1963 was described by CBS as “ … the year everything happened”. That’s quite true, but what overshadowed all else was the fateful and heartbreaking assassination of the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, in the early afternoon of Friday, November 22, 1963, as his motorcade passed through Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. He was shot by a solitary gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, hidden in the Texas Schoolbook Depository building overlooking the Plaza. Oswald was certainly an unsavory character with Communist leanings who made a bid to defect to the U.S.S.R. and had married a Russian woman during the attempt. Undoubtedly, there was something psychologically amiss.
Oswald also murdered a Dallas Police Officer, J.D. Tippitt, who had tried to question him after the shooting and while he was still on the loose. He didn’t evade capture for long, and was arrested later that afternoon. Two days subsequent, Oswald was in turn shot and killed by Jack Ruby as the former was being moved from Dallas Police Headquarters to the County Jail. For his part, Ruby had managed two night clubs in Dallas and was overall a fairly disreputable sort.
JFK’s Vice-President and Texas native, Lyndon B. Johnson assumed the Presidency and was sworn in aboard Air Force One only two hours after the shooting, with Kennedy’s widow, Jackie, watching.
As a result of rumors and suppositions swirling around the world, President Johnson appointed a blue-ribbon committee, the Warren Commission, to investigate and report on all matters encompassing the assassination. They eventually advised both Oswald and Ruby acted alone.
Some believe the CIA was responsible as retribution for internal changes proposed following the Bay of Pigs disaster. The Mafia was implicated because of Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s, (JFK’s brother) pressure on them at the time. The KGB, Soviet Union and Fidel Castro were embarrassed and angry over the 1962 Cuban Missile crisis and thus had an excuse to want JFK gone, so they too fell under suspicion. Actually Castro was angrier with Khrushchev than JFK because the Soviet Premier had forbidden Castro to unleash several Cuban-based tactical nuclear weapons U.S. surveillance had missed. LBJ was thought suspect in the belief he was making a power play.
One has to be a committed conspiracy theorist and able to suspend disbelief to have these arguments make any sense. None of the theories are particularly convincing, nonetheless several books, movies and documentaries have been produced on both sides of the argument. I am certainly not an expert nor even a student of the whole episode, but one aspect I’ve always found curious was how Oswald managed to pull off such precisely lethal shots from a fair distance, aimed at a moving target and using a notoriously inaccurate rifle, the Italian-made Mannlicher-Carcano.
Do you remember where you were when you heard the news? I do. I was in Grade XI – our teacher announced it to us. I was absolutely stricken and I wish I could say my classmates were too – but some didn’t even know who he was. I wondered whether this meant nuclear war. There had been interminable sabre-rattling for several years leading up to the tragedy, and if the USSR was incriminated I didn’t see how the U.S.A. could just let it pass. Had Khrushchev finally over-played his hand? There was lots of speculation but of course nobody knew.
An ordinary citizen, a spectator named Abraham Zapruder was thrust into the spotlight by being right at the scene and filming the whole thing with his home movie camera – you can still find it on You-Tube. Even today the film makes me heartsick so I can’t look at it any more.
Despite subsequent revelations about his Presidency and personal life, Kennedy is rightfully held in great reverence not just by Americans, but much of mankind.
By October, 1964 Khrushchev had been forced from his post as Premier of the USSR by ambitious rivals, while Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were both felled by assassin’s bullets in 1968; Bobby in June while campaigning in Los Angeles for the Democratic Presidential nomination and King in April in Memphis just before making a speech.
In April, 1963 Reverend King delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech in Washington, D.C. at the Lincoln Memorial during the Civil Rights Movements March on Washington. It gave the movement momentum and credibility at a critical moment.
Pope John XXIII who had lobbied not only for peace and nuclear disarmament during his reign, and had also sought to help negotiate a nonviolent resolution to 1962’s Cuban Missile Crisis, died on June 6, 1963. He was succeeded by Pope Paul VI.
The Beatles as a phenomenon broke upon North American shores in February, 1964 and so commenced Beatlemania. They did not chart in the U.S. until January, 1964, with their first hit single being “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, followed quickly by several others. All these songs had already been released between 1961 and 1963 in the U.K. and Europe, but were still new to North American ears.
American singer, Doris Troy, was signed to the Beatles’ Apple label in 1969 where she collaborated with George Harrison, but her biggest hit had come in 1963, (Just One Look).
Prior to 1958 when Elvis was inducted into the Army, rock had a raw, gutsy, rebellious feel and sound that teens loved and parents abhorred. RCA had braced themselves well for his two-year absence with a collection of unreleased material they slowly issued over that time, resulting in ten top 40 singles. Other than a few rockin’ songs, the old raunchy Elvis had retired and been replaced by a balladeer and movie actor. Colonel Tom Parker, his manager, was of the view Elvis should be more middle of the road, appealing to a larger audience. During 1963 we were treated to such fare from Elvis as “Devil in Disguise” (his biggest hit for the year reached #3 and charted #47 for the year) and “Bossa Nova Baby”, (reached #8 and ended the year at #97). This stuff is a far cry from the songs that made Elvis famous.
Hootenanny was a word that had been around for a while but in the early 60’s it became popularized as an informal gathering of folk singers and musicians. Certainly folk singing was starting to come into its own and even had its own annual gala in the annual Newport Folkfest. In 1963 the event attracted such luminaries as Joan Baez; Peter, Paul & Mary, (Blowin’ in the Wind, Puff the Magic Dragon); Paul & Paula, (Hey Paula, Young Lovers); Burl Ives and Pete Seeger in a celebration of love, pharmaceuticals and leftist anti-war agitation. United States involvement in the Viet Nam War was beginning to actively simmer and in 1963, 80 American advisors had died at the hands of the Viet Cong.
Berry Gordy had founded Motown Records in Detroit in 1960, but it wasn’t until 1963 the firm and its artists enjoyed real commercial success: Martha & the Vandellas, (Heat Wave, Quicksand); Mary Wells, (Two Lovers); Miracles, (You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me).
