By 1952 the Korean War had degenerated into a bloody stalemate – a comparison to World War I’s trench warfare has been made, and accurately so. Prolonged and frustrating peace negotiations had begun in 1951, but the combatants still sought tactical advantage before agreeing to stop the slaughter and so fighting carried on in the midst of negotiations.
It was becoming clear to some in the Chinese leadership that the logistics of keeping a large army in the field were beyond the nation’s capability. But instead of looking for a graceful face-saving exit, they were still actively exploring ways of limiting the carnage but only if the solution led to strategic dominance. The PVA, (in one of those ironic communist naming conventions where something is labelled the exact opposite of what it really is, the Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army changed its name to the Peoples’ Volunteer Army), suffered from poor supply of basic equipment and materials, antiquated weaponry and a serious lack of air power to protect troops and supplies on the ground.
Even though their shorter supply lines should have afforded a significant edge, about the only advantage the PVA held was an overwhelming number of men to send into the cauldron – resulting communist casualties were truly breathtaking. A few extremely blood-soaked battles took place during 1952 as the PVA sent wave after wave of starving, poorly trained soldiers into battle against superior firepower. As often as not these situations degenerated into vicious hand to hand combat, as the crush of Chinese manpower eventually overpowered even well defended positions. Strategically important geography was taken, lost and retaken again. Stalin was very circumspect in not committing Soviet troops to actual combat, being
quite content to watch division after division of PVA soldiers decimated, thus further cementing his primacy in the communist world. Russian pilots flew DPRK and Chinese marked Mig-15’s but the Soviets characterized them as “volunteers” so as to avoid formal military confrontation with the USA.
Former 5-star General, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Commander of Allied forces at the D-Day landings, was elected President of the USA in November, replacing Harry S. Truman who had declined to run again. Eisenhower had campaigned against “Korea, Communism and Corruption”, pledging to end the war, take a harder line with the Communist International, and root out suspected communists and corrupt officials in government. President Truman’s popularity was in the basement as charges of communist spies in the highest levels of the US government along with official malfeasance were laid at his door. The buck really did “stop here”. It’s hard to over-emphasize the fear the communist menace along with Soviet nuclear weapons insinuated into our daily lives – every week brought some threatening new revelation. Unlikely as it may seem today, rule of the proletariat was a fashionable political philosophy among many of our so-called intellectual elites.
Public angst over the “Red Menace” was incited by Senator Joseph McCarthy (R) of Wisconsin who made a career out of accusations and allegations of communist subversion throughout all strata of American life. New York state even passed legislation banning teachers with communist leanings from the classroom. McCarthy’s “investigations” were just starting to gather steam by 1952 and would peak in 1954, but so far he had been instrumental in derailing whatever plans Truman might have entertained for another term. Historians remain divided over whether there was any legitimacy behind McCarthy’s recriminations, but the opening of Soviet archives since the collapse of Russian communism reveals many of his suspicions were in fact correct. In popular culture today, “McCarthyism” is a pejorative insult.
Richard M. Nixon was Eisenhower’s Vice-Presidential running mate. Paradoxically he got caught in the “corruption” net when accused of receiving illegal campaign contributions. In response Nixon gave a half hour televised homily, since christened the “Checkers” speech,
in which he denied all allegations and praised Eisenhower. The climax of the address came when he admitted to receipt of a gift of a cocker spaniel named Checkers, but since his daughters Julie and Tricia loved the dog so much he wasn’t going to return it. The collective tug on America’s heartstrings worked, and Eisenhower kept him on the ticket.
In other leadership changes, voluntary and involuntary, Queen Elizabeth II becomes regent upon the death of her father, King George VI – she received the sad news while on her honeymoon in Kenya. Gamal Abdul Nasser comes to power in Egypt, ousting King Farouk after a successful military coup. Nasser was the first of the secular pan-Arab nationalists. Farouk was well known for his corpulence and excessive lifestyle and had been described as “ … a stomach with a head”. Fortunately he got to keep his head, as it would seem Middle Eastern dictators were a kindlier lot back then, not yet disposed to decapitation of their predecessors.
Farouk retired to a life of leisure in Monaco. Elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa, Albert Einstein declined the presidency of Israel when offered, while Nelson Mandela was arrested and began his long confinement in Robben Island prison.
