hp was carried over from 1962 as an option. Within a few months this V8 was replaced by the more powerful 260 cid Windsor V8 putting out 164 hp. Three speed manual transmission was standard but a buyer could opt for a Merc-o-Matic, and with the arrival of the 260 cid engine a 4-speed floor mounted manual shifter became available. There were a number of other mechanical and suspension improvements including introduction of a 12,000 mile body lubrication timetable.

1963 Mercury Meteor S-33

1963 Mercury Meteor Custom

Unfortunately, even with the potent new V8 coupled with a 4-speed manual transmission, Meteor didn’t inspire buyers enough to get out their chequebooks. Strangely, the Ford Fairlane was virtually the same car and had become very popular especially with drag racers. We can likely put this inauspicious misadventure down to the legacy left by the 1961/62 Monterey and to “old man syndrome”, Mercury’s unwitting creation of the ultimate old man car. The one thing justifying the choice of a Meteor over a Fairlane was its inheritance of the pioneering “Cushion Link” articulated strut front suspension, developed in 1961. It was that good.

The overall industry was enjoying a 1955 style expansion and Ford wasn’t sharing in the bounty – its total sales for 1963 increased a paltry 0.5%, while GM was up 7.3% and Chrysler a whopping 48.9% – and this after their 1962 styling fiasco! Mercury contributed only 16.3% to FoMoCo’s total 1963 sales. Meteor’s competitors were savoring robust sales, so the writing was on the wall.

1963 Mercury Meteor Custom

1963 Mercury Meteor S-33

In 1962, Mercury preferred to view Comet’s competition as Buick Skylark/Super, Oldsmobile F-85, Pontiac Tempest, (GM Y-bodies), Dodge Lancer and Rambler Classic, with Corvair and Valiant beneath them, (all described as “compacts). Comet is slightly larger and priced lower than all except Corvair and Rambler. Rambler was considerably under-powered compared to the rest.

In a comparison with the three GM Y-body cars, (Corvair was a Z-body platform and Chevy II an X-body), Meteor was also priced slightly less and also less powerful, but considerably bigger in size. Mercury proclaimed the Meteor as the perfect balance between economy and performance – an argument that can be made with varying degrees of success.

1963 Mercury Meteor Custom

1963 Mercury Meteor Custom

Meteor compared itself as well, to GM’s entry level B-bodies, (Bel-Air, Catalina and LeSabre). Head-to-head, Meteor was less expensive to buy than compacts and lower-level full-size cars, between GM’s Y- and B-bodies in size and less powerful than all except Rambler Classic. The buying public didn’t seem enthralled or impressed as Meteor’s production was down to 50,775 cars from 1962’s 69,052.

GM’s Y-bodies each had a special technical feature relentlessly exploited in advertising.

1963 Mercury Meteor S-33 interior

1963 Mercury Meteor S-33 interior

For example Skylark boasted an aluminum block, Tempest was 4-cylinder with its transmission in the rear allowing elimination of the interior hump. F-85 was turbo-charged and so on. Additionally these cars all offered a convertible.

In actual fact, Meteor’s main competition was Ford Fairlane, which it matched model for model and engine for engine. Fairlane was a bit cheaper and Meteor’s interior a bit plusher, but that was it. Fairlane’s introduction of the 289 cid 271 hp engine in mid-1963 didn’t help and Meteor was outsold by its brother by a factor of over 4:1. Aside from greater emphasis on the 289 and some styling changes, Fairlane continued in its “intermediate” guise through 1965.

1963 Mercury Meteor

1963 Mercury Meteor

Interestingly, almost as soon as Meteor was discontinued in its “in-between” form, all of GM’s Y-bodies graduated to A-body intermediate size, and became more mechanically and technically conventional.

Meteor’s styling for 1963 was mildly refreshed, amounting to a new grille, reshaped taillights and revised body embellishment. Side sculpturing character was retained as was the beltline stainless molding, although the latter is now a closely spaced double spear. All other chrome garnishments on the lower body were dropped except the chrome cap over the rocker panels on Custom and S-33 models where it is now continued on to the lower quarter panels and includes wheel lip moldings.

1963 Mercury Meteor Custom

1963 Mercury Meteor Custom

METEOR script has moved from behind the front fender wheel opening to a position behind the headlights. METEOR script now appears on the driver side leading edge of the hood instead of having MERCURY spelled out in individual block capitals across the front of the hood. A small badge has been placed on the wide C-Pillar above the stainless strap across its bottom, and MERCURY METEOR nomenclature is positioned on the passenger side trailing edge of the trunk. Gunsight ornaments atop the front fender are considerably more subdued, while a faux grille panel echoing the real grille covers the rear valance between the trunk lid and the bumper.

1963 Mercury Meteor S-33 interior

1963 Mercury Meteor S-33 interior

Taillights are in the same position as last year but have been revised and now resemble a modified delta shape. On the S-33, three parallel short horizontal chrome spears, canted forward to give the illusion of motion, grace the front fenders behind the wheel well, S33 script appears on the rear fenders just forward of the decorative valance. The C-Pillar badging is much more prominent on the S-33 and its hubcaps have tri-color centres.

Your new 1963 Meteor could be ordered in 15 solid colors or 22 two-tone combinations with the roof being a different shade. The small space between the double beltline spears could be a contrasting color on S-33 only.

 

1963 Mercury Meteor Custom station wagon

1963 Mercury Meteor Custom station wagon

Meteor went from no station wagons in 1962 to three station wagons in 1963 – one in each of the base line and Custom line, and the premium edition, (technically a Custom), the Country Cruiser. All offered a third optional rearward facing seat accommodating two more passengers for a total of eight. 1962 style taillights were retained. These are also the only Ford wagons to sport a wider D-Pillar without curved glass on the side panels.

Meteor wagons displayed a panel on the lower tailgate roughly comparable to the rear grille on other models. MERCURY Meteor appears on the passenger side of the tailgate and there are small rubber guards on the rear bumper.

All the Meteor wagons claimed 86.2 cubic feet of cargo space with the counter-balanced second seat folded down, along with a flat cargo floor of over 9 feet with the tailgate down.

1963 Mercury Meteor Country Cruiser

1963 Mercury Meteor Country Cruiser

Country Cruiser displays imitation mahogany steel paneled sides framed with faux wood rails, which of course requires the car forego any stainless ornamentation on its flanks, (Custom alone carries the chrome rocker panels and wheel lip moldings but not the rear quarter panels – Country Cruiser does not include any of this trim). Script COUNTRY CRUISER is positioned on the front fender instead of METEOR.

The base line shows off a pleasant interior of cloth seats with vinyl bolsters, color-keyed carpeting, pleated horizontally oriented door panels with the top third painted metal, all separated with stainless moldings. Arm rests are bolt-on style for all models.

1963 Mercury Meteor interior

1963 Mercury Meteor interior

Meteor Custom’s seats are richer and plusher with your choice of cloth and vinyl or all-vinyl. Door panels have stainless molding highlight strips in the same place, but the motif is instead vertically pleated. Deep loop pile carpet is more opulent than the base Meteor. Both steering wheel and headliner are color-keyed.

S-33 are all 2-door coupes with full vinyl upholstery covering twin bucket seats and the lower two-thirds of the door panels. Seating area is done in a biscuit pattern, carried over to the middle of the door panels. Again the door panel top third is matching painted metal in a satin finish, and with stainless accent strips.

1963 Mercury Meteor Custom interior

1963 Mercury Meteor Custom interior

Carpeting is like the Custom. A full length console similar to the one in the S-55 separates the bucket seats, but the shift plate does not allow for automatic floor shift.

The dash houses a full suite of gauges, is identical to last year and is consistent across all models.

Meteor’s existence in its 1963 form would end with this model year. Several reasons have been put forward for its lack of success – it’s an inch longer than the Fairlane and was therefore viewed as a full-size car – the public wasn’t ready for the whole intermediate concept. My view is it looks too much like a Comet and its 1963 incarnation kept the Comet styling rather than trying to connect it in any way to Monterey – the whole car appeared to be based on cost-saving at a time when it could have supported Mercury’s renewed assault on the mid-market. Mercury did not intend to bail out of the intermediate car market, but would refresh its commitment with a renovated Comet in 1964.

1963 Mercury Meteor Dash

1963 Mercury Meteor Dash

1963 Mercury Comet

1963 Mercury Comet

As well, its taillights quickly identified it as a Mercury, and after 1961’s fiasco and the ghastly Meteors of that year, buyers were still wondering how far down-market the brand actually was. It shared its drive train with Comet rather than the senior Mercury, and was under-powered versus the competition. The Meteor was never allowed to develop its own personality; instead it assumed all the worst character traits of its relatives… and it was the quintessential old man car. With the coupes late to the party, no convertible at all, weak engine, older technology and dated styling there wasn’t much youth appeal or sporty potential. Production for the year was a disappointing 50,775 units.

1963 Comet upheld its reputation as Mercury’s big success story. Production was a quite respectable 135K units; the only GM Y-body that outsold it was Buick Skylark/Special at 149K, while Olds F-85 charted 122K units and Pontiac Tempest/LeMans 131K cars. It was quite obvious the fashionable upscale “compact” market was becoming intensely competitive, and players could not rest on their laurels; innovation was coming thick and fast and one could not let the competition get too far ahead.

1963 Mercury Comet

1963 Mercury Comet Custom

Comet marketed twelve models in 1963, with two more coming aboard at mid-year. Base level Comet offered a 2- and 4-door sedan, and a 2- and 4-door station wagon. Comet Custom arrived with a 2- and 4-door sedan, a convertible, a 2- and 4-door station wagon and the 4-door flagship Villager station wagon. S-22 came as a convertible this year and as a 2-door sedan. Along with other mid-year news, two new 2-door fastback Sportster hardtops became available, a Custom and an S-22.

Comet for 1963 very closely visually resembled its 1962 predecessor; in fact Comet’s overall shape hasn’t changed since 1960, right down to the rear fender blades, (as they were described instead of fins). As the year started, the big news was the debut of two new convertibles: a Custom and an S-22.

1963 Mercury Comet convertible

1963 Mercury Comet convertible

The new convertibles were basically the same cars as Falcon was launching. Both had powered roofs unlike most of the competition, as well as a shorter and more steeply sloped windshield. The Sportster hardtop also shared this windshield but had its own slightly arched full-width backlite along with “Marauder” style C-Pillars.

Until the Sportsters appeared, all closed cars were still all sedans, although the two senior models are of the imitation hardtop design, i.e. all window frames including the B-Pillar were chromed. The base line had a chrome molding along the drip rail.

1963 Mercury Comet Sportster

1963 Mercury Comet Sportster

The sculptured character line along the side, which had been in evidence since the Comet’s 1960 introduction, now bears a stainless molding along its entire length as it proceeds from the front fender just aft of the top of the headlight, along the belt line almost to the end of the rear fenders where it does a U-turn and returns to the lower front fender where it ends just behind the front wheel well. A short stainless spur emanates from the middle of the outer headlight surround and goes 6 inches down the side, (comet vapor trail?). COMET in script is placed immediately above this chrome spear. Three decorative horizontal forward canted short chrome projectiles are situated on the rear fender where the “U” forms, on the Custom and S-22. The trunk lid identifier is on the passenger side and reads MERCURY (block letters) COMET script.

1963 Mercury Comet Custom convertible

1963 Mercury Comet Custom convertible

Comet’s 1963 grille is the same basic layout and shape as 1962 but now is comprised of eight petite horizontal bars and three similar equally spaced “floating” vertical bars. This was Comet’s first tasteful grille. Like Meteor, the front fender gunsight ornaments had become considerably more discreet.

A lower rear stainless valance panel between the bumper and trailing edge of the trunk lid is framed with a chrome surround and decorated with petite vertical ridges similar to the grille. It houses taillights, back-up lights and the gas cap lid. Taillights are all now like the 1962 S-22 version, (which in turn were borrowed from 1961 Monterey).

1963 Comet S-22 convertible

1963 Comet S-22 convertible

The 1963 S-22 has three horizontally oriented taillights arrayed on each side with the middle ones being back-up lights. Other models have two each side with an additional flat clear lens in the inboard position. Full wheel covers were the same turbine style used on Meteor although Comet used 13 inch wheels versus 14 inch for Meteor and Monterey. S-22 flaunted tri-color hubcap centres.

The greenhouse retains the same shape and placement as it’s had since 1960, including the Galaxie C-Pillar. All 4-door sedans have rear quarter windows. At mid-year two new hardtops debut, one Custom and one S-22. Both possess the handsome, just-introduced Sportster fast-back, Marauder-style roofline.

1963 Comet Sportster

1963 Comet Sportster

Comet and Comet Custom station wagons are decorated similarly to their sedan counterparts and are little changed from the 1962 editions, (other than grilles and other obvious decorative features). The Custom wagon carries a stainless molding along its lower side, with the three canted projectiles appearing on the front fender behind the wheel well, while the base Comet does not display any of this ornamentation.

The Custom Villager station wagon returns this year as the top-of-the-line Comet wagon, proudly bearing an appellation borrowed from Edsel wagons, (a nod to Comet’s heritage perhaps?).

1963 Comet Custom Station Wagon

1963 Comet Custom Station Wagon

1963 Mercury Comet Villager

1963 Mercury Comet Villager

Apparently nobody at Lincoln-Mercury is superstitious. The Villager name appears on front fenders in chrome script, in replacement of COMET nomenclature on other models. Villager’s flanks are sheathed in imitation mahogany paneling, framed by replica wood rails. This design once again obviates most of the stainless highlights appearing on lesser models. Villager was also the recipient of a curious styling touch not found anywhere else in the Mercury realm – triple light colored pin-stripes run parallel horizontally through the mid-section of the side wood paneling. In place of mahogany paneling on the tailgate, Villager sports the same stainless “grille” effect as the other Comet wagons. Villager also offered a bucket seat option. The roof-mounted luggage rack appears on any and all factory-produced station wagon literature, as do whitewalls and full wheel covers, however all three items are extra-cost options.

Station wagon advertising boasts over 76 cubic feet of cargo space and more than 8 feet of flat floor with the second seat and tailgate down. Brochures also suggest this space can be used as a playground for the kiddies, presumably while you’re flitting around town on a busy Saturday, (hopefully not with the tailgate open).

1963 Mercury Comet Instrument Panel

1963 Mercury Comet Instrument Panel

How times have changed! Today that would almost be a hanging offense. Child seats are completely regulated as to specifications, placement inside the car, when the child can graduate to a booster seat and so on. Of course I agree the little cherubs shouldn’t be sitting where an airbag can explode in their face and accidentally dispatch them, but I wonder if cars should even be equipped with such lethal devices, especially given all the news on their questionable reliability. The law also says you can’t smoke in your car if kids are aboard. Remember the day when more ashtrays and lighters meant higher status? Back in the day they were called cigar-lighters for a reason. My grandfather and I used to tool around town in his 1954 Meteor, with him smoking a fat stogie, spitting out tobacco while ash dribbled down the front of his waistcoat.

 Mercury Comet Sportster

Mercury Comet Sportster S-22

His fedora was pulled low so it didn’t caress the headliner, one hand on the steering wheel suicide knob, (which he fondly told me was illegal and therefore qualified us as total bad-asses). He was also against seat belts, as you can imagine, proclaiming they would slice you in two like a butchered pig! Now who would want that – it took me many years to get over my fear of seat belts!

Then there’s distracted driving, which means just about whatever the officer thinks it does – all the way from eating a Big Mac to tuning your radio, but mostly talking on your iphone. My touch-control in-car “entertainment system” is so difficult and frustrating to operate, I agree a person shouldn’t be fiddling with it in a moving car.

1963 Mercury Comet

1963 Mercury Comet Custom

Perhaps the intended entertainment is solving the puzzle of its efficient management. I still see lots of motorists happily gabbing or even texting on the phone while speeding along, despite recent police crackdowns. There’s no under-estimating the density of the general population.

Mercury proved in 1956 the buying public wouldn’t pay for safety – looks and power are what sold cars. The same philosophy applies today. Look at the Dodge Hellcats – ridiculous power you can only use to get in trouble.

1963 Comet Mercury Custom Sportster

1963 Comet Mercury Custom Sportster

Perhaps common sense does have to be legislated … I’ve always told my sons that any new driver doesn’t really realize how fast things happen even in moderate city driving – you have to have an accident to learn this lesson, and one has to hope the first one isn’t too serious! Every generation seems to think it’s smarter than common sense – they just express it in different ways.

Comet started 1963 with the two I-6 engines of 144 and 170 cid, generating 85 & 101 hp respectively. Shortly thereafter the smaller six as the base engine was dropped in favor of the larger one, while the Meteor 260 cid V8 of 164 hp was introduced as an option.

1963 Comet Mercury Custom Sportster interior

1963 Comet Mercury Custom Sportster interior

The new V8 was named the Comet Cyclone, the first time this iconic name was used for anything “Comet” related. In making this new, more powerful engine available, Comet’s structural components were upgraded to accommodate additional weight and power.

Base transmission is a three speed column shift with the two-speed automatic or a floor-mounted 4-speed manual optional for either engine.

The base Comet virtually duplicates the look of the entry 1962 Meteor interior; only the dash is different. Comet again brings forward essentially the same instrument panel it wore when introduced in 1960.

1963 Comet Mercury S-22 interior

1963 Comet Mercury S-22 interior

Door panels also continue the same layout from 1960. There’s been some tinkering, different fabrics and soft designs, different orientation of pleats but all the hardware is the same. Further, Meteor adopted the same look, thus tying itself even more closely to Comet!

1963 Comet Custom’s interior is somewhat richer in choice of fabric and carpet, but looks like the previous year’s Meteor Custom.

S-22 interior appointments are all-vinyl with plush carpeting. Seats are box-pleated inserts with color-keyed vinyl bolsters and extra foam padding. Door panels are lavishly provided with stainless garnishes and bucket seats are separated with a small console/storage compartment complete with a brightwork lid. Steering wheel is color-keyed to the interior.

1963 Mercury Comet Custom Sportster

1963 Mercury Comet Custom Sportster

1963 Comet station wagon interiors followed the same template as the analogous sedan except they were all-vinyl. Among the extra-cost options for this year’s Comet is a CB Radio, tachometer and power steering for V8’s only.

Mercury accepted 1963 philosophically, as the first step back in a long journey from oblivion. To see it any other way would have been to admit disappointment and defeat. Hopefully the big Mercury had finally turned the corner, as with 121,048 cars out the door, 1963 was the best sales year since 1960. The star in Mercury’s firmament, Comet turned in its worst sales year since introduction, off 18.6% to 134,623 units.

1963 Mercury Comet Custom convertible

1963 Mercury Comet Custom convertible

While Monterey achieved minor sales success, the Mercury name managed only 306,446 total cars produced, fewer than 1962.

On a positive note 1963 was Ford’s 60th year in the car business, so to memorialize that and celebrate manufacture of its 60 millionth car, a 1963 Mercury Monterey was chosen as the actual car reaching this milestone. 1964 was a new year and new plans were afoot including renewed efforts to regain its rightful mid-market position.

1963 Mercury Monterey Custom convertible

1963 Mercury Monterey Custom convertible

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1962 Mercury – Best Looking Buys … Now in Each Size

If 1961 was the world’s introduction to what could be expected from the Kennedy – Khrushchev dance of destiny, 1962 saw the choreography quicken and the gyrations become increasingly frenetic.

JFK and Defense Secretary MacNamara

JFK and Defense Secretary MacNamara

Khrushchev’s antics had so distressed and bewildered Kennedy as to induce virtual paralysis. The Soviet Premier on the other hand thought he had a real patsy in his thrall, and as a result misread Kennedy’s hesitation as panic stricken dithering in the face of Communist strength and resolve. This almost fatal mistake encouraged Khrushchev to overplay his hand and thence led directly to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the closest the super-powers ever came to nuclear war. I remember riding on the school bus the day after Kennedy’s shocking address to the nation, outlining the situation and his planned response. I was scared stiff.

Neptune aircraft shadows Soviet Sub during Crisis

Neptune aircraft shadows Soviet Sub during Crisis

In those days we still did nuclear attack drills and rehearsals at school – the old duck under your desk and cover your head routine. I would never argue kids these days have it easy with all the drugs and social media challenges they face, but at least the possibility of nuclear annihilation is somewhat more remote.

Castro & Khrushchev

Castro & Khrushchev

Anyway, in mid-October, 1962, U.S. U-2 reconnaissance planes photographed intermediate range ballistic missile launch sites being constructed in Cuba. Once operational, these bases would be capable of delivering nuclear warheads anywhere in the U.S.A. Based on previous experience with Kennedy, Khrushchev was fairly sure the President would back down to avoid confrontation. In a way, Khrushchev offered Kennedy a situation from which he could not shrink and still maintain any credibility at all.

U2 Blackbird

U2 Blackbird

Capitulation to Russian duplicity was therefore never an option. Kennedy and his advisors saw the situation as a choice between two stark alternatives: attack the missile sites militarily or quarantine Cuba. The U.S. chose the latter and on October 24 Kennedy advised the U.S.S.R. all Soviet ships bound for Cuba would be stopped and searched. On October 28 the U.S. Navy boarded a Russian ship; Khrushchev immediately agreed to dismantle the missile sites under UN supervision. Kennedy in turn promised never to invade Cuba and to repatriate some obsolete missiles stationed in Turkey.

Armwrestling

Armwrestling

Kennedy had finally gotten the best of Khrushchev, and his domestic popularity soared. A heroic legacy was born and lives on to this day. Thinking he’d been sold out, Castro was actually angrier at Khrushchev than he was at Kennedy, especially since he never really wanted the missiles in the first place and was never consulted on their removal. In fact, another 100 tactical nuclear warheads had escaped American detection and were in place totally under Cuban control – the mercurial Castro was all in favour of launching these as soon as the embargo was lifted but Soviet Foreign Minister Mikoyan talked sense into him. It is fortunate the U.S.A. never did attack the missile sites as there is little doubt the tactical warheads would have been used in that case, and all hell would truly have broken loose.

Russian Freighter enroute to Cuba with Missiles Aboard

Russian Freighter enroute to Cuba with Missiles Aboard

Castro may still have been disquieted over his January 3, 1962 apparent excommunication from the Catholic Church, although in truth he probably didn’t even know about it. Apparently Pope John XXIII is said to have excommunicated Fidel Castro, either in accordance with an earlier edict by Pope Pius XII forbidding support for a communist government or because of activities directed against the Church and its hierarchy. This matter is also very curious and is attributed to the historical writings of a high Vatican Official of the day. Pope John XXIII later claimed to have no knowledge of the matter. Whether an actual excommunication document ever existed is uncertain.

Castro

Castro

Early in the morning of August 5, 1962 The Los Angeles Police Department received a call reporting the death of Marilyn Monroe. Forensic examination later revealed the presence of a large quantity of barbiturates, and the death was ruled a suicide. Thus ended the life and career of one of America’s most legendary movie stars and public icons. Salacious rumours of affairs with both Jack and Bobby Kennedy immediately began to circulate, including conspiracy theories involving the CIA,

Marilyn in the "Happy Birthday Mr. President" Dress

Marilyn in the “Happy Birthday Mr. President” Dress

the Mafia and goodness knows who all else. Bobby was said to have visited her the day of her death. Actual circumstances are still shrouded in mystery, but there is no doubt she had conducted an affair with JFK and had fallen hard for him at which point Jack ended their “liaison d’amour”. As Jackie later remarked of her husband, “… he loves the chase, but is bored by the conquest”.

On May 31, 1962 Adolf Eichmann was hanged in Israel, thus ending a dramatic international cloak and dagger thriller. Eichmann had been a mid-level Nazi official and a member of the SS during World War II, responsible for arranging transportation for death camp internees. At war’s end he escaped to Argentina where he lived a mundane workaday existence until located by Mossad, Israel’s secret service. In May, 1960 Eichmann was kidnapped by the Israelis on his way home from work in a small city north of Buenos Aires, and bundled out of the country aboard an El Al airliner, drugged and disguised as a flight attendant.

Adolf Eichmann in Happier (for him) Days

Adolf Eichmann in Happier (for him) Days

After months of interrogation he went on trial in April, 1961. His defense was the same as that used by many of the Nuremberg accused – he was just a minion following orders.

Rachel Carson published “Silent Spring” in August, 1962, the book that gave a mighty push to today’s environmental movement, and secured for herself a green “sainthood”. She suggested mankind’s use of pesticides and herbicides was poisoning the planet and killing off bird species in particular. The book’s effects are still felt today, although its theories have long since been repudiated by the scientific community. You can thank Rachel Carson for your inability to purchase herbicide for the dandelions. More importantly, the subsequent banning of DDT allowed a strong resurgence of malaria in the third world causing the deaths of untold millions. In fairness, Carson never advocated banning pesticides, just cutting back on their use. Environmental militants however used her popularity to mount an attack on “Big Chemical”.

