Step Out With the New 1946 Mercury

World War II was finally over. Elation combined with immense relief was the order of the day. United States emerged from the cataclysm as the world’s dominant economic and military leader. But of course, joy eventually had to make way for reality. The war had been

Koln in 1946

the single biggest catastrophe in human history; 66 million people had died, and the world would soon start a recovery process which in itself would not be brief or painless. The killing did not stop simply because the Axis and its accomplices had fallen. Many countries had experienced annihilation of their civil, cultural and moral infrastructure, which had then usually been replaced by chaos of a particularly brutal nature.

It would have been natural, perhaps even gratifying, to indulge a penchant for retribution now that the thoroughly beaten Axis powers lay helpless on their backs. Normally punctilious societal leaders and arbitrators, (like main line churches and democratic politicians), abandoned their usual moral standards and espoused the position German and Japanese people were inherently evil and it was just fine to even the score

Dresden at War’s End

against ordinary folk who were, in their own way, just as responsible for the world’s misery as their leaders. And in many cases this is exactly what happened. In particular, the Chinese Civil War between the Communists and the Nationalists resumed right where it left off when interrupted by Japan’s 1931 annexation of Manchuria (north-eastern China), and later by a full-scale military invasion of China in 1937.

If you’ve seen the movie “The Last Emperor” you might realize there’s an interesting historical foot note here. The last emperor of China was Pu Yi. He had been crowned as an

Pu Yi, Emperor of Manchukuo

infant in 1908 but had to abdicate in 1911 when China became a republic, although he was permitted to retain his household and his residence in Peking’s Forbidden City. He was later forced out over a quarrel regarding art treasures stolen by household staff, and with no place to go agreed to become Japan’s puppet emperor of Manchukuo (Manchuria’s name under Japanese occupation), in 1932.

Aside from its wealth of natural resources and usefulness as a buffer to keep the Soviet Union at arm’s length, Japan used the territory as a base from which to prosecute the war with China. Manchukuo was garrisoned by Japan’s

Defeat of the Kwantung Army

Kwantung Army, which at the time was considered one of the most prestigious military commands, comprised of several first line combat units and better equipment. Manchukuo became an afterthought to the War in the Pacific, particularly as Japan’s losses and casualties mounted. Consequently, the Kwantung Army was stripped of its best soldiers and equipment for more urgent employment elsewhere. On August 8, 1945 the Soviet Red Army invaded Manchuria with crack, combat-hardened troops fresh from the Eastern Front, and completely decimated what was by then the ragtag Japanese Kwantung Army left to defend it. On August 19, 1945 the Kwantung Army surrendered and its vestiges were sent off to Soviet labor camps in Siberia.

Atomic bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 & 9, 1945 but still elements of the Japanese government refused to surrender, so the Russian attack was

Kim Il Sung

meant to convince them otherwise. Pu Yi was returned to China where he became an ordinary citizen after 10 years of re-education in a prison camp.

The Korean peninsula had been annexed by Japan in 1910, following the Russo-Japanese War. Naturally Korea was included in the terms of Japan’s 1945 surrender. Russia’s Manchurian invasion force was already sitting on the doorstep and so by agreement with the Americans, occupied Korea down to the 38th parallel. The Soviets placed Kim Il Sung, (a former communist guerrilla leader and grandfather of the present Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea), in charge of their zone, and renamed it the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea, (better known as North Korea). The stage was thus set for the Korean War a few years later.

Germans Deported from Poland

But even though the war itself was over, the killing and the dying did not stop, and misery did not take a break. In trying to cope with the unimaginable human desolation left in the aftermath, the victors took decidedly different approaches, and in so doing managed to split what was left of civilization along ideological lines. The groundwork for the Cold War was being laid.

While Israel was still two years away in 1946, many of the decisions leading to its creation were being made. India was granted independence in 1946, almost instantly leading to bloody rioting in which over 1 million died and another 15 million were displaced over a partition in which formation of Pakistan

Indian Partition

was demanded. A further massive human dislocation ensued when Pakistan actually came into being in 1948 and much of the Muslim population of the former India tried to get there voluntarily or involuntarily. The death knell of the old British Empire had sounded.