The now infamous Phil Spector was a record producer in 1963, and creator of the technically marvelous “Wall of Sound”. His wife Ronnie, (the former Veronica Bennett), with her group the Ronettes was one of the earliest and best practitioners (Be My Baby). Ronnie Spector was one of the original “bad girls” of rock – if you want a real treat, find her interview with David Letterman. The Crystals also provide many fine examples of the technique, (Da Doo Ron Ron, Then He Kissed Me).
The Shirelles, (Foolish Little Girl), are said to be the originators of the girl group template, and included such others in 1963 as the Chiffons, (He’s So Fine, One Fine Day); Angels, (My Boyfriend’s Back); and Cookies, (Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad About My Baby).
Surf Music was in full swing in 1963. Jan & Dean’s “Surf City” charted #1 in July, while other notable offerings were provided by the Surfaris, (Wipe Out); Chantays, (Pipeline); Rebels, (Wild Weekend); and the Beach Boys, (Surfin’ USA, Be True to Your School, Surfer Girl).
Billboard’s #1 song for 1963 was “Sugar Shack” by Jimmy Gilmer & the Fireballs, who were better known as an instrumental group. A happy, inoffensive song with some interesting organ work sort of characterizes pop music for the year.
One of the year’s bright spots comes courtesy of Little Peggy March who recorded a song originally written by French orchestra leader Franck Pourcel and which had enjoyed great success in Europe. “I Will Follow Him” achieved #7 for 1963.
Lesley Gore placed three tunes in the top 100 for 1963, her first year out, (It’s My Party, Judy’s Turn to Cry and She’s a Fool). In 2004 Lesley came out as gay and was a tireless activist until her death of lung cancer in 2015, aged 68.
In 1980 Guitar World magazine ranked Lonnie Mack’s 1963 recording of “Memphis”, the top landmark guitar record of all time.
Skeeter Davis, (The End of the World, I Can’t Stay Mad at You), so named by her dad as she was tiny like a mosquito and Ned Miller, (From a Jack to a King), were responsible for the top country cross-over songs for the year.
About the time he became General Manager of General Motors’ Pontiac Division in 1956, “Bunky” Knudsen prophetically said. “You can sell a young man’s car to old people, but you can’t sell an old man’s car to young people.” Thus was initiated the principle philosophy guiding Pontiac’s strategic direction and success for the next several years.
Pontiac gained the reputation as GM’s “performance” division and at the same time shed its erstwhile image as a frumpy old man car. Pontiac’s continuing ascendancy would bedevil Mercury for some time to come.
Mercury should have taken that particular page from the Pontiac playbook. The years 1957 to 1960 produced fast, powerful, gorgeous Mercurys – all those factors the buying public, (including young people), seemingly wanted, but sales were dismal.
Something was missing. Mercury went seriously down market in 1961 and 1962, remaking the big Mercury yet again as a glorified Ford, (with whom it competed on a model-for-model basis but without a Starliner equivalent), introduced the Meteor first as an entry level large Mercury, then as an “intermediate” size between compact and full-size, offered a six cylinder engine as standard equipment for the first time in Mercury history, tried to cultivate an “economy” image, and initiated other measures to give the brand some cachet and improve sales. What actually happened was the full-size Mercury’s stature and reputation were all but destroyed – the Ford brain trust had unintentionally turned it into an “old man car”. In today’s vintage car market, a 1961 or 62 Ford Galaxie 500 will bring approximately twice what a comparably equipped Monterey fetches. And when new, a Monterey 2-door hardtop cost almost $200 more than an equivalent Starliner!
Fortunately, the brand’s savior had arrived in 1960 and was really making a name for itself. Comet was the star in the Mercury show and likely saved her from an earlier demise.
True, a 406 cid, 405 bhp, 3×2 bbl tire-shredder had been introduced along with the sporty S-55 option part way through the 1962 model year. While this was a huge image-burnishing step in the right direction there was no escaping that at only 107K units, the full-size version of the marque had suffered its worst sales year since 1948. Certainly, overall Mercury had sold 341K cars, but 165K of these belonged to Comet and 69K to Meteor, (Comet sales had declined from 1961, but most of this could likely have been attributed to theft by Meteor and other family members).
To compound the humiliation, Monterey was outsold by both Cadillac and Chrysler, and had it been forced to stand on its own against other full-sized American cars, would have bested only Lincoln and Imperial. And this all occurred against a backdrop of an expanding industry. Chrysler had seriously stumbled in its 1962 restyle of the Dodge and Plymouth brands and the mid-market no longer had DeSoto to worry about, but still Mercury couldn’t capitalize. General Motors’ total sales increased 49%, Ford 15% and Chrysler 20%.
Nonetheless, Mercury approached 1963 if not with confidence, at least with spunk and courage, (Ben Mills’ probable first reaction was likely enormous relief since the 1961 restyle was really the first effort for which he was fully responsible – and he still kept his job. He couldn’t even take credit for Comet as it was already well underway by the time he appeared).
Lincoln – Mercury actually had three separate product introductions in the 1963 sales year. The first was the normal fall launch, the second came in late winter and the last in spring. Comet and Meteor were refreshed while the big Mercurys received a whole new makeover, although still retaining the Ford body shell and engineering.
The hugely unsuccessful down-market move was thankfully abandoned for 1963, and Mercury was once again making itself competitive in the mid-price field. An attempt was made to further differentiate itself from Ford by offering a distinctive 2 bbl 390 cid engine of 250 hp as standard, (named Marauder 390 V8), and by resurrecting the reverse-slant roofline design reminiscent of earlier Lincoln Continentals and the Turnpike Cruiser.
The design was dubbed “Breezeway”, highlighting the backlite’s powered roll down centre section flanked by two fixed panes. The design was intended to promote a “flow-through” ventilation concept with all the invigorating benefits that implies. As well the optional two-speed Merc-o-matic was dropped.
Other optional engine possibilities included the Super Marauder 390 V8, a 390 cid 4 bbl with increased compression of 9.4:1 generating 300 hp which was base on the S-55, and the 390 cid 4 bbl Police Interceptor of 9.6 compression ratio and 330 hp. At the beginning of the model year the endorphin enhancing 406 cid Marauder 406 V8 4 bbl of 385 hp and the Super Marauder 406 V8 developing 405 hp from 3×2 bbl carburetion were still available on all full-size models except station wagons.