Not So Silent Spring

Not So Silent Spring

In many ways government and industry are their own worst enemies and much as it pains me to say this, deserve a lot of the scorn and contempt heaped on them. It was in 1962 that the U.S. Air Force began spraying Vietnamese and Laotian jungles with 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzodioxin otherwise known as the defoliant Agent Orange, manufactured mostly by Monsanto and Dow. The idea was to deny the Viet Cong cover under which they could conduct clandestine supply operations and troop movements. Success in this regard was questionable, but in the concentrations employed it caused unforeseen severe health problems to people on the ground, unborn children, livestock and U.S. soldiers.

The contemporary music scene seemed to be holding its breath, waiting for something to happen. If you subscribe to the thesis rock ‘n’ roll had its genesis in rhythm and blues, it’s understandable parents were terrified by the original wild-eyed primitive rockers,

Fabian

Fabian

(especially black ones and rockers influenced by black music). It’s not too big a stretch to believe these original crazy men were the harbingers of a vast social upheaval. Parents breathed a great sigh of collective relief when rock’s trailblazers began to give way to primarily white, immaculately coiffed and turned out male singers like Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Gene Pitney and several Bobby’s, Jimmy’s and Johnny’s. Fabian epitomized the trend – he couldn’t sing a note, but looked like every mom & pop’s dream date for their daughter’s senior prom. As for their predecessors, Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens had been killed in a small plane crash, Eddie Cochran died and Gene Vincent was sidelined by the same London taxi wreck, Jerry Lee Lewis flamed out after marrying his 13-year old first cousin, Chuck Berry was in prison, Little Richard was into gospel and Elvis was doing schlocky musical movies with Ann Margret. The whole scene was in transition.

Ray Charles

Ray Charles

Strangely enough then, the year’s top song was not a rock anthem at all – Ray Charles’ “I Can’t Stop Loving You”. But Ray was pretty safe, not being given to sudden fits of sexual gyration. He was sort of an upbeat version of Nat King Cole and his drug habit was not yet public knowledge. Nat’s “Ramblin’ Rose” finished the year at #24.

Surf music arose primarily in 1962, although Dick Dale & the Del-tones had a few minor hits in 1961. Theoretically arising from the “surf” lifestyle of Orange County, it depended on electric guitars and organs for its sound, and surf, cars and girls at beach parties for its

Frankie & Annette

Frankie & Annette

subject matter. Who can forget Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello twisting the night away, (apologies to Sam Cooke), under a southern California moon, between takes of Frankie expertly racing his Thunderbird down the highway against various nefarious evil-doers.  Frankie always drove Thunderbirds in his several movies including 1957, 1960 and 1963 models. I guess T-Birds projected a wholesome image – who else but Annette could look sexy and modest at the same time – a far cry from following generations of Disney starlets.

Annette on a Surfboard

Annette on a Surfboard

If you were looking for a bad boy image you drove a hot rod – Deuce Coupe or something like that. If you’re a real badass you used a Lincoln powered 1949 Mercury to run moonshine – a suitable red neck image.

Never mind Thunderbirds of this vintage couldn’t handle or accelerate the way Frankie drove them, and certainly didn’t sound like Formula 1 racers as was portrayed, (this is the effect for which today’s tuners strive, but manage instead to achieve the acoustics of a demented sewing machine crossed with a popcorn popper). Curiously, neither Frankie nor Annette ever had a surf hit, although they released a number of surf-themed albums individually. Annette succumbed to complications arising from a long struggle with multiple sclerosis on April 8, 2013, the same day Margaret Thatcher died.

Frankie & his Thunderbird

Frankie & his Thunderbird

The Beach Boys had released “Surfin’” in 1961 but it had little chart impact, rising to a high of #75 on the Hot 100. Their first big hit, “Surfin’ Safari” hit #14 in October, 1962, and finished the year at #145.

Frankie Valli and his quartet had been around under various names since 1953, but by 1962 they finally made the big time as the ”Four Seasons”. “Sherry” hit #3 for the year and “Big Girls Don’t Cry” came in at #2. Chubby Checker’s re-release of the “Twist” ended 1962 at #10 while Joey Dee and the Starliters achieved #5 with the “Peppermint Twist”. They were the house band for the famous Peppermint Lounge discotheque at 128 – W. 45 Street in New York City. Don’t go looking for it today as it was torn down in the Eighties.

Beach Boys

Beach Boys

Had Mercury been forced to rely on the full-size cars for sales credibility in 1961, the model year would have been a disaster. Sales were off by 35,000, however when Comet was included, Mercury figures, actually increased almost 12% over 1960. Industry-wide sales had dropped 15%, so Mercury’s overall results were quite heartening and Ben Mills’ position as vice-president and general manager of Lincoln-Mercury Division became even more secure. There were changes in Ford’s senior ranks however, the one most affecting Mercury being the promotion of Eugene Bourdinat to head of styling for the overall company. His mandate

1962 Mercury Monterey Custom S-55 Convertible

1962 Mercury Monterey Custom S-55 Convertible

was to promote a family resemblance among Ford’s various makes with particular emphasis on making Mercury look somewhat like a junior Lincoln, thereby according some reflected prestige. Whatever the intentions, the new big Merc looked decidedly more like a Ford than a Lincoln.

Headline news for the marque this year was the introduction of a new intermediate offering dubbed the Meteor, intended to fill whatever gap existed between Comet and Monterey. Although Ford advertising insisted that by offering attributes of both compact and full-size cars, the new Meteor sat midway between them, in truth, it was more closely related to the Comet and where possible borrowed sheet metal from its smaller brother.

1962 Meteor Custom

1962 Meteor Custom

Additionally, its main rivalry was with the larger GM compacts, Pontiac Tempest, Oldsmobile F-85 and Buick Special. The new car rode on a 116.5 inch wheelbase and was appointed similarly to a late-50’s full-size Edsel. Interestingly, it sold for less than a comparably outfitted 1961 Meteor 600! By way of comparison, Comet rode on a 114 inch wheelbase and Monterey 120 inches.

The Meteor name had been used by Ford since 1949 to denote a Canada-only version of the full-size Ford, a role it filled up to and including 1961. In 1961 it accomplished a dual purpose, referring as well to entry level versions of the full-size Mercury known as the Meteor 600 and Meteor 800 in the U.S. Thankfully, this latter project was quietly laid to rest in 1962. The Fairlane name was co-opted for use as the equivalent intermediate size Ford. The two makes were clearly close cousins and shared similar engineering, construction techniques, and sheet metal.

Comet led off the Mercury line-up once again this year, although this was the first time it bore the Mercury name and was fully recognized as a Mercury.

1962 Comet Custom

1962 Comet Custom

Comet was offered in two series, base and Custom each with a 2 door- or 4 door- sedan and a 2- or 4-door station wagon. A tonier 4-door wagon known as the Custom Villager, (a name lifted directly from earlier Edsel wagons), also became available later in the model year.

Styling changes for the 1962 Comet were cosmetic. There was no mistaking this as an evolution of the 1960 and 1961 models. Bumpers, headlight placement, fender gun sights, roofline, interior door panel configuration, Instrument cluster and dash, hubcaps, windshield and character lines along the flanks and the crisp centre hood ridge that had been adopted by the whole Mercury line, were virtually unchanged. 1962’s grille consisted of a series of closely spaced stamped vertical bars separated at top and bottom from the hood and bumper by a narrow channel,

1962 Comet Custom

1962 Comet Custom

each bordered by two thin horizontal strips and containing nine evenly spaced vertical teeth. The main vertical bars are mildly convex while the teeth are slightly slanted back thus insetting the grille a touch. Wherever these teeth meet the main grille, the space between the main vertical bars is slightly larger. This whole arrangement, including headlights, is all contained within a stainless surround. When all is said and done, in reality all that changed was the grille inside this surround. If this sounds complicated it certainly is, and while not displeasing, is unnecessarily fiddly. Complexity does not necessarily equal taste or beauty. MERCURY is spelled out in chrome block lettering across the front of the hood.

1962 Comet Custom

1962 Comet Custom

The thin horizontal stainless side spear from 1961 returns in 1962, but instead of hopping up behind the front door to run along the top edge of the fin, it continues to flow down the upper personality crease where it forms a small flare near the rear end. In place of last year’s three vertical hash marks ahead of the front wheel wells, “Comet” appears in chrome script. The stylized emblem appearing on the “C” – pillar moves down into the chrome band separating the roof from the rear fender.

Gone for 1962 are the “cats-eye” taillights, replaced by two round lights on each side in a

1962 Comet S-22

1962 Comet S-22

horizontal arrangement, and contained within a stainless panel forming the rear valance between bumper and trunk lid. A thin stainless molding outlines the valance and forms the trailing lip of the trunk lid. If the car has back-up lights, they are located inboard of the taillights, while the filler cap is in the centre behind a hinged door. “Mercury” is spelled out in chrome script on the right side of the trunk lid.

Inside, the same dashboard in use since the 1960 introduction, with the same “bolted on” look, remains in play, except the decorative ribs below the speedometer are now vertical instead of horizontal.

1962 Comet Instrument Panel

1962 Comet Instrument Panel

Fuel and temperature gauges moved down into the filigreed section. The base car offers four upholstery selections consisting of vinyl bolsters with matching “Bethaney” cloth inserts. Door panels are also the same primary design as prior years. The lower series has the top third of the door panel painted a complimentary colour with the balance carrying two-toned vinyl having an embossed design.

1962 Comet Custom

1962 Comet Custom

Custom models included all features on the base Comet plus Imitation hardtop stainless B-pillars and side window frames, (both series had stainless drip rails), and a “Custom” nameplate on the front fenders. Inside appearance is considerably more upscale. One special feature listed as standard on the Custom is a deluxe white steering wheel, when in fact this was standard across all models in 1961. Lower level Comets didn’t have a horn ring. Interestingly, the S-22 advertised a none-white colour-keyed steering wheel as a positive thing!

Other Custom aspects include rear seat armrests and ashtrays, cigarette lighter and a courtesy light group. Four choices of pleated “Jewelsheen” cloth seat inserts combined

1962 Comet - No Horn Ring!

1962 Comet – No Horn Ring!

with vinyl bolsters or two selections of an all-vinyl offering covered the seats. The top third of door panels was still painted metal, but it was now separated from the rest of the door by a stainless molding. The middle third was vinyl coloured and pleated to match the seats while the rest was vinyl with another chrome spear near the bottom.

The sporty S-22 also reappears this year, with five all vinyl interior possibilities sheathing bucket seats and generous use of chrome mylar fabric on the door panels plus a third chrome spear. Front seats are separated by a storage console with a ribbed chrome plated lid. Turbine style hubcaps contain red, white and blue centres, while special badging appears on the “C” – pillar.

1962 Comet S-22 interior

1962 Comet S-22 interior

Three taillights obviously stolen directly from the 1961 Monterey grace each side of the rear valance with the middle one doubling as a back-up light.

Comet station wagons return as 2- and 4-door Comet, 2- and 4-door Custom. Other than the grille the major exterior difference from prior years is in taillight styling. Two small round lights sit in an oval pod, high on either side, the outboard ones being the taillight and the other the back-up lights. The single stainless side spear now wraps over and partially around the taillights where it meets a broader horizontal chrome garnish across the tailgate.

1962 Comet Custom Station Wagon

1962 Comet Custom Station Wagon

MERCURY appears in script above this broad bar and towards its right end. A single character crease runs from behind the front wheel well to the rear bumper. All Custom wagons are otherwise decorated as Custom sedans. Base Comet station wagons could be ordered with one of two choices of Bethany cloth and vinyl, while Customs could be had with a choice of four all-vinyl possibilities. Textured black rubber mats instead of carpet adorned the floor of the lower-line wagon.

1962 Comet Villager Station Wagon

1962 Comet Villager Station Wagon

A new top-of-the-line Comet wagon debuted halfway through the model year – the Comet Custom Villager. Outfitted like a Custom it also included faux wood paneling on the sides and tailgate, consisting of imitation ash fiberglass rails and mahogany panels. In place of MERCURY script on the tailgate, the name was printed across it in chrome block capitals. As with other Comet wagons, the fuel filler cap is located on the driver’s side towards the rear and is painted body colour. Bucket seats with console were an interior option along with four selections of all-vinyl upholstery in the same colours as the S-22 except the latter’s turquoise was not offered.

1962 Comet Custom interior

1962 Comet Custom interior

Notable available extra-cost options for Comet include radio, full wheel covers, (styling unchanged since 1960 introduction), narrow whitewalls, heater, outside mirror, air conditioner (one of those homely hung below the dash affairs), padded dash and sun visors. All Custom standard equipment except the imitation hardtop look was available for more money on the base car. Other equipment for the wagons included a roof-top chrome luggage rack and a power tailgate window, (standard on Villager). Given Mercury’s earlier ill-fated experiment with optional safety features it’s interesting to note the padded dash and sun visors are not standard equipment. People who liked them tended to buy them for their looks. Almost 65% of Comets were equipped with an automatic transmission, 47% with a radio, and 9% with air conditioning, the priciest option.

1962 Comet S-22 door panel

1962 Comet S-22 door panel

Comet also showcased several technological improvements for 1962, including a more sophisticated suspension, 30,000 mile chassis lubrication, a more durable muffler, increased sound insulation and on wagons greater brake lining area.

Power is still provided by the base 144 cid “Comet Six” putting out 85 horsepower, or optionally the more popular 170 cid in-line six rated at 101 horsepower, both hosting a single barrel downdraft carburetor. The latter engine came standard on the S-22.

Totaling 73,800 units sold, the 2-door sedan was the most popular Comet, (including

1962 Comet 4-door sedan

1962 Comet 4-door sedan

Custom and S-22). The most expensive was the Villager Station Wagon at $2,710, but it sold only 2,318 cars.

All Mercurys shared the same exterior colour palette made up of fourteen solid shades which could be combined into nineteen two-tone possibilities. Many of the latter were reversible.

As mentioned the new Meteor was Mercury’s entrant in the mid-size field, and was thought to give broader coverage of the car-buying public. With its introduction, (along with the new Fairlane), Ford had created the “intermediate” field. These new sized chariots featured unitized construction and were advertised as the ideal compromise between full-size and compact, sharing many attributes from both camps. It came in two versions, standard and Custom and as a 2- or 4-door sedan. The new unibody construction necessitated a strengthened frame to compensate for structural weak spots thus created.

1962 Meteor

1962 Meteor

 

In keeping with the Bourdinat mandate, the Meteor was decidedly a member of the Ford family and an unmistakably strong relation to the Comet. The sedan configuration lends it a boxy look but it’s still a handsome automobile in a 1959 sort of way. If the grille and headlights are the vehicle’s face, then the Meteor’s countenance and overall effect are not displeasing. When one looks upon the visage of a beautiful woman, one does not study and assess individual features for evidence upon which to base a judgment, but looks at the unified whole. As with many Ford grilles of the era, the Meteor’s is unnecessarily intricate with its three part convex-concave-convex wave-like look. To describe it in detail, (see Comet above), as a way to illuminate the overall effect is probably a fruitless exercise. A picture truly is worth a thousand words …

1962 Meteor

1962 Meteor

As with the Comet, gun sight ornaments appear atop the front fenders and the METEOR name in chrome script graces the fenders behind the forward wheel wells. MERCURY is spelled out in block letters across the hood’s leading edge and above the heavy brow created by the rear-hinged hood. The front bumper is cantilevered, includes turn signals at its outboard ends and an indentation in the middle for the license plate.

1962 Meteor

1962 Meteor

A single stainless spear starts near the top of the front fender and sweeps along the side to the rear quarters, descending slightly along the way. A character crease runs horizontally lower down the side, starting just behind the chrome name script and goes all the way to the rear bumper. From the trailing edge of the front door back, this crease is emphasized with a chrome molding. Three forward-oriented shorter chrome spears reside below this one and in front of the rear wheel well, raked forward so as to give the impression of forward motion.

1962 meteor

1962 meteor

Window frames are of the chrome faux-hardtop style while the C-pillar, (like the Comet), echoes the by now passe Galaxie look complete with a chrome ornamental band along its bottom where it meets the body.

On a side note, the Galaxie C-pillar was first seen on 1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliners and continued into 1958 on the Thunderbird where it gained significant credibility and prestige. By 1961 it was in general use across all Ford makes, including Lincoln where it assumed a more formal look. In 1963 it was dropped by all Mercurys except the Meteor and junior Comets, although the latter retained the look through 1965. 1964 saw Meteor return to its roots as a Canadian Mercury replacing Monterey north of the border. The 1966 Thunderbird was the last Ford to wear the now clichéd look – it had by then been supplanted either by the fastback “Marauder” or “Breezeway” rooflines on all other Ford products except Lincoln which had its own distinguished silhouette.

1962 Meteor Custom interior

1962 Meteor Custom interior

The stainless panel between the cantilevered rear bumper and the trunk lid is filled by a stamped imitation grille carrying back-up lights, (when ordered at extra cost), at either end and contained within a chrome surround. On the Custom, this trim also forms the trailing edge of the trunk lid. The filler neck hides behind a small door in the middle of said grille. METEOR appears in chrome script on the lower right of the trunk lid.

Small fins run along the rear fenders ending in rather novel boomerang shaped openings housing bullet-like taillights identical to those employed in this year’s Monterey.

1962 Meteor interior

1962 Meteor interior

Custom’s exterior appearance is enhanced with a brightly ribbed applique covering the rear quarter panels, chromed rocker panels and a discreet addition to the METEOR chrome script on the front fenders, declaring the subject to be a “Custom”.

Inside, the base series wore one of four upholstery options of vinyl and “Westport Stripe”. Door panels are vinyl with a stamped-in design. Custom interiors were considerably more elegant. The buyer could elect livery either in four combinations of vinyl bolsters and pleated “Lexington” fabric inserts or all-vinyl in five complimentary shades. The top third of door panels is colour-keyed painted metal, the middle third is either fabric or vinyl to match seat inserts and the bottom third is embossed vinyl. Each third is separated by a chrome molding.

1962 Meteor instrument panel

1962 Meteor instrument panel

Meteor’s instrument panel is a symphony in chrome filigree, embracing a full two-thirds of the dash. The thin horizontally oriented needle type speedometer is set on a black background near the top of the instrument cluster, while to its right, still on a black backdrop, METEOR appears in block capitals. Four circular gauges are located below the speedometer, keeping the driver informed about fuel level, oil pressure, electrical charging system, and engine temperature. The push button radio is located to their right, while the heater controls are further to the right again, but still within the instrument panel. Control knobs are below the gauges.

1962 Meteor

1962 Meteor

In January, 1962 Meteor debuted the S-33, a sporty version of the 2-door sedan. It boasts an all-vinyl interior, (colours identical to the Custom), complete with bucket seats, a small console with storage for your Italian leather driving gloves, (although the transmission selector lever stayed on the steering column), splashy door panels featuring liberal use of chrome mylar fabric and other brightwork, and special plush carpeting. To distinguish the car from lesser Meteors and thus excite neighbourhood envy, the new Meteor showed off some extra ornamentation outside in addition to that on the Meteor Custom – a distinctive nameplate on the front fender behind the wheel well announces how special you are along with distinctive full hubcaps sporting a tri-colour centre.

1962 Meteor S-33

1962 Meteor S-33

An unacknowledged positive for Meteor could be found in its adoption of “Cushion-Link” front suspension geometry, introduced in 1961 on full-size cars, which markedly dampened road shock. As well, extra sound deadening insulation had been installed in all Mercurys, but this went largely unnoticed too. If it didn’t add to power or looks, the public wasn’t particularly interested.

1962 Mercury Meteor

1962 Mercury Meteor

The 170 cid in-line 6-cylinder engine is standard equipment on Meteor, while a new 221 cid V-8 of 145 bhp, developed as part of the Fairlane-Meteor game plan is an extra-cost option. Both engines sip regular fuel while using an 8.7:1 compression ratio. The latter is equipped with a 2-bbl carburetor. As part of the S-33 launch but not as standard equipment on the sportier car, (extra cost on all models), Ford came out with another brand new V-8 of 260 cid. The latest addition also imbibed regular fuel through a 2-bbl carburetor and had an 8.7:1 compression ratio. Most Meteors were manufactured with a V-8 and automatic transmission.

1962 Meteor

1962 Meteor

Extra-cost options to enhance your driving experience include power steering and brakes, padded dash and sun visors, electric wipers and windshield washer, push-button radio with rear seat speaker, back-up lights, narrow whitewalls, air conditioning, side view mirror, spotlight, full wheel covers and two tone paint.

By far the most popular Meteor was the Custom 4-door sedan with a total production run of 23,484 units. The S-33 was most expensive at $2,509.

1962 Meteor S-33 interior

1962 Meteor S-33 interior

Monterey was Mercury’s only full-size offering in 1962, taking over entry-level duties from the now defunct large Meteor 800. The body shell owed more to Ford than Lincoln, (with whom it bore no resemblance whatever). Nonetheless, this is one big car and despite its torpedo shape, the heavy brow over grille and headlights combined with the Galaxie style roofline and plump sides give an impression of heaviness and bulk. This C-pillar look with the flat backlite was in use across the entire Ford line-up in 1962 and was starting to appear a bit dated. I can’t help thinking the big Merc might have benefitted from the Starliner look of previous years. Monterey’s cabin contours this year are crisper and more boxlike. Except on convertibles, the front windshield no longer continues smoothly into the header, but instead the brow now appears to jut out over the windshield.

1962 Monterey Custom

1962 Monterey Custom

The Monterey in its basic form was offered as a 2- or 4-door sedan or hardtop, while an upscale version, the Monterey Custom could be ordered as a 4-door sedan, a 2- or 4-door hardtop or a convertible.

The grille is a convex array of thin die cast vertical bars this year, bisected horizontally by a single stainless crosspiece centred with a Mercury emblem. Headlights are individually encased in heavy chrome bezels set into the grille and are closer together than in 1961. Bumper ends are less upswept with turn/signal lights set into the outer ends. The hood’s leading edge forms a prominent brow which is capped by a chrome molding that extends around the front fenders and continues down the sides where it drops down behind the front door to meet another spear running

1962 Mercury convertible

1962 Mercury convertible

up the beltline to the rear edge of the front door. MERCURY is written across the front of the hood in block capitals. Fender gun sight ornaments resemble miniature chrome fins.

A rounded hump starts just under the C-pillar and surmounts the rear fenders where a normal “fin” would run. Single abbreviated cone-like taillights protrude through a chrome “jet-tube” tunnel at their ends. This look was unlike anything seen on a Mercury before or after and resembles somewhat the styling on contemporary Imperials. “MONTEREY” appears on the side of the rounded fin just in front of the chrome roundel housing the taillight, while “MERCURY” shows in chrome script on the right side of the trunk lid just above the trailing edge. Hubcaps, which are shared with Meteor, are fairly mundane, consisting of a series of concentric circles framing a plain centre in which “MERCURY” is stamped on opposing sides.

1962 Mercury

1962 Mercury

All Montereys have stainless rocker panel covers. Exterior distinguishing features of the Monterey Custom include chrome embellished wheel well lips, a decorative horizontally ribbed plaque on the slightly bulged part of the fender forward of the front wheel well, saddle trim below side windows, not seen since 1956 adds a nice touch and brightwork on the lower rear quarter panels behind the wheel well.

The rear valance is covered by a stainless panel between the upswept cantilevered bumper and the trunk lid, decorated with a stamped design picked out in black paint which resembles a faux grille echoing its counterpart on the front. Back up lights are set in the rounded outboard ends of the panel, while the Mercury “shield” badge is carried on the fuel filler door in the centre of the valance, flanked by small chrome spears on either side.

1962 Monterey Custom

1962 Monterey Custom

The entire arrangement is contained within a thick chrome flattened oval shaped surround, the top portion of which forms the trunk lid’s trailing edge. The rounded valance contributes to a plumper look.

Both Commuter and Colony Park station wagons were carried over from 1961 in 4-door six and nine passenger versions. Both continued to be presented in sedan style, but of the imitation hardtop variety. The Commuter is finished as a base Monterey while Colony Park is appointed like a Monterey Custom, although interior colour availability was a bit more limited. Colony Park was further set apart by its simulated wood paneling on the sides. Instead of the usual side chrome moldings, stainless trim is inset into the middle of the fiberglass rails framing the faux mahogany overlay. “Colony Park” in chrome script appears high on the rear fenders just fore of the taillight housings. Interestingly, Colony Park outsold Commuter.