With the Japanese Empire now defeated, the Chinese Communists and Nationalist Kuomintang could now once again re-commit themselves to killing each other. The Communists were able to push the Nationalists off the mainland in 1946 and on to Formosa (Taiwan) where they remain today, still squabbling about the same things that occupied them 70 years ago.

Chinese Nationalist Machine Gun Nest

In Europe, the initial burst of hope engendered by the war’s end had given way to desperation by 1946. In trying to describe the situation to the Americans, Winston Churchill said “What is the plight to which Europe has been reduced? Over wide areas, a vast quivering mass of tormented, hungry, careworn and bewildered human beings gape at the ruin of their cities and homes and scan the dark horizon for the approach of some new peril, tyranny or terror…”

In much of Europe civil society and its normal institutions had ceased to function. There were no schools, public transportation, libraries, stores (not that there was anything to buy or sell), banks, (most paper currency was worthless). There was no law and order, just armed gangs trying to protect themselves or take what belonged to someone else. Conventional morality went out the window as women of all ages and backgrounds

German Expulsion

resorted to prostitution just to survive.

A mass deportation of 12 million Germans back to Germany, from those lands over-run by the Soviets occurred. The history of these people often reached back generations in their present location and now they were forced into a decimated country where they knew no one and nothing. And it wasn’t simply a matter of loading up a knapsack and crossing the German border. They usually had to run a miles-long gauntlet of Czech or Polish soldiers who saw them as complicit in Nazi atrocities and deserving of whatever humiliations came their way.

The League of Nations had been formed in January, 1920, as one of the results of the Paris Peace Conference that ended World War I. Although it had as its main objective the promotion of world peace, it did not have the resources or mandate to fulfill its mission and ultimately failed as it was unable to prevent the Axis aggression leading up to World War II.

The United Nations had its first general meeting co-incident with the League of Nations’ last.

Baby Boom

U.S.A. and Canada were two of the few nations to emerge from the war more or less intact. Having endured the Depression and then a World War, during which times a new car was either unavailable or too expensive, Americans and Canadians looked forward to an improved standard of living. Jobs were not plentiful for returning vets however, and so in many cases major purchases had to be deferred. Meanwhile, record numbers of marriages occurred, followed in short order by babies arriving, and the “baby boom” was on!

Popular music in 1946 was dominated by the “crooner” style of singing, a name given usually to male singers backed by an orchestra, who were able to make their music sound more personally intimate through the use of microphones. Microphones made it possible for performers to be heard clearly throughout a concert setting without shouting, which of course was not possible until into the 1930’s. Crooning is characterized by a soft and sometimes touching affectation where the accompanying or background instrumentation reinforces and complements the dreamy, romantic feel of the piece.

Bing Crosby was the first crooner and easily America’s leading singer during the 1930’s. He made several trips to Europe during World War II to perform live for Allied soldiers, many of these accompanied by the Andrews Sisters. Bing charted 14 songs in 1946, 2 of these with the Andrews Sisters. His big solo hit that year was “Sioux City Sue” while “South America, Take It Away” with Patty, Maxene & LaVerne actually charted a little higher. His career continued to prosper into the 1950’s.

Frank Sinatra’s musical career began during the Big Band era as a singer for the Harry James and Tommy Dorsey Orchestras. He went solo in 1943, and released his first album in 1946, “The Voice of Frank Sinatra”. He became one of the first teen idols and many of his concerts and appearances were over-run by adoring teenage girls or “bobby soxers”. Frank released “Oh What It Seemed to Be”, “Day By Day”, “They Say It’s Wonderful”, “Five Minutes More” and “The Coffee Song” in 1946, following which his career went into eclipse and his popularity declined. He spent some time in Las Vegas, but in 1953 his role in the movie “From Here to Eternity” seemed to start a career revival.

Perry Como also got his start as the vocalist for a Big Band, in his case the Ted Weems Orchestra. Perry also branched out on his own in 1943 when he began broadcasting radio shows for CBS and signed a recording contract with RCA Victor. In 1944 he moved from CBS to NBC and started a new radio program, the “Chesterfield Supper Club”. In 1946 two whole Chesterfield shows per week were broadcast live from an airliner flying at 20,000 feet, complete with full band, their instruments and guest stars – a historical first. Perry’s biggest hit in 1946 was “Prisoner of Love”, but he also charted with “Surrender” and “They Say It’s Wonderful”.

