Mercury Heritage

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 1935 - Present
TODAY MOST ANALYSTS PREDICT THE DEMISE OF MERCURY, a name chosen by the Ford Motor Company when they were looking for a new marque identification, and strangely it was available despite being previous use by other manufacturers, both in the USA and UK.

The first Mercury, which appeared on 4 November 1935, was in effect a Ford with a different body, becoming one of the fore-runners of later, and much despised, 'badge engineering' techniques where near-identical cars were sold under different marque names. Thankfully this practice is far less prevelant that it was during the 1980's!

The Mercury S

In price the new Mercury fell between the existing Ford V8 and the Lincoln, so that Ford had cars in over 90 per cent of American price categories. The Mercury S as it was called featured the Ford box-section, cruciform braced chassis with rigid axles front and rear, suspended on transverse leaf springs and double-acting hydraulic dampers.

Four-wheel hydraulically operated drum brakes were fitted all round and power came from an enlarged version of the Ford V8 side-valve 3.9-liter engine, which gave 95 bhp at 3600 rpm. Power was taken via a three-speed gearbox through a torque tube drive to the rear axle.

The four-door sedan body of the standard model was the first Ford product to be styled from a clay model within the company's own studios. The body was quite pleasant by 1935 standards, its resemblance to the post-war Standard Vanguard being most marked.

Out-Selling General Motors 2 to 1

As well as the sedan there was a two-door convertible with an electrically operated roof and leather upholstery as standard equipment. Ford could do no wrong in 1939, as they were out-selling General Motors by 2 to 1 and the Mercury was enthusiastically received despite its similarity to.the Ford line.

Over 65,000 Mercury's were registered in 1939, although in the first model year the cars were actually known as Ford-Mercurys. The Ford name was dropped for 1940 when the only major change was a new four-door convertible version which was not very popular. A column gear change and sealed-beam headlamps were also introduced in 1940.

The Ford Flathead

The Ford factories were still producing cars in 1942 although the USA had entered the war in 1941. The Mercury models were restyled once again, the front end being drastically revised with a low, wide grille. The power output of the Ford 'flathead' was up to a claimed 100 bhp and for the first time a semi-automatic transmission was available. Car production came to a halt in early 1942 and the factories switched to war production, building tanks, amphibious machines, jeeps and even B24 bombers for the US and allied services.

Edsel Ford, who had played a large part in introducing the Lincoln and Mercury names to the Ford range died during the war and in September 1945 Henry Ford II became President of Ford. He immediately set in motion plans to divorce Lincoln and Mercury from Ford operations, setting up the Lincoln-Mercury Division of the Ford Motor Company. Work began on new factories in Los Angeles and Metuchen, New Jersey, and the St Louis factory was switched entirely to Lincoln and Mercury products.

Post War Mercury's

The 1946 models were very similar to the cars that had been in production in 1942 with the exception of a new convertible called the Sportsman which had wood panelled bodywork like the station wagon. Yet another grille restyling job was carried out and nearly 90,000 Mercurys were sold in 1946. With demand running well ahead of production there was little need for change in the years that followed and the Mercury range was unchanged in 1947 and 1948. The first really new Mercury since 1938 was announced in late 1948. The chassis remained much as before except that coil-spring independent front suspension was introduced and a hypoid rear axle fitted.

The faithful V8 engine was increased in size to 4¼ liters and the power output was increased to 110 bhp. The three-speed gearbox was retained but an innovation was the availability of a Borg Warner overdrive, which was engaged by depressing the throttle pedal.

1955 Mercury Custom
The 1954 Mercury XM800, fiberglass over a standard chassis, it remained only a "dream car".

1955 Mercury Custom
1955 Mercury Custom.

1955 Mercury Custom

1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser
1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser.

1957 Mercury Colony Park Wagon
1957 Mercury Colony Park Wagon.

1960 Mercury Commuter Country Cruiser Wagon
1960 Mercury Commuter Country Cruiser Wagon.

1960 Mercury Frontenac
1960 Mercury Frontenac.

1969 Mercury XR7 two-door hardtop
1969 Mercury XR7 two-door hardtop.

1969 Mercury Cyclone CJ Two Door
1969 Mercury Cyclone CJ Two Door.

1972 Mercury Montego
1972 Mercury Montego.

1971 Mercury Cougar XR7 2 door hardtop
1971 Mercury Cougar XR7 2 door hardtop - it captured the imagination of the public with performance that matched the sporting appearance.

1971 Mercury Comet Four Door sedan
1971 Mercury Comet Four Door sedan, available in a choice of either six or eight cylinder engines.

1980 Mercury Capri
1980 Mercury Capri.

The One-Millionth Mercury, and the Monterey

By 1950 the one-millionth Mercury had been built and it was now necessary to. build a new factory at Wayne, Michigan to keep up with demand. A slightly modified' Mercury Sport Coupe was added to the range in 1950 and a total of 320,000 cars were delivered during the year.