1962 Monterey Custom dash - note air conditioner.

1962 Monterey Custom dash – note air conditioner.

The dashboard is similar to that for 1961. A “grille themed” stainless panel bisects it horizontally along its length, with an interruption directly in front of the steering wheel where oil pressure and generator warning lights appear below a Mercury logo. To the left of the steering wheel, knobs controlling brake release, lights and left air vent are located within the stainless panel, while to the right we find similar knobs for right air vent, wipers and cigarette lighter. The instrument panel is a variant of the same one that’s been around on full-size Fords since 1960, shaped like a wide oval with its hooded top half housing a needle type 120 mph speedometer, fuel and temperature gauges and the clock, all on a black background. The lower half is interior coloured paint with ignition to the left of the steering wheel and heater/fan controls to the right. The radio is in the centre of the dash, within the chrome garnish, while the glove box is located in front of the passenger. The steering wheel hub badge displays the new Mercury “head” in relief.

1962 Mercury Commuter

1962 Mercury Commuter

Montereys could be ordered with vinyl bolsters in five colours combined with “shadow weave” fabric seat inserts in complementary shades, (“shadow weave has chrome coloured mylar threads woven into it for an added touch of elegance), or all-vinyl in four hues, (white bolsters with beige, red or black inserts, or light and medium turquoise). Monterey Custom upholstery selections were available in five distinct colours consisting of vinyl bolsters with mylar thread interwoven “Corinthian cloth” inserts, or four all-vinyl selections in the same tint as Monterey. Vinyl convertible interiors were identical, with the added option of light blue combined with medium blue. Convertible tops came in black or white. All models had vinyl door panels featuring liberal applications of chrome mylar cloth, but naturally, Custom interior examples are splashier and more resplendent.

1962 Mercury S-55 interior

1962 Mercury S-55 interior

Cars throughout the line-up were carpeted with nylon twisted loop yarn, except the Commuter which made do with rubber matting textured to look like carpet, (why did they have to cheapen a full-size Mercury like that – shades of Meteor 600).

In January, 1962 a dress-up option, the S-55, was introduced for the Monterey Custom 2-door hardtop and convertible. The grouping includes a different chrome ornament on the front fenders consisting of four ribbed vertically oriented chrome plaques joined together by a horizontal band reading “S Fifty Five”. The S-55 interior treatment was very handsome and well executed – perhaps the most luxurious in Mercury history. Individually adjustable, vinyl clad bucket seats, (in six colour selections), are centred by a large graceful console, the front half of which consists of a diecast ribbed chrome shift plate.

1962 Mercury S-55 console

1962 Mercury S-55 console

The shift lever is located here along with power window switch if this option is ordered. The back part of the console sweeps up to become a padded vinyl lid for a storage compartment, doubling as an armrest. Seat backs are decorated with six chrome studs, which theme is carried over to the middle of the door panels. Rear seats are similarly appointed. Chrome mylar cloth is liberally employed to enhance door panels, with carpeted lower quarters separated from the vinyl covered centre and bearing a combination courtesy/safety light. Door sills are chrome inlaid with a flat interior coloured panel.

Other S-55 standard features include the 390 cid Marauder engine, Multi-dtive automatic, luxury carpeting, padded dash, electric clock, chrome enhanced clutch, brake and accelerator pedals, back-up lights, a rear seat heater outlet running through the console and tri-colour centred wheel covers.

1962 Mercury Monterey S-55 Custom Convertible

1962 Mercury Monterey S-55 Custom Convertible

Another refreshing change from 1961 was the broader array of engines offered. Unhappily, standard fare for the Monterey was a 223 cid six cylinder engine of 138 bhp and 8.4 compression ratio. Could the brand have been further insulted if GM was choosing engine availability? Pontiac must have wondered to whom they owed this publicity bonanza. Fortunately only 17% of Montereys were so equipped – as an aside only Monterey and Checker offered a six-cylinder engine in the medium price field. The 292 cid V-8 returned as the standard engine in the Monterey Custom, and in base guise put out 175 bhp. The first optional engine was the Marauder 352 cid with a two-barrel carburetor and advertised at 220 bhp.

1962 Monterey Custom interior

1962 Monterey Custom interior

Things started to get more interesting with the 390 cid FE at 300 bhp. In January, 1962 Mercury introduced two real howlers of 406 cid. The first was equipped with a single 4-barrel carburetor and was rated at 385 bhp. The second was equipped with 3×2 barrel carbs and was capable of 405 bhp, one shy of the magical one horsepower per cubic inch. Besides special carburetion, these monsters arrived with a wilder camshaft, mechanical tappets, and a 10.9 compression ratio requiring premium fuel. Specially tuned dual exhaust, a free flow air cleaner, heavy duty suspension without “Cushion Link” and larger brakes were also standard. Motor Trend tested the latter engine in an S-55 convertible and they’re still trying to get the smiles off the test driver’s face, (see article under “Magazine Articles – 1962” in the right-hand banner). Mercury had officially entered the performance race!

1962 Mercury Monterey interior

1962 Mercury Monterey interior

The first two engines came with a 3-speed standard transmission, with overdrive optionally available by special order. All engines could be combined with either Merc-o-Matic or Multi-Drive automatics; the latter is standard on S-55. The two 406’s arrived with a Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed; automatics and most power equipment and air conditioning were not available as they couldn’t withstand the revs of which these motors are capable. The T-10 was also optional with the 390. Other than the 406 restrictions, both Merc-o-Matic and Multi-drive automatics were optional for any engine.

As a matter of interest, only 5% of Montereys were ordered with a manual transmission.

1962 Mercury Monterey Taillights

1962 Mercury Monterey Taillights

Even more heartening only 17% were equipped with 6-cylinder engines. Of full-size medium priced autos in 1962, only Mercury and Checker could be ordered with a six!

The best-selling full-size Mercury was the Monterey Custom 4-door sedan, while the most expensive was the S-55 convertible, which would set you back $3,738.

In 1962, Comet production fell 18,035 units to 165,224 cars, while total Montereys manufactured dropped 17,166 to 102,922. The new Meteor contributed 51,912 units to overall sales for a total of 324,145 new Mercury automobiles for 1962, an all-time record.

1962 Mercury Monterey instrument panel

1962 Mercury Monterey instrument panel

Obviously the Meteor stole some sales from both its big and little brothers, but this is partly bookkeeping. The 1961 Meteors were counted as sales of the full-size cars and buyers in this category likely moved to the new Meteor. As a matter of interest the Monterey Custom outsold the base Monterey by 62,422 vehicles to 40,500. The “S” versions are included in the above figures although sales of the S-55 were particularly disappointing at only 2,772 hardtops and 1,315 convertibles. Nobody has ever determined what the “S” stands for, but in advertising of the day these cars were referred to as the “Sizzlers”, so in my book, the obvious leap of logic is not too great.

1962 Mercury Monterey S-55 door panel

1962 Mercury Monterey S-55 door panel

Ben Mills was ahead of his promised performance and was therefore, rightly or wrongly hailed as the conquering hero. 1963 awaits.

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1961 Mercury – The BETTER Low-Price Cars

John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy

In many ways 1961 is the story of the relationship between John F. Kennedy, newly elected President of the USA, and Nikita S. Khrushchev, Premier of the Soviet Union. The two leaders could not have been more different. Kennedy was young, physically attractive, athletic, courtly and genteel. He came from old money and was brought up with all the social privileges and respect wealth could buy, was well-educated and supremely self-confident but relatively untested in the rough and tumble of international diplomacy. In Jackie, he married one of the most gorgeous and glamorous women in the country. She came from the same sort of background and breeding as JFK, and with two cute, charming and photogenic children his family life looked idyllic.

JFK and family

JFK and family

Khrushchev was considerably older, short, rotund and quite homely, came from rustic stock and had little formal education. He embraced Bolshevism at its beginning and backed Stalin in the internecine warfare after Lenin’s death. He was one of the few original communist leaders to survive Stalin’s purges and in fact participated actively in purges in the Ukraine in the 1930’s. He was liaison between the Red Army Generals and the Communist Party during World War II and spent time in Stalingrad during the worst days of the siege. Khrushchev not only

Nikita S. Khrushchev

Nikita S. Khrushchev

survived the in-fighting following Stalin’s death, but emerged as the USSR’s new leader. He was extremely wily and possessed of a certain peasant cunning you could only acquire by dueling life at its worst. Khrushchev used a combination of charm and threatening bluster to get his way, usually with devastatingly effective results. He was easy to underestimate, and those who dared did so at their peril.

If the new US President was hoping for a honeymoon period after his inauguration on January 20, Premier Khrushchev pleasantly and unexpectedly obliged. In the first hours of the new presidency the USSR released imprisoned US air crews, printed an unedited transcript of JFK’s inaugural address in the Soviet press and cut back on jamming Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty signals. Khrushchev was actually delighted by Kennedy’s win as he believed the new President was a lightweight he could push around.

Jackie Kennedy

Jackie Kennedy

Kennedy had never met Khrushchev but certainly knew him by reputation. JFK was determined not to let the Russian get the better of him, and so was suspicious a trick lay behind every conciliatory gesture. Khrushchev was actually quite startled when despite his deferential overtures, Kennedy took a hard line right out of the gate.

Unfortunately, an unwillingness and inability to understand their respective opponent’s motives combined with a deep suspicion nurtured over many years rendered both sides incapable of taking advantage of whatever small attempts at goodwill or cordial openings may be offered. For all his bombast, Khrushchev was actually the least intractable of any of the Soviet leaders, but circumstances tied his hands in many ways the West could not appreciate. With jealous and obstinate Party die-hards watching his every move for signs of weakness, a resurgent

Mao Tse Tung - Khrushchev's nemesis

Mao Tse Tung – Khrushchev’s nemesis

China continually challenging Soviet leadership of the Communist world and East German leader Ulbricht threatening to take Berlin policy into his own hands if the Red Army couldn’t do anything to stem the flood of his citizens fleeing to the West through Berlin, Khrushchev had lots to think about.

Khrushchev had been pushing for an early summit meeting to come to some sort of understanding with the West, so he could turn his attention to other pressing matters. Not trusting him, Kennedy brushed the invitation aside.

On April 12, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human launched into space,

Walther Ulbricht - East German leader

Walther Ulbricht – East German leader

handing Khrushchev apparent proof of Soviet scientific superiority. This was really something to crow about! Less than one month later, on May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American into space, but Khrushchev didn’t care – nobody remembers second best.

Kennedy had inherited from the Eisenhower administration, fairly well-advanced plans for the invasion of Cuba by CIA sponsored Cuban para-militaries. The idea was to make the exercise look like a counter-revolution and thereby remove Castro from power. Kennedy reluctantly agreed to go ahead but in trying to distance the US from the project he made so many changes the operation’s chances for success were fatally compromised. Written into history as “The Bay of Pigs” disaster, it turned out as an utter fiasco with the invaders all killed or captured and the US caught red-handed and red-faced. Cuba and the Soviet Union got to play the aggrieved party yet again.

Yuri Gagarin

Yuri Gagarin

Now the Russian leader had two aces to play and Kennedy thought perhaps a summit wasn’t such a bad idea. He proposed Vienna and it was the Soviet’s turn to play hard to get. After a fair degree of cajoling by the Americans, the two met on June 4. While several issues were broached, the major outcome was each leader threatening the other with nuclear war if their views on Berlin were unilaterally forced. Using his tried and true tactics along with supposed Russian technical dominance and American embarrassment over the

Vienna Summit

Vienna Summit

Bay of Pigs, Khrushchev ran debating circles around the inexperienced young President. An American aide characterized the meeting as ” … Boy Blue Meets Al Capone”. Khrushchev came away convinced he was dealing with a featherweight, and this no doubt deceived him into thinking bullying tactics would work. Little did anyone know that Kennedy’s judgement may have been impaired by heavy doses of medication for his chronic back pain and the effects of Addison’s disease.

As a direct result of the Vienna conference, Khrushchev ceded authority over Berlin to Walther Ulbricht’s East German government, who immediately began harassing and stopping Allied military personnel trying to enter East Berlin. This was by way of eventually closing the border altogether and thus preventing East Germans escaping to the West through Berlin.

Confrontation at Checkpoint Charlie

Confrontation at Checkpoint Charlie

The four-party Potsdam Conference among the victorious occupiers of Germany and Berlin specifically allowed free movement of the military between zones, so the East German action was in direct contravention of existing treaties, and therefore a serious provocation. At one point American and Soviet tanks faced one another just yards apart at Checkpoint Charlie, as an American general sought to probe Russian resolve.

Berlin Wall

Berlin Wall

Although everyone stood down, the infamous “Berlin Wall” went up the night of August 12 – 13, and by morning the border was closed. The Wall became history’s most stark symbol of communism’s failure. Although the Wall’s erection provided the solution to a major irritant for both sides, West Germans and Khrushchev took it as evidence the United States wasn’t really all that committed to West German defense. Perceived Communist success in Berlin was viewed as confirmation of Kennedy’s indecisive lack of resolve, and likely led directly to the Cuban missile crisis a year later.

Khrushchev and Friend

Khrushchev and Friend

In an ominous look at the future, the United States’ first direct military involvement in Viet Nam occurred in 1961. Vice-President Lyndon Johnson visited South Viet Nam and promised President Ngo Dinh Diem military aid to deal with the communist insurgency. Kennedy was of the view he had to take drastic action to counteract communist mischief-making throughout the developing world, and South-east Asia was a good place to start.

By 1961, rock and roll had mellowed further. Instead of the simple, driving beats of a few years earlier, popular music had given way to elaborate orchestral arrangements with strings and a horn section. Actually, the

Bobby Vee

Bobby Vee

year’s #1 song, “Tossin’ and Turnin’” by Bobbie Lewis was a bit of a throwback to yesteryear, but the top 10 also contained Bobby Vee’s “Take Good Care of My Baby“, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” done by the Tokens, and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by the Shirelles, all very melodic and sophisticated. Rock was becoming more adult oriented.

There were also a few ballads and folk songs thrown in for good measure: “Big Bad John” by Jimmy Dean took the year’s #2 spot, and although “Michael” by the Highwaymen captured #10, it would be a few years yet before the 60’s folk music craze would take hold.

Del Shannon’s first and only #1 hit was “Runaway“, which peaked in May and stayed on the charts for 17 weeks; it was ranked #3 for 1961. Del had a number of chart successes, but none ever

Del Shannon

Del Shannon

rivaled his first. His songs celebrated the pain of unrequited love and he has been called the last genuine rock ‘n’ roll star. He was the first American to successfully cover an original Beatles song with “From Me to You”, but his star started to seriously fade in the 1970’s and he took his own life in 1990.

Gary “U.S.” Bonds is simply awesome and one of my favorites – he always sounds like he’s just smoked two packs of cigarettes. His primitive, driving, muddy effect was achieved in a very basic recording studio owned by his producer. His “Quarter to Three” charted #13 in 1961 and he went on to collect 7 bona-fide hits by the time he ran out of gas in 1963. Bruce Springsteen was a big fan and covered Gary’s songs several times.

The Shirelles were the first of the “girl groups” and also the first black girl group to achieve

Gary "US" Bonds

Gary “US” Bonds

acceptance in both the black and white communities, predating the Motown girl groups by a few years. Their first of two #1 hits came in 1961 with “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, which placed #10 for the year. The second was “Soldier Boy” in 1962. While the Shirelles broke the ground for those that followed and were said to epitomize the essential spirit of the whole genre, their suggestive lyrics contrasted sharply with their innocent sound. By 1968 the girls were married and with changing priorities the group folded in 1968.

By 1961, Elvis’ appeal was starting to fade. Colonel Tom Parker was intent on remaking Elvis’ image after he returned from the Army by trying to broaden his appeal to include a

Shirelles

Shirelles

family audience. He started to do films, each one accompanied by a soundtrack which inevitably went “gold”. There were several, with each succeeding one becoming more forgettable than the last. “Blue Hawaii” was released in 1961. Elvis’ new look engendered a more archaic and over-produced style which wasn’t to everyone’s taste but he still charted 9 songs in 1961. The original Elvis sound of five years ago was gone for good.

One of the slogans used to pitch the line-up of big Mercurys in 1960 was “Best Built Car in America Today”. Legend has it this maxim was taken seriously by Ford engineers involved in the car’s design,

many of whom had come over from Packard at the time of the latter’s demise. They truly accepted the statement at face value, and believed in its veracity – their creation really was better built than the competition and they were proud of it.

1961 Mercury Monterey

1961 Mercury Monterey

You can imagine their dismay when confronted with the design specifications for 1961. Mercury was undergoing yet another of its identity crises – it couldn’t decide who it was nor who it wanted to be. From 1946 to 1948 it was a glorified Ford; for the 1949 to 1951 period it had its own body, personality and many other distinguishing characteristics. In 1952 it reverted to its ” … just a fancy Ford” persona which it maintained through 1956.

1961 Mercury Meteor 800

1961 Mercury Meteor 800

In 1957 it tried to strike out on its own again with the “Dream Car” concept, and this time managed to preserve its individuality until the 1961 model year when it executed another about-face and remade itself as a Ford once again. This time there was little attempt to disguise what was going on.

Ford strategists had done their best to sell the 1960 Merc as a low-priced economy-minded alternative, but try as they might the car’s image wouldn’t reinforce that message. It was fairly clear it had never been designed as a thrifty choice – its regal bearing radiated resplendent nobility from grille to gas cap. To compound its identity crisis, the marque now had a split personality too. Whatever game plan the corporate intellectuals had in mind, it hadn’t worked. In 1961, image caught up with reality – the bookkeeper mentality had prevailed and the brand had gone decidedly down market. Its motto was now “The Better Low-Price Cars”.

1961 Mercury dash

1961 Mercury dash

In 1960, Ernest Breech, the architect of Ford’s return from a near-death experience, left the company he had rescued. Whether he resigned or was fired is unclear but his departure precipitated a number of other senior management changes. On November 9, 1960 Robert S. McNamara was appointed to Ford’s presidency with Henry Ford II assuming the Chairman of the Board position. On November 8, 1960 John F. Kennedy was elected U.S. President and one of his first acts was to ask McNamara to become Secretary of Defence in the new Administration owing to his military and strategic planning experience.

1961 Mercury Monterey tail lights

1961 Mercury Monterey tail lights

As it happens, McNamara was actually second choice, but that’s a story for another day. So, one month after taking on the President of Ford job, McNamara resigned, took a huge salary cut and went to work for JFK. Henry Ford II resumed the presidency and handled both this and the chairmanship.

1961 Mercury Meteor 800 tail lights

1961 Mercury Meteor 800 tail lights

Ben Mills continued in his role as General Manager of Lincoln-Mercury. This was the third year of his five-year tenure, but the first in which he could make his mark on the Division’s products rather than administering someone else’s inherited ideas. The first order of business was of course to lay the Edsel to rest. Next up was preparing the new Lincoln’s introduction. The 1961 Lincoln Continental was heralded as a masterpiece of exquisite automotive beauty, offered in replacement of a ponderous monument to tasteless excess. Curiously, a 1960 Lincoln Continental Mk V is today worth considerably more than the equivalent 1961 model. Go figure. Elegance is apparently not timeless. Finally, the new 1961 Mercury had some changes of its own in store.

1961 Mercury Monterey convertible

1961 Mercury Monterey convertible

Early in 1959, Ford stylist Bud Kaufman had been tasked with the job of making the 1960 Edsel out of the components for the 1960 Ford. Since everyone knew the writing was already on the wall for the doomed Edsel, it didn’t make a lot of sense to waste valuable corporate resources on a lost cause. The result was a modest face-saving success if not an economic one – but then it was never intended to be a styling tour-de-force nor a financial triumph.

1961 Mercury Monterey door panel

1961 Mercury Monterey door panel

Now Kaufman’s boss approached him with the assignment of making the 1961 full-size Mercury out of the 1961 Ford. It’s hard to be sanguine about this intentional erosion of the brand’s prestige and diligently cultivated public image. It no longer faced off against Oldsmobile and DeSoto – now it was Chevrolet and Plymouth at the low end, Pontiac and Dodge at the high end, (and we’re not talking Bonneville and Impala here either).

1961 Mercury Monterey

1961 Mercury Monterey

The two makes share virtually all sheet metal, chassis and driveline components. The Mercury is a touch bigger, riding on a 120 inch wheelbase, (119 inches for a Ford Galaxie), and reaches 214.6 inches end to end, (Ford was 209.9 inches). The grille consists of a series of stamped concave vertical bars with the whole affair tapering a modest but noticeable degree from the outboard ends toward the centre. Each fifth bar is slightly thicker than its neighbors, (like the couple who live next-door to me). Quad headlights are mounted in heavy chrome bezels, and again incorporated into the grille as in 1960. Each pair is slightly separated from one another by a continuation of the grille motif.

1961 Mercury air conditioner

1961 Mercury air conditioner

To the extent described one could say the look was somewhat reminiscent of the 1960 grille. The hood is hinged at the cowl, (for the first time since 1956), with a slight crease running front to back down the centre. The leading edge follows the grille’s taper and is trimmed with stainless along the hood lip. This chrome garnish continues along the top of the grille where it meets the fender and wraps slightly around the side with the overall “brow” effect continuing as a crease along the front fender as far as the door. Model designation in chrome script appears on the door where the decorative ridge ends.

1961 Mercury Commuter

1961 Mercury Commuter

The centre of the hood lip is decorated with a stylized plastic shield embedded in the stainless strip, while MERCURY appears in stainless script on the front of the hood, offset to the driver’s side. All of the grille’s narrowing occurs along the top edge such that the substantial cantilevered horizontal bumper is the same width throughout its span, except for its upswept ends which wrap around to the front wheel wells. Turn/signal lights are plain rectangular lenses set  in the bumper’s outboard ends. Small decorative gun sight ornaments grace the forward top of each front fender.

1961 Mercury Meteor 800

1961 Mercury Meteor 800

Lower rear quarter panels affect a horizontal character line running from the top of the wheel well, back toward the rear, becoming more pronounced as it approaches the bumper. Other than a single stainless spear proceeding along the belt line from the top of the front wheel well almost all the way to the tail lights, the car’s sides are flat and unadorned. A low-key feature ridge begins on the top of the front fenders aft of the gun sights, runs along the door sills to the rear fenders where it develops into modest fins. The rear bumper is moderately cantilevered but does not form part of or incorporate any other design elements – the Monterey’s are slightly upswept at the ends. All models carried Mercury script on the passenger’s side of the trunk lid.

1961 Mercury Monterey convertible

1961 Mercury Monterey convertible

The windshield is significantly smaller and does not curve around the sides nor into the roof as in previous years, thus eliminating visual distortion in the corners, the knee bruising dogleg and the “heat pollution” Consumers Report found so worrisome.

A timidly unassuming scion had inherited the Mercury name and tradition. Development costs had been well contained and that of course at the time was more critical than former dignity and reputation.

1961 Mercury Monterey dash

1961 Mercury Monterey dash

The big Mercury came in three versions: Meteor 600, Meteor 800 and Monterey. As befits a fresh image of economical prudence, Montclair and Park Lane were quietly retired  – both were resurrected in 1964 and survived through 1968. The Meteor 600 was intended to appeal to entry level buyers looking at Chevrolet Bel Air and Plymouth Belvedere, (a cynic would also add Ford Fairlane), and was available as a 2- or 4-door sedan. It carries a large wrap-around rear window characterized by thinner C-pillars.

1961 Mercury Meteor 600

1961 Mercury Meteor 600

Because of rear window styling, the Meteor 600 cabin is actually a bit longer than its more senior brethren. Tail lights are horizontally oriented individual oblong units located on either end of the body colored rear filler panel between the trunk lid and the bumper. The fuel filler neck is located behind a door in the middle of this panel. The Mercury “head” is emblazoned on the door. All A- and B-pillars were chrome, with the latter of the imitation hardtop school.

1961 Mercury Meteor 600

1961 Mercury Meteor 600

Next up the ladder is the Meteor 800 which could be ordered as a 2- or 4-door sedan, or a 2- or 4-door hardtop. C-pillars were wider, modeled after the Galaxie, and sported bright drip rails. The C-pillar’s bottom half is enclosed in a horizontally ribbed chrome cover both inside and out,  and the 4-door hardtops have chrome sail panels with the same motif. The outside also features a stylized medallion on the casing. Each side of a stainless capped rear filler panel carries three individualized protruding round tail lights, each in its own chrome pod and visually held in place by four small decorative chrome supports. The middle ones are back-up lights, while the filler panel is horizontally ridged, mimicking the

1961 Mercury Meteor 800

1961 Mercury Meteor 800

C-pillar design. With the exception of door sills, all windows are set in stainless frames. Three attenuated horizontally oriented stainless strips are placed on the side of the front fender between the headlight and the wheel well, while rocker panels are covered in a bright molding. Meteor 800 would be roughly equivalent to a Ford Fairlane 500.