The Ink Spots were a black group formed in Indianapolis in the early 1930’s. The original group carried on until 1954. They were known for their tight harmonization style which was an obvious forerunner of doo wop in particular and rock generally. Their biggest 1946 hit was the “Gypsy” which also won the Cash Box award that year as the biggest money maker. It was also the year’s biggest hit. “To Each His Own” was recoded in 1946 and became a modern classic.

The top five pop songs were rounded out by two from Frankie Carle, “Oh What It Seemed to Be” and “Rumors Are Flying”, “The Old Lamplighter” by Sammy Kaye and “For Sentimental Reasons” by Nat King Cole.

After a hiatus of over three years, assembly lines at Ford once again began to produce vehicles destined for civilian use. Wartime experience and production had greatly enhanced Ford’s available technology, and they were the first to come up with a new car,

1946 Mercury Sedan

delivering it on July 3, 1945. Unfortunately, strikes and materials shortages bedeviled manufacturers and their suppliers right from the start. On the plus side, (for car-makers), a strong sellers’ market was in firm evidence through to the end of the decade. The Office of Price Administration was still trying to prevent gouging, so there were lots of shenanigans involving new cars being sold as used to get around price controls. But although the anticipated prosperity was off to a slow start, it was clearly on the horizon. For the first time in its history, America had more miles of paved than unpaved roads, and there were a number of entrepreneurial would-be auto-makers waiting in the wings, eager to fulfill the outsize demand.

During the early war years Edsel Ford had performed an increasingly precarious and

Edsel Bryant Ford

stressful juggling act. He had to balance government requirements for the war effort, increasingly difficult labor relations, the company’s viability once lucrative war work ended and active sabotage emanating from the progressively more demented Henry Ford and his thuggish henchmen. Despite a willing spirit, Edsel Ford’s constitution finally surrendered and he died on May 26, 1943. He was only 49 years old.

Henry and his accomplices wasted no time in re-installing the old man into the company’s presidency. At the time Edsel was little mourned by his father and his father’s associates. With the passage of time Edsel came to be acknowledged at least by the rest of the family, his close colleagues and indeed by the public at large, as the great man and visionary he truly was.

Harry Bennett had been Henry Ford’s “go to guy” virtually since he’d been hired in 1916. Bennett was a street fighter and professional goon who did all Henry’s dirty work. Bennett presided over the infamous 8,000 man “Service Department” at Ford which amounted to a glorified private army of gangsters and enforcers. Their collective job description included fighting the unions (often physically), meting out punishment, spying on employees and acting as Henry’s personal bodyguards. Much to the dismay of Henry’s wife, Clara, and Edsel’s wife, Eleanor It was obvious to all that Bennett was the son Edsel never was and could never have been. Many expected Henry would name Bennett president at an appropriate time. Each of Clara and Eleanor Ford personally held huge blocks of stock in the still private Ford Motor Company and threatened to sell if Harry Bennett became president. Henry relented but still appointed Bennett and many of his associates to Ford’s Board of Directors.

As Henry’s mental capacity continued to decline, Bennett gained ever increasing power and authority through his ability to influence the weak and senile old man, but at any event he set about firing many of Edsel’s closest colleagues and those responsible for bringing to fruition Edsel’s plans for the company’s post-war recovery and prosperity. This

Henry Ford II

was all in service of Henry’s deranged and deluded belief the solution to everything was a return to the Model T.

President Roosevelt viewed the continuing shenanigans at Ford with growing alarm. The country simply could not have one of its largest defense contractors and most important employers managed in such an erratic manner. There was even talk of nationalizing the company. Ultimately the decision was made to early release Edsel’s son, Henry Ford II, from the Navy to take over the family firm.

