Friday, October 5, 2012

Mercury Cars of the 1980's

The 1981 Mercury Lynx was Mercury's answer to the call for small cars. The early 1980's, and it sold respectably, racking up over 100,000 units in its first two seasons and about 85,000 a year thereafter. Like its sibling the Ford Escort, it started life with a three-door hatchback sedan and a neat five-door wagon in trim levels from plain to fancy. These were bolstered for 1982 by five-door sedans, a sporty three-door RS, and a posh five-door LTS (for Luxury Touring Sedan). Through mid-1985, Lynx was powered by the Escort's 1.6-liter "CVH" four, also offered in H.O. and turbocharged guises. In mid-1985, both of the latter were dropped and a normal-tune 1.9-liter enlargement took over. A 2.0-liter diesel four supplied by Mazda in Japan was also offered beginning with the '84s, though it attracted few buyers as gas prices fell in an improving national economy. Appearance was cleaned up for "1985 1/2" with a smoother nose and flush headlamps in line with Dear­born's strong turn to aerodynamic styling. An even ­sportier three-door, called XR3, bowed the following year. But here, too, Ford planners would conclude that one clone was one too many, though a falling dollar and lower offshore production costs also figured in the decision to drop Lynx during 1987. Taking over was the Mexican-built Tracer, a badge-engineered version of Mazda's similarly sized 323. Yet despite generating less than half of Escort's volume in most years, the Lynx can be judged a success, as it rung up crucial business for L-M ­dealers during some very difficult times. The same holds for Mercury's compacts and intermediates of this decade. For 1981-82 these comprised the familiar (and largely unchanged) Zephyr line and a new upmarket Cougar sedan series, both built on the proven rear-drive vintage-1978 "Fox" platform. Weighing some 350-400 pounds less than the Monarchs they replaced, these Cougars were twins to Ford's redesigned 1981 Granadas. Styling was similarly squared up and more formal than Zephyr's, appropriate for the higher prices. Though the origins of these models were obvious, there was evidently some magic left in the Cougar name. Between them, Cougar and Zephyr netted well over 80,000 annual sales for 1981-82, not bad considering the sorry state of the market. Mercury did somewhat better by replacing the Fox-platform Cougars with a midsize Marquis for 1983. This was yet ­another Fairmont/Zephyr variation, but its cleaner styling was a big improvement, even if it looked rather too much like the downsized 1983 LTD that took over for Granada at Ford. Still, the name link with a full-size Merc didn't hurt, and Marquis sales by 1984 totaled some 108,000, half again as much as the previous Cougar series. To avoid confusion, the biggest Mercurys were renamed Grand Marquis after 1982, one of their few important changes during the entire decade. Not that many changes were needed. Roomy, quiet, and comfortable, they remained traditional V-8 American family cruisers whose sales rebounded strongly once the economy began to recover and an oil glut pushed gas prices down to more-reasonable levels. Chrysler Corporation and the Buick, Olds, and Pontiac divisions of GM lent a helping hand by canceling most of their old rear-drive biggies by 1985, leaving the Grand Marquis all but alone in the medium-price full-size field. Grand Marquis thus journeyed through the 1980's with only the barest of updates. Two-door coupes were dropped after 1985, the mainstay four-door sedan and wagon gained smoother noses and tails for 1988, and fuel injection replaced carburetors on the 302-cid V-8, but that was about it. Once their original 1979 tooling was amortized, the big Mercurys (and Fords) became the darlings of corporate accountants and dealers alike, earning more profit per unit than any other model in the line. Con­su­mers kept on buying despite the lack of change. Grand Marquis sales totaled nearly 96,000 for 1983, over 148,000 for 1984, then 110,000-160,000 each year all the way through 1989. Obviously, the "Big M" still offered what a lot of folks wanted.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Mercury Badge Engineering