The Meteor nomenclature had been used by Ford of Canada since 1949 to designate what were basically Fords with different trim and ornamentation, sold by Mercury dealers. 1961 was the last year Canadian Meteors

1961 Canadian Meteor Montcalm

1961 Canadian Meteor Montcalm

were offered in this guise, but their existence no doubt generated a bit of confusion. Somewhat mitigating any potential befuddlement, the Meteor 600 and 800 were not sold in Canada. While the Canadian Meteor was a Ford in different clothing, it was certainly differentiated by distinct grille, rear end and side decoration treatment but came in all the body styles available to Ford. No quiet unobtrusive departure for this Meteor!

1961 Canadian Meteor Montcalm

1961 Canadian Meteor Montcalm

Monterey was promoted to the top of the line, a position it hadn’t enjoyed since 1954. It could be had as a 4-door sedan, 2- or 4-door hardtop or convertible. Mercury convertibles gave up on the Turnpike Cruiser rear window treatment in 1961, returning to the more traditional look shared with Ford. The long horizontal spear running down the side of the car is extended almost to the headlight on the Monterey and encloses a black hard rubber “rub strip” insert in its centre. The Meteor 800 and Monterey have scooped handhold recesses behind the door handles. Monterey corresponds to Galaxie in the Ford stable. Unfortunately Mercury did not field an offering equivalent to the Ford Starliner.

1961 Mercury Monterey convertible

1961 Mercury Monterey convertible

Chrome rocker panels on the Monterey extend to include a similar feature on the rear quarter panels joined by a thin highlight covering the rear wheel well lips. The flattened oval shaped stainless filler panel at the rear expands to include a wide chrome surround enveloping it, with  brightwork capping the ends of the fins and trunk lid.

Four station wagon versions were available; 6- and 9-passenger editions of each of the Commuter and Colony Park.

1961 Mercury Commuter

1961 Mercury Commuter

The rear-end has a serious forward rake while the lower half of the bottom hinged tailgate door consists of a horizontally ridged chrome plate, visually comparable to the rear filler panel on a passenger car. The natural progression of this application is into the rear fenders where semi-circular tail lights along with back-up lights are located, directly below the fins. The back window lowers into the tailgate, manually in the Commuter with power assist standard on the Colony Park, optional  in the Commuter. Electric control switches for this operation are located beside the ignition switch and externally in a circular device on the tailgate centrally located below the window. Second and third rows of seats fold flat to increase cargo capacity. The third row is forward-facing. Rear side windows curve around to meet the thin D-pillar which forms a frame for the tailgate window. All-around visibility is excellent, but these side windows aren’t easily found today. Hardtop styling was no longer available on wagons.

1961 Mercury Colony Park

1961 Mercury Colony Park

The Colony Park’s looks are enhanced by the addition of faux dark brown mahogany side paneling outlined with imitation ash fibreglass framing. Perimeter ash rails are inset with a thin chrome feature strip. The Commuter is otherwise finished like a Meteor 800, while Colony Park is equipped as a Monterey.

1961 Mercury Monterey dash

1961 Mercury Monterey dash

In another cost saving maneuver, Mercury employed a dash layout originally designed for the 1960 Ford and Edsel, albeit with more glitz to signify the intended additional degree of cultural gentility. With a few emblematic changes, major logistical expense was thus avoided. The same schematic was adopted by the 1961 Fords.

A narrow concave band runs across the middle of the dash, tapering to a gentle point at either end. On the Mercury this ribbon is fitted with a bright vertically ribbed insert splitting the wide oval instrument panel, the upper half of which contains all the gauges, while on the Ford it’s painted.  Knobs for various controls are located within the band, either side of the steering wheel, while the radio is found further to the right, accessible by both driver and front seat companion.

1961 Mercury Monterey dash

1961 Mercury Monterey dash

“Idiot” lights for generator and oil pressure, the automatic transmission selector quadrant plus the odometer are found directly above the steering wheel. The ashtray is below the radio, with the glove box in front of the passenger. In case you couldn’t remember in which chariot you were comfortably ensconced, MERCURY appears in script on the glove box door. The instrument panel is modestly hooded by the dash and shares the double-ended arrow motif. It contains a conventional speedometer along with fuel and temperature gauges and a clock. The instrument panel’s lower half houses heater controls, the speed control and ignition. Air conditioning could be ordered as a factory or dealer-installed option, but as was customary at the time it hung beneath the dash looking like an after-thought.

1961 Mercury Monterey

1961 Mercury Monterey

The master power window switch can be found on the driver’s door panel, while the 4-way power seat control is on the bottom left side of the driver’s seat.

Meteor 600 interiors were naturally more spartan than the rest of the line, consisting of vinyl bolsters and color-keyed “Country” tweed fabric inserts. Such further detail as was supplied, reposed in stampings in the seat and door panel vinyl to imitate horizontal pleats. Meteor 600 floors were sheathed in a rubber mat rather than carpeting.

1961 Meteor 800 interior

1961 Meteor 800 interior

Meteor 800 seats wore the same vinyl bolsters but inserts were vertical tuck and roll patterned, complentary-colored “Luster Weave” fabric. An all-vinyl interior is optional, but bolsters and inserts are usually of contrasting colors. Door panels are all-vinyl, each side having two large, (one front, one back) decorative rectangles, each framed by a stainless surround. The inside of the rectangles contains vertically embossed pleats and bolted on arm rests.

1961 Mercury Monterey interior

1961 Mercury Monterey interior

The template for Monterey interiors is very similar to that of the Meteor 800, but fabrics are richer. Metallic vinyl bolsters can match or contrast with “Shadow Weave” inserts, while armrests are a bit fancier but still bolt-ons. Convertibles and wagons have matching or contrasting all-vinyl interiors – the former do not have the room for the “rectangle” feature in the rear seat.

In truth, both Galaxie and Starliner have more attractive and sumptuous upholstery designs and selections – I would say the latter is altogether a more handsome choice.

1961 Mercury Monterey C-Pillar

1961 Mercury Monterey C-Pillar

For the first time in its history, Mercury tabled a 6-cylinder engine – the “Super Economy 223” was standard issue in the Meteor 600 and Commuter. In an earlier incarnation it had been available in 1954 Fords. Using regular gas, its 8.8 compression ratio could develop 135 horsepower. Also boasting a compression ratio of 8.8, the 2-bbl, 292 cid V8 was base engine in all other models and had been introduced in the 1955 Mercury when it was called the “Super Torque”. In 1961 it could put out 175 hp; six years earlier it was rated at 185 or 195 hp with a lower compression ratio!

Mercury finally got a taste of Ford’s big block “FE” (Ford-Edsel) engines with the introduction to the line of the Marauder 352 cid first available to Fords in 1958. In one if its original forms – Interceptor Special – it was rated at 300 hp with 4-bbl carburetion.

1961 Mercury Monterey Hood Escutcheon

1961 Mercury Monterey Hood Escutcheon

If it isn’t patently obvious by now, Mercury’s total focus for 1961 was on thrift and economy, so the emphasis was on the fact its 2-bbl carburetor would run quite happily on regular gas while producing 220 hp. This engine was available across the line-up.

For the few eccentric outliers Mercury suspected may be lurking in the weeds, it was hoped the final offering, the Marauder 390, would satisfy their primitive yearnings for brute power. Sadly, at 300 hp it wasn’t all that loutish at all. It ran a 4-bbl carburetor, dual exhaust, liked premium gas, exercised a 9.6 compression ratio and was not available to purchasers of the Meteor 600. Too bad – that would have been a sleeper!

1961 Mercury Commuter

1961 Mercury Commuter

All base engines along with the Marauder 352 could be matched with the three speed standard transmission, although only the two smaller ones could accommodate overdrive. Overdrive had never been a particularly popular option, but one would have thought Ford would be pushing it a bit harder given the climate of frugality they thought they were in. Merc-o-Matic was the base automatic transmission and its three speed configuration could be ordered in combination with any of the three smaller engines. Multi-drive Merc-o-Matic afforded one the ability to start off in second gear if one so desired. It could be mated with any of the V8’s and was mandatory for the Marauder 390.

1961 Mercury Commuter cargo bay

1961 Mercury Commuter cargo bay

Some other technical improvements Mercury felt warranted in bragging about included a “sealed” front suspension in which no lubrication was necessary for 30,000 miles, (due to the use of molybdenum disulfide grease in the suspension ball joints and steering linkage pivots), together with a continuation of the Road Tuned Wheels innovation improved this year with “cushion-link” front suspension arms, (not available on Meteor 600) and swept back ball joint front suspension. A new zinc coating was said to act as a rust inhibitor for the undercarriage, while aluminized mufflers increased their life by three times. “Diamond Lustre” finish apparently never needed wax. Power Transfer rear axles were new this year and basically amounted to a limited slip differential. A number of features weren’t new, but that didn’t mean they didn’t deserve a little renewed chest-thumping: two-position door stops, mammoth trunks, seats that encouraged proper posture, self-adjusting brakes and tappets, no hard spots on the driveline hump, extra-long rear leaf springs, wide tread design, and integral design of frame and body together with rubber mounts to cushion road shocks.

1961 Mercury

1961 Mercury

Mercury last tried to sell safety in 1956, without success. With the public’s newly emerging economic responsibility, perhaps their latest pang of duty/guilt could be carried over into the realm of self-protection. With this in mind, Mercury trumpeted the extra security offered by seat belts; deep dish steering wheel; child-resistant locks; padded dash, armrests and sun visors; safety glass and mirrors; a wide-contoured frame within which all passengers were enclosed; double panel construction of roof, hood, trunk lid, floor and doors for greater rigidity, (Meteor 600 did not enjoy reinforced floors). Interestingly, advertising boasted about how new glass eliminated distortion and cut down on excessive heat and light entering the cabin, all while improving visibility – these features now thought negative had been considered positive selling points in 1959 and 60 – talk about letting Consumers Report write your copy! Finally, Mercury, (along with all Ford products), now felt able to present purchasers with a 12-month or 12,000 mile factory drivetrain warranty. At the time, such generosity was unheard of, and reflected unprecedented confidence in the brand.

1961 Mercury fender guide ornament

1961 Mercury fender guide ornament

With Edsel now history, was the intention to invent new low-brow Mercurys to take their place and cover the recently vacated price range? Considering the many shared design cues with the 1960 Edsel, those that would argue the 1961 Meteor 600 was really meant to be the 1961 Edsel may have a point. Priced a bit higher than its 1960 namesake, Monterey retained its “place” in the competitive medium-priced field – but now the whole line had gone into direct competition with the Fords. They were making the same mistake as they made when pricing the first Edsel! Check out this comparison of similarly equipped cars:

Mercury Ford
Meteor 600 2-dr sedan 2,533 2,261 2-dr sedan Fairlane
Meteor 600 4-dr sedan 2,587 2,315 4-dr sedan Fairlane
Meteor 800 2-dr sedan 2,711 2,492 2-dr sedan Fairlane 500
Meteor 800 4-dr sedan 2,765 2,546 4-dr sedan Fairlane 500
Meteor 800 2-dr hdtp 2,772 2,597 2-dr hdtp Fairlane 500
Meteor 800 4-dr hdtp 2,837 2,662 4-dr hdtp Fairlane 500
2,652 2-dr sedan Galaxie
Monterey 4-dr sedan 2,869 2,706 4-dr sedan Galaxie
Monterey 2-dr hdtp 2,876 2,713 2-dr hdtp Galaxie
2,713 2-dr hdtp Starliner
Monterey 4-dr hdtp 2,941 2,778 4-dr hdtp Galaxie
Monterey Convertible 3,126 2,963 Convertible Sunliner
2,586 2-dr wagon 6p Ranch Wagon
2,656 4-dr wagon 6p Ranch Wagon
Commuter 4-dr wagon 6p 2,922 2,868 4-dr wagon 6p Country Sedan
Commuter 4-dr wagon 9p 2,995 2,972 4-dr wagon 9p Country Sedan
Colony Park 4-dr wagon 6p 3,118 3,057 4-dr wagon 6p Country Squire
Colony Park 4-dr wagon 9p 3,189 3,127 4-dr wagon 9p Country Squire

It’s not that the 1961 Mercury was a bad looking car – in fact the Monterey was quite pleasant. But it was no longer a fitting heir to its storied and legendary ancestors. There wasn’t much to choose between a Galaxie or especially a Starliner, and a Monterey.

1961 Mercury Monterey convertible

1961 Mercury Monterey convertible

The base Comet was much more car than the ghastly Meteor 600 and at $1,998, was priced considerably lower. The Meteor featured rubber floor mats instead of carpet and boasted sun visors and ash trays as standard equipment – who wouldn’t prefer a Comet!

Comet, the new medium-priced upscale compact remained the star of the show and probably saviour of the Mercury brand. The scorching sales pace started in 1960 continued unabated into the following year, and with this in mind Comet chose not to meddle with success. Obvious changes for 1961 were minimal, but despite this limitation sedan trunk capacity increased by 1.9 cubic

1961 Comet

1961 Comet

feet. While sold by Mercury dealers, the name “MERCURY” does not appear anywhere, inside or out, while “COMET” in stainless script graces the hood on the driver’s side and the rear quarter panels within a cove outlined by character lines highlighting the sides. The name is also stamped in capital letters on a stainless panel between the rear bumper and the trunk lid. A “Galaxie” roofline continued for 1961. The wide C-pillar offered all sorts of appearance possibilities, but the resident artistes settled for a modest horizontally ridged panel across the bottom and a stylized comet higher up. Three sets of chrome,

1961 Comet

1961 Comet

vertically oriented decorative bars appear on the sides of the front fenders between the headlights and wheel wells. Bumpers are simple one-piece cantilevered affairs with the gas tank filler neck, tail lights and back-up lights positioned as in the previous year. The trunk lock is located in an attractive flattened V-shaped crest on the trunk lid – attractive but curiously unrelated to any other design elements on the car, (some said it looked like a modified Edsel crest).

1961 Comet S-22

1961 Comet S-22

Ford products of the era had a peculiar penchant for florid grilles in which the designer almost seems to confuse fussiness with tasteful elegance. Comet grilles, at least to this point, would be good examples. The anodized aluminum grille for 1961 was a series of flattened diamond shapes joined together and running horizontally, with each column separated by a thin vertical bar – somewhat reminiscent of a 1959 Ford. The previous year had two horizontal bulges sitting atop one another, separated by a bar. Other strange offerings abounded – the 1963 Ford was a beautiful car except for its grille that looked like bad bathroom wallpaper; the 1961 Ford resembled a series of kitchen drawer pull knobs. By 1975, the classy Marquis grille spoiled its elegance with tastelessly filigreed headlight

1961 Comet

1961 Comet

doors simulating a baroque wrought iron fence. The most handsome FoMoCo grille were the 1965 Galaxie and 1960 Mercury – the all time winner would be any Chrysler 300 from 1957 t0 64. An automotive writer once described the 1952 Mercury front end as looking like the face of a ” … leering Hallowe’en pumpkin”, but I digress.

Comet body styles were unchanged from 1960 – 2- and 4-door sedan or 2- and 4-door station wagon and could be ordered in two trim levels – standard and the “Fashion Decor” group. The latter arrived with imitation hardtop styling and an all-vinyl interior. As well, the new Comet purchaser could choose from an increased variety of interior trim offerings. Air conditioning became an

1961 Comet

1961 Comet

option this year provided it was mated with the new larger engine.

In 1961 the 170 cid Thrift-Power 6 became available to Comet and Falcon as an optional upgrade from the 144 cid Thrift-Power. The new engine was a stroked version of the existing one, embodied several internal improvements and produced 101 hp from an 8.7 compression ratio, up from 85 hp. Both engines employed a single barrel carburetor, although the 170’s had greater breathing capacity. Power was delivered through a standard manual transmission or two-speed automatic; when the car was equipped with the 170 cid engine, the automatic transmission came water-cooled.  This year saw several other chassis and suspension improvements, many of them to accommodate the new larger engine.

1961 Comet

1961 Comet

By 1961 both General Motors and Chrysler were trying to muscle in on Comet’s market niche. Newcomers included Pontiac Tempest, Oldsmobile F-85, Buick Special and Dodge Lancer. The Comet was narrower but longer than the competition, considerably more under-powered when equipped with the base engine, but also priced near the bottom of the range established by the fresh faced novitiates. The field had suddenly become quite crowded and was made even more so when in an effort to gain a competitive edge the pink-cheeked competitors started offering “sporty” versions of themselves.

1961 Comet

1961 Comet

Comet countered this new threat in the spring of 1961 with the introduction of the S-22 sport package exclusive to the 2-door sedan.  It consisted of everything in the Fashion Decor package plus an all-vinyl interior complete with bucket seats separated by a floor mounted storage console and a shiny ribbed cover, special badging on the rear quarter panels, a two-tone four-spoked steering wheel, more opulent arm rests and luxurious carpeting. It would appear the 1961 Comet was the very first Mercury to be equipped with bucket seats and console, (although it still wasn’t officially a

1961 Comet S-22

1961 Comet S-22

Mercury).

Comets were now available in Canada. In 1960 Canadian Mercury Meteor dealers sold a Falcon lookalike named the Frontenac, with a big red maple leaf in the middle of the grille.

The overall industry suffered a 15.2% drop in production for 1961. Sales for the big Mercury fell to 120,088 units, a decline of 22.6% – it would appear the public wasn’t yet ready for this much thrift. Comet’s resounding success continued and when its results were finally tallied,

1961 Comet S-22

1961 Comet S-22

Mercury’s overall total rose to 317,351 vehicles, sufficient to place it in seventh spot – interestingly only 197 cars separated Mercury from sixth place Oldsmobile. Comet had saved the day again.

Despite the rather poor showing for the large Mercury, executive Ben Mills was let off the hook based on Comet’s success. Interestingly, the Falcon and Comet concept had been Robert McNamara’s brain-child.

1961 Mercury Monterey

1961 Mercury Monterey

Posted in 1961 | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

1960 Mercury – The Best Built Car in America Today

The big news for 1960 was the presidential election in which John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon for the world’s toughest job. Most commentators name the TV debate,

1960 Presidential TV debate

1960 Presidential TV debate

(which was the first ever televised debate between presidential contenders), as the turning point, but even at that few people realize how close the final result really was. By voting day, polls were indicating a virtual tie, but in the end JFK captured a lead of 0.17% in the popular vote. While Nixon performed acceptably in the debate he failed to realize optics were as important as content, and as a result showed up looking tired, pale and worn out, still suffering from a recent knee injury incurred in an altercation with a car door.

Nixon & Khrushchev ... old friends

Nixon & Khrushchev … old friends

It didn’t help that President Eisenhower, when asked if he could give an example of an occasion where Nixon, (his Vice-President), had provided valuable advice, replied ” … if you give me a week I might think of one”. As well, Khrushchev went on the record as preferring Nixon – the Russians were up to their old meddling tricks.

John F. Kennedy and Pope Paul VI

John F. Kennedy and Pope Paul VI

JFK was the first Roman Catholic to run for President, and this fact became quite a campaign issue. There apparently was some question about whether the President owed his loyalty to the Constitution or the Vatican. At least there was no doubt about where he was born. Everybody loves a good conspiracy theory.

As if discovering he had no control over the US President weren’t

Birth Control

Birth Control

traumatic enough, Pope Paul VI had to countenance FDA approval of the first birth control pill in May, 1960.

Also in May, 1960, the Soviet Union shot down an unarmed CIA U2 reconnaissance plane over the USSR, piloted by Francis Gary Powers.

Taking off from Pakistan, the U2 could fly at 70,000+ feet and photograph military and other strategic installations. To this point, the Russians knew what was going on but couldn’t do anything about it because none of their equipment could reach that altitude and they didn’t want to publicly admit their lack of technical superiority. This time, they dispatched a Mig 19 to intercept, diverted an  unarmed Su 9 with orders to ram the U2, and fired eight surface-to-air missiles.

Francis Gary Powers and the U2

Francis Gary Powers and the U2

One missile hit the U2, one hit the Mig 19 killing its pilot, and the Su 9 gave up the pursuit as futile. The U2 was captured virtually intact, and Powers parachuted to safety but was also captured.

Before the USA learned the plane and Powers had been captured none the worse for their experience, the Americans tried to claim the U2 was a “weather” plane that had gone off course.

Mig 19

Mig 19

The Russians, however, knew and could prove different. To Khrushchev’s great glee, he soon let the cat out of the bag and mortified Eisenhower who never liked the U2 program in the first place. The incident occurred 15 days before a scheduled four-power summit, the first in five years.

Eisenhower & Khrushchev

Eisenhower & Khrushchev

The summit went ahead, but lasted only 2 days before everyone gave up and went home – the Americans were deeply embarrassed having been caught up to their elbows in espionage and the Russians greatly enjoyed playing the grievously injured party for a change.

Powers was sentenced to 10 years by the Soviets, but was eventually exchanged for Soviet spy Rudolf Abel. His failure to initiate the self destruct sequence earned him a cool reception upon his return home and he ultimately took a job piloting the traffic helicopter for a Los Angeles radio station.

Many African countries achieved independence from their colonial masters in 1960 – some peacefully, some not so much. In June, Patrice Lumumba became the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Congo, formerly Belgian Congo.

Lumumba

Lumumba

He immediately began to court the USSR which alarmed Belgium; the USA and her allies; and mining companies with vested interests, especially in the province of Katanga. Lumumba was deposed in a military coup in September and executed by firing squad in December. African politics had set their template right out of the gate. In all, 17 African countries achieved independence in 1960 – today, only Benin and Senegal have anything approaching stable government. Moscow named a university after Lumumba, but unfortunate African attendees were subjected to considerable racial abuse.

In Latin America, Chile suffered the worst earthquake ever recorded. The resulting tsunami devastated not only Chile but also Hilo, Hawaii; Japan; the Philippines and most other places with a Pacific coastline. In other news, Brazil not only changed its capital from Rio de Janeiro, but carved a whole new city out of the jungle to replace it. The new city was named Brasilia, the idea being the capital city should be in the centre of the country.

Building Brasilia ... as boring as it looks

Building Brasilia … as boring as it looks

The trouble was, Brasilia was fairly isolated and after the glamour and excitement of Rio, seemed pretty callow and tedious to the bureaucrats and diplomats who had to live there. Many of them continued to commute.

The famous Woolworth lunch counter sit-ins to highlight the evils of racial segregation started in Greensboro, North Carolina in February. The demonstrations spread across the South and were instrumental in changing Woolworth’s company policy respecting segregation.

Woolworth lunch counter sit-in

Woolworth lunch counter sit-in

The incident is portrayed in the current movie, “The Butler”.

Although “The Apartment” won the Academy Award for Best Picture, everyone remembers where they first saw Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”.

Psycho - Janet Leigh (as Marion Crane)

Psycho – Janet Leigh (as Marion Crane)

Who can forget the moment Mrs. Bates’ rocking chair turns around? Or how many remember Norman Bates was played by a young Anthony Hopkins?

“Flintstones” and “Coronation Street” premiered on television. Both were savaged by critics, but the former is still shown in re-runs and the latter is still in production and shows no sign of slowing down. The “Flintstones” was the most financially

Flintstones

Flintstones

successful animated feature until “The Simpsons” came along, while on a completely different note, Fred and Wilma were the first television couple to sleep in the same bed.

Coronation Street

Coronation Street

By 1960, rock & roll had started to move, (I don’t think evolve is the right word), away from its raw, sweaty, primeval roots. Some would say the genre was becoming more “adult” – teen music no longer dismayed parents and thus lost one of its main raisons d’ etre. The old folks had come to terms with all that hip swinging and had even begun to dabble in the new dances themselves to show how cool they were. Contemporary music  still projected pretty innocent values and although teenage love and angst were ever-present themes, lyrics never got as raunchy and blatantly sexual as many earlier R&B offerings: “Sixty Minute Man” By Billy Ward and the Dominoes;

Clyde McPhatter

Clyde McPhatter

“Big Long Slidin’ Thing” by Dinah Washington; “Let Me Bang Your Box” by the Toppers. These songs were intended to be more playful and impish than nasty and disturbing, unlike much of what hip-hop churns out today. String together the most disgusting lyrics you can imagine, combine that with a video featuring a mostly nude libidinous nymphet, and voila – big contemporary hit. Commentators on such matters theorize that fans of this music genre have become so habituated, they don’t recognize it as being other than normal and acceptable. I mentioned this to my son and he said ” … that’s just the way it is today.” I rest my case.