Mother Teresa opens her first home for the destitute and dying in Calcutta, India, subsequently founding the “Missionaries of Charity” and devoting her entire life to caring for India’s impoverished and afflicted. She was beatified as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta by Pope John Paul II shortly after her death in 1997. As is often the case with someone who dedicates themselves to charitable works in the alleviation of suffering, especially in a Christian sense, her methods and motives are now being questioned.
The terrifying Mau Mau rebellion erupts in Kenya primarily as a revolt by Kikuyu tribesmen against British rule. It manifests itself in murders of white families on isolated farms, and assassination of uncooperative black leaders. By November the Mau Mau had declared open revolt to which Britain responded by deploying troops and arresting 2,500 suspected militants. The affair didn’t end until 1956 with the death of the insurgency’s leader. Interestingly, five very old Kenyan men recently successfully sued the British government for torture while under imprisonment related to the Mau Mau rebellion. On behalf of 5,228 surviving Mau Mau they settled for 20 million pounds – the present day practise of financial redress for historical grievance will surely open the floodgates to all manner of complaint both real and imagined from former territorial subjects, although the British government was at some pains to declare no precedent has been set. Britain has also agreed to erect a monument in Nairobi, dedicated to the victims of colonial injustice.
Contagious childhood poliomyelitis has always been a frightening disease but its incidence really escalated in 1952. Thanks to the successful research of Dr. Jonas Salk funded by “The March of Dimes” initiated by Franklin Roosevelt, it has been all but eradicated in the first world, although it remains a scourge in many parts of the third world.
“Mad” magazine makes its first appearance on the nation’s newsstands, but Alfred E. Neumann wouldn’t show up for a few years yet. The musical “An American in Paris” takes the Oscar for Best Picture, but the movie most nostalgically remembered is “The African Queen”, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn.
Bogart won the Oscar for Best Actor. The film originally had trouble with the censors by portraying an unmarried couple cohabiting, so the script was changed. Bogart had trouble reproducing the heavy Cockney accent peculiar to the protagonist from C.S. Forrester’s 1935 novel, thus necessitating another story adjustment. On TV, the “I Love Lucy” show slipped one past the censors by depicting a pregnant Lucy – a TV first.
“American Bandstand”, (originally just “Bandstand”), debuts on WFIL-TV in Philadelphia. The show ran in various forms until 1989 with the inimitable Dick Clark as host from 1956 to the end. Starting off featuring musical film clips it later included appearances by contemporary recording artists lip-synching their hits, accompanied by teenagers showcasing the latest dances.
In 1952 the crooners like Perry Como, Eddie Fisher, Frankie Laine and Patti Page reigned supreme. Musically, there had never been any kind of natural evolution from childhood to adulthood – the teen years of course existed but no one had ever targeted them as a demographic having its own musical tastes, and therefore worth appealing to. This was subtly changing, but for now young rebellious suburban types secretly listened to R & B. Top song for the year was “You Belong to Me” by Jo Stafford who presumably was singing to her new husband, band leader Paul Weston. Kay Starr came in at number 2 with “Wheel of Fortune”. Joni James starts her singing career in 1952 with the year’s number 5 hit, “Why Don’t You Believe Me”. Interestingly, the top 5 hit singles for the year were all captured by girl singers. Jo Stafford and Paul Weston appeared incognito and even released albums under the pseudonym Johnathon and Darlene Edwards, an inept and tone deaf lounge duo. There was much speculation as to their actual identity, some even suggesting Harry and Bess Truman.
Patti Page replaced Jo at number one with her two-sided hit, a cover of “You Belong to Me” and the more popular song, “I Went to Your Wedding”. Bill Haley & His Saddlemen changed their name to Bill Haley and His Comets, although they didn’t actually chart any hits until 1953. Jerry Lee Lewis was also recording by 1952 but more as an unknown boogie woogie piano player. The first rendition of holiday favorite, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” was presented by Jimmy Boyd in time for Christmas, 1952.
R&B was still the only outlet realistically available to black artists, but many future rock and roll stars were becoming active and well known – B.B. King, Ruth Brown, Lloyd Price and the Clovers to name a few. The top R&B hit of the year was “Have Mercy Baby” by the Dominoes, a New York City group headlining both Clyde McPhatter, (later of the Drifters), and Billy Ward. The group hit the charts again later in the year with “I’d Be Satisfied”, but this recording peaked at #8. Fats Domino charted three hits, with “Goin’ Home” hitting #1. The only top hit that crossed over from the R&B charts to Billboard was “Cry” by Johnnie Ray & the Four Lads, a quintessentially white group.
