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