Elvis was promoted to sergeant while in Germany and honorably discharged from the Army, just in time to avoid the Berlin crisis of 1961.

Sergeant Elvis Presley

Sergeant Elvis Presley

He was welcomed back home with a TV special hosted by Frank Sinatra on May 12, 1960, (for which he was paid the princely sum of $125K – close to $1 million today), following which he promptly recorded three #1 hits: “Are You Lonesome Tonight?“, “Stuck on You” and “It’s Now or Never” – all quite acceptable for mom and dad’s listening pleasure.

The Chairman & The King

The Chairman & The King

Teenage tragedy was big in 1960, (“Teen Angel” by Mark Dinning; “Tell Laura I Love Her” by Ray Peterson), and would provide fodder for songwriters for many years to come. Speaking of tragedy, Eddie Cochran was killed in a London taxi crash, and Gene Vincent was hurt in the same wreck, an injury from which he would never recover.

Eddie Cochran

Eddie Cochran

  1. Connie Francis had been cranking out recordings since 1957, but had her first #1 hits in 1960: “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool“, “My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own” and “My Happiness“, while the venerable Everly Brothers notched their last #1 with “Cathy’s Clown“. It was deservedly their biggest hit and was named #149 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.
Connie Francis

Connie Francis

Chubby Checker starts the “Twist” dance craze with his cover of a 1959 release, “The Twist” by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters. The story goes that Dick Clark tried to book Hank Ballard on “American Bandstand”, but he was unavailable. Dick then found a local artist who sounded a bit like Hank, and thus began Chubby’s recording career. His success with “The Twist” not only gave rise to several more cover versions, but also later twist releases by him and other artists,

Chubby Checker

Chubby Checker

(“Let’s Twist Again” by Chubby Checker; “Peppermint Twist” by Joey Dee and the Starlighters; “Dear Lady Twist” by Gary ‘U.S.’ Bonds), to name a few. Chubby was also prompted to duplicate his success with the Twist craze by introducing songs based on new dances: ‘The Fly”; “The Pony” (could this have been the start of Gangnam Style?); “The Hucklebuck”; “Limbo Rock”. Chubby later said the twist ruined his career as a nightclub singer, which is what he’d really wanted all along.

Although the movie itself is long forgotten, the #1 tune of 1960 was “Theme from a Summer Place” by Percy Faith – not a rock anthem at all.

By the time the new 1960 models were unveiled on October 15, 1959, Ben Mills had been at the helm of the good ship Mercury since the fall of 1958.

1960 Mercury Monterey

1960 Mercury Monterey

He had inherited styling and engineering themes which had been cast in bronze through the 1960 model year. Not only that, he was responsible for Lincoln and Edsel: the first was to undergo a planned massive personality change scheduled for 1961, the latter endured a merciful euthanasia.

1960 Mercury Commuter

1960 Mercury Commuter

It took just over a month after introduction for the Edsel’s demise to be announced, but a major problem was thus resolved, allowing everyone to concentrate on the remaining lines. In an effort to build sales, advertising and promotion concentrated on Monterey – Montclair and Park Lane were seldom mentioned at all in print and media publicity.

1960 Mercury Monterey dash

1960 Mercury Monterey dash

Without coming right out and saying so, Monterey was quietly assuming Edsel’s former positioning in Ford’s lineup as “The Better Low Price Car”. Stated competition was no longer Buick and Oldsmobile, but instead Chevrolet, Pontiac, Plymouth and Dodge Dart – definitely a major move down-market. In fact, a lot of print advertising showed the Merc wearing dog dish hubcaps, in keeping with the more economical image it was trying to project. Fortunately, they didn’t stoop to blackwall tires.

Mercury Monterey

Mercury Monterey

Mercury had undergone a fairly significant facelift in 1959. The new 1960 models retained most of the same dimensions, the roof-line and the interior, but beyond that, the look was all new – gone were the final shadows of “Dream Car Design”. For the first time in Mercury history, headlights were incorporated into the grille, marking a styling evolution.

1960 Mercury Monterey

1960 Mercury Monterey

The whole front end look was new and classically beautiful in its simplicity. A massive bumper was retained, with upswept ends new for 1960, housing the turn/signal lights. The grille sat atop the bumper and consisted of a series of thin concave vertical bars, while the headlights are encased in substantial encircling individual chrome rings set at the ends of the grille – each set of two is offset from its partner.

1960 Mercury Park Lane interior

1960 Mercury Park Lane interior

The hood, hinged at the front for the last time, carried a front-to-back shallow centre bulge reminiscent of an imitation air scoop, capped at its leading edge by a stainless strip surrounding a decorative medallion.

The Infamous overhang

The Infamous overhang

Front fenders are sculptured to suggest the outermost headlight is the culmination of a tunnel. This tunnel effect follows the front wheel well down to and along the rocker panels to the front of the rear wheel well then up along its top where it dissipates into the rear fender. A single chrome spear starts at the top of the front fender and runs down the side and across the front

1960 Mercury Montclair

1960 Mercury Montclair

door, where it flares up, following and emphasizing the abbreviated, scooped fins. The stainless strip then dips down to the trunk lip which it follows around the car, replicating itself on the other side.

1960 Mercury Park Lane interior

1960 Mercury Park Lane interior

Station Wagons duplicated this effect except instead of capping the trunk lip, the rear chrome strip ran across the tail gate. Chrome identification script for all models was now located on the rear fenders.

Fins reached their climax in 1959, and started to wane thereafter. Mercury never went big into towering  fins, although presented fresh rear fender treatments through 1960.

1960 Mercury Monterey

1960 Mercury Monterey

The vestige of a small fin remained in 1961, but any glimmer was gone by 1962, (some would argue 1963 and 64 models manifested small dorsal appendages) . Chrysler carried fins into 1961, Imperial to 1963 and Cadillac actually for several more years. Curiously, Comet affected prominent fins right from its inception through the 1964 model year.

1960 Mercury Commuter

1960 Mercury Commuter

The rear bumper incorporated two heavy vertical pods on the ends, housing truncated oblong taillights topping a round backup light. The rear fascia of the trunk displayed a horizontal chrome ornament containing the trunk key lock. The gas filler door was in the centre of the panel between the bumper and the deck lid. On the Commuter, the filler was exposed, and you can see it nestled in beside the driver side tail light.

1960 Mercury Monterey

1960 Mercury Monterey

This year’s body sheet metal was far removed from its predecessor, but in a good way. It was elegant in its restraint and did not indulge in 1959’s “fussiness”.

All series came with the “gun sight” ornaments perched at the leading edge of the front fenders in a shallow indented channel  running the length of the fender. As well, roof lines were a direct carry-over from 1959, including the ungainly sedans’ extreme rear overhang, and the hardtops’ very attractive fastback.

1960 Mercury instrument cluster

1960 Mercury instrument cluster

Sedans had an imitation hardtop look in which all roof pillars are chrome, (C-Pillars carried discreet horizontal ribs picked out in black paint). The idea is to fool the casual observer into thinking these are actually the more prestigious hardtops, but with that awkward protuberance extending over the rear window, there could be no mistake.

1960 Mercury Park Lane

1960 Mercury Park Lane

If you’ve ever seen a 1960 sedan, especially a Monterey, with fender skirts, you’ll see what I mean. The stylists basically took a beautiful car and turned it into the ugly step-sister. Even the Ford sedan roof line would have been better – or the “Galaxie” look would have been a huge improvement. I wonder if anyone considered a Turnpike Cruiser effect – it would have fit right in with Lincoln Continental’s approach, emphasizing the family ties and affording Mercury some reflected glory. On the other hand, Mercury was doing its best to distance itself from prior years’ “Dream Car Design”, although they did carry on the “look” one more year in slant-back convertible top styling.

Hubcaps were plain jane, but still tasteful. I’ll never know why wire wheel hubcaps were not an option at least. Wire wheels and whitewalls dress up a car like few other accouterments.

1960 Mercury Commuter

1960 Mercury Commuter

Mercury’s model line-up remained unchanged from 1959, (except for the station wagons as noted below).

1960 Mercury Commuter interior

1960 Mercury Commuter interior

Monterey remained as the entry level offering and could be had in five body styles: 2- and 4-door sedans, 2- and 4-door hardtops, and a convertible. As in 1959, hardtops were called “Cruiser”, (as designated by an inconspicuous badge on the C-pillar), but bore no family resemblance at all to the “Turnpike Cruiser” of earlier years. Sail panels on 4-door Cruisers were covered by a brightwork panel.

1960 Mercury Monterey door panel

1960 Mercury Monterey door panel

Exterior Monterey ornamentation was a bit spare for an automobile of Mercury’s glamorous heritage, but pleasing nonetheless.  The interior as well strikes one as somewhat spartan. Seats consisted of embossed vinyl bolsters with contrasting tweed inserts.

1960 Mercury Monterey

1960 Mercury Monterey

Patterns on the door panels were also embossed into the all-vinyl design rather than stitched, although thin chrome strips emphasized distinctions in the overall motif. A car buyer trading up from a 1957 Monterey would be surprised at the changes only three years had wrought.

1960 Mercury Montclair

1960 Mercury Montclair

The dash was very similar to that of the prior year, except the speedometer was of the needle type rather than the ribbon as in 1959. The dash also received a new speaker grille and a round clock rather than a square one.

Montclair continued to cover the intermediate range, with its 4-door sedan plus 2- and 4-door Cruisers.

1960 Mercury grille

1960 Mercury grille

Exterior badging was of course unique to Montclair, but in addition it also carried stainless moldings around the wheel well openings and rocker panels. The filler panel separating the trunk lid from the rear bumper was decorated with a horizontally ribbed chrome plate, rather than being painted the body color as in Monterey.

1960 Mercury Park Lane

1960 Mercury Park Lane

Three chevron-like chrome flourishes were placed directly in front of each rear wheel well. Finally, Montclair incorporated twice as much soundproofing as did Monterey.

Montclair’s interior was a bit more sumptuous as befits a proud Mercury owner. Vinyl bolsters complemented  vertically pleated “Avalon” cloth seat inserts. Doors were again all-vinyl, differently patterned panels being offset with chrome runners. Cruisers could be purchased with all-vinyl interiors.

1960 Mercury Colony Park

1960 Mercury Colony Park

Mercury limited its Country Cruiser, (station wagon), availability to two models in 1960: Commuter and Colony Park. Both were available only as 4-door hardtops. The former came equipped like a Monterey, the latter like a Montclair with a few differences.

1960 Mercury instrument cluster

1960 Mercury instrument cluster

The Colony Park, being the top wagon, displayed its normal faux wood paneling along the side, consisting of simulated walnut set off with blond ash rails. Wood trim was noticeably absent from the tailgate. As well, it carried six chrome chevrons on each side – the most of any model!

1960 Mercury Monterey

1960 Mercury Monterey

Nine passenger seating was optional on Monterey, standard on Colony Park. Both series featured a back window that rolled down into the tailgate, thus eliminating the troublesome earlier transom arrangement. Lastly, this was the final year for hardtop styling on station wagons at Mercury, although Chrysler continued to offer them into the sixties.

1960 Mercury Monterey

1960 Mercury Monterey

Commuters came with vinyl bolsters and “puff saran” cloth in four colors, while the Colony Park came dressed as a Montclair in five different color-keyed combinations or all-vinyl. The Commuter could be optioned with an all-vinyl interior at a slight extra cost. Interestingly, the Commuter was the only Mercury that didn’t come standard with tufted loop pile carpeting – it sported a full rubber mat on the floor. The Commuter could be equipped as a 9-passenger for an extra $113.

1960 Mercury Park Lane

1960 Mercury Park Lane

Park Lane came back at the head of the class once again this year, obtainable as a 2- or 4-door Cruiser or convertible. There was no mistaking Park Lane as anything other than a luxury car. It came attired with fender skirts – the rocker panel molding flares up when it meets the skirts where it broadens out to cover their lower half plus the rear quarter panels.

1960 Mercury Colony Park

1960 Mercury Colony Park

This is a very attractive and regal look, but gravel plays hell with it. The rear filler section between the trunk and the bumper is covered by a chrome panel with a cross hatch pattern. There are five chevrons on each side and sail panels on 4-door Cruisers received a chrome panel covering.

1960 Mercury Colony Park

1960 Mercury Colony Park

Park Lane had even more soundproofing than Montclair, to lower noise levels yet further and increasingly insulate passengers from heat and cold. It makes you wonder what the poor Monterey passengers had to put up with.

1960 Mercury Monterey

1960 Mercury Monterey

In the previous 2 years of Park Lane’s existence, while it looked like other Mercury’s, it rode on a longer wheelbase, necessitating a different chassis and some unique body panels. This year Park Lane shared the same 126 inch wheelbase with its brethren, thus saving the extra cost and passing a portion along to the car buyer. Overall length was now 219.2 inches. Another concerning dimension was width.

At 81.5 inches, Mercury was now technically illegal as a passenger car in many states, where maximum width for use on public highways was 80 inches. Of course, Mercury was not alone in this dilemma; many American makes were by now exceeding the lawful width.

I’ve heard the theory that this state of affairs was responsible for the dramatic downsizing of cars in 1961, but I’ve found not a shred of evidence in support. In fact Imperial carried on breaking the law for a few years yet, and nothing happened. In Mercury’s case I believe it was a pure economy play, undertaken by Ben Mills to fulfill his promise to Ernest Breech and Henry Ford II to return Lincoln Mercury to profitability within five years.

1960 Mercury Park Lane

1960 Mercury Park Lane

1961 was the first year he could exert his own management philosophy rather than trying to make do with what he’d inherited.

Ford decided this year to update Mercury’s primary logo – the Mercury head – and so commissioned sculptor Marshall Fredericks to create a more modern version. This new look figured prominently in 1960’s advertising.

1960 Mercury Monterey tweed inserts

1960 Mercury Monterey tweed inserts

Several improved and simplified manufacturing techniques led to a reduction in prices for 1960. The price increase in moving from equivalent models in Monterey to Montclair was around $550 and another $450 in moving up to Park Lane.

One of these newly improved processes was standardization of colors across all Ford brands. To this point, each brand had its own palette of colors with their own names. Starting in 1960, all reds, (and other colors), would be the same for each make although they would still retain their own names.

1960 Mercury Park Lane

1960 Mercury Park Lane

Ford Motor Corporation offered a total of 23 colors, 15 of which were available to Mercury.

Park Lane Cruisers could be ordered with one of five interior selections of vinyl bolsters and “Jamaica” cloth inserts stitched in a large diamond pattern. Door panels are of the same materials in a complementary design highlighted by stainless moldings. A tasteful all-vinyl option was available for Cruisers and standard on the convertible.

1960 Mercury Commuter

1960 Mercury Commuter

The convertible roof continued with the “Turnpike Cruiser” look first introduced in 1957, and continued every year since, (including 1958 Edsel Citation). John F. Kennedy, who was to become the new President.  purchased a 1960 Park Lane convertible.

JFK and his Park Lane convertible

JFK and his Park Lane convertible

Three engines were offered in 1960. The 312 cid V8 developing 205 hp came standard on Monterey, together with a three on the tree standard manual transmission.

1960 Mercury Monterey

1960 Mercury Monterey

The basic Merc-o-Matic was optionally available. The 383 cid, dubbed the “Marauder”, putting out 280 hp, was available on Monterey at extra cost – unfortunately you had to pay extra for a Merc-o-Matic in one of its two incarnations to go with this engine. The base Merc-o-Matic was a normal 3-speed automatic, while the Dual Range Merc-o-Matic was the same as the base offering, but cost extra for the ability to start off in second rather than first if you wanted.

1960 Mercury Monterey door panel

1960 Mercury Monterey door panel

The third engine was the 430 cid monster that had been detuned for the third year in a row. At 310 hp it was standard on the Montclair and Park Lane, and since it had a 10 to 1 compression ratio preferred premium gas coursing through its 2-barrel carb. Montclair received Merc-o-Matic as standard with Dual Range optional, while Park Lane got the Dual Range standard. In the power train department, Commuter followed Monterey, and Colony Park copied Montclair. All engine versions were mated with 2-bbl carburetors and lower compression ratios.

1960 Mercury Park Lane

1960 Mercury Park Lane

Mercury continued to advertise self-adjusting brakes and newly designed springs for a smoother ride, as well as “Road Tuned Wheels”. The theory was that in an ordinary suspension, wheels absorb road shock by moving up and down, while in the new Mercury, wheels also moved back and forth laterally, to “roll with the punch”.

1960 Mercury Park Lane

1960 Mercury Park Lane

Together with beefed up stabilizer bars and the longest rear leaf springs, (60 inches), in the industry, the system apparently vastly smoothed out and improved the ride.

As North America picked itself up and dusted itself off after the Eisenhower recession, the automobile industry was doing the same. Mercury’s sales increased to 155,631, (not including Comet), but by capturing only 2.4% of the overall market it still trailed the competition.

1960 Mercury Montclair

1960 Mercury Montclair

Monterey accounted for 66.5% of the big Mercury’s total sales.  This performance was sufficient to drop Mercury to 10th spot, just a bit ahead of Cadillac. But of all indignities to bear, the hardest was perhaps watching smug little Rambler rise to 4th spot.

1960 Mercury Commuter

1960 Mercury Commuter

By 1960, it became quite apparent Mercury was trying to appeal to the new economy-minded direction taking hold in North America. There was great advertising emphasis on Mercury’s attempt to portray itself as ” … America’s first popular priced luxury car”. This image affirmed value for money.

1960 Mercury Monterey

1960 Mercury Monterey

If you were thinking about buying a Plymouth, look how much more Mercury offered for only pennies  more. By bringing down the horsepower, resurrecting the 312 cid engine, offering only 2-bbl carburetors, single exhaust on all models and tuning engines so they would run on regular gas, (except the 430 cid), Mercury was putting itself out there as the choice for the penny-wise consumer.

1960 Mercury Monterey

1960 Mercury Monterey

About the time the 1958 Edsel was being introduced in late 1957, Ford executive were taking note of the success of two upstarts – Rambler American and Studebaker Lark. It appeared North America’s buying interest was being piqued by smaller, more economical cars. I’m sure this at least partially explains the big Merc’s attempts to bill itself as an economical choice.

Ford was starting to think it would be a good idea not to be left behind by this growing trend, and so started to develop its own compact brand.

1960 Comet

1960 Comet

This would eventually become the Falcon, scheduled to be ready for the 1960 model year. Using a rather traditional technical design approach when compared to Corvair’s air-cooled rear engine or Valiant’s controversial styling, Falcon employed a water-cooled in-line 6 and unibody construction.

1960 Comet

1960 Comet

Admittedly, the 6 cylinder engine was of a new thin wall construction. The market ate it up and Ford sold 436K of the new little car. Interestingly, Ford came second to Chevrolet in 1960 in overall sales, (1,440K to 1,349K), but Falcon figures are included in the Ford total while Corvair sales of 203K are not included in the Chev total. Valiant sold 194K cars.

1960 Comet

1960 Comet

The deep thinkers at Ford had become so enthusiastic about the new Falcon, they decided to develop a more opulent version of the compact. They further determined to award the newcomer to Edsel and scheduled its debut for the spring of 1960. It was to be named the Comet.

1960 Comet

1960 Comet

On November 19, 1959, Ford announced the Edsel was being cut loose. The Comet no longer had a home. It was hastily concluded the Comet would be a stand alone brand sold by Mercury – nowhere on the car, inside or out, does the name “Mercury” appear. The youngster was unveiled on St. Patrick’s Day, 1960, and sales took off like a Jameson-fueled rocket.

1960 Comet

1960 Comet

It was initially offered as a 2- and 4-door sedan or a 2- and 4-door station wagon. The Comet didn’t bear much family resemblance to the 1960 Mercury – if it resembles anything I would say it would be the forthcoming 1961 Mercury. For example look at the roof-line, the ridge running down the centre of the hood, the hood hinged at the cowl and shape of the windshield. Having said this, the body shell was shared with Falcon.

1960 Comet

1960 Comet

The sedans sat on a 114 inch wheelbase with the wagons on 109.5 inches. The wagons shared the Falcon’s chassis, and while front end sheet metal was different from the Falcon, fenders could be interchanged. Comet sedans were a bit longer to allow passengers more room.

1960 Comet

1960 Comet

The grille is of anodized aluminum consisting of several vertical bars with one heavier bar splitting the grille horizontally, and sitting atop a conventional bumper. Parking lights/turn signals are embedded in the outboard ends of the bumper and are actually the same ones used in the 1959 Edsel. As you go through the car, its erstwhile heritage keeps popping up.

1960 Comet

1960 Comet

Dual headlights are incorporated in the grille, (in contrast to the Falcon which had two), with each pair stylistically separated from one another.

A single chrome spear starts at the top of the front fender, carries on horizontally to the middle of the rear passenger window, where it flares up to follow the top of a rather pronounced outwardly canted fin. 1960-1963-mercury-comet-1

Thin oblong taillights are located at the terminus of each fin and are canted diagonally outward. These taillights are very similar in shape to those appearing on the 1960 Edsel, although oriented differently, and are not interchangeable.

1960 Comet

1960 Comet

Dog dish hubcaps carry little black squares around their circumference just like those on the Edsel, while full hubcaps with their concentric circles and three bar “spinner” effect don’t have any Edsel connotations, but were shared with Falcon.

1960 Comet

1960 Comet

Gun sight ornaments appear atop the front fenders, while the name “Comet” appears in script on the front fenders directly beneath them, and in block caps on the rear end below the trunk. All sedan models are of the imitation hardtop design school, while the roofline has a “Galaxie” style C-pillar, and chrome drip rails. Back up lights are plain circular affairs located below the taillights, and are lifted directly from the 1959 Edsel Villager station wagon.

1960 Comet

1960 Comet

From the side, it would not be difficult to mistake the Comet station wagons for Falcons. Gone are the fins and cat’s eye taillights, the latter replaced with semi-circular ones adorned with unique chrome trim strips. Again, “Comet” appears on the front fenders in script, and on the tail gate in block capitals.

1960 Comet

1960 Comet

There is a single chrome spear running down the side, along the belt line. A nine passenger option was not available but the rear seat could fold flat to increase the 76.2 cubic foot cargo area.

Inside, the car is decidedly upscale. I would say it is even more tasteful than Monterey. The dash is concave, affording considerably more knee room. The instrument panel appears bolted on as an after thought rather than being integral.

1960 Comet

1960 Comet

All control knobs are borrowed directly from the 1959 Edsel. The standard seat treatment is vinyl bolsters surrounding matching “Sapphire” tweed. A “Fashion Group” option was available basically upgrading the seating material to a better grade of vinyl with “Honeycomb” inserts, or to all-vinyl. The top quarter of the door panels is painted metal, separated by a chrome spear from the rest of the panel, done in vinyl. Some other items that were extra cost options on rival cars are: deluxe white steering wheel, twin sun-visors, cigar lighter and extra interior lights.

1960 Comet

1960 Comet

Wagons arrived with a hard rubber floor cover in both the passenger and cargo areas. You could also order as extra-cost options padded dash and sun visors, heater/defroster, seat belts, radio, tinted windshield, power tail gate window, back-up lights, outside mirror, roof luggage rack, full wheel covers, whitewalls and windshield washer.

The Comet came with only one engine choice – a 144 cid in-line Thrift-Power 6 developing 90 hp. It could be mated with a three speed manual transmission in the standard package, or a two-speed automatic “Comet Drive” at additional cost.  Advertised gas mileage was 25 miles per gallon.

1960 Comet

1960 Comet

Even with the abbreviated sales season, Comet sold 116,331 units, more than all three years sales for Edsel – and 1960 Comets weren’t even sold in Canada. Interestingly, today Edsels are all over the place, but try and find a 1960 Comet! The Comet had carved out a niche all its own in the up-scale compact market and looked to become a valued and respected member of the Mercury stable.

When it was still an Edsel ...

When it was still an Edsel …

In my admittedly jaundiced view, the 1959-60 Mercurys were the best looking ever made, with 1958 a close second. Coincidentally, these were the years when Mercury sales reached their lowest point of the 50’s and 60’s. Ben Mills had taken over Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln in the fall of 1958 when production plans for 1959-60 were already written in stone.

An orphan looking for a home ...

An orphan looking for a home …

These were not his babies and he had no incentive to push them. Nowadays, Mercs of these years are the hardest to find from this era, but not the most sought after.