All major American car manufacturers recycled their pre-war designs and technology into the new automobiles of 1946 – 48. This strategy gave them a little breathing space while they switched production facilities from a war-time footing back to the manufacture of vehicles for civilian consumption. Ford was first off the line.
Most readers will know the success of the 1949 – 1951 “shoebox” Fords and the “Jimmy Dean” Mercurys was instrumental in rescuing FoMoCo from a premature and self-inflicted early demise. Many might not be aware of the politics and smoky back-room maneuvering that also went into their creation, (you could smoke in back rooms in those days). Chaos and internal political friction reigned supreme in the company’s executive and senior management ranks, partly as the result of the arrival of Ernest Breech as Chief Executive Officer in 1946. Breech arrived with a mandate to return Ford from a giant staggering on the edge of bankruptcy to a healthy and profitable company. He succeeded quickly and decisively, thereby earning virtually unlimited credibility and a carte blanche from Henry Ford II for any further strategies he may envision.
One of his subsequent ideas was to re-open discussion on the already finalized designs for the 1949-51 automobiles. This came despite Henry Ford II already having approved them for production. Breech engaged his friend, industrial design consultant George W. Walker to preside over reworking blueprints previously fully developed by long-time styling chief Bob Gregorie and his team. Gregorie ultimately and understandably resigned; was replaced by Walker; and the Fords, Mercurys and Lincolns of this era came into being as we now know them. However tumultuous the gestation period and birth, these cars were an instant success and are still much loved today.
Given the long lead times necessary to bring a new car into reality, Walker immediately needed to turn his attention to 1952 and subsequent years. This was the third incarnation of Mercury post World War II and embodied a radically modern styling approach – fenders were higher, sides were flat and lanky and the cabin was broader and offset by curved windshields, front and rear. There’s no mistaking the 1952 Ford line-up as a complete styling departure from previous generations.
While the 1949 to 1951 Mercurys enjoyed a uniquely different body from the Fords, 1952 was a return to the concept of sharing Ford sheet metal and chassis constituents. Different badging and exterior trim including bumper, grille and rear end distinguished the Mercury however, and gave it a distinctive look. A family resemblance remained among the makes, but a new contemporary look was the order of the day.
The 1952 Mercury retained the “presence” and “don’t mess with me” attitude of its forebears, but in a completely different way. Its styling affinity to the new Lincoln is hardly accidental. Bulbous bathtub designs were left to the competition.
With its proud new visage, Lincoln was now aimed squarely at the high-priced market, leaving the mid-priced field to Mercury.
Not only did Lincoln look all-new, much of its engineering and technology were also fresh, including a new overhead valve V-8. Mercury was falling sorely behind in this department, but still wouldn’t obtain an ohv engine until 1954.
Aside from the Monterey Specials of 1950 and 1951, Mercury had only ever used the “Mercury-8” model designation. In 1952 the brand was merchandised as Custom, considered the standard offering, and the ritzier Monterey.
Both lines could be had as a 4-door sedan or 2-door Sport Coupe, while you could also get a 2-door sedan Custom or Monterey convertible. Minus a “B”-pillar, the Sport Coupe was Mercury’s first true hardtop, although Buick, Cadillac and Oldsmobile had introduced the pillarless hardtop in 1949.
The Merc didn’t have a grille as we would commonly picture one, but instead a wide oval opening sweeping across the front, having as its boundaries the hood lip at the top and a new massive bumper at the bottom. A heavy horizontal chrome bar splits the oval horizontally, joins the bumper at its outboard ends and wraps around to the front wheel wells on either side. Turn/signal lights are embedded in the bumper at either end, while its upper surface is highlighted by seven ridges giving the impression of air intake guides
for the rapacious monster lurking behind. A final flourish are the tall vertical chrome bumper guards, reaching up to the hood and having a fog light, (imitation or real), at the bottom. Between the guards, a series of six stylized chrome vertical teeth are placed, but these are partially hidden by the license plate. If they look like anything, I would say they resemble a 1951 Mercury grille.
Protruding headlights positioned in the fenders as well as the forward rake of many of the car’s accents and highlights imply speed and motion even while at rest. Mercury’s shield emblem appears in the middle of the hood fascia above individual chrome capital letters running across the front of the hood spelling MERCURY. The hood lip is trimmed with a chrome edging strip which also provides definition to that portion of the grille opening extending into the front fenders. There’s a prominent faux air intake atop the hood near the front, again adorned with chrome highlighting but much heavier and more substantial, and capped with a stylized chrome
spear trailing back from its centre. This air scoop fronts a hood bulge which broadens as it runs back to the windshield. One might be forgiven for thinking the scoop is completely non-functional, however it does provide clearance for the air cleaner – so it’s actually more than a pure styling touch despite its pleasing ostentation.