HF2, (as he affectionately came to be known), was discharged from military service in July, 1943. He was 25 years old.  Nobody thought he was going to have an easy time of it, least of all Harry Bennett and company who relished the prospect of hounding the young Henry like they had relentlessly persecuted his father. Much to

Harry Bennett

their surprise, and backed up by his mother and grandmother, HF 2 proved he could face them down, and so he did. In early 1945 Henry Ford II was designated executive vice-president, just in time to prepare for the tapering off and eventual end of government defense work and its replacement with civilian vehicle manufacture. One of his first acts was to resurrect both Lincoln and Mercury, legacy projects of his father’s that Henry Ford, the elder had scrapped.

To ensure Henry Ford II was handed the unhindered reins of Ford Motor Company, without interference from the Old Man or any of his minions, Clara and Eleanor Ford renewed the threat to dump their personal holdings of company stock. The net effect of such a move would have been to move control outside the family. The elder Mr. Ford reluctantly agreed and HF 2 took over as president of Ford in September, 1945. One of his first acts was to finally rid the company of Harry Bennett, his entourage and their poisonous influence.

Meanwhile FoMoCo had restarted civilian vehicle manufacturing; on July 5, 1945 the first post-war car rolled off the assembly line – a 1946 Ford Super Deluxe Sedan. This historic automobile was formally presented to President Harry Truman at a White House commemoration.

Unlike his secretive grandfather who preferred to keep everything to himself and a few like-minded cronies, Henry Ford II understood the importance of professional, accountable leadership. With this in mind, one of the first orders of business was to start building a management team along these lines. The first new hire was Ernest R. Breech,

1946 Mercury Club Convertible

who agreed to move over from General Motors to assume the Chairman of the Board position at Ford, under very generous terms, both financially and in decision-making freedom.

About the same time the stars lined up perfectly for Ford once again. HF2 was offered the services of a group of logistical and organizational experts who had worked together coordinating and efficiently allocating resources for the U.S. military. The opportunity to engage these people to avert bankruptcy and put the company on the path to profitability was heaven sent. Robert S. McNamara was among this troop of so-called “Whiz Kids” and eventually became President of Ford, leaving in 1961 to become JFK’s Secretary of State.

1946 Mercury Station Wagon

As part of a strategy to structure itself like GM, Ford strengthened its already established policy of allowing its different brands more independence in determining market placement, Lincoln and Mercury became charter members of a new Lincoln-Mercury Division within FoMoCo. Benson Ford, HF2’s younger brother, was the first head of this new Division in 1946. One of his first moves was to designate Thomas S. Skinner as general manager of the Division. With Lincoln-Mercury now standing on its own, an infrastructure had to be built to handle all the responsibilities, activities and management duties formerly undertaken by the mother corporation, FoMoCo. To give the two brands credibility separate and apart from that of Ford, one of the first orders of business was to recruit, train and establish a completely new dealership franchise network.

1946 Mercury Sedan Coupe

One of several unfortunate occurrences following Edsel Ford’s untimely death was E.T. “Bob” Gregorie’s termination from Ford. Bob had been Ford’s Chief Stylist for many years and was a close friend and confidante of Edsel, and had a number of design triumphs to his credit – Lincoln Zephyr and Lincoln Continental Cabriolet are two notable ones. Bob was obviously a gifted designer but perhaps his most important talent was an ability to interpret and translate Edsel Ford’s visionary ideas and nebulous concepts into concrete practical designs.

1946 Mercury Sedan

1946 Mercury Town Sedan

Bob Gregorie had been one of the victims of Henry Ford and Harry Bennett’s housecleaning of those who had been close to Edsel. HF2 pulled out all the stops to get Bob Gregorie to return to Ford and upon his agreement to do so, he was immediately appointed to take charge of development of the new post-war models. Throughout the war and under Edsel’s direction, Bob Gregorie had already spent considerable time and effort on this very task. Of necessity he understood the first post-war cars would need to use the 1942 cars as a template, but restyle them enough so they’d look fresh and contemporary. This was a salutary sentiment to be sure, but the pressure of pent up demand was so strong, the car-makers could likely have successfully sold covered wagons in 1946.