By 1953 the range had swollen to eight different models and Mercury started to give models individual names; one new name was the Monterey, a model which stayed with the company until 1974, along with several other alliterative names.

The Monterey Sun Valley

In 1954 Ford's new V8 overhead-valve engine was introduced, this 4¼-liter engine giving 161 bhp in its Mercury form. The rest of the design changed little, the emphasis being on body styling to attract customers. One example of this was the Monterey Sun Valley, a coupe with the front half of the roof made from transparent plastic. It did not last long because buyers fried under the greenhouse roof.

Mercury entered the dream-car field in 1954 with the XM800, which was simply a styling job in glassfibre on a standard chassis. Mercury had offered little for the motor-racing enthusiast because their cars were just 'cheap, basic, unexciting transportation, but veteran mechanic Bill Stroppe had achieved some success in the Mobil Economy run and had persuaded Lincoln to give him cars for the Pan-American Road Race.

Stroppe's cars finished first, second, third and fourth in 1952 and 1953, earning him a contract with the Lincoln-Mercury Division. When Chevrolet began winning Stock-Car races in the early 1950s and promoting motor racing in a big way, both the Ford and Lincoln-Mercury Divisions retaliated with racing programmes.

Stroppe ran the team for Lincoln-Mercury using Mercury cars, winning several races on the West Coast himself in 1955, but Ford were far more successful, largely because they put more finance into their effort. The 1955 production Mercurys were considerably modified; the wheelbase was increased to 119 inches and two new versions of the OHV V8 were introduced, both of 5 liters capacity, one with a 7.5:1 compression ratio giving 188 bhp and the other with 8.5: I compression ratio giving 198 bhp.

The Mercury Montclair

Another restyling job undertaken, with a big wrap-around windscreen, hooded headlamps and a full-width grille/bumper design. A new model was added to the range, the Montclair, to bring Mercury up toten different models. In 1955 Mercury production was raised to its highest ever level of 434,911 cars.

Detroit's greatest styling excesses were perpetrated in the late 1950s, the Mercurys of the 1956 to 1959 model years, ranking as some of the ugliest ever made. Significantly, Mercury sales began to tail off at the start of this period with 1956 sales down to 327,943 cars.

More new cars were announced for 1956 but they were largely adaptations of the 1955 models. The cheaper Medalist range was added to the Monterey and Montclair ranges and an optional 260 hp version of the V8 engine was available in 1956. On the production side, the 1957 cars showed the influence of the XM Turnpike Cruiser of 1956, as the cars were longer, lower and wider, the wheelbase now up to 122 inches and the standard engine being a 6-liter 290 bhp V8.

Despite the new styling, sales slumped again to 263,245, little more than half of the 1955 production. However, the 3-millionth Mercury was eventually produced during 1957. In 1958 Ford launched the new Edsel marque which was designed to fit between the Ford and Mercury price brackets.

The Mercury Park Lane

A new division, the Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln Division was formed and Mercury announced an additional range of cars, the Park Lane series which were built on a new 125 in wheelbase chassis. The horsepower race was still on with a vengeance despite, the so-called ban on advertising, giving a claimed 400 bhp.

A new three-speed automatic transmission made its appearance, a feature which was specified by most drivers. Although the new Edsel was supposed to hit at General Motors' sales, it took a large bite out of Mercury sales which crashed to a modest 132,271 during the 1958 season.

As we have mentioned in our "Lost Marques" feature on Edsel, it proved to be a complete failure and was dropped in 1959, so the division was renamed the Lincoln-Mercury Division and great efforts were made to improve the Mercury range.

The Monterey and Montclair models used a 126 in wheelbase while the Park Lane used a 128 in wheelbase chassis. Overall styling remained largely unchanged, but dual-headlamp systems were now almost universal. The range was now huge, with many permutations available on the basic chassis, while engines ranged from the 5-liter 210 bhp V8 Medalist to the 7.2-liter 345 bhp V8s of the Park Lane.

Rise Of The Compact's

Sales in 1959 improved to 161,237, however the American motor industry was beginning to panic by then, specifically Detroit recognised the inroads being made into the US market by imported cars, most notably the Volkswagen. Prior to this, US manufacturers had felt that imports were little more than a pinprick, but suddenly the imports were heading for a 10 per cent market share and 10 per cent of 5 million cars was a little more than Detroit could bear.

To address the threat, the Big Three makers hurriedly designed and built their so-called Compact cars, which, although fairly small by US standards, were still big compared with the European cars which were invading the market. Ford brought out the Falcon and Mercury produced an almost identical car called the Comet. This was a very conventional car on a 114 in wheelbase powered by a 2.3-liter straight-six cylinder engine giving 114 bhp. The Comet was an immediate success with 100,000 sold within six months of its announcement, helping to push Mercury sales back up to a healthy 317,055 for 1960, firmly establishing the 'Compact' concept.