The car’s rear flanks carry a solitary stainless spear starting mid-fender just behind the “B” pillar and running straight back almost to the taillights. A wider forward canted chrome highlight starts at the front of the horizontal strip and is vertically ridged with small imitation air intakes, again mimicking an air scoop. It drops back to the rear end of the rocker panel. In the Monterey the rocker panels are chromed, so the overall effect is of an exaggerated “Z”, but once more giving the impression of speed and forward motion.
Chrome script denoting “Monterey” is placed on the rear fender in the upper corner of the “Z”. On the Custom and station wagon, similarly placed script says “Mercury”. Flush mounted rear fender skirts and full size hubcaps are standard on the Monterey, optional on the Custom. The wheel discs manifest red centres with the Mercury head in relief.
Stacked tail- and optional backup lights seem dwarfed by the massive fender capping chrome pods in which they’re mounted, although the whole unit including the bumper fits together well visually and is quite appealing. The rear bumper has two smaller bumper guards bracketing MERCURY in black letters impressed in the metal. A circular medallion is placed on the trunk lid, just above the middle of the bumper and contains the trunk lock. Except in the station wagons, the fuel filler pipe sits behind a hinged plate to which the license plate is bolted.
“C”-pillars on all models are much narrower than previous years and the windshield and wrap-around rear backlight are 17% larger than predecessors. Nonetheless, sedan rooflines are pretty much the homely affair you would expect for the period, although they do have rear quarter windows. The Monterey “C”-pillar was trimmed with a vertically ridged chrome cap similar to the hardtop. The Sport Coupe is another matter. Its silhouette exudes attitude, helped along by a sleek roofline that almost appears “chopped”, the look of course enhanced by fender skirts.
All windows are framed with chrome edging strips except for “B”-pillars on sedans and the Custom sedan’s drip rail. In addition the Sport Coupes’ rear backlight sports two vertical chrome dress-up struts separating the window into ¼ – ½ – ¼ segments. The windshield is now mildly curved and one piece. Mercury abandoned “suicide” doors with the new 1952 cars – all doors are now hinged at the front.
Somewhat limiting the stylistic range of options, engineering insisted on a 118 – inch wheelbase, a carry-over from prior years. The resulting car was of necessity 202.2 inches long and 73.5 inches wide, with a front tread width of 58.0 inches and rear of 56.0 inches. Overall height is a sleek 62.5 inches contributing to its long, low bearing. Externally, the 1952 Mercury is a bit shorter, narrower and lower than its ancestors – it’s not at all clear the public was ready for this unexpected downsizing, normally equating quality and prestige with size.
Despite the new jet age look, this minor reduction in dimensions may have contributed to Mercury’s slow sales. A new frame is of a ladder design with five cross members and double channel box section side rails. Hardtops are further reinforced and the convertible had an added X-member for increased rigidity. As well, the floor and dash are reinforced and insulated with fiberglass against heat, cold, dirt and road noise. Both hood and trunk are counter-balanced for ease of operation.
Front suspension consists of telescopic shock absorbers mounted inside coil springs, with a stabilizer bar to reduce roll. Rear suspension is semi-elliptical leaf springs with telescopic shock absorbers mounted so as to reduce side sway. Tires are extra low pressure 7.10×15 with 760×15 on the convertible and station wagon.
Station wagons are all 4-door, have no further model designation and rear quarter side scripts read “Mercury”. Although real wood paneling dressed up the sides, this was the first year station wagons featured all steel construction.
Paneling starts at the “A”-pillar and carries on back almost to the taillights. Framing rails are of a lighter colored wood and normal chrome side ornamentation appears over top of the wood paneling. The tailgate door consists of a two piece fold out arrangement hinged at top and bottom, making for lots of bumped heads, banged knees and exciting new words for the kids to learn. The lower rear tailgate sports external wood paneling while side windows and the tailgate transom between the drip rail and the belt-line are all framed in the same finish as the paneling rails. Wagon rear bumpers do not have bumper guards and the fuel filler neck is located at the back beside the left rear taillight.
The rear-most side windows slide open. While wagons could be ordered as 6- or 8-passenger, the latter seating arrangement was 3-3-2 all facing forward, with both rear seats capable of folding flat for a much larger cargo space.