In other technical news, this was the year alternators replaced generators and amber parking light lenses replaced clear. Chrysler had gone to a 5 year, 50,000 mile power train warranty. Ford partially countered with a 12,000 mile body lubrication and 36,000 mile chassis lubrication schedule versus the previous 6,000; new car inspection was raised from 1,000 to 6,000 miles; and Lincoln’s 24 month 24,000 mile power train warranty was expanded to include all Mercurys.
Transmission choices ranged from a 3-speed column shift as base for the 250 hp 390 cid; the Multi-Drive Mercomatic or 4-speed manual was optional on all 390 engines, and a 4-speed manual with floor or console mounted shifter was mandatory on either 406.
Strategies for the big Merc in 1963 included fielding three distinct models, all marshalled under the Monterey battle flag. These were Monterey, Monterey Custom and Monterey S-55, all debuting at the start of the model year and all featuring the “Breezeway” roofline. The base Monterey was available as a 2- or 4-door sedan, and 2- or 4-door hardtop; Monterey Custom could be ordered as a 4-door sedan, 2- or 4-door hardtop or convertible; S-55 came as a 2-door hardtop or convertible. Convertibles excepted, these cars all bore the “Breezeway” look. Half-way through the 1963 model year, the Marauders were introduced. These were 2-door hardtops – one each in the Monterey Custom and S-55 lines, and showed off a new, dramatically striking fastback roofline. Having more steeply sloped windshields and devoid of the Breezeway backlite, the Marauders were significantly more streamlined.
The rather awkward Breezeway green-house had capped off quite a dowdy looking presentation, wherein the cabin appeared too big for the rest of the car. It comes off as a complete afterthought that doesn’t share any styling cues or kinship with the rest of the body. The new roof completely transformed the large Mercury. It now looked sporty, fast and brazenly flamboyant – the various styling components are in harmonious balance – now here was a car you could be proud of! Lost in the glitz of the new Marauders was a 4-door hardtop Breezeway style S-55, launched at the same time – it turned out to be the rarest 1963 Monterey – both it and the 2-door hardtop continued through to the end of the year.
Finally, the Commuter station wagon was dropped in deference to the new Meteor Country Cruiser wagon, leaving the 6- or 9-passenger, 4-door Colony Park as the sole full-size wagon version on offer. Colony Park sported faux mahogany wood paneling on its flanks. As well, only 390 cid engines were available on the Colony Park with transmission selections the same as for the cars.
The Monterey’s hood forms a prominent brow over the new angularly bowed concave grille consisting of a stamped stainless framework of thin vertical uprights wherein each set of ten forms a discrete panel separated by thicker vertical bars tapering from the centre to the grille’s top and bottom where they meet a chrome surround framing the whole. Six of these panels compose the main central part of the grille with separated dual headlights at each end partitioned by another similar panel.
A chrome rail bisects the grille horizontally across the middle where it angles outward, with a subtly refined badge in its centre. MERCURY appears in chrome script on the driver’s side of the hood’s leading edge. Also present is an elongated nondescript hood ornament front and centre. The hood and cowl are more noticeably arched side-to-side than in prior years, while two barely noticeable character creases run the length of the hood, roughly splitting it into thirds. These slightly increase in depth towards the windshield.
The front bumper is a fairly plain affair, having a somewhat flat face, favoring a forward tilt and reaching around to the front wheel wells. Rectangular amber signal lights are located in the bumper’s outboard ends.
While Monterey and Ford Galaxie share sheet metal, Monterey is differentiated from its cousin by the application of plastic appurtenances to the tops of the doors and fenders creating a protruding sill below the side windows, continuing rearward along the fenders until it ends in a small muted, outwardly canted fin. This ridge is capped by a narrow stainless molding along its entire length from the top of the front fenders all the way to the rear. Imagine that – Mercury, never having laid claim to a proper fin in its entire existence, (was that a fin in 1961?), adopts these styling accessories when almost everybody else is abandoning them. At least we’re in good company – Cadillac and Imperial also seemed to remain committed.
Body sides between the wheel wells bear a slight horizontal concave indentation just above the door bottoms, which continues on rearward into the quarter panels as a narrow ridge. Monterey Custom embellishes this look by starting the above ridge directly behind the front wheel well and running it slightly above the side indentations, up along the rear wheel well lip to join the quarter panel ridge and then capping it all off with a narrow stainless molding. MONTEREY appears in chrome script on front fenders directly behind the headlight trim, and on Customs a small shield is incorporated into the script.
If the car sports a fastback roofline, MARAUDER script surmounted by a checkered flag is displayed in place of Monterey on front fenders. Custom and S55 have three vertically ridged hash mark plaques on the sides of the rear fenders in front of the taillights. As well, if appropriate, an S55 medallion is placed in front of the hash marks.
Montereys feature a full rear grille valance in the space between the trunk lid’s trailing edge and the rear bumper. Except for being convex, it echoes the front grille’s theme including a chrome bar across the centre horizontally which additionally incorporates three round taillights at each end. The middle one is a back-up light and each taillight is encased in a chrome bezel.
The rear bumper is cantilevered straight across except for a modest allowance for the license plate and flared downward pointing bulges at each end, each displaying a crimp on the side to represent a continuation of the quarter panel ridge. The rear grille is framed at the top by a heavier chrome bar following the grille’s shape and forming the trailing lip of the trunk lid. The gas cap door is located in the centre of the grille and is decorated with the same motif.
Montereys abandon the venerable “Thunderbird” C-Pillar for 1963, in favor of a rather elegantly attired truncated inverted triangle very similar to the 1957-58 Turnpike Cruisers and 1958-60 Lincoln Continentals. This shape most easily accommodates the “Breezeway” backlite.
The lower third of the C-Pillar is capped with a horizontally ridged stainless decoration featuring the Mercury “head” while a chrome spear trails out about 8 inches along the rear fender from the bottom edge, presumably to imply forward motion. An 8-inch stainless molding appears on convertibles in the same location. All windows are framed with stainless moldings, including drip rails on Custom and S55, but excluding below side windows.
Colony Park was the only station wagon offered by Monterey this year. It adopted the imitation hardtop look with all roof pillars fixed and chrome-clad. The wagon had either of the 390 cid engines available, and was otherwise trimmed like a Monterey Custom except interiors were all vinyl.