We all have a black sheep in the family ...

We all have a black sheep in the family …

 

 

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America’s Liveliest Luxury Car – 1959 Mercury

Every decade has its own characteristics and reasons why it’s remembered, but perhaps none are as fondly recalled as the “Fabulous Fifties” – especially by the Boomers. To perpetuate a moth-eaten, banal cliché, life seemed more uncomplicated, more congenial. Perhaps that’s because psychologists tell us we tend to remember positive experiences more vividly – does this mean our memories are all a grand illusion?

1959 Park Lane convertible

Or perhaps on a more mundane level  it’s because we could escape the telephone once in awhile – we didn’t suffer from information overload – we didn’t have to interact with the world through a handy portable electronic device we hadn’t a clue how to use properly. We weren’t “available” 24-7. We actually knew how to set up and run our own TV’s – even right down to erecting a massive antenna on the roof. Do you remember your dad up on the roof shouting “Now … now …?” as he slowly turned the contraption to find the sweet spot for TV reception – your job was to stand in the front door, watching the screen and answering back, “A bit more … bit more … There!!!”

1959 Park Lane 2-Door Cruiser

Never mind the station only broadcast from 6PM to 11PM each day – we thought it was a miracle. Some fortunate folk actually had color TV which consisted of a square of cellophane overlaid on the picture tube: the top third was blue, the middle third red and the bottom third green and … Voila!!

 

1959 Monterey 4-Door Sedan

At any rate, the “Fifties were drawing to a close, although I don’t think they metaphorically ended until November, 1963 with the tragic assassination of President Kennedy. In February, 1964, the fate of the “Fifties” was sealed when the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and changed the North American pop music scene forever. Fallen from favor were the Everly Brothers, Ricky Nelson, Connie Francis, Brenda Lee, Fabian and all their contemporaries, along with the music and innocence they represented. Sure, they were still around but none would ever regain any measure of the success they once enjoyed.

1959 Montclair Cruiser 2-Door

 

Back in 1959, the emerging career of rock star Buddy Holly was snuffed out the early morning of February 3, when he was killed in a heartbreaking small plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa, along with the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens. Perhaps their death symbolically foretold the end of the decade.

Winter-Dance-Party-Poster

 

In January, 1959 Fidel Castro’s rebel army overthrew the Batista regime in Cuba. In the beginning Castro promised to restore suspended civil rights, heal Cuba’s economy, refurbish its democracy, and oppose dictatorship in Latin America. It didn’t take long for his true inclinations to emerge and all his noble pledges were forgotten. North Viet Nam invaded Laos with a guerilla army in August, finally announcing in a very graphic way, Ho Chi Minh’s intention to ignore the Indochina Peace Treaty of 1954.

1959 Monterey convertible

Thus began the bitter Viet Nam War which didn’t end until 1973. Communism was spreading its evil tentacles. For those who didn’t live through the era it’s hard to imagine how much the Cold War preoccupied and defined our lives. It was much more than paranoid McCarthyite excesses although Hollywood would have us believe otherwise. We perceived the Soviet Union as a clear and present danger, and the USA as the solitary bulwark that stood between us and a life spent goose-stepping up and down Main Street singing the “Internationale”.

1959 Mercury Dash

 

Over at Ford, Ben Mills had taken over as executive in charge of the Mercury Edsel Lincoln Division in the fall of 1958. He was forced to operate with a severely restricted budget, and all three brands were suffering with dismal sales figures. Lincoln’s design plans were cast in bronze right up to the planned introduction of a new styling and technological concept in 1961. The writing was clearly on the wall for Edsel – its imminent demise was an open secret. Mercury’s plans for the next two years were also pretty solid. Circumstances strictly curtailed Mills’ opportunities for exercising any real fiscal magic.

1959 Montclair Door Panel

 

On November 14, 1958 Mercury’s 20th Anniversary offerings were announced. The Big M continued to enjoy its own body shell, not being forced to share with its stable mates, and thereby enjoyed a distinction not available to competing makes in its price class. This factor generated some dubious highbrow bragging rights, but was more than compensated for by increased tooling and engineering costs.

1959 Mercury Monterey 4-Door Sedan

 

 

A total of 16 models were available, 6 fewer than the previous year. Gone were the low-end no-name sedans, (which incidentally had accounted for 14% of Mercury’s sales despite their mid-year introduction). Monterey was now the price leader, and offered a complete line of body styles – 2- and 4-door sedans, 2- and 4-door hardtops and a convertible. All hardtops were badged as “Cruiser” – the “Phaeton” designation was dropped for 1959. Next up was Montclair carrying a 4-door sedan and 2- and 4-door hardtops. Station wagons still played a major part in Mercury’s 1959 plans, although the variety was scaled back. All had pillarless hardtop

1959 Mercury Voyager 4-door

styling and wore a “Country Cruiser” designation. The Commuter bore equivalent trim to Monterey and came as a 2-door six passenger wagon or as a 4-door 9 passenger model. Voyager and ColonyPark both came equipped like a Montclair and were offered only as  4-door 9 passenger cars. Colony Park was the premier wagon, and sported faux walnut grained side panels trimmed with ash, (although it was really fiberglass).

1959 Mercury Park Lane interior

 

Introduced as the top of the line series in 1958, Park Lane returned for 1959 although there had been some discussion about dropping it to save costs. Development costs were already sunk so would have been a total loss if the line failed to go ahead. The decision was made to continue for these reasons as well as to avoid the negative publicity flowing from cancellation. It could be purchased as a 2- or 4-door Cruiser hardtop or as a convertible.

1959 Mercury Monterey convertible

 

Monterey and Montclair as well as all the wagons sat on a 126 inch wheelbase and measured out to a total length of 217.8 inches, (the wagons were slightly longer with a total length of 218.2 inches). Sedans and hardtops were 55.8 inches in height with wagons 2 inches more to provide greater headroom. Park Lane mounted a 128 inch wheelbase and was 223 inches from end-to-end – most of the extra length was in the trunk. They were also slightly taller than regular Cruisers. These were the BIGGEST Mercury’s ever made, (almost 3 inches longer than their 1958 counterparts – most of this extra length is in the cabin), and today are among the rarest.

1959 Mercury Park Lane convertible

 

If I had to describe the looks of the ’59 Mercs, I would say they were more subdued versions of their immediate predecessors, although larger in every way. Their shape is less angular and geometric; the lines seem to flow more aerodynamically. Sitting in the drivers’ seat is an exhilarating experience. The instrument panel is mounted in a pod protruding from the rest of the dash (padded) which almost seems to fall directly away from the bottom of the windshield. In addition to being 60% larger than the previous year and the largest ever installed in an American production car, the huge windshield is raked another 9 degrees, allowing much more leg and knee room and heightening the impression of spaciousness.

1959 Mercury Park Lane door panel

 

The speedometer is of the red ribbon variety, progressing across its face as speed increases. Gauges are provided for temperature and fuel, along with warning lights for oil pressure and generator problems. Controls for heating and air conditioning as well as power seats are located in the instrument cluster, right and left of the steering wheel respectively. Power window controls, (and power station wagon tail gate controls), are grouped on the dash pad to the left of the driver below the A-pillar.

1959 Mercury Voyager tailgate

 

The huge windshield wraps around from the sides and over the top into the roof. The overall impression is sort of like sitting in a bubble, looking out over the vast hood in front of you – 2 ½ inches lower than the previous year – the overall effect is quite pleasing. Consumers Report felt it incumbent to observe the large windshield let in an inordinate amount of light and therefore heat. Everyone else liked it. The Cruisers had an equally large semi-fastback styled rear windshield, 46% larger than its 1958 equivalent, and presumably prone to the same heat and light problem. Sedans cured this with thin C-Pillars supporting an

1959 Monterey interior – Frump City

extremely exaggerated overhang protecting the rear backlight from the sun’s direct ray – I think this was the year’s one major styling failure. If you use your imagination I suppose you could see an evolution of the 1958 Park Lane rear windshield treatment, but to me it looks quite ungainly, especially in comparison to the elegance of the Cruisers. General Motors did this much more effectively with the “flat top” look for their 4-door hardtops.

 

1959 Mercury Park Lane instrument cluster

Models differ only superficially, becoming slightly more ostentatious as you move up the price and prestige ladder. A quad headlight arrangement was retained – this was the last year headlights sat atop outboard ends of the grille, rather than being incorporated into the grille itself. The grille comprises four rows of small, open stylized rectangles, raked forward, giving a horizontal theme and emphasizing the car’s width.

1959 Mercury Park Lane 2-Door Cruiser

A substantial bumper sits below the grille, and houses rectangular running/turn signal lights. A small lip runs around the top of the bumper with a hump in the middle for the license plate. This was the first year since 1951 in which the grille and bumper were not integral units.

 

The concave rocket shaped scallops outlined by chrome moldings continued to highlight the car’s side treatment, but were much more pronounced and flared this year, starting directly beneath the A-Pillars. These side projectiles were further decorated with three vertical chrome bands near the tail light end for the Monterey, four bands for the Montclair, and a stylized chrome rocket for the Park Lane.

1959 Mercury Montclair interior

The Park Lane also displayed a brushed aluminum panel in front of the front wheel wells, a large ridged chrome panel covering the quarter panels and chrome moldings surrounding the wheel well lips and covering the outward offset rocker panels. The chrome molding for the rear wheel wells carries on and provides an upper border for the quarter panel molding. In addition, Park Lane has chrome sail panels integrated into the C-Pillar on the 4-door Cruisers, and a chrome strip molding originating at the top of the C-Pillar and following the roof contour around to the windshield. The backlight is separated from the rear deck by a chrome molding, versus the previous two years when the package shelf seemed to flow uninterrupted into the rear cowl.

1959 Mercury Park Lane rear seat

The series name appears on the front fenders; Monterey and Montclair and all the wagons have single centre hood ornaments while Park Lane has two fender mounted gunsite ornaments. Monterey and Montclair exhibit a toned down version of the chrome fender flash in front of the wheel wells.

 

1959 Mercury Monterey 4-Door Sedan

As with the two prior years the hood is hinged at the front and this was also the last year the hood had a frontal vertical aspect – a major design evolution. Fifties styling was well and truly ending. Individual chrome letters ran across the front of the hood, spelling MERCURY, above a chrome molding accenting the hood’s leading edge.

 

At the rear, delta shaped taillights continued from previous incarnations, but were much more exaggerated for 1959.

1959 Mercury Montclair

Chrome surrounds for the taillights were the extension of the moldings outlining the concave projectile coves. Reflectors were perched on the outboard edges of the taillights in a less flamboyment rendition of the “outrigger” lights from 1958. The rear bumper mirrored the front, but a further chrome molding creates an enclosure above the bumper, painted body color in Monterey and Montclair, but covered by a chrome panel decorated with a black cross-hatch pattern in the Park Lane. The outboard ends of this enclosure house the back-up lights. You could order additional lights and reflectors placed in two pods integral with the back-up lights in the foregoing enclosure as an optional extra cost item. In truth these look like sets of Edsel tail lights bolted on as an after thought. Remember those 3-in-1 AMT and Jo-Han model car kits from the same era? They came with an assortment of extra lights, decals and add-ons so you could customize the model to suit your own artistic inclinations. Prevailing wisdom dictated that you hadn’t done a proper job unless you used every part in the kit – the same sort of mind-set seems to apply here – more equals better.

1/18 Die Cast Models by Sun Star

 

All models used identical, stylish finned wheel covers and came with 14 inch wheels – somewhat unusual for a car of this size.

 

Under the hood, things remained mostly unchanged from the previous year. Mercury’s advertising boasted that each engine and transmission mating was especially and specifically engineered to what owners of its various models would need and want. This is the polite way of saying, ”more money buys more power”.

1959 Mercury Voyager

 

The 312 cid, 210 horsepower “Y-block” originally resurrected from 1956 to power the entry-level no-name cars for 1958 continued as the engine standard on the Monterey.

1959 Mercury Colony Park

This was married to a three speed manual transmission to complete the base power train. A three speed automatic was available at extra cost, (you had your choice of a regular Merco-o-Matic or Multi-range Merc-o-Matic which allowed you to choose whether to start in first or second gear). Touch-o-Matic overdrive was dropped for 1959 as was Keyboard push button automatic transmission selection – the gear selector was now a more conventional lever on the steering wheel shaft.

1959 Mercury Park Lane

 

If the 312 didn’t provide enough oomph to satisfy your Monterey, you could order the 383 cid “M-E-L” V8 rated at 280 horsepower and 400 ft lbs of torque. This could also be combined with the three speed standard, the two position Merc-o-Matic or the three position Multi-Drive Merc-o-Matic; the latter two at extra cost. This engine was standard on the Commuter wagon, with either of the two automatics, the Multi-Drive being an extra cost option.

1959 Mercury Monterey convertible

 

Standard on the Montclair, Voyager and Colony Park was a 322 horsepower version of the “383” producing 420 ft lbs of torque. The increase came as a result of fitting a 4-bbl carburetor. The base price included a two position Merc-o-Matic as standard with Multi Drive available. This engine was another possible extra-cost option for the Monterey and Commuter.

 

1959 Mercury Commuter

Finally, the 345 horsepower, 430 cid Marauder behemoth was exclusive to the Park Lane where it was standard. The Marauder could not be ordered for any other model, even as an option, although it was shared with both Thunderbird and Lincoln. Note that all engines carried over from 1958 were detuned to produce incrementally lower horsepower ratings for 1959 thanks mainly to installation of 2-bbl carburetors and a reduction in compression. The horsepower race, if not dead, was at least slowing down – in this vein, the fire-breathing Super Marauder was dropped. One obvious result was a marked improvement in gas mileage – 12 mpg in the city, 15 mpg on the highway for a Montclair 383 – these were actually pretty impressive statistics for 1959.

1959 Mercury Montclair

 

One of the most significant criticisms of Mercury for 1957-58 concerned body integrity – the cars shook and complained noisily when subjected to any degree of washboard. The automotive press waxed eloquent over their delight in the new Merc’s roadability, control and ride. Its behavior and handling were always stable, predictable and forgiving. You likely wouldn’t win the Le Mans with it, but then you weren’t supposed to.

1959 Mercury

 

Advertising economies were carried over from 1958; there were once again only two basic brochures, although new this year was the “New Car Buyers Guide”. This booklet made direct point-by-point comparisons with Mercury’s main competitors such as Buick Lesabre, Oldsmobile 88, Dodge Coronet and Pontiac Catalina. Where Mercury proved more expensive, the additional cost was fully explained and justified. This sort of information had been produced in earlier years but had ordinarily only been available to sales people to assist in persuading potential buyers.

1959 Mercury Monterey convertible

 

You could purchase your new Mercury in one of a total of 16 colors, many of which could be combined to create a two-tone scheme consisting of a main body color and a complementary roof shade for a total of 56 possible combinations. Although it is not uncommon to see cars with the projectile scallop a different color than the body, (usually the same color as the roof), this decorative application was strictly after-market and not available from the factory. Similarly, flo-tone and the more complicated two-tones were discontinued.

 

1959 Mercury Park Lane 2-Door Cruiser

Mercury continued to profess great pride in the sumptuous magnificence of its interiors. Reality was a bit less majestic. While still quite imposing in the top models, the cost cutter’s influence was nonetheless in evidence. Gone were the imaginative and luxuriant patterns of 1957 and 1958. Monterey interior treatments were decidedly homely and hardly fitting for an automobile with Mercury’s aspirations. To make luxury claims for these frumpy lowbrow offerings was a bit much to expect the motoring public to happily embrace.

1959 Mercury Park Lane convertible interior

The interiors I’ve seen are mostly drab shades of gray or brown, with the odd green or blue example. On the other hand the Monterey accounted for almost 60% of the Big M’s sales, so apparently buyers were in fact willing to countenance this sartorial modesty. Utilitarian seats were comprised of vinyl bolsters and simple woven cloth inserts. Door panel patterns were embossed rather than stitched, and armrests were simple bolt-ons. Advertising claimed this was “Luxury without opulence …”, perhaps the understatement of the year.

 

1959 Mercury Monterey 4-Door Sedan

Montclair upholstery was of considerably increased splendor. It came with vinyl bolsters in two complementary colors and designs, stitched in a more imaginative and engaging pattern. Inserts were of a “Box Weave” nylon cloth interlaced with silver thread. Door panels were of vinyl in contrasting patterns embossed with chrome “mylar” cloth. Armrests were still bolted on, but sat in chrome supports.

 

1959 Mercury Park Lane

Park Lane interiors were really very attractive, consisting of vinyl bolsters horizontally embossed and nylon weave “Rose Cloth” inserts. In this context “Rose” refers to the pattern, not the color. Both front and rear seat backs had four large decorative buttons and fold down upholstered armrests. Door panels sported chrome moldings separating differently patterned and embossed vinyl patterns. Armrests were still bolted on, but in addition to chrome supports the padded portion was sheathed in vinyl in which several rows of small chrome “points” were embedded. This is an interesting and agreeable effect but unusual in that the theme thus established is not repeated elsewhere – it looks sort of lonely and out of place. But never mind, in the late Fifties excess equals elegance and did not need to be explained or justified. Steering wheels were 3-spoke with 270 degree horn ring.

 

1959 Mercury Park Lane door panel

Commuter station wagon interiors were roughly equivalent to the Monterey’s except seat inserts were of “Strata-Cloth”. You could also order a more practical all-vinyl interior in red and white or black and white, at extra cost. Padded dash facings and glove box door were painted body color in Monterey and Voyager but in the upscale series were encased in a ridged chrome panel displaying the MERCURY name in script. Where the owner had added the optional clock,

1959 Mercury Clock

it was located at the far right of the dash, flush with the face. The radio was in the dash immediately to the right of the instrument cluster and exhibited avant garde vertical push buttons and dial display – in this case novelty equals elegance. Location of the ashtray was another complaint voiced by Consumers Report – it’s too far away from the driver to be practical. Of course everybody knows that’s what the vent window is for – don’t these people know anything?

 

1959 Mercury Colony Park interior

Voyager and Colony Park shared Montclair’s upholstery materials, but in a different pattern. Oddly, none of the station wagons offered 9-passenger seating as standard, but it was available as an option in 4-door versions. The third row of seats faced forward and were accessed by folding forward the second row of seats, (like getting into the back seat of a 2-door hardtop). When not in use, these seats folded into the luggage compartment floor.

Monterey and Park Line convertibles came with all vinyl interiors assembled in more or less the same designs as closed cabin models. Convertible tops were still of the “wrap around” rear window configuration and could be had in black, white, medium blue, turquoise or gold.

 

1959 Mercury Park Lane convertible

Then as now, the sale of extra-cost options played a significant role in profitability. Besides upgraded engine and transmission, the list includes heater/defroster ($91.40), air conditioner, two-tone paint ($17.20), whitewall tires ($41.00), 4-Way Power Seat ($77.40), Seat-o-Matic ($104.35), Power Brakes ($43.75), Power Steering ($107.50), Power Windows ($107.50), Power Tail-gate, Safety Monitor (warns if a pre-set speed is exceeded), Remote Outside Mirror, AM Radio and Clock.

 

1959 Mercury Park Lane convertible

Other laudable features were the double panel construction in doors, hood and trunk lid, strengthened roof architecture and a shallower transmission hump. This latter was no accident but was actually intentionally engineered this way to give the centre passenger more leg room and a softer seat cushion, (you were not sitting directly on the driveline hump covered by only a thin sheet of vinyl), by moving the engine and transmission forward and altering the driveshaft tilt. Unfortunately these attributes didn’t impart much in the way of bragging rights or neighborhood envy and so couldn’t be considered salient selling factors, (“ … say Harry, my transmission hump’s only 8 inches high! What’s yours?”).

 

1959 Mercury Monterey convertible door panel

By 1959 the economy had largely recovered from the “Eisenhower Recession”, and it showed in the sales successes enjoyed by many makes. Pontiac was the big winner with a production increase of 76.4%, while Buick and Dodge gained 17.9% and 13.4% respectively. Mercury was up 12.3% over 1958, but its share of the overall market had slipped to a heartbreaking 2.8% versus 3% for the prior year. It managed to cling to ninth spot, but only just – the much more expensive Cadillac was gaining fast.

 

1959 Mercury Monterey convertible

Unfortunately Mercury had placed dead last in the “owner loyalty” pecking order for the 1958 model year. Was it poor quality control and a troublesome reputation? Pontiac was known for brake and electrical issues, the Buick Dynaflow was a nightmare and Dodge had problems with its push-button automatic and assembly line quality. Was it size and was the buying public still looking for small cars? Perhaps, but if that’s the trouble the Big M’s main competitors should all suffer from the same dilemma. Interestingly, Consumer Reports rated Pontiac below equivalent Mercury models in 1958 – their main issue was with body shake on rough roads and this had been largely cured by 1959.

 

The Mercury driver had no reason to be apologetic. With the possible exceptions of dowdy Monterey interiors and the exorbitantly overwrought sedan roofline, this was a handsome, powerful automobile. How to account for its painful underachievement? It’s a good thing Ben Mills had a five year commitment, but in all honesty for the first two years of his tenure all he could realistically accomplish was to tinker around the edges of the problem.

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Sports-Car Spirit and Limousine Ride – 1958 Mercury

As the new 1958 cars were being introduced, the number 1 song on the Hit Parade was “Sugartime” by the McGuire Sisters – the year’s top hit was “At the Hop” by Danny & the Juniors. Elvis was still gyrating although in March he was inducted into the Army and posted to Germany.

1958 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser

At the same time, society was bemoaning the rise of juvenile delinquency and blaming it on the breakdown of law and order following World War II, when in reality they were just trying to imitate Elvis. Actually I think Elvis was trying to imitate Ersel Hickey, the most bad-ass rockabilly singer of them all, (with a name like that you had to be bad-ass). Ersel only charted one song on the Hot 100 Hit Parade – “Bluebirds Over the Mountain” hit number 75 in 1958.

Ersel Hickey

In October, 1957 the USSR successfully launched the first man-made satellite into orbit – Sputnik – and the space race was on. In November the Soviets sent another satellite aloft, but this time it was manned – by earth’s first space-dog, Laika. In December the US made their first attempt, deploying a Vanguard rocket with a satellite on board, but it exploded 2 seconds after lift-off. They somewhat comforted themselves by successfully firing an Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile 500 miles down range from Cape Canaveral, Florida. In February, 1958, the US triumphantly launched a Jupiter-C rocket carrying an explorer satellite. Face had been saved! It may be worth noting the Soviets never announced anything until they already knew it was a success. Good PR management that! Meanwhile, the governor of Arkansas sent the National Guard into Little Rock to prevent African American, (Negro in contemporary lexicon), students from entering an all-white high school.

In an ominous foreshadowing of things to come, both Toyota and Datsun enter the American car market for the first time. Some 287 Toyota Toyopets were sold the first year, but they were found not to be up to freeway driving, so with customary diligence the Japanese went to work developing a car suitable for the American motoring environment. The result was introduced in 1965 and Consumer Reports soon began to gush with enthusiasm over their economy and practicality. By 1958 import cars already accounted for 8% of North American sales, but these were mostly Volkswagens and Mercedes. We of the automotive cognoscenti found these Japanese offerings laughable and joked about finding them in popcorn boxes. Hubris is never a good thing …

1958 Toyota Toyopet Crown Sedan

Over at Ford they were having troubles of their own. By late August, 1957, the full sales results for that year’s Mercury were becoming apparent and Henry Ford II was not happy. Total automobile sales for Ford Motor Company for 1957 were virtually identical to 1956, and for one of the few years in history the Ford make itself had captured the number one spot from Chevrolet, and by over 200,000 units. On the other hand, Mercury sales were down by 40,000 cars and seventh spot had been surrendered to Dodge.

1958 Mercury Montclair

The results weren’t catastrophic, but since the “Eisenhower Recession” as it eventually came to be called, didn’t really start to bite until August, 1957, the poor economy couldn’t be entirely blamed for the Merc’s dismal showing. To add insult to injury, Mercury came dead last in loyalty rankings. What in fact had actually happened was as yet unknown to Ford executive. The motoring public was in the midst of one of their periodic inexplicable changes of taste, and had become interested in “thrift” and “economy” of all things. In fact, when the 1958 sales results were in, it was discovered Rambler, the very embodiment of economy, had vaulted into sixth spot, and Mercury had slid to ninth.