The Mercury Meteor

For 1961 Mercury decided to capitalise on the Comet successes by offering another economy range, the Meteor 600 and 800 series powered by 3.6-liter 135 bhp straight-six engines developed from the Comet unit. However, the Comet still took the lion's share of sales in 1961, racking up 197,263 sales against the 120,088 of all other Mercury models put together. The 1962 rarige followed the clean cut, uncluttered style of the previous year's cars and more sporty models were being produced with four-speed manual gearboxes, separate bucket seats., and a variety of optional engines. Sales improved slightly to 321,817.

Ford had decided in the early 1960s that a return to factory racing participation would be advantageous and they gradually began to build up their involvement in practically every branch of the sport, especially in Europe with rally cars, saloon-car racing and even single-seater racing with especial emphasis on Indianapolis. Mercury were not left out although their task was to concentrate on stock-car racing through Bill Stroppe once again.

The Mercury Marauder

By mid-1963 the Mercury Marauder had been announced; this was a high performance car fitted with a 7-liter V8 giving options of 415 or 425 bhp. This car formed the basis of Parnelli Jones' successful racers. In 1964 Ford invented the 'Pony car' with the Mustang, which took America's youth market by storm. Rival manufacturers quickly reacted by bringing out their own 'pony cars' but it was some while later before Mercury brought out their Cougar, a somewhat up-market version of the Mustang with a rather different body, although it, too, was a two-door hardtop.

The Mustang went on to achieve success in the Trans-Am series for medium-sized saloons of up to 5 liters in capacity but Mercury did not enter their similar Cougar. By 1967 the Comet was still in production but the accent had swung away from economy and the wheelbase had increased by 2 inches to 116 in. Not too many owners specified the straight-six engine as most buyers wanted good acceleration.

A whole new range of models arrived including such models as the Capri (a two-door coupe having no connections with Ford of Britain's Capri), the Caliente, the Cyclone GT, the Villager station wagon, the S55 convertible, the Monterey, the Montclair, the Park Lane, the Brougham, the Marquis and the Colony Park. By careful manipulation between Ford and Mercury it was possible to offer a seemingly endless series of cars, although very often there was little to choose between them in specification.

The Mercury Comet - Based On The Maverick

By 1970 Detroit was again worried about the threat of foreign imports and Ford announced the Maverick, a sub-compact, 2-door coupe powered by a straight-six 2.7-liter engine giving 105 bhp in standard trim. Mercury did not follow suit immediately but: eventually the Comet range was completely revised to follow the Maverick lines, but was available as a two-door coupe and a four-door saloon as well. The same engine was used, although in standard trim it gave only 82 bhp, and the cheapest version, the 2-door coupe, cost 2193 dollars in 1972.

The Mercury Cyclone GT and Spoiler

Mercury also attracted some attention in the performance-car market with the Cyclone GT and Spoiler, the latter model having an aerofoil mounted on the boot lid. The standard engine for the Spoiler was a 370 bhp version of the 7-liter V8 which gave the car a top speed of around 120 mph. An optional engine was a 375 bhp version of the same unit.

By 1972 the US motor industry was in a state of panic over the safety and pollution laws which were promising to be more stringent than anticipated. Most manufacturers found it difficult to make their big V8s comply with the pollution tests, so gradually the bigger engines began to fade from catalogues and power outputs dropped drastically as engines were 'de-toxed' to cope with the regulations. The necessity to cope with crash tests on all models caused manufacturers to trim their model ranges considerably, while all convertible models were soon abandoned as the US manufacturers felt they could not be made to comply with the regulations.

However, the 1972/ 1973 Mercury range was still quite extensive - there was the Comet, the Montego, the Cougar, the Monterey, the Marquis and the Colony Park station wagon. But the Marauder, Cyclone and Brougham ranges had been dropped as had all the convertible models except the Cougar.

In 1973 the fuel crisis arrived and with it yet more demands for smaller cars. The Mercury Comet sold well during late 1973 and through much of 1974 while the bigger cars would hardly sell at all. To cash in on the new boom in smaller cars, Ford instigated a crash programme to bring out new small cars. The Ford Mustang II was a much smaller car than its predecessor and in late 1974 Ford announced their Ford Granada and the equivalent Mercury Monarch.

Neither the Granada nor Monarch were particularly attractive - thanks mainly to the massive bumpers. With the arrival of the Monarch, Mercury decided to drop one of their biggest cars, the Monterey, a name which had been with Mercury for many years. However, the loss of the Monterey was just another sign that Detroit felt the day of the 2½-ton car had ended.