Cargo space is 91.5 cubic feet with rear seats folded. Taillights were two (rather than three) per side with the inboard one doubling as a backup light. The roof luggage rack is listed as an option but I’ve never seen a 1963 Colony Park without one. In case, as a Colony Park owner, you’re miffed about missing out on the whole Breezeway thing, Mercury says don’t worry – you can lower the power tailgate window and get the same effect. Front fender scripts read COLONY PARK rather than Monterey, and the wagon carries a rear “grille” similar to the cars, rather than the imitation mahogany paneling.
1963 ushered in a new look for Mercury interiors and may I say they are quite eye-catching.
Instrument panel and overall dash presentation are considerably more becoming than the previous two years. Gauges are heavily hooded to prevent glare, (and to prevent front seat passengers from complaining about your speed), and are comprised of an array of four individual circular dials, each in its own pod, reporting fuel level, engine temperature, oil pressure and ammeter. The sweep speedometer surmounts the other gauges and is also cowled. A wide vertically ribbed chromed decorative transition strip runs horizontally across the dash, separating the vinyl sheathed padded dash above and painted metal below. The portion below the instrument panel is half the width of the rest, and houses control knobs within the driver’s easy reach.
To the right of the instrument cluster and in the bottom half of the chrome band are located heater controls, push button radio, clock and last, the glove box door, where a discreet plaque on the fascia announces “Monterey”.
Monterey’s foam padded bench seats are designed as crushed vinyl bolsters with seating area inserts of dot patterned fabric divided into thirds by vertical pleats with one horizontal pleat running across the seat back at about shoulder blade height. An ornamental fabric covered button is placed at points where vertical and horizontal pleats intersect. All-vinyl solid colored interiors were also available. Monterey’s door panels are of embossed vinyl in a plain but pleasing arrangement to which arm rests are bolted. Floors are carpeted and the headliner is vinyl.
Monterey Custom interiors are decidedly upscale. Foam padded seats are covered with a tweedy look triple- yarn insert surrounded by crushed vinyl bolsters. Inserts run completely across seating areas and two-thirds of the way up the seat back, where a horizontal vinyl decorative band containing three evenly-spaced ornamental chrome buttons separate it from a vertically pleated shoulder support area. Stainless side seat supports also distinguish Custom from lesser models as does the small black/chrome plaque announcing CUSTOM accompanying the Monterey script on front fenders. The Custom interior also featured paddle door handles, standard electric clock and C-Pillar courtesy lights.
The S-55 interior is wondrous to behold, although virtually identical to that of 1962 S-55. The focal point remains two imitation leather vinyl bucket seats centred by a sweeping floor console in which a ribbed shift plate resides for the shift lever. Contrasting and complementary colors along with chrome highlights blend together in a gorgeous symphony of luxury, (although armrests are still bolt-ons), everywhere you look. S-55 appears in the steering wheel hub and on the glove box door. The steering wheel is the swing-away type like Thunderbird and a tachometer was standard. This is one of the prettiest car interiors I’ve ever seen!
NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Racing) had been formed in 1947, and at its inception had concentrated on older hopped up “hot rods”. By 1949 NASCAR’s governing body had realized there was an audience for pitting new cars against one another, and of course the manufacturer’s soon became involved.
No matter what the public said about economy and safety, customers were still dazzled and influenced by power, speed and style. Advertising NASCAR related success drew youthful (and those still young at heart) customers to auto dealer showrooms. By 1955 Ford had notched only one NASCAR win since 1947 and Chevrolet by then had introduced its potent little 265 cid V-8. Ford was no longer king of the V-8 realm and was in danger of having its lunch totally eaten by the new usurper. GM had also begun advertising power and performance, judiciously trumpeting its undeniable racing success.
To its credit, Ford took the new threat seriously and was soon fully and enthusiastically engaged in the new rivalry. In 1956 a racing team had been formed and ostensibly sponsored by a Charlotte, N.C. Ford dealer, but in reality backed by Ford at a corporate level. Ford provided engineering expertise, financial assistance and contracted a professional racing team. In 1956 Ford won 14 NASCAR contests and captured the prestigious NASCAR Manufacturers Championship. 1957 saw another 17 wins in 23 races and all looked rosy indeed. As a footnote, 1957 saw one of the few model years Ford outsold Chevrolet, (and although GM still retailed more cars than FoMoCo, the gap had closed by over 600K cars).
As another point of interest 1957 Pontiac Bonneville convertible offered either fuel injection or triple carburetors, (famed Tri-Power). Was Ford’s success due to the new focus on performance? I don’t know, but it sure didn’t hurt. Top-of-the-line Fairlane 500 was far and away the Ford stable’s best seller and Thunderbird outsold Corvette by over 3:1.
Fortune is a fickle mistress however, and storm clouds loomed. Following the untimely death and injury of many drivers and spectators directly attributable to racing, the American Automobile Manufacturers Association (AMA), placed a moratorium on any involvement in the sport.
This prohibition included any advertising extolling speed and power or factory participation in such contests as required these now demonized virtues.
In a remarkable coincidence Robert McNamara became President of Ford about this time. It would not have been an exaggeration to describe him as an apostle of economy and safety. It was he who either introduced or promoted the dished steering wheel, padded dash and sun visor, and seat belt as well as the popular and inexpensive Falcon and smaller 1961 Lincoln Continental. In truth, McNamara was a numbers guy and an expert on the cost-benefit question.
Every successful business has had one in their history somewhere.
In any event, financial analysis is not glamorous and FoMoCo became rather conservative and stuffy under McNamara’s watch. Fortunately, the competition was required to follow a similar path, so there were few market ramifications. In 1960 Mcnamara was tapped by newly elected President John F. Kennedy to become the new Secretary of Defense and Ford’s corporate guard changed once again. McNamara’s departure made room for the energetic Lee Iacocca to once again get shuffled upward – which just goes to show even inept bureaucracies make a good decision once in a while. Iacocca had joined Ford in 1946 and had been steadily advancing through the ranks ever since – with McNamara’s exit, Iacocca became Vice-President & General Manager of Ford Division. From this perch he was able to guide Ford’s “Total Performance” program.
