1949 Mercury – New … All New!

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

Emperor Hirohito greets his subjects

Emperor Hirohito greets his subjects

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

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

1949 Inauguration Ticket

1949 Inauguration Ticket

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

Chiang Kai Shek Portrait in Tiananmen Square Beijing

Chiang Kai Shek Portrait in Tiananmen Square Beijing

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

Mao announces founding of PRC

Mao announces founding of PRC

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

Japanese troops in Manchuria surrender to Russians

Japanese troops in Manchuria surrender to Russians

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

Kim Il-sung

Kim Il-sung

Kim got his way.

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

Signing of UN Charter

Signing of UN Charter

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

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

New TV circa 1949

New TV circa 1949

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

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

Les Paul & Mary Ford

Les Paul & Mary Ford

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

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

The Terrible Troika

The Terrible Troika

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

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

Tony Bennett and friend, Stefani Germanotta

Tony Bennett and friend, Stefani Germanotta

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

Frankie Laine

Frankie Laine

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

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

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

Theresa Brewer

Theresa Brewer

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

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

Sultan of Sob

Sultan of Sob

LaVern Baker

LaVern Baker

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

Bill Haley & the Saddlemen

Bill Haley & the Saddlemen

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

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

Ike Turner

Ike Turner

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

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

Perry Como

Perry Como

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

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

Dinah Washington

Dinah Washington

Checker hit with accompanying dance step in 1960.

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

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

1949 Mercury 6-Passenger Sedan

1949 Mercury 6-Passenger Sedan

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

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

E.T. (Bob) Gregorie

E.T. (Bob) Gregorie

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

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

Son & Father, Edsel & Henry Ford Sr.

Son & Father, Edsel & Henry Ford Sr.

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

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

Bob Gregorie designed 1949 Ford clay mock-ups

Bob Gregorie designed 1949 Ford clay mock-ups

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

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

Gregorie designed 1949 Ford

Gregorie designed 1949 Ford

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

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

Harry Bennett

Harry Bennett

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

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

HF2 in naval uniform

HF2 in naval uniform

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

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

The smaller 1949 Ford

The smaller 1949 Ford

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

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

Ernest Breech

Ernest Breech

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

1949 Ford Vedette

1949 Ford Vedette

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

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

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

The final Walker Design for the 1949 Ford

The final Walker Design for the 1949 Ford

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

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

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

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

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

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

1949 Ford

1949 Ford

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

1949 Ford

1949 Ford

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

1949 Mercury Convertible

1949 Mercury Convertible

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

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

1949 Mercury Convertible

1949 Mercury Convertible

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

1949 Mercury 6-Passenger Coupe

1949 Mercury 6-Passenger Coupe

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

1949 Mercury

1949 Mercury

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

1949 Mercury

1949 Mercury

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

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

Mercury 255.4 cid Flathead

Mercury 255.4 cid Flathead

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

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

1949 Mercury Station Wagon Dash

1949 Mercury Station Wagon Dash

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

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

1949 Mercury Coupe

1949 Mercury Coupe

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

1949 Mercury Coupe

1949 Mercury Coupe

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

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

1949 Mercury Coupe Dash (note optional steering wheel)

1949 Mercury Coupe Dash (note optional steering wheel)

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

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

1949 Mercury Convertible interior

1949 Mercury Convertible interior

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

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

1949 Mercury Coupe

1949 Mercury Coupe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1949 Mercury

1949 Mercury

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

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

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

1949 Mercury Sedan

1949 Mercury Sedan

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

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

1949 Mercury Convertible

1949 Mercury Convertible

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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