The 1975 Mercury Bobcat, like many Mercurys of the decade, was a version of a Ford car, the Pinto. Outside of ponycars, Mercury's new-model development story in the 1970's was primarily one of "badge engineering." It began when the Comet name was revived for a restyled version of Ford's new-for-1970 compact Maverick, distinguished mainly by a Montego-style nose. Announced for 1971, this Comet soldiered on through 1974 as the division's sole representative in a size and price sector that took on urgent new importance in the wake of the 1973-74 Middle East oil embargo. Help arrived for 1975 in the form of two new entries. One was the Comet's once-and-future replacement, the slightly larger Granada-based Monarch. The other was Mercury's belated, if inevitable, rendition of the subcompact Ford Pinto, bearing the cute name Bobcat and a pretentious little stand-up grille. Ford replaced Maverick with the more-able Fairmont for 1978, so Mercury got a look-alike derivative, the Zephyr. If none of these moves was exactly original, they at least combined to leave Mercury much more competitive in a market that had been forever changed by an unprecedented combination of forces. As with Buick and Oldsmobile, intermediate and full-size cars remained Mercury's mainstay through the 1970's, and it was here that the changes were most dramatic -- and most needed. Mercury's midsize contender was a near duplicate of the Ford Torino/LTD II, under the Montego name for 1972-76, then, as noted, with the Cougar badge from 1977 through the last of this body-on-frame design for 1979. Like the Fords, there was little praiseworthy about these Mercurys, though they arguably looked nicer. Up in what was loosely called the "standard" class sat the big two-ton Marquis and Monterey. Neither changed much through 1978. Model names centered on Marquis exclusively after 1974, and styling became progressively more like that of the big Lincoln Continental, particularly up front. These Mercs were mammoths, but good ones: smooth and reliable, powered by reasonably potent V-8s (400's, 429's, and Lincoln 460's), and fully equipped (if not always tasteful). Pillarless hardtops gave way to pillared styling after 1974. Like Ford's LTD, the Marquis underwent the "big shrink" for 1979, losing 10 inches in wheelbase and about 700 pounds in curb weight. The result would prove amazingly long-lived, though no one could see that at the time, least of all Ford Motor Company. In retrospect, the 1970s were not very good years for Mercury. The make again abandoned performance, and not all the fault lay with Washington and OPEC. A succession of heavier, clumsier Cougars and confusingly named intermediates hardly helped, while moves into the compact and subcompact arenas were blunted by higher prices on cars that offered little more than the Fords they so obviously were. Meanwhile, Mercury's traditional big-car foundation was rocked by the new ­economic order of a more energy-conscious world. Yet by 1980, Mercury was turning the corner with cars like the exciting Capri, the practical Zephyr, and reborn Cougar and Marquis. The 1978 Mercury Zephyr was part of the automaker's efforts to downsize its cars. Mercury decisively completed that maneuver in the 1980's, benefiting from the same astute management and timely product introductions that made Ford Motor Company the industry's profit leader by 1986. Though no one Mercury line was among Detroit's top-selling nameplates, the make's total production rose rapidly from 347,700 for 1980 to a decade high of nearly half a million U.S.-built cars for 1984 -- an impressive recovery, though still far below record 1979 (669,000-plus). On the model-year board, Mercury sat anywhere from sixth to ninth, as it had since the 1950's, but managed fifth for 1983, its best finish ever. As before, the Mercury line paralleled Ford's except for somewhat higher prices and different model/equipment mixes. Styling also remained similar through 1982, but the following year saw the return of a more-distinctive Mercury look. Much sooner than GM, Dearborn had correctly concluded that too many clones spoil the sales broth. With the 1983 models, Mercurys again began standing more clearly apart from parent Fords -- and GM rivals -- to the ­undoubted ­benefit of sales. Still, volume throughout the 1980's remained much lower than Ford's model-for-model, and Mercury didn't have the same rela­tive success with some of the same products. The Capri ponycar was one telling example. Like Mustang, it received almost annual power increases and higher performance, commencing with 1982's "high-output" 157-bhp 302-cid V-8. But then Mustang got a handsome facelift and a revived convertible, while Capri soldiered on for 1983 with just a hatchback coupe and basic 1979 appearance except for a huge "bubbleback" rear window of dubious aesthetic merit. It's almost as if L-M was ashamed of Capri, and it showed in half-hearted promotion that aggravated the lack of overt change. Production thus steadily waned, from nearly 80,000 for 1980 to only some 18,500 of the 1985's (compared with over 156,000 Mustangs). At that level, Capri was too costly to sustain, and it was banished after 1986. The same fate awaited another "bubbleback" Merc: the two-seat LN7, introduced in early 1982 alongside the related Ford EXP. Both were sporty coupes derived from the front-drive Ford Escort/Mercury Lynx subcompacts, which had scored big sales since replacing the old Pinto/Bobcat twins for 1981. Unfortunately, the coupes were anything but lovely, and no match for a number of Japanese competitors in performance, refinement, or workmanship. Perhaps buyers didn't expect a two-seater in L-M showrooms, for the LN7 attracted a middling 40,000 customers before being retired after 1983. A facelifted EXP then took on its bulbous backlight and proved somewhat more popular.

Full-Size Mercury Cars Of The 1960's

Breezeway styling, with its reverse-slant rear windows, was available on an array of Mercury models starting in 1963. For all its activity in compacts and intermediates, big cars remained Mercury's bread-and-butter in the 1960's. Annual production averaged around 100,000, though there were back-to-back records for 1965-66 -- over 165,000 each year. Of all the big-Merc model names, only Monterey lasted the entire decade. The upper-echelon Montclair and Park Lane returned for 1964-68, then vanished again, replaced by a full-range Marquis line. With Meteor an intermediate, the 1962 full-size fleet was reorganized around Monterey, Monterey Custom, and Station Wagon. The lone convertible shifted to the Custom series. Joining Mercury's bucket-seat brigade at midyear were the S-55 hardtop coupe and convertible. Styling was busier on all the big 1962's, with tunneled taillights and a complex convex grille. All V-8's returned, as did the faithful "big six" as standard power for base Montereys and Commuter wagons. A similar array on the same 120-inch wheelbase returned for 1963, when a heavy reskin introduced "Breezeway Styling" for nonwagon closed models: reverse-slant rear windows that dropped down for ventilation as on the old Turnpike Cruiser (and 1958-60 Continental Marks). Wagons were pared to a pair of