It should be noted that any cars at all in civilian hands during the war years were a very precious commodity, so used cars for sale were as scarce as new cars. Spare parts were also in short supply as none for civilian use were being manufactured and car owners did whatever was necessary to keep them on the road. Because of a shortage of many materials and products during the war, and consequent increased demand, it was necessary to exercise some control over prices to keep the lid on. The federal government set up the Office of Price Administration to

1946 Mercury Sportsman Convertible

monitor price escalation and inflation during the war, caused by the supply and demand imbalance. With the end of hostilities the supervising authority started to wind down and let the market take over. Having acknowledged the strong demand for cars and we should note that inevitably there were price increases, as indeed there was across the whole economy.

The design process used 1942 body shells and measurements, and went from there. As well, the same body styles were carried over from 1942. These were, from lowest to highest price, 2 door Sedan ($1,448), 2-door Sedan Coupe ($1,495), 4-door Sedan ($1,509), 2-door Convertible ($1,711), 4-door Station Wagon ($1,729), and 2-door Sportsman Convertible ($2,209). The 4-door Sedan was

1946 Mercury Sedan Coupe

easily the most popular body style, selling 40,280 units, almost half of Mercury’s total sales of 86,626. The 2-door Sedan Coupe was second most favored with sales of 24,163. Third place sales goes to the 2-door Sedan but it was discontinued in early 1947 after 34 cars had been built. Sales for 1946 was 13,142 units.

To give the line-up some pizzazz, HF2 suggested the only new model – a glamorous addition to draw the public into showrooms. This was the Sportsman convertible, a wood bodied four passenger car constructed using the same materials and technology used to build Station Wagons. The Sportsman was originally intended for the Ford line, but since Mercury shared the Ford body, an adaptation was fairly straight-forward. The Mercury version was manufactured and sold in 1946 only when 200 cars left the showroom.

1946 Mercury Club Convertible

Bob and his team set about their task with a will, starting with Mercury. The new Mercury used the same size, shape and position grille opening as the 1942 car, however a cascade theme was achieved by re-orienting it vertically with twelve delicate chrome ribs organized in four groups for each of the two grille halves. The main grille is enclosed by a body color surround featuring three chrome flashes mounted on each side aspect of the border. Two horizontally elongated oval openings sit side-by-side behind the bumper and underneath the main grille, each surrounded by a chrome frame and with a chrome cross-piece. A heavy chrome horizontal plaque is mounted atop the grille at its centre, displaying the “MERCURY” name in relief with a red

1946 Mercury Station Wagon

background. The two halves of the main grille are separated by a vertical chrome plaque stating “EIGHT” in block letters, completing the car’s full name, “Mercury Eight”. Chrome framed rectangular parking lights are placed on the front of the fender catwalks very close to the hood.

Headlights are placed in chrome buckets located in the pontoon style fenders.

Two parallel stainless moldings run down both front and rear fenders, the upper spear being noticeably thinner than the lower. These decorative strips start just behind the headlights and end at the taillights, omitting the doors. Taillights are chrome encased, appearing rectangular when viewed from directly behind, but are shaped to fit the rear

1946 Mercury Sedan Coupe

fender properly. Vertically, they fit between the two fender garnish moldings, which then cross the trunk lid and visually join the left and right taillights Two nameplates are located between the trunk spears, on the far left and right, the first reading “MERCURY” and the second “EIGHT”.

Another stainless spear molding runs down the side of the hood, becomes a belt-line molding as it crosses the door, and then continues down the upper rear fenders, ending before the taillight is reached. All windows are framed with stainless moldings and surrounded by a bright drip rail.

1946 Mercury Town Sedan

Mercury’s actual manufacturing commencement started November 1, somewhat behind that of Ford. This delay was intended to give Mercury a bit more organizational breathing space, but even with the extra lead time, the process encountered shortages and unexpected scheduling problems. When cars finally rolled of the assembly line, they were warmed over 1942 models, but nobody cared. The public and the dealers went crazy for them.

Of course fashion never stands still and the 1946 car was able to enjoy a more colorful palette than its ancestor. Interiors were crafted in conservative gray-green Bedford Cord cloth or rich rust pin-striped broadcloth. Convertibles and Station wagons were done up in genuine leather in your choice of red, tan or gray.

Mercury’s 1942 239 cid flathead V-8 of 100 hp was carried forward unchanged into 1946. The only transmission available was a three speed manual.

1946 Mercury captured 3.3% of American car production, good enough to place 11th in sales out of 19 major makes.

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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