GM had found loopholes in the AMA proclamation sufficient to allow development of the Chevy 409 and Pontiac “Super Duty” 421. While Ford had been shipping heavy duty parts for their FE 390 designated as “Police” engines, they actually wound up in streamlined Ford “Starliners”. Despite these efforts to raise Ford’s performance profile, all major 1960/61 NASCAR trophies were taken by Chevrolet and Pontiac. Although they stayed within the letter of the AMA “law”, the GM brothers were clearly gaining publicity benefit from their racing activities.
In June, 1962, Ford formally abrogated the 1957 AMA agreement prohibiting corporate participation in advertising high performance equipment. The introduction of “Total Performance” was Ford’s first salvo in the developing marketing campaign, aimed at countering GM’s racing dominance.
The centerpiece of “Total Performance” was the new FE 427 cid “top oiler” (referring to its method of delivering oil to the engine’s internals, i.e. cam & valve train first, then crankshaft). By the way, this is a very impressive tidbit to toss into the middle of a conversation about performance engines – your friends will be suitably dazzled. It debuted about the same time as the Marauder roofline as strictly a racing engine, but we all know what happens next. Information about these mighty contenders is scant however we are told from fairly authoritative sources a total of 83 were installed in Mercury Marauders in 1963. The engine came in two versions: the Q-Code featured a single Holley 4 bbl carburetor and generated 410 hp; the R-Code arrived with 2×4 bbl Holley carburetion and put out 425 hp. We are further advised sales of the Q-Code totaled 25 units and 58 of the R-Code.
Ford was always quite vague about details surrounding these brutish bad boys which lent them an attractive air of mystery. Whether this bashful modesty can be attributed to corporate ignorance, (if we don’t know, we can’t be blamed if anything goes wrong), a desire to keep AMA in the dark, or a deliberate marketing ploy, (fascination with the mysterious makes the subject more attractive). The 406 cid engine was finished and retired.
As a completely irrelevant aside, I’ve always wondered whether the 1985 introduction of “New Coke” was a premeditated marketing maneuver or a foolish fiasco. Everybody knew the new stuff tasted like crap, although corporately Coca-Cola said it tasted like Pepsi. Coke’s brain trust eventually saw the light and reinstated old Coke, but the resultant buzz was incredible, and couldn’t have turned out better had it been planned, (which it probably was).
If your car hosted a Q- or R-Code designation, you were required to order 15-inch wheels, (Mercury had only 14-inch hubcaps and no 15-inch templates readily available, so added a three tine spinner to a 1954 hubcap and voila!), as well as a 4-speed manual transmission, heavy duty suspension and brakes. Motor Trend reported such niceties as power equipment or air conditioning were unavailable, as such pretentious fripperies could not withstand the torque these new monsters could produce.
Mercury was a willing participant in the “Total Performance” program. With the new 427 engine and drag-minimizing fastback body design, Mercury’s introduction to NASCAR was inevitable.
Famous automotive conjurer Bill Stroppe, who was no stranger to tuning Mercurys, was recruited to work his wizardry on the 1963 version. He managed to squeeze every ounce of performance from the big cars which then went on to earn several honors including NASCAR’s Grand National. As well, Parnelli Jones piloted a Stroppe-built Mercury, running the 410 hp version of the 427, to a new record for the Pike’s Peak climb.
Permit me one small digression before we leave the full-size 1963 Mercury. The little known Mercury 400 was a made only in Canada version of the Monterey which it resembled in all things except the “Monterey” name did not appear anywhere, (wherever it would normally appear it was replaced with “Mercury”).
For that matter, “400” did not appear either. Further, while the 400 had the Breezeway reverse canted rear windshield, the window was fixed in place and did not have the roll down centre section. Finally, base engine for 400 and Canadian-built Monterey Custom was the 223 cid inline-6 of 138 hp while base V8 was the 352 cid 2 bbl 220 hp Marauder. All other engines otherwise available to Monterey could be ordered by the Canadian buyer except the 390 cid 2 bbl. A three speed manual transmission was base for the 223 and 352 with the 4-speed and Merc-o-Matic Multi-Drive optional on all engines, (except automatics couldn’t be ordered with a 406). This was the year Canadian and American built Mercury power trains started to diverge, with Canadian cars generally using smaller base engines.
Mercury 400 was offered only as a 2- or 4-door sedan, and was barely advertised at all. Even at that it earned a surprisingly robust market presence, accounting for a third of all Canadian full-size Mercury sales. The brass must have wondered what was up – when they pulled out all the stops to market a car, nothing much happened; when they were nonchalant, sales took off. Everyone was pleasantly surprised, so much so plans were made to do the same thing in 1964 but replace the 400 with another reincarnation of the Meteor – this time as a full-size car to replace Monterey in Canada.
Although the automotive press seemed to love the new Mercury Monterey and had been generating rave reviews like snowflakes in an Edmonton winter, full-size Mercury sales were not staggering.
At least it looked like the corner had been turned from the disastrous 1962.
Total output was 121K cars, the most popular model being the Monterey Custom, (including the Marauder), at 83,896 units sold. The people behind 1963 Mercury had high hopes for “Total Performance” and the fresh new Marauder rooflines, but were understandably disappointed. Previous years’ missteps had wreaked a lot of damage on Mercury’s image, and the resulting brand impairment would take more than one year to overcome.
Unfortunately, the new 1962 Meteor had not met its admittedly ambitious sales expectations either,
despite high hopes and considerable advertising effort. Mercury’s brain trust met the challenge by expanding the number of models and options available to buyers – sort of the opposite way in which they met Edsel’s tribulations.
Despite Meteor’s styling titivations there was no mistaking its heritage. It looked like what it was – an evolution of 1962’s design including the Galaxie C-Pillar on some incarnations. A few automotive writers were starting to call this look “clichéd” and “time-worn”, but I’m not one of their number. I’ve always liked the wide C-Pillar, and Thunderbird would continue to employ it until 1966.
Lincoln would use a variation well into the 60’s and indeed some other manufacturers unabashedly copied it – 1963 Studebaker Hawk for example. Corporately, Ford was phasing it out in favor of the Marauder fast-back styling.