Mercury offered 11 solid and metallic colors which could be incorporated into 19 two-tone combinations, the latter available on the sedans and Sport Coupes only. Interestingly, cars assembled at the Dearborn plant were painted with lacquer, while all others including the brand-new Wayne plant, used baked enamel.
Inside, the potential buyer was greeted with a plethora of fabrics and designs from which to choose. One could order bolster and inserts in combinations of broadcloth, nylon-cloth or leather inserts with vinyl bolsters for seats and all leather for the convertible. Interior side styling copies the outside rear quarter stainless trim. Except for the convertible, interior colors are still muted shades of brown, gray and green. Station wagons come in all vinyl patterns with woven plastic inserts. Much was made of increased room and comfort – doors, seats, and windows are all bigger. Seats are wider and padded with foam rubber. Roof bows are highlighted with stainless strips.
In keeping with jet-age themes running throughout North American life, Mercury presents the “interceptor” dash. A semicircular speedometer registers up to 110 mph and also provides a home for fuel, amperage, engine temperature, and oil pressure gauges plus the odometer.
Flanking the speedometer and sitting on a ledge projecting out from the dash are jet throttle style levers controlling heater, defroster, fan and vent functions. All other controls such as lights, wipers, cigar lighter and so on are operated with conventional knobs. A Ford engineer solved the common complaint of drafts, dust and dirt entering the cabin through the floorboard holes for the clutch and brake, by suspending pedals using a system of levers to operate them. A happy side benefit is that the system actually created a mechanical advantage allowing less effort to use the brake pedal. Steering wheel is still of the large style with a protruding bullet shaped hub embellished with a Mercury head.
Under the hood one can find the venerable 255.4 cid, 125 horsepower flathead V-8, first
put into service in 1939 and the only engine available to the whole line. Compression ratio is 7.2 to 1 provided by aluminum alloy pistons fitted with two compression rings and two oil rings. Rotating valves help extend their life. Carburetor is a two barrel downdraft mounted inside an oil bath air cleaner. Desoto had introduced a new “hemi” engine rated at 160 horsepower, while this year’s Cadillac put out 190 hp – both were ohv type. Oldsmobile was first to offer an ohv engine with the 1949 Rocket V-8. While Ford may have lagged some of the competition, its flathead V-8 was no slouch and much-beloved by hotrodders for its dependability and potential.
Base transmission is a three-speed, column shift standard. Optional at extra cost you could order the Touch-o-Matic overdrive which improved gas mileage and top speed or the air-cooled Merc-o-Matic 3-speed automatic which was becoming increasingly popular. The latter two were developed in conjunction with Borg Warner.
Comfort and convenience options included push-button radio, tinted windows, back-up lights, gas tank lock, combination outside mirror and spotlight, blower type rear-window defroster, and combination cigar lighter and map light. Some literature implies the front bumper guards are extra cost options, but in truth I have never seen a 1952 Mercury without them. You could have real road lights mounted in the guards and this was an added option; if not you got a pleasant option delete disc. Mercury was not offering any power equipment. Chrysler was the first to offer power steering, bringing it out in the 1951 Chrysler Imperial. Cadillac followed in 1952.
As mentioned earlier the USA was still at war – the so-called “police action” in Korea ground on in defense of South Korea against the combined predatory communist power of North Korea, Peoples’ Republic of China and the Soviet Union. It became necessary to restrict domestic consumption of some strategic raw materials including cadmium and copper used in the chrome plating process. Car manufacturers developed an ersatz substitute consisting of a thin layer of copper overlaid with a faux chrome finish followed by several coats of lacquer to protect the delicate result. Consumers were prepared to accept this inferior alternative as all car makers were in the same boat and nobody wanted to see a full auto shutdown in favor of military production again. As well, the government realized the car industry was a locomotive of economic growth for a recovering economy. Early advertising and photos show the car fitted with blackwall tires – whitewalls were not available until spring, again because of material restrictions.
As with all makes, the 1952 Mercury’s overall sales were hit hard by government raw material embargoes and a two month steel strike, falling from 310,387 units in 1951 to 172,087 in 1952, despite the all-new styling. President Truman tried to avert the strike by nationalizing the steel industry, but he was overturned by the Supreme Court.
Ford snuck past Chrysler into the number two spot overall for manufacturers for the first time post-war. Mercury’s performance placed it number 8 in sales, behind Dodge.