1958 Mercury Montclair

The explanation as Ford saw it at the time however, was a failure of leadership and direction over at Mercury – they felt the consumer had not been ready for the radical changes in styling and technology embodied in the Big M’s 1957 offerings,

So they did what management has always done in such situations – they fired someone. That someone was Jack Reith who was reassigned to a new position as Henry Ford’s executive personal assistant. Reith had championed not only the Mercury redesign, he had also been the head of the recently formed Mercury Division of Ford Motor Company. The short-lived Mercury Division was folded into a newly created Lincoln-Mercury Division under another recently hired executive, James J. Nance. Nance had previously been President of Packard and Studebaker-Packard, and we all know how that turned out. Packard’s last year of existence was 1958, and its offerings at the end were basically re-badged Studebakers. Nance was known as a cost-cutter, and it’s interesting to note that even advertising felt his economy spree. After the number and extravagance of the 1957 sales brochures, those for 1958 seemed positively parsimonious by comparison. There were only two themes: one for cars and one for station wagons. Any variety beyond that comprised brochures with more or fewer pages, folders vs booklets or small vs large formats, but content and pictures were identical in each case, except where there were more pages. There were also fewer versions of TV ads. Interestingly, the automotive press, including Consumer Report, seemed less interested in the Big M’s 1958 offerings than they were in those for 1957, and this shows in the number of articles printed. This is despite the major power train upgrades for 1958.

1958 Mercury Park Lane

To complicate all this corporate political turmoil, Ford had the introduction of the Edsel on the front burner. This all new member of the Ford family was unveiled for the automotive press on August 27, 1957 in what was probably to this point, the most extravagant product launch in the history of American marketing. Editors were invited to come and see the new Edsel, and their wives were treated to a fashion show at the famous Ford Rotunda, all followed up with a glamorous evening of dinner and dancing. Jack Reith was a class act from start to finish – smilingly attending all festivities with Mrs. Reith, as if nothing was amiss, although his resignation had been accepted, many of his friends had lost their jobs in the Mercury purge and his beloved Mercury Division would soon be no more.

1958 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser

In the 1950’s, automotive brand loyalty played a huge role in the buying decision – one stayed loyal to one’s chosen marque through thick and thin, much as one stood by a favored professional sports team, brand of cigarette, political party or one’s

1958 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser

family. Indeed, in many cases a beloved car came to be regarded as a member of the family. Similarly, one didn’t abandon the Red Wings if they had a poor season – you shared in their embarrassment then defended their honor with all your intellectual vigor, (and in extreme cases with your fists). One’s own personality and self-respect became identified with a particular make of car, much more so than today.

1958 Mercury Montclair

So it was that in the early 1950’s Ford became worried there was no easy or obvious transition from Ford on to Mercury for the upwardly mobile young executive seeking to enjoy greater automotive prestige and excellence, not to mention a way to display his success to the neighbors – the price difference was just too great. The professional on the move might have to graduate through Pontiac or Desoto and thereby leave the Ford family, perhaps never to return.

And so the Edsel was conceived. It was intended to provide this stepping-stone. Sounds good, but for whatever reason this was another one of those ideas better in theory than in implementation. Edsel seemed to suffer what the military call “mission creep”- it became much grander than originally contemplated, such that it actually, model for model, went into direct competition with Mercury. The only Mercury which didn’t have an Edsel counterpart was the new Park Lane. It should have been obvious one would suffer, but in the end they both did.

1958 Edsel Citation

Anyway, Edsel was unleashed on the world September 4, 1957 – “E-Day”. This was followed up with a special TV show, “The Edsel Show”, devoted to this remarkable new automobile. The public had been primed to expect a marvelous new car of historic ground-breaking technological innovation and stylistic opulence, and so flocked to the showrooms to see this transportation miracle for themselves. They came away scratching their heads – this was just another Ford, and kind of an odd looking one at that. Descriptions of the vertical grille ran from the humorous, (Oldsmobile sucking a lemon), to the vulgar. To be charitable, the grille was meant to recall design cues from automotive styling’s golden age – the 30’s. But charity doesn’t sell cars or influence public taste.

The man in the street not only had trouble visualizing himself in the driver’s seat of an Edsel, he was puzzled as to whether the Edsel’s pricing implied it was a step above or below Mercury.

It soon became clear Ford had a monumental disaster on its hands, but in the meantime Mercury’s 1958 introduction had been seriously upstaged, sabotaged and overshadowed. In fact, none of the automotive literature or Google searches are able to enlighten us as to the date the 1958 Mercury’s were introduced – it’s lost to history. Ford Motor Company couldn’t have done a better hatchet job if they had planned it. To compound the injury and further distract everyone from the business at hand, Ford’s all-new four-seater Thunderbird was waiting in the wings for its January, 1959 introduction.

1958 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser

Whispers of Mercury’s imminent demise had become murmurs and the seemingly impossible prospect was now spoken of openly.

Where Mercury, Edsel, Lincoln and Continental had all been free-standing independent Divisions within Ford Motor Company, by January, 1958 they had all been retrenched and consolidated into the new Mercury Edsel Lincoln Division under James Nance.

With the stage thus set, Mercury’s 1958 models made their debut. At first glance there appeared little obvious difference to the landmark 1957 offerings, but upon closer inspection a number of mechanical and styling refinements became evident.

1958 Mercury Monterey

As the year began, Mercury’s model line-up was similar to 1957. Monterey remained the lowest priced line, offering 2- and 4-door sedans, 2- and 4-door hardtops and a convertible. The Turnpike Cruiser was demoted and became a model in theMontclair line, which otherwise stayed the same. The Turnpike thus became cheaper to buy, (and make), than its 1957 counterpart. Gone were standard power steering and brakes, a unique engine and transmission, and a special instrument panel. Interior appointments were downgraded as well. New C-Pillar badging incorporated red running lights and a Cruiser convertible was not available. The station wagon roster remained as in 1957.

1958 Mercury Colony Park

1958 Mercury Voyager

The big news was introduction of a new super-luxurious premium model, thePark Lane, intended to compete with the Oldsmobile 98 and Buick Roadmaster. This new car had originally been the brain-child of the now disgraced Jack Reith, and would likely not have come to fruition had plans not been so far advanced they could not be practically cancelled. ThePark Lane came as a 2- or 4-door hardtop, (Phaeton Coupe or Phaeton Sedan in the parlance of the day), or a convertible. In addition to all the other accoutrements denoting its exceptional status, thePark Lane sat on a 125 inch wheelbase, 3 inches longer than other Mercury’s. As well, its total length was 220.2 inches versus 213.2 inches for the rest of the line-up – most of the extra length was in the trunk.

1958 Mercury Park Lane

Promoted as possessing “sports car spirit with limousine ride” and “18 feet of quiet comfort”, the Park Lane had various other distinguishing stylistic characteristics to set it apart. The hardtop roof-line was of a unique wrap-around design including a larger rear window under a very severe roof overhang, complete with special chrome treatment for the C-Pillar. The projectile “coves” were retained from 1957 but the Park Lane’s were mildly flared, foreshadowing 1959’s design. While taillights shared the same delta shape with other Mercury’s, the Park Lane replaced the red running lights with clear back-up lenses.

1958 Mercury Park Lane

I always thought this feature looked kind of “contrived” or “bolted on”, and found the regular treatment more visually pleasing. Chrome spears, (“outrigger flairlites” in the sales literature), were added to the concave projectile treatment, ending in a tubular red signal light to complement the delta shaped taillights. Each was accented with four consecutive chrome rings surrounding the body of each spear –Park Lane had five. To distinguish it further, winged fender ornaments sat atop its front fenders, and naturally, Park Lane’s interior manifestations were the most sumptuous and included a padded dash.

1958 Mercury Monterey

There was certainly no mistaking 1958’s Mercury was closely related to its 1957 predecessor. Styling changes were in fact quite modest. The two front bumper pods resembled jet aircraft intakes and now comprised the entire grille. The pods contained grille-like inserts consisting of a series of vertical bars, with parking and turn signals residing in the outboard ends. Rear bumper treatment copied the two pods and their inserts – the inserts could be replaced with chrome bordered and channeled red plastic reflectors at extra cost. The cabin roof was revamped and featured a narrower C-pillar with an aggressive rear window overhang and no rear vent windows – this whole set-up claimed to increase side vision and head room.

1958 Mercury Montclair

Quad headlights were standard fare on all models for the first time, but much more laid back and conventional than the previous year. The M-E-R-C-U-R-Y letters were deleted from the concave projectiles as was the free-standing package tray medallion. Montclair and Park Lane carried a series of small parallel chrome bars placed longitudinally near the rear edge of the hood, which remained hinged at the front.

Convertibles continued to carry the wrap around rear window, but the color accented top for the Montclair’s had been dropped. An interesting little quirk is all convertibles plus the Turnpike Cruisers, sported an instrument panel mounted rear view mirror, (a la Chrysler!).

1958 Mercury Park Lane

Series identification was placed on the front fender between two parallel chrome strips that converged behind the front door, except for the Montclair and Voyager, where they ran the length of the car and met at the rear where they continued around as one strip to meet their counterpart from the other side. In all cases the area enclosed by the two strips became identified as a “side molding”. Again, Park Lane differs – the name, in gold script, appears on the C-Pillar. The convertible Park Lane instead displays this same script on the front fender. Chrome wheel opening trim and rocker panel moldings were available for all models. Other options include spare wheel carrier, (continental kit), Full Air Cushion Suspension, (deleted at mid-year), Speed Limit Safety Monitor, Climate Dial single unit heating and air conditioning, (forerunner of Climate Control?), and  hooded outside rear view mirror. Cruiser skirts were dropped for 1958.

Interiors came in the latest hues highlighting special man-made fibres, weaves and vinyls all fabricated in a unified concert of color, form and style the most imaginative and talented designers of the era could envision. You certainly don’t see anything comparable in today’s cars. Was 1958 the real deal or are those stylistic adventures just gauche, dated relics of the past,

1958 Mercury

scorned by our now jaded sophistication? I don’t know but I can tell you when people sit in my 1958 Park Lane and run their fingers over the upholstery, their eyes kind of glaze over and they’re momentarily speechless as if transported to a different time and place. Then, when their senses return, they can’s stop talking about its taste and beauty. And these aren’t just fossils from my generation, they’re teenagers driving tuners and even my three-year old granddaughter, (I’m happy to report she’s as car crazy as I am and loves nothing better than sitting on my knee steering the Park Lane as we drive up and down the driveway). An interesting footnote is that I can find no evidence Mercury offered any leather upholstery at all for 1958, although Lincoln did.

You could order your new Mercury in one or a combination of 16 different exterior colors, many of them unique to Mercury and specially formulated for 1958. One could have a solid color, solid color with only the side molding a secondary color, two-tone, (roof and side molding a secondary color), or the return of Flo-Tone, (roof and body below the belt-line a secondary color). The side molding is painted the same color as the lower body.

1958 Mercury

Midway through the year a silver colored appliqué could be had for the ornamental side molding on the Montclair. Another interesting observation is that I can find no sales brochures or factory literature that shows the projectiles a different color from the body. You can find lots of pictures showing cars thus decorated, but they’re repaints. Similarly, once in a long while you can find a reference to an anodized aluminum projectile insert, but I have never actually seen one or even a picture of one in place.

For all the similarities to its 1957 forebear, there was lots new internally. The engine line-up for 1958 was completely revamped. A 383 cid V8 led things off and was standard for the Monterey, Montclair and all the wagons. This was one of the famous M-E-L engines so named because development took place under the collective auspices of the Mercury, Edsel and Lincoln Divisions,

1958 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser

although it was never actually installed in any Edsels or Lincolns. In any case, the engine incorporated a number of technological advances; the fuel pump was placed next to the distributor at the front of the engine which contained three separate thermostats to ensure different locations within the engine operated at optimal efficiency. The new powerplant carried a 4-bbl carburetor on the Monterey and Commuter, detuned to produce 312 bhp, The Montclair and rest of the wagons also had a 4-bbl carburetor, but developed 330 bhp. New this year as well, was a 430 cid monster, named the “Marauder”, (actually an over-bored Edsel E-475). It was the largest engine ever available in a Mercury. With a single 4-bbl carb it put out 360 bhp and was standard on the Park Lane, and optional on the Turnpike Cruiser, (as an aside it was also standard on Lincoln, and became optional on Thunderbird in 1959).

1958 Mercury 383

By mid-year the Marauder was available throughout the Mercury line, (except the economy no-name model mentioned below), as an extra-cost option. Finally, for those who wanted to be blasted into the back seat when they stepped on the accelerator, there was the dealer-installed “Super Marauder” with 3X2 bbl carburetion and 400 bhp. Despite what you may have heard or read this option was only ever available to Mercury; although the entire model line-up could order it as an option. They were very rare even when new and today, you might see an air cleaner on eBay very occasionally, but they go for $2,000+.

1958 Mercury Super Marauder

Self-adjusting brakes were also introduced this year, and were celebrated as one of 1958’s major safety innovations. To compensate for brake wear the new brakes adjusted themselves whenever they were applied with the car rolling in reverse.

The base Monterey and Commuter transmission offering was a three-speed manual, but for $189 you could get the optional Touch-o-Matic overdrive giving you four forward gears. Optional in these two models and standard on the Montclair, Voyager and ColonyPark was the 3-speed Merc-o-Matic automatic, activated by the still popular keyboard control. Multi-Drive was a new automatic transmission feature introduced this year. Reportedly you had a choice of “High Performance” motoring or just plain highway “Cruising”. The former was for mopping the floor with Chevy-driving teenagers, the latter for situations where you had a little less

Multi-Drive Keyboard

traction such as ice or gravel or wished a more sedate driving experience. In truth the only difference was that in the “High Performance” range you started out in first gear; in “Cruising” range you took off in second. The Cruising Range also prevented the car rolling backward on an incline when the car was in gear with the engine running. In addition there were buttons for “Hill Control” (low), Reverse, Start/Neutral and Parking Brake Release.

Multi-Drive was standard on Park Lane and optional on all other automatic-equipped models.

The recession really took hold in August, 1957 just before the 1958 cars debuted. Sales for the Big M were considered disastrous in 1957, but went into a further tailspin just after the 1958 introduction.

1958 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser

James Nance reacted by announcing two new low priced cars at that year’s January Chicago auto show – a 2-door sedan and a 4-door sedan. These new models were reminiscent of the Medalist from 1956, but that name was never actually used in public – they were always referred to only by their body codes – 64B and 58C respectively.

These no-name cars used dog dish hubcaps, limited brightwork and chrome, painted rather than imitation hardtop door frames, bolted on rather than fared in arm rests, and recycled and left-over vinyl and fabric for upholstery. The 1957 312 cid engine rated at 245 bhp was resurrected from retirement for this project; although it was the first time since 1953 a Mercury had departed the factory with a 2-bbl carburetor.

1958 Mercury

The standard transmission was the base offering with automatic optional, but this was the only Mercury for 1958 with the automatic transmission selector as a stalk on the steering column.

Where the model name usually appeared on the front fender, these cars displayed “Mercury” script borrowed from the wagons’ tailgate. Advertising was very limited and these models weren’t even offered in Canada, but even so still accounted for 14% of the year’s sales for Mercury. Priced at $2,617, the economy 58C represented a savings of $104 over the comparableMonterey.

1958 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser

Prices had increased around 2.5% across the rest of the model spectrum, primarily because of the larger and more costly engines offered, unfortunately contributing to sales woes just when the buying public was looking for economy.

Another cash flow problem arose when the newly frugal public began turning their back on money-making options such as windshield washers, radios and dual exhaust.

In January, 1958 Mercury, Edsel and Lincoln operations were merged into a new M-E-L Division under Nance, thus increasing his responsibilities and span of control.

1958 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser

Nearing the end of the 1958 model year, rumors were again afoot, predicting the Big M’s imminent demise. The marque had suffered its lowest production year since 1947 and market share sat at a dismal 3.03%. To the Ford bigwigs, somebody had to take the blame. Nance became the fall guy and followed his predecessor onto the unemployment line. He was fired while on summer vacation and was succeeded by Ben D. Mills, Nance’s assistant and a previous head of the Lincoln Division. In accepting the job Mills insisted on at least five years to turn the Division around. Henry Ford II agreed.

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Straight Out of Tomorrow – 1957 Mercury

In late 1956, all eyes were on the future. Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender” sat atop the charts and Elvis’ first film, of the same name, premiered in New York City the  day Mercury’s 1957 offerings were introduced – November 12, 1956. “The Price Is Right” debuted on television and Judy Garland’s “Wizard of Oz” was televised for the first time. The national mood was buoyant as memories of World War II and the Korean War were starting to recede, yet the economy was still enjoying the post-war boom – many automotive marques set sales records as recently as 1955. Although the much-loved Dwight Eisenhower had just been re-elected President, the USSR still continued its mischievous tricks and the Cold War was in full swing. Soviet Russia had invaded Hungary when that country tried to escape Communist tyranny, and the USSR further flexed its muscles with an atmospheric nuclear test.

Ford Motor Company’s hopes were high for building on the successful 1955 and 1956 model years and much of their confidence rested on the recently formed Mercury Division. At Mercury, the 1957 year saw the fourth major restyling since entry of the new 1949 cars- the Division claimed it was “America’s most changed car”. The new Merc was further touted by company advertising folks as a “dream car brought to the showroom”- its styling cues were clearly inspired by the 1956 XM  Turnpike Cruiser concept car.

XM Turnpike Cruiser

The new Mercury Division was enjoying the height of success in its so far short life, and was hoping the total styling and technical revamping of Mercury for 1957 would stir the  public into a frenzy of car-buying enthusiasm and thus recapture the glory days of 1955.

April 15, 1955 had seen the former Lincoln-Mercury Division split into three new independent entities: Lincoln, Mercury and a Special Products Division, (this division was code for the Edsel project). The new Mercury Division was headed by the well-qualified and highly respected Francis C. “Jack” Reith whose track record entitled him to free creative rein.

The 1957 Mercury received cutting edge styling under the direction of a new, young designer, Don de la Rossa. Several technological advances were tried out for the first time and enabled a state-of-the-art frame, suspension, engines, glass and of course sheet metal. Every possible innovative technique was enlisted in truly pushing the frontiers of automotive design, production and assembly technology. Mercury was further distanced from its Ford brethren through a completely new and separate line of bodies, and although a family resemblance was retained it was no longer just a “Fancy Ford”.

In keeping with the spirit of the times, Mercury’s dimensions expanded in all directions except height where it shrunk by four inches, (without loss of interior room!), achieved in part by employing new smaller 14 inch wheels. Also contributing to the lower, more streamlined profile, the new frame format allowed recessed floor pans so that passengers stepped down into the car, and sat closer to the road. Steering effort was improved with the first introduction of recirculating ball technology. This allowed a smaller steering wheel, (flattened on top), which further improved interior room. A softer ride was afforded by air bags mounted at the front end of rear leaf springs. The all-new frame allowed a lower center of gravity, the’swept back” ball joint front suspension was new, as were increased brake lining area, longer more flexible front coil springs, a one-piece front stabilizer bar, step-on parking brake control with finger release and a larger 20-gallon gas tank.

What really captured the imagination however, was the new space-age styling. The car really looked like it would be right at home in the 25th Century with Buck Rogers at the wheel. Front and rear bumpers were both themed with large oval intake/exhaust ports similar to those on jet fighters. Those at the front were separated by a gold-anodized “M”; those at the rear were adorned with a simulated grille to which extra-cost red reflectors could be added. Boasting several thin concave vertical bars into which turn signals were incorporated, the grille was a lot simpler than the massive affairs of earlier years. The single headlights were mounted in serrated barrels at the front of each fender and atop the grille. As with their Ford stable-mates, Mercury introduced forward hinged hoods in 1957. These afforded mechanics a lot more room to work, but also were sold on the basis of their obvious safety – drivers no longer had to worry about the hood suddenly becoming unmoored and flying up at 60 mph. I have in fact never heard of this actually happening, but if this salutary feature allowed some members of the motoring public to rest easier at night, who am I to comment.

The hood flows gracefully into a huge wraparound windshield containing one of the few attributes contemporary critics found to complain about. The wrap around feature of the windshield created a dog leg projecting into the doorway area on which passengers were said to be prone to bang their knees. Personally, I’m always willing to make small sacrifices in aid of stylistic splendor – I never understood all the fuss. The roof overhangs the front windshield and rear backlite a bit to accommodate faux-louvers along the top edge. Both the roof and rear deck employed a shallow longitudinal channel, emphasizing the louvers’ effect.

Where other cars of the era sported fins of various shapes and size, Mercury carried a unique concave cove in the shape of a projectile. It doesn’t take much imagination to visualize a rocket ending in a fiery tail where the V-shaped taillight is located. The inside of the cove was either painted a contrasting color or covered in gold-anodized aluminum trim. Viewed from the rear, the taillights wrapped around from the side to form an angled “V” which was highly visible from both side and rear. There was no chrome molding where the rear backlite meets the rear deck – instead the inside package tray seemed to flow smoothly into the rear deck and become an extension of it.

The dashboard and instrument panel were straight out of the contemporary conception of a spaceship. The speedometer is a horizontal red bar that increases in length as speed increases. Other gauges and controls are housed in two pods on either side of the speedometer. Controls for air resemble aircraft levers and in the same theme, all gauges except fuel and engine temperature were replaced with warning lights.

Exotic power equipment options were the order of the day, but the Seat-o-matic had to be the most impressive of all. It looked remotely like a clock with a knob in the middle, sitting in a little pod on top of the dash beside the speedometer. It could be preset for height and seat proximity to the dash and would automatically move the seat to the selected setting when the engine was turned on. When the engine was turned off, it went to its lowest, farthest back position for ease of entry and exit. Amazing! Stainless wheel opening and rocker moldings could be had on all models at extra cost.

Mercury offered 14 models at the start of the model year and followed up with 3 more later. The previous year Medalist and Custom series were axed and Monterey was demoted to become the lowest priced line, containing  2 and 4-door sedans, 2 and 4-door hardtops and a convertible. Next up the scale with more chrome and sumptuous interior appointments was the Montclair in a 4-door sedan, 2 and 4-door hardtops and a convertible. Montclair had stainless body side moldings, where Monterey did not. Other standard equipment which was optional on the Monterey were dual exhaust, Keyboard Control Merc-o-Matic, exterior gold-colored trim on the C-Pillars and perforated vinyl headliners. Mercury was emphasizing the “hardtop” look such that even the sedans looked like hardtops. This was achieved by having both styles use the same “hardtop’ roof stampings and disguising the sedans by changing the shape of the B-Pillars and chrome plating them. In 1956, the term “Phaeton” was introduced to refer to 4-door hardtops – in 1957, it was extended to include 2-door hardtops. All 4-door Phaetons carried wider C-Pillars to compensate for the inherent deterioration in structural integrity resulting from absence of a B-Pillar. All convertibles had a zip-out wrap-around rear window replicating the effect of the Turnpike Cruiser’s C-Pillar design. Station Wagons were available in three series all available in pillarless hardtop format – this concept too was brand new. The Mercury wagons featured wraparound rear-quarter windows, and forward sloping tailgates with retractable backlites. The new flat-laying tail gate was 3 inches lower than its ancestors and had protective ribs between it and the bumper.  Lowest priced was the Commuter, equivalent to Monterey, in a 2-door, 6 passenger configuration or a 4-door 6, or 9-passenger version. Next came a new series, the Voyager, appointed like a Montclair, available as a 2-door, six passenger, or as a 4-door, 9-passenger wagon. At the top of the pile sat the 4-door, 9-passenger Colony Park, gorgeous in faux wood-panelling. All had power rear windows which disappeared into the tailgate.

The American Automobile Industry discovered color about 1955 and by 1957 was taking full advantage by offering every hue and pastel imaginable. Mercury was as pretentiously extravagant as anyone, and offered 18 colors in a bewildering array of solid or two-tone combinations. Your basic two-tone had the body one color with the roof and cove a second. The “Flo-Tone” scheme had the upper body one color, and the roof, cove and body below the belt-line a second color. Convertible tops were available in four solid colors as well as black and white, and Montclair tops could be ordered in a solid color trimmed with a contrasting accent.

Interior colors accented and highlighted the exterior. Bolsters consisted of various vinyl grains and patterns, getting richer as you moved up the model ladder. Inserts Were comprised of variously patterned nylon cloths again getting more sumptuous with the more expensive models. Convertibles and station wagons sported all vinyl interiors.

Hopes were high for another record-breaking sales year a la 1955, but despite all the initial publicity, technical advances and fresh, futuristic look, it soon became apparent sales projections were not going to materialize. The economy was starting to feel the first pangs of the coming recession which would hit in a few months. Despite disappointment over failed sales projections, Mercury went ahead with plans to introduce the Turnpike Cruiser model in January, 1957. It was initially offered as a 2 or 4-door hardtop. In February the line was expanded to include a convertible.