But the down-sizing only produced mediocre results. The 1979 full-size Marquis, Colony Park, and Grand Marquis survived downsizing without sacrificing rear-wheel drive or their V8 engines, the 1980 Cougar (in 1977, the nameplate was applied to the entire mid-size Mercury lineup) was redesigned and downsized as a Monarch replacement. A boxy redesign coupled with a struggling economy saw Cougar sales fall to barely one-third of 1979 levels.

At the other end of the size spectrum, Mercury quietly replaced the Bobcat with the Lynx. The Lynx introduced Mercury to front-wheel drive and optional diesel engines; its LN7 variant was the only 2-seat Mercury ever built. As a replacment for its German-imported predecessor, the Capri became a clone of the Ford Mustang; it was built from 1979-1986.

Mercury Sable LS

By the mid-1980s, much of the Mercury lineup had been completely made over. The Cougar had reverted to its traditional 2-door coupe design (as a clone of the new 1983 Thunderbird), the front-wheel-drive Topaz replaced the Zephyr and the Marquis became a mid-size car to replace the 4-door and wagon models of the Cougar. Although the Cougar and the Thunderbird were distinguishable from one another, the Topaz and Marquis differed little from their Ford counterparts.

The 1986 Sable not only advanced American automotive design, but introduced styling themes (the aerodynamic styling and the lightbar grille) that would be seen on Mercurys for over a decade. In 1988, the Lynx was replaced with the first Mercury since the 1977 Capri not to be badged as a U.S.-market Ford. The Tracer was a Ford Laser designed by Mazda and built in Mexico and Japan.

Beginning in 1985, Mercury experimented with importing what were, for the American market, some advanced European Fords under the Merkur (mar-coor) nameplate. The Merkur lineup consisted of the XR4Ti, a modified version of the Ford Sierra, and the Scorpio, a rebadged version of Ford's European flagship sedan.

Declining sales along with passive restraint regulations led to the discontinuation of the brand after 1989. Another key factor behind the demise of Merkur was an unfavorable exchange rate between the United States and West Germany; at US$27,000, the Scorpio had a higher base price than a Grand Marquis yet bore a strong resemblance to the Sable. Lasting from 1985 to 1989, Merkur is the shortest-lived automotive nameplate on the American market in modern times.

The Mercury Capri

The discontinuation of Merkur began another major transition of the Mercury lineup. In 1989, the Cougar switched to an all-new platform; although still a personal-luxury coupe based on the Thunderbird, interior room and handling were improved. The Capri, a name dormant since 1986, was revived in 1991 as an import from Ford of Australia. Envisioned as a Mazda MX-5 Miata competitor, the front-wheel drive Capri did not capture the same type of following as the rear-wheel drive Miata, lasting through 1994.

In 1992, the Grand Marquis was redesigned for the first time since 1979; using the same platform as before, it shared no sheetmetal with the 1991 model and both V8 engines were replaced with a single all-new design. Although significantly more aerodynamic than before, Mercury left the basic shape of the Grand Marquis intact including its radiator grille. The radical redesign of the 1991 B-body full-size cars by General Motors was left with a lukewarm reception at best; Chrysler had not fielded a direct competitor since 1981.

Mercury sales rebounded in 1993 to over 480,000, their highest level since the 1978 all-time high. In the mid-1990s the brand received some free advertising when country music star Alan Jackson scored a hit with a 1993 cover of K. C. Douglas' "Mercury Blues", a song which heaps complimentary praise on their vehicle range. Ford later used a different version of the song in its truck advertising.

In terms of Mercury's smaller cars, the Tracer name was retained, but in 1991, Ford (and Mazda) compact cars were designed onto a common platform and the Tracer became a twin of the Ford Escort. In 1995, the Mystique was introduced as Mercury's Topaz replacement; a version of the Ford Mondeo mid-size "world car", it was commonly viewed as compact for an American car. The Sable was controversially redesigned alongside the Taurus for 1996; although they still shared much of their sheetmetal, the Sable now could be better distinguished from the Taurus. As the 1990s progressed into the 2000s, Mercury's compact car line shrank during a series of redesigns. As the Ford Focus replaced the Escort, the Tracer was not replaced and the Sable became the smallest Mercury sedan after the 2000 discontinuation of the Mystique.

Advanced Engineering - Or Simple Uncomplicated Reliability?

Mercury, like most other American manufacturers, had never gone in for designs with advanced engineering features, preferring the annual styling change on a 'simple, uncomplicated, reliable chassis'. As a subsidiary of the Ford Motor Company, Mercury may have never really established its own identity; largely for financial reasons, it seemed to always labour under the stigma of being a Ford with a different badge. However, if Mercury has never produced an exciting car neither has it built a really bad one. And that is something very few car makers can boast.
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