I’ve said before Ford’s grilles of the era were elaborately intricate, and gratuitously so. Somebody must have thought a fashionable air communicating sophistication was thus implied. I think simpler is better and the designers should have stuck with some variation of the 1960 Mercury grille – the all-time best looking Mercury grille. By 1963 imaginations were drying up and Lincoln-Mercury started to trade grilles among its members. The 1963 Meteor borrowed the 1962 Comet’s grille;
1962’s Meteor had been heavily influenced by the 1960 Comet grille and 1964 Comet copied the grille from the 1964 Lincoln (or vice-versa). Except for the latter these grilles were artistically complex and a picture truly is worth 1,000 words.
The entry level Meteor line included a 2- and 4-door sedan and 4-door station wagon. The next level up was Meteor Custom comprising a 2- and 4-door sedan, a 2-door hardtop and 4-door station wagon. Country Cruiser was the flagship station wagon but considered a member of the Custom line. For the sporty folk, Meteor offered the S-33 2-door hardtop.
Base engine at the start of the year was the 170 cid 101 hp inline-6 first seen in the 1961 Comet. Along with all the other mid-year news, Meteor announced a newer bored out version of the 170 cid I-6 – 200 cid I-6 putting out 116 hp with a single barrel carburetor, but higher compression. The 221 cid V8 of 145 hp was carried over from 1962 as an option. Within a few months this V8 was replaced by the more powerful 260 cid Windsor V8 putting out 164 hp. Three speed manual transmission was standard but a buyer could opt for a Merc-o-Matic, and with the arrival of the 260 cid engine a 4-speed floor mounted manual shifter became available. There were a number of other mechanical and suspension improvements including introduction of a 12,000 mile body lubrication timetable.
Unfortunately, even with the potent new V8 coupled with a 4-speed manual transmission, Meteor didn’t inspire buyers enough to get out their chequebooks. Strangely, the Ford Fairlane was virtually the same car and had become very popular especially with drag racers. We can likely put this inauspicious misadventure down to the legacy left by the 1961/62 Monterey and to “old man syndrome”, Mercury’s unwitting creation of the ultimate old man car. The one thing justifying the choice of a Meteor over a Fairlane was its inheritance of the pioneering “Cushion Link” articulated strut front suspension, developed in 1961. It was that good.
The overall industry was enjoying a 1955 style expansion and Ford wasn’t sharing in the bounty – its total sales for 1963 increased a paltry 0.5%, while GM was up 7.3% and Chrysler a whopping 48.9% – and this after their 1962 styling fiasco! Mercury contributed only 16.3% to FoMoCo’s total 1963 sales. Meteor’s competitors were savoring robust sales, so the writing was on the wall.
In 1962, Mercury preferred to view Comet’s competition as Buick Skylark/Super, Oldsmobile F-85, Pontiac Tempest, (GM Y-bodies), Dodge Lancer and Rambler Classic, with Corvair and Valiant beneath them, (all described as “compacts). Comet is slightly larger and priced lower than all except Corvair and Rambler. Rambler was considerably under-powered compared to the rest.
In a comparison with the three GM Y-body cars, (Corvair was a Z-body platform and Chevy II an X-body), Meteor was also priced slightly less and also less powerful, but considerably bigger in size. Mercury proclaimed the Meteor as the perfect balance between economy and performance – an argument that can be made with varying degrees of success.
Meteor compared itself as well, to GM’s entry level B-bodies, (Bel-Air, Catalina and LeSabre). Head-to-head, Meteor was less expensive to buy than compacts and lower-level full-size cars, between GM’s Y- and B-bodies in size and less powerful than all except Rambler Classic. The buying public didn’t seem enthralled or impressed as Meteor’s production was down to 50,775 cars from 1962’s 69,052.
GM’s Y-bodies each had a special technical feature relentlessly exploited in advertising.
For example Skylark boasted an aluminum block, Tempest was 4-cylinder with its transmission in the rear allowing elimination of the interior hump. F-85 was turbo-charged and so on. Additionally these cars all offered a convertible.
In actual fact, Meteor’s main competition was Ford Fairlane, which it matched model for model and engine for engine. Fairlane was a bit cheaper and Meteor’s interior a bit plusher, but that was it. Fairlane’s introduction of the 289 cid 271 hp engine in mid-1963 didn’t help and Meteor was outsold by its brother by a factor of over 4:1. Aside from greater emphasis on the 289 and some styling changes, Fairlane continued in its “intermediate” guise through 1965.
Interestingly, almost as soon as Meteor was discontinued in its “in-between” form, all of GM’s Y-bodies graduated to A-body intermediate size, and became more mechanically and technically conventional.
Meteor’s styling for 1963 was mildly refreshed, amounting to a new grille, reshaped taillights and revised body embellishment. Side sculpturing character was retained as was the beltline stainless molding, although the latter is now a closely spaced double spear. All other chrome garnishments on the lower body were dropped except the chrome cap over the rocker panels on Custom and S-33 models where it is now continued on to the lower quarter panels and includes wheel lip moldings.
METEOR script has moved from behind the front fender wheel opening to a position behind the headlights. METEOR script now appears on the driver side leading edge of the hood instead of having MERCURY spelled out in individual block capitals across the front of the hood. A small badge has been placed on the wide C-Pillar above the stainless strap across its bottom, and MERCURY METEOR nomenclature is positioned on the passenger side trailing edge of the trunk. Gunsight ornaments atop the front fender are considerably more subdued, while a faux grille panel echoing the real grille covers the rear valance between the trunk lid and the bumper.
Taillights are in the same position as last year but have been revised and now resemble a modified delta shape. On the S-33, three parallel short horizontal chrome spears, canted forward to give the illusion of motion, grace the front fenders behind the wheel well, S33 script appears on the rear fenders just forward of the decorative valance. The C-Pillar badging is much more prominent on the S-33 and its hubcaps have tri-color centres.
Your new 1963 Meteor could be ordered in 15 solid colors or 22 two-tone combinations with the roof being a different shade. The small space between the double beltline spears could be a contrasting color on S-33 only.