This new car truly looked revolutionary, like the Space Age had suddenly arrived on the nation’s highways. The A-Pillars carried  fresh-air ducts each containing a simulated horizontal forward-pointing radio antenna. No they didn’t actually function, but they looked great. The three-piece vertical backlite resided in a reverse slanted C-Pillar. The power operated center section could be lowered to create a “breezeway” effect theoretically working together with the air vents perched in the corners of the front windshield to provide a pleasant “fresh air” experience. This effect however, became more pronounced when the side windows were lowered – the resulting cyclonic turbulence proved some things work better in theory. But the overall concept was like nothing ever seen before and enthralled one’s imagination. The windshield not only wrapped around the sides but also wrapped into the roof. The rear deck sported a free-standing medallion you could enjoy looking at in your rear-view mirror. There was certainly no mistaking a Turnpike Cruiser when you encountered one on the highway. In addition to its styling individuality the car had exclusive wheel covers, special opulent interior fabrics, and unique script exclusive to this model, (you couldn’t already tell this car was something out of the ordinary?). In addition to a tachometer so you could keep track of engine revolutions, (and thus imply you were familiar with the arcane mysteries of drive-train performance), instrumentation also boasted a “Computerized Clock” which was in fact one of the earliest trip computers, as if your mind wasn’t already boggled enough by all this innovation.

This was the first year any manufacturers ventured into quad headlights – they were specifically illegal in several states and all of Canada – but where permitted, Mercury was at the forefront with the “Quadri-Beam”. This was a truly impressive and futuristic set-up. Each set of two headlights was housed in twin chrome cylinders underneath an aggressive brow where the front fenders start. Above the headlights but under the brow, in what at first glance appeared to be a scoop, were nestled the repositioned park lights and turn signals, separated by a chrome vertical bar. The Quadri-Beam layout was first introduced on the Turnpike Cruiser but was soon available to all Mercurys.

In February it was announced a Turnpike Cruiser would be the official Pace Car for that year’s Indianapolis 500 race. In commemoration of this honor, the Turnpike Cruiser convertible was unveiled on the nationally televised Ed Sullivan show. In addition to all the normal accoutrements, the convertible was available in only one color, specially formulated for the occasion – Sun Glitter Gold. The interior was a tri-colored vinyl of yellow, white and black with a commemorative dashboard badge. It also impressed with a standard continental kit, the aforementioned quadri-beam headlights, a crossed flag medallion on the rear-deck, golden wing fender ornaments, inside roof rail moldings, fared-in armrests, and bright lower quarter panel shields. In addition, the prospective owner could order the car decked out in the same artwork and lettering on the side as the original Pace Car. The continental kit’s official name was “Dream Car Spare Tire Carrier, and while it was standard equipment on the Cruiser Convertible, it was an extra-cost option for the rest of the line. Also available were “Bubble Skirts”, (also known as “Cruiser Skirts”). The public was advised availability of these cars was strictly limited and not everybody that wanted one would be lucky enough to get one.

The standard powerplant for all models except the Turnpike Cruiser was a 312 cid, 265 hp V-8. Optional on all models and standard on the Turnpike Cruiser was a Lincoln 368 cid, 290 hp engine, (the 312 was available on a Turnpike Cruiser as a delete). Those cars equipped with this motor carried badging on the front fender announcing the fact. The scarce M-335 option added two 4-barrel carburetors, a high lift cam and ported heads increasing compression to 10.0:1 on the 368, as well as a special intake manifold, low restriction air cleaners,, mechanical lifters, heavy duty valve springs and flywheel, and a manual three-speed transmission with a heavy-duty clutch. It was said this work was done by the Bill Stroppe shop in Long Beach. All cars so equipped were Montereys built at the Los Angeles plant with an eye toward respectability on the NASCAR circuit, (one Turnpike Cruiser was identified as a legitimate recipient of this option). It developed 335 horsepower.

The 1957 model year saw the introduction of Ford’s first attempt at a push-button automatic transmission – the Merc-o-Matic – although a 3-speed manual was standard on all models. Located in a chrome pod to the left of the steering wheel, it became notoriously unreliable and was eventually abandoned after the 1958 model year. Never mind – it looked innovative and seemed to be more effortless in a strange sort of way.

This was long before the advent of that darling of Consumers Report and the practical set, the Japanese car, on the North American auto scene. Even then Consumers Report had few kind words for the typical American cars everyone liked and bought, preferring to lavish their affections on American Motors, consistently drawing unfavorable comparisons between the Big Three and their chosen one.

I remember Consumers Report positively frothing in indignation at all this gimcrackery, employing every adjective for “useless” their Thesaurus could bring to bear. They never did get it. A Rambler American could never provide the pride that came with tooling around in a Mercury, or give your neighbors envious heartburn over your modern good taste and style. Certain sacrifices to practicality have to be made in the interests of cosmopolitan chic. You could fall in love and have a personal intimate relationship with your Mercury. You could appreciate the nuances of her personality, the way she could tease and tantalize you with mysterious pleasures as yet undiscovered. It was like taking Jayne Mansfield to your High School prom. Alas, your beloved could be as fickle as any mistress, and this one was more so than most. The 1957 Mercury suffered from deficiencies in quality and reliability and was not equal to its hyped image nor the reputation of its ancestors. The blow to Mercury’s good name and prestige took years to overcome. You could just hear those insufferable people at Consumers Report saying, “I told you so!” Damn them!!

The whole automotive industry, and Mercury in particular, was blind-sided by two factors that had been completely unforeseen. The first was the economic recession that blossomed in the late summer of 1957 and affected especially the mid-priced car market. The second was the wild success of Chrysler’s “Forward Look” styling – the public was apparently frantic for fins and it showed in Chrysler’s sales success that year, to the detriment of their competitors.

The Power Car Company of Mystic, Connecticut produced a “Junior Mercury” based on the Indianapolis Pace Car.It was powered by a one-cylinder gasoline engine and came equipped with a hand brake. Mercury was never involved in actually building the “Junior”, but heavily promoted it and often used one as a promotional aid. An example recently fetched $14,500 at auction.

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The Big M – Mercury for 1956

In 1956 the Federal Aid Highway Act authorized construction of 41,000 miles of new super-highway, thus making it a lot easier to quickly get to places a lot farther afield than had to this point been possible. The accessibility of the automobile made development of suburbia possible, and gave birth to the daily commute, a phenomenon we continue to enjoy today.

1950’s Suburbia

 

The new turnpikes engendered the almost astronomic expansion of facilities in which travelers could eat and sleep. Such well known names as Holiday Inn and McDonald’s appeared and proliferated. Former milkshake machine salesman Ray Kroc bought out California restaurateurs Dick and Maurice McDonald and thereby transformed the whole dining out experience.

The Golden Arches in 1956

 

Of course the meteoric rise of the car had many other profound but less salutary societal effects which couldn’t have been foreseen. Air pollution and the decline of the railway are two. During the decade of the 50’s, traffic accidents killed more Americans than died in World War II. As we shall see, safety features weren’t at all a significant factor in the public’s buying decision.

1956 Mercury Phaeton Sail Panel

 

Although having recorded several rockabilly pieces at the famous Sun Recording Studios in Memphis, Elvis Presley first hits the charts on February 26 with “Hound Dog” which would soon become the number 4 song for the year.

Heartbreak Hotel

Elvis would eventually go on to warble 6 of the year’s top 25 songs. His scandalous hips are best remembered for their appearance on the “Ed Sullivan Show” in September, but they actually first mortified audiences on the “Milton Berle Show” in June.

 

A number of other Sun Studios country songsters followed him on to the charts and became rock stars in their own right – Carl Perkins, (originator of “Blue Suede Shoes”), Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison to name a few.

1956 Mercury

 

Meanwhile, black artists continued to compete with white singers covering their work. Little Richard was starting to outshine Pat Boone, and Fats Domino, Frankie Lymon, Mickey & Sylvia, ( I still think Sylvia was the most beautiful early rocker),

Mickey & Sylvia

Ivory Joe Hunter, and LaVerne Baker all placed songs in the top 20 during the year. The color barrier was finally starting to crumble. The #1 song for the year, “Singin’ the Blues”, came courtesy of Guy Mitchell, a Mitch Miller protégé – white singers didn’t need to give up quite yet. It went on to become the top song of the decade and some sources say it was the top single of all time. Personally, I think Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” still takes that one.

1956 Mercury Montclair Hubcap

 

The Soviet Union of course didn’t remain silent during 1956. They held their 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in February, during which Premier Nikita Khrushchev denounced the excesses of the Stalinist era and indeed condemned the veneration of Stalin as a “cult of personality”. Stalin’s embalmed corpse was accordingly removed from its display case in Red Square and buried. Ensuing riots in Stalin’s home republic of Georgia were brutally suppressed by the Red Army.

1956 Mercury Montclair

 

Vyacheslav Molotov, (of cocktail fame) had been the on-again, off-again Premier of the USSR since the 30’s and by 1956 was Foreign Minister. His devotion to Stalin and his part in a bungled attempt to oust Khrushchev led to a fall from favor

Molotov

– he was sent to Mongolia as ambassador – he’s lucky that’s all that happened. Molotov died in his bed at the ripe old age of 96, which is a lot more than can be said of most of Stalin’s contemporaries.

 

In what became known as the “Hungarian Revolution”, Hungary attempted to leave the Warsaw Pact in October and was invaded by Russia for its efforts. Without Western support the end game was inevitable and the Hungarians surrendered after less than a month, leaving thousands dead and injured. Another quarter million fled the country.

1956 Mercury Montclair

 

Shortly after becoming President of Egypt, Gamal Abdul Nasser nationalized theSuez Canal and promptly blocked it to traffic. In response Israel invaded the Sinai and pushed Egyptian troops back to the Suez while France and the UK commenced a bombing campaign to force the Canal’s re-opening. Under pressure from the UN, the USA and the Soviet Union the invaders withdrew, but not before Britain went under petrol rationing and Egypt became a Soviet client state.

 

In the world of sport the Yankees beat the Brooklyn Dodgers to win the World Series – Yankee pitcher Don Larsen threw the first and only perfect game in World Series history.

Norma Jean Baker (Mortenson)

 

Norma Jean Mortenson changed her name to Marilyn Monroe and married playwright Arthur Miller. Grace Kelly gave up her movie career to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco. Washington state was so taken by the event, they renamed their highest mountain peak, (although to this day pronouncing Mt. Rainier incorrectly).

1956 Mercury Montclair

 

When Ford reminisces about 1956, it will be remembered as the year they tried to sell safety and found the public wasn’t interested. As well, this was the year Ford became a public company and its stock first traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

 

1956 Mercury Montclair

Mercury’s 1956 offerings debuting on September 25, 1955, basically embodied a minor facelift from the previous year. Since 1955 had already incorporated sweeping changes and was the most successful sales year in Mercury history, more major change was obviously not in the cards. Another factor mitigating against messing with success was that 1956 was Mercury’s first year of operation as a separate Division, headed by Jack Reith.

1956 Mercury Monterey dash

All three models from 1955 returned, plus one new low-cost addition. Buyers could choose from 15 colors barring some model restrictions, with which 60 two-tone combinations including 28 Flo-tone applications could be created.

1956 Mercury Monterey

Your new Merc’s conventional two-tone scheme was the roof one color and the rest of the car another – you could also get your new car one boring single color, but I can’t recall ever seeing one. In 1956 two-tone was all the rage. Flo-tone paint schemes were introduced amid much fanfare as an extra cost option, consisting of a two-tone application in which the roof and body below a lightning flash chrome molding running the length of the car, were one color while the upper body, hood and trunk lid were another. Montclair’s saddle trim was always painted the roof color.

1956 Mercury Montclair

The “lower silhouette” introduced on the Montclair in 1955 was now extended to all 2-door hardtops and 4-door phaetons. These cars were 58.6 and 58.8 inches tall, respectively; while other sedans stood at 60.8 inches. All passenger cars sat on a 119 inch wheelbase and were 206 inches in overall length. These low silhouette Mercs really radiated attitude, which of course readily transferred to the driver. Let’s not forget that while he was killed in a Porsche, the car most identified with James Dean was a Mercury.

1956 Mercury Montclair

 

The side trim wrapped around the front of the car forming a chrome molding covering the hood lip, interrupted only by a small medallion near the headlights. The lightning bolt’s single “jag” formed a horizontally ribbed cap for the leading edge of the rear fender bulge, retained from 1955. Series name was displayed on the front fenders in script. A stylized gold colored “Big ‘M'” incorporating a Mercury head replaced 1955’s plastic “coat of arms” ornament in the middle of the hood fascia.

1956 Mercury Montclair

An essentially unchanged jet plane hood ornament returned. MERCURY was stamped in black capitals into the rear bumper while it showed up on the front bumper in raised caps; the grille and bumper were little changed except the bullet shaped “Dagmar” bumper guards were replaced by more practical and muted versions, and the fretwork on the upper grille was of a finer texture.

1956 Mercury Hood Ornament

Taillights looked similar to those from the previous year – although they were slightly modified and displayed heavier chrome trim, you’d almost need two years’ examples side by side to notice the difference. Other than a redesigned rectangular winged emblem and the taillights, the rear end remained basically unchanged.

1956 Mercury Montclair

 

All the 1955 series returned for 1956, plus one new edition – the Medalist. This was a bare bones car which attempted to make the jump from Ford to Mercury even more financially manageable and represented Mercury’s first full-on assault on the high volume lower price range – at the time it was the lowest cost Mercury ever offered. At the beginning of the year it came only as a 2-door sedan subset of the Custom series, without bumper guards, and significantly toned down side trim and moldings.

1956 Mercury Montclair

It could be ordered in only single colors. Hubcaps were resurrected from 1952. On February 1, three more models were added to the Medalist line – a 4-door sedan and 2- and 4-door hardtops. At the same time the line received the full lightning flash side treatment, (like that on the Custom), including the Flo-tone paint option, and was promoted to become its own series.

1956 Mercury

 

Custom offered 2- and 4-door sedans, a 2-door hardtop, a convertible and two 4-door station wagons. The latter came in 6 or 8 passenger versions. On January 2, 1956 Custom introduced a 4-door hardtop called a “Phaeton”, and which was so designated on the sail panels in gold script. A phaeton was originally a large open touring car with a folding roof, but Mercury liked the word’s classic “feel” and so employed it to mean a 4-door hardtop.

1956 Mercury Montclair

 

At the same time the former 8 passenger capacity wagons were formally increased to 9 passenger. It’s not clear whether this was just a new description for the same car, or whether the third seat had been rejigged, or whether passengers had to be downsized or what exactly was the reason for this happy occurrence. A two-tone paint treatment of sorts was available for Custom wagons – side and tailgate window frames could be had in a contrasting shade. Late in the year Mercury began calling these low-priced wagons Custom Commuter.

1956 Mercury Custom Wagon

Monterey models included a 2-door hardtop, a station wagon and two 4-door sedans. One sedan was the conventional style while the second was the sportier low profile edition first introduced in 1955. Chrome side moldings were more prominent on the Monterey. In January a 4-door hardtop Monterey Phaeton debuted and the flashier 4-door sedan was dropped, having served its purpose. The Monterey wagon still wore the faux wood paneling and trim including the side window frames and tailgate – rear quarter windows “slid” open for rear ventilation. As the year wore on, Mercury decided to start calling these cars Monterey Voyager.

1956 Mercury Monterey Wagon

 

 

Wagons were decidedly “boxy” looking as designers tried to compromise Merc’s styling cues with station wagon lines in a “sedan-type” format. The result was not an unqualified success. So much for shortcomings. Wagons made up for their homeliness with better than average load capacity, excellent performance with the more powerful engine option, good handling and riding attributes, (although a higher centre of gravity somewhat detracted), luxurious upholstery and interior fittings and more prestige. At the time, trade-in value was considered higher than average. The tailgate assembly still opened like horizontal double doors, into a lift gate and transom arrangement, making for lots of bumped heads, banged knees and new words for the kids to enjoy. This was finally cured with the 1957 models, but the kids continued to enjoy the cool additions to their vocabulary.

1956 Mercury Tail Lights

 

Montclair continued as Mercury’s top line and consisted of a 2-door hardtop, convertible and the dressed up version of the 4-door sedan which was deleted when the new 4-door hardtop Phaeton came on stage. Montclair kept the belt line saddle trim strip under the side windows.

1956 Mercury Convertible Interior

 

Monterey and Montclair interiors were truly luxurious examples of the upholsterer’s art. Crafted from sumptuous cloths and leather-like vinyl, the interiors were colorful, luxurious and practical. Custom employed a less posh choice of materials, but stayed with the same design format. Convertibles, station wagons and some 2-door hardtops could be ordered with all-vinyl interiors in various stitching and embossing patterns but remaining true to the overall styling template. Medalist interiors came only in all-vinyl shades of grey, and indeed used left over material from prior years.

1956 Mercury Montclair Interior

 

Speaking of luxury, Packard closed its Detroit manufacturing plant in 1956, and the engineers thus left unemployed made a mass exodus to Mercury, a factor which would leave an indelible legacy for years to come.

1956 Mercury Montclair Dash showing optional “Platinum” Steering Wheel

 

The instrument panel bore the same fan-shaped design as 1955, but was somewhat simplified with chrome applied in a more aesthetically pleasing layout. Gauges for oil pressure and generator replaced “idiot lights”. Instrument panel knobs were redesigned, the radio speaker grille was reworked, and the series name in script was added to the glove box door. A special white “platinum” steering wheel with a 360 degree horn ring was optionally available. Other convenience options include power steering, brakes, seats and windows,

1956 Mercury Montclair

multi luber power lubrication, tinted windows, white sidewalls, a heater-defroster unit and air conditioning, all of which were starting to increase in popularity. The public was losing interest in the standard transmission overdrive option – somewhat curious as it’s final drive ratio was 0.72:1, theoretically affording a higher top speed.

1956 Mercury Montclair interior

 

 

For 1956, Ford promoted several new safety features, just in case anyone was interested. These included concave cone-shaped energy absorbing steering wheels to prevent anyone becoming squashed by the hub, padded dash and sun visors, improved door locking mechanisms and a shatter-proof rear view mirror. Additionally, both seats and seat cushions were more securely anchored. Seat belts had been introduced in 1955 and continued to be available in 1956, at no extra cost. I remember my grandfather remarking that it was a well known fact a seat belt would tear you in two in a collision, and who wants that? Mind you, this is the same fellow who solemnly pronounced mag wheels were impractical because they let too much dirt into the brake drums. He drove a pink Rambler

Paragon of motoring excellence

so I came to suspect he’d taken many Consumer Reports too seriously. I learned it’s not a good idea to listen to those who portray themselves as experts when they actually know nothing – if you repeat wisdom so received, your personal credibility takes a serious hit. As it turned out few buyers were in fact motivated by safety features, (excepting Consumer Reports of course). What they really wanted was style and power. Mercury delivered in both departments.

Consumers’ Reports sniffed condescendingly at Mercury’s attempts to improve the car’s safety profile. Instead of commenting favorably on those steps actually taken, these guardians of public welfare searched ever farther afield for issues about which to complain – sometimes even crossing the line into unintentioned humor. They noted that rear seat interior door handles were positioned such that a passenger’s knee could accidentally open the door. Further, the hood ornament seemed designed to impale pedestrians unfortunate enough to be run over. I have never actually heard of either calamitous occurrence. I would venture to suggest that any strollers hapless enough to collide with a moving vehicle would likely have more to worry about than the shape of the hood ornament.

Safety Surge 312

 

Mercurys came powered by one of three new “Safety Surge” versions of the old 292 cid V8, bored and stroked to 312 cid. All carried the same new and improved 4-bbl carburetor – horsepower differences were achieved by varying compression ratios. The basic engine delivered 210 horsepower with an 8.1:1 compression ratio, through a three speed manual with or without Touch-o-matic overdrive. Increasing the compression ratio to 8.4:1 yielded 215 horsepower – this was the standard engine for those ordering the Merc-o-matic automatic transmission, and delivered around 17 miles per gallon at highway speeds.

1956 Mercury

As long as you ordered the automatic, you could team it up with the 225 horsepower, 9.0:1 compression version at additional cost. The Merc-o-matic could be forced to kick down one gear for faster starts or greater passing acceleration, simply by “flooring it”!

1956 Mercury Instrument Panel

 

Dual exhaust helped ensure all this horsepower reached the rear wheels efficiently and was standard on Montclairs, Montereys and the Custom wagons and convertible. It was optional on all other models. In the spring of 1956, the M-260 was released. It was a dealer installed option created by Bill Stroppe of stock car racing fame, and consisted of a 2 x 4 bbl carburetor arrangement available to the 225 horsepower motor, as well as a 9.75:1 compression ratio and high-lift cam. It delivered 260 horsepower and was responsible for Mercury taking five Grand National trophies in NASCAR competition. This year saw the introduction of 12-volt electrical systems and electric fuel pumps as standard.

1956 Mercury Door Panel

The 1955 Merc already had a reputation as a well-mannered road car, so its springs, shocks and other suspension geometry including steering were little changed. Where it did markedly outperform its ancestors was in brute performance, yet the suspension was more than capable of handling all this new power.

1956 Mercury Montclair rear seat

 

All manufacturers suffered sales declines following the record year in 1955. Ford Motor Company endured the smallest loss, only 1.0% versus 14.4% for General Motors and 15.6% for Chrysler. At 328,943 units, Mercury sales were off only 1,865 vehicles, (0.2%) from 1955, so the Big M continued to hold up its end. Mercury held on to seventh place and while Monterey was the most popular series, the Montclair 2-dr hardtop was the best selling individual model. Rumors of an entirely new Mercury for 1957 probably affected sales a bit – hints of what was in store were provided by a spectacular show car touring the nation – the XM Turnpike Cruiser.

1956 Mercury XM Turnpike Cruiser Concept Car

 

As mentioned earlier, during 1956 the Eisenhower administration announced its intention to sponsor and pay for 90% of a new 41,000 mile interstate super-highway system. Manufacturers, ever-vigilant guardians of the motoring public’s safety, felt that cars of the day, designed for city driving, would not be safe travelling all day at highway speeds. Mercury’s answer to this challenge was the XM Turnpike Cruiser. It truly was awe-inspiring and made contemporary cars appear instantly obsolete.

1956 XM Turnpike Cruiser Transporter

Whether this was a cynical advertising stunt or a genuine effort to take the automobile to another conceptual level – who can say? The show car did incorporate several safety enhancements. First, the driver was offered a 360 degree field of vision – no blind spots when changing lanes or passing. Next, the Cruiser had huge delta shaped taillights so there’d be no problem seeing it in reduced visibility situations. As well, turn signal lights were moved up to pods in the rear corners of the roof to be more readily noted and heeded by other traffic. This actually offered a solution to a real problem. Academic studies later showed signal lights down low were sometimes visible only with difficulty – the 1961 Dodge Dart is a primary example where styling considerations got in the way of practicality.

 

The Turnpike Cruisers’ low height at 52 inches and extreme width at 77 inches provided excellent high speed stability, however it also made it difficult to enter and exit. To compensate, the car had “butterfly windows” in the roof that raised up when the door was opened. Voila! The interior provided four individual bucket seats contoured for comfort, including individual ashtrays and cigarette lighters. Talk about modern! Fortunately, the centre portion of the rear windshield could be lowered to provide ventilation for all that smoke.

 

The XM Turnpike Cruiser toured the nation in its very own covered trailer equipped with display windows. Frank Reith went to some lengths to emphasize the car’s experimental nature, but there’s no mistaking the many styling cues and features that later turned up on the 1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser, designs which would have been finalized long before the show car ever hit the turnpike. One wonders what becomes of these “concept cars”. Unfortunately many are destroyed, a few are taken over by executives of the manufacturer, fewer still end up in private hands and some just disappear. Nobody seems to know what happened to the XM Turnpike Cruiser, but rumor suggests it ended its days in a California junk yard.

A sad end

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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.

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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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 1958 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.

1954 Sun Valley

1954 Sun Valley

 

The choice of interior accoutrements was becoming a subject for thoughtful discussion among style leaders and trend setters. There was a school that considered the unnecessary use of chrome quite gauche. As well, in addition to color, different combinations of textures, patterns and fabrics were being experimented with, to pleasing aesthetic effect.

1954 Monterey convertible

1954 Monterey convertible

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.

Merc-o-Matic

Merc-o-Matic

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.

Monterey Sun Valley dash

Monterey Sun Valley dash

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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