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 of the 1960 models 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 …

 

 

About Bill

I have enjoyed a life-long fascination with American cars, particularly Mercury and its Canadian relative, Monarch. I'm old enough to remember Turnpike Cruisers when they were new, but not the 118's. The Merc is now scheduled to cease production after over 70 years and so will join Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Imperial, DeSoto, Thunderbird and of course Edsel in history's graveyard. Perhaps this is as it should be -they all became pale shadows of what they once were.
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3 Responses to 1960 Mercury – The Best Built Car in America Today

  1. Cool site! Your picture of Billy Ward is actually Clyde McPhatter, who sang with Billy Ward’s Dominos.

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