Meteor went from no station wagons in 1962 to three station wagons in 1963 – one in each of the base line and Custom line, and the premium edition, (technically a Custom), the Country Cruiser. All offered a third optional rearward facing seat accommodating two more passengers for a total of eight. 1962 style taillights were retained. These are also the only Ford wagons to sport a wider D-Pillar without curved glass on the side panels.
Meteor wagons displayed a panel on the lower tailgate roughly comparable to the rear grille on other models. MERCURY Meteor appears on the passenger side of the tailgate and there are small rubber guards on the rear bumper.
All the Meteor wagons claimed 86.2 cubic feet of cargo space with the counter-balanced second seat folded down, along with a flat cargo floor of over 9 feet with the tailgate down.
Country Cruiser displays imitation mahogany steel paneled sides framed with faux wood rails, which of course requires the car forego any stainless ornamentation on its flanks, (Custom alone carries the chrome rocker panels and wheel lip moldings but not the rear quarter panels – Country Cruiser does not include any of this trim). Script COUNTRY CRUISER is positioned on the front fender instead of METEOR.
The base line shows off a pleasant interior of cloth seats with vinyl bolsters, color-keyed carpeting, pleated horizontally oriented door panels with the top third painted metal, all separated with stainless moldings. Arm rests are bolt-on style for all models.
Meteor Custom’s seats are richer and plusher with your choice of cloth and vinyl or all-vinyl. Door panels have stainless molding highlight strips in the same place, but the motif is instead vertically pleated. Deep loop pile carpet is more opulent than the base Meteor. Both steering wheel and headliner are color-keyed.
S-33 are all 2-door coupes with full vinyl upholstery covering twin bucket seats and the lower two-thirds of the door panels. Seating area is done in a biscuit pattern, carried over to the middle of the door panels. Again the door panel top third is matching painted metal in a satin finish, and with stainless accent strips.
Carpeting is like the Custom. A full length console similar to the one in the S-55 separates the bucket seats, but the shift plate does not allow for automatic floor shift.
The dash houses a full suite of gauges, is identical to last year and is consistent across all models.
Meteor’s existence in its 1963 form would end with this model year. Several reasons have been put forward for its lack of success – it’s an inch longer than the Fairlane and was therefore viewed as a full-size car – the public wasn’t ready for the whole intermediate concept. My view is it looks too much like a Comet and its 1963 incarnation kept the Comet styling rather than trying to connect it in any way to Monterey – the whole car appeared to be based on cost-saving at a time when it could have supported Mercury’s renewed assault on the mid-market. Mercury did not intend to bail out of the intermediate car market, but would refresh its commitment with a renovated Comet in 1964.
As well, its taillights quickly identified it as a Mercury, and after 1961’s fiasco and the ghastly Meteors of that year, buyers were still wondering how far down-market the brand actually was. It shared its drive train with Comet rather than the senior Mercury, and was under-powered versus the competition. The Meteor was never allowed to develop its own personality; instead it assumed all the worst character traits of its relatives… and it was the quintessential old man car. With the coupes late to the party, no convertible at all, weak engine, older technology and dated styling there wasn’t much youth appeal or sporty potential. Production for the year was a disappointing 50,775 units.
1963 Comet upheld its reputation as Mercury’s big success story. Production was a quite respectable 135K units; the only GM Y-body that outsold it was Buick Skylark/Special at 149K, while Olds F-85 charted 122K units and Pontiac Tempest/LeMans 131K cars. It was quite obvious the fashionable upscale “compact” market was becoming intensely competitive, and players could not rest on their laurels; innovation was coming thick and fast and one could not let the competition get too far ahead.
Comet marketed twelve models in 1963, with two more coming aboard at mid-year. Base level Comet offered a 2- and 4-door sedan, and a 2- and 4-door station wagon. Comet Custom arrived with a 2- and 4-door sedan, a convertible, a 2- and 4-door station wagon and the 4-door flagship Villager station wagon. S-22 came as a convertible this year and as a 2-door sedan. Along with other mid-year news, two new 2-door fastback Sportster hardtops became available, a Custom and an S-22.
Comet for 1963 very closely visually resembled its 1962 predecessor; in fact Comet’s overall shape hasn’t changed since 1960, right down to the rear fender blades, (as they were described instead of fins). As the year started, the big news was the debut of two new convertibles: a Custom and an S-22.
The new convertibles were basically the same cars as Falcon was launching. Both had powered roofs unlike most of the competition, as well as a shorter and more steeply sloped windshield. The Sportster hardtop also shared this windshield but had its own slightly arched full-width backlite along with “Marauder” style C-Pillars.
Until the Sportsters appeared, all closed cars were still all sedans, although the two senior models are of the imitation hardtop design, i.e. all window frames including the B-Pillar were chromed. The base line had a chrome molding along the drip rail.
The sculptured character line along the side, which had been in evidence since the Comet’s 1960 introduction, now bears a stainless molding along its entire length as it proceeds from the front fender just aft of the top of the headlight, along the belt line almost to the end of the rear fenders where it does a U-turn and returns to the lower front fender where it ends just behind the front wheel well. A short stainless spur emanates from the middle of the outer headlight surround and goes 6 inches down the side, (comet vapor trail?). COMET in script is placed immediately above this chrome spear. Three decorative horizontal forward canted short chrome projectiles are situated on the rear fender where the “U” forms, on the Custom and S-22. The trunk lid identifier is on the passenger side and reads MERCURY (block letters) COMET script.
Comet’s 1963 grille is the same basic layout and shape as 1962 but now is comprised of eight petite horizontal bars and three similar equally spaced “floating” vertical bars. This was Comet’s first tasteful grille. Like Meteor, the front fender gunsight ornaments had become considerably more discreet.
A lower rear stainless valance panel between the bumper and trailing edge of the trunk lid is framed with a chrome surround and decorated with petite vertical ridges similar to the grille. It houses taillights, back-up lights and the gas cap lid. Taillights are all now like the 1962 S-22 version, (which in turn were borrowed from 1961 Monterey).
The 1963 S-22 has three horizontally oriented taillights arrayed on each side with the middle ones being back-up lights. Other models have two each side with an additional flat clear lens in the inboard position. Full wheel covers were the same turbine style used on Meteor although Comet used 13 inch wheels versus 14 inch for Meteor and Monterey. S-22 flaunted tri-color hubcap centres.
The greenhouse retains the same shape and placement as it’s had since 1960, including the Galaxie C-Pillar. All 4-door sedans have rear quarter windows. At mid-year two new hardtops debut, one Custom and one S-22. Both possess the handsome, just-introduced Sportster fast-back, Marauder-style roofline.
Comet and Comet Custom station wagons are decorated similarly to their sedan counterparts and are little changed from the 1962 editions, (other than grilles and other obvious decorative features). The Custom wagon carries a stainless molding along its lower side, with the three canted projectiles appearing on the front fender behind the wheel well, while the base Comet does not display any of this ornamentation.
The Custom Villager station wagon returns this year as the top-of-the-line Comet wagon, proudly bearing an appellation borrowed from Edsel wagons, (a nod to Comet’s heritage perhaps?).
Apparently nobody at Lincoln-Mercury is superstitious. The Villager name appears on front fenders in chrome script, in replacement of COMET nomenclature on other models. Villager’s flanks are sheathed in imitation mahogany paneling, framed by replica wood rails. This design once again obviates most of the stainless highlights appearing on lesser models. Villager was also the recipient of a curious styling touch not found anywhere else in the Mercury realm – triple light colored pin-stripes run parallel horizontally through the mid-section of the side wood paneling. In place of mahogany paneling on the tailgate, Villager sports the same stainless “grille” effect as the other Comet wagons. Villager also offered a bucket seat option. The roof-mounted luggage rack appears on any and all factory-produced station wagon literature, as do whitewalls and full wheel covers, however all three items are extra-cost options.
Station wagon advertising boasts over 76 cubic feet of cargo space and more than 8 feet of flat floor with the second seat and tailgate down. Brochures also suggest this space can be used as a playground for the kiddies, presumably while you’re flitting around town on a busy Saturday, (hopefully not with the tailgate open).
How times have changed! Today that would almost be a hanging offense. Child seats are completely regulated as to specifications, placement inside the car, when the child can graduate to a booster seat and so on. Of course I agree the little cherubs shouldn’t be sitting where an airbag can explode in their face and accidentally dispatch them, but I wonder if cars should even be equipped with such lethal devices, especially given all the news on their questionable reliability. The law also says you can’t smoke in your car if kids are aboard. Remember the day when more ashtrays and lighters meant higher status? Back in the day they were called cigar-lighters for a reason. My grandfather and I used to tool around town in his 1954 Meteor, with him smoking a fat stogie, spitting out tobacco while ash dribbled down the front of his waistcoat.
His fedora was pulled low so it didn’t caress the headliner, one hand on the steering wheel suicide knob, (which he fondly told me was illegal and therefore qualified us as total bad-asses). He was also against seat belts, as you can imagine, proclaiming they would slice you in two like a butchered pig! Now who would want that – it took me many years to get over my fear of seat belts!
Then there’s distracted driving, which means just about whatever the officer thinks it does – all the way from eating a Big Mac to tuning your radio, but mostly talking on your iphone. My touch-control in-car “entertainment system” is so difficult and frustrating to operate, I agree a person shouldn’t be fiddling with it in a moving car.
Perhaps the intended entertainment is solving the puzzle of its efficient management. I still see lots of motorists happily gabbing or even texting on the phone while speeding along, despite recent police crackdowns. There’s no under-estimating the density of the general population.
Mercury proved in 1956 the buying public wouldn’t pay for safety – looks and power are what sold cars. The same philosophy applies today. Look at the Dodge Hellcats – ridiculous power you can only use to get in trouble.
Perhaps common sense does have to be legislated … I’ve always told my sons that any new driver doesn’t really realize how fast things happen even in moderate city driving – you have to have an accident to learn this lesson, and one has to hope the first one isn’t too serious! Every generation seems to think it’s smarter than common sense – they just express it in different ways.
Comet started 1963 with the two I-6 engines of 144 and 170 cid, generating 85 & 101 hp respectively. Shortly thereafter the smaller six as the base engine was dropped in favor of the larger one, while the Meteor 260 cid V8 of 164 hp was introduced as an option.
The new V8 was named the Comet Cyclone, the first time this iconic name was used for anything “Comet” related. In making this new, more powerful engine available, Comet’s structural components were upgraded to accommodate additional weight and power.
Base transmission is a three speed column shift with the two-speed automatic or a floor-mounted 4-speed manual optional for either engine.
The base Comet virtually duplicates the look of the entry 1962 Meteor interior; only the dash is different. Comet again brings forward essentially the same instrument panel it wore when introduced in 1960.
Door panels also continue the same layout from 1960. There’s been some tinkering, different fabrics and soft designs, different orientation of pleats but all the hardware is the same. Further, Meteor adopted the same look, thus tying itself even more closely to Comet!
1963 Comet Custom’s interior is somewhat richer in choice of fabric and carpet, but looks like the previous year’s Meteor Custom.
S-22 interior appointments are all-vinyl with plush carpeting. Seats are box-pleated inserts with color-keyed vinyl bolsters and extra foam padding. Door panels are lavishly provided with stainless garnishes and bucket seats are separated with a small console/storage compartment complete with a brightwork lid. Steering wheel is color-keyed to the interior.
1963 Comet station wagon interiors followed the same template as the analogous sedan except they were all-vinyl. Among the extra-cost options for this year’s Comet is a CB Radio, tachometer and power steering for V8’s only.
Mercury accepted 1963 philosophically, as the first step back in a long journey from oblivion. To see it any other way would have been to admit disappointment and defeat. Hopefully the big Mercury had finally turned the corner, as with 121,048 cars out the door, 1963 was the best sales year since 1960. The star in Mercury’s firmament, Comet turned in its worst sales year since introduction, off 18.6% to 134,623 units.
While Monterey achieved minor sales success, the Mercury name managed only 306,446 total cars produced, fewer than 1962.
On a positive note 1963 was Ford’s 60th year in the car business, so to memorialize that and celebrate manufacture of its 60 millionth car, a 1963 Mercury Monterey was chosen as the actual car reaching this milestone. 1964 was a new year and new plans were afoot including renewed efforts to regain its rightful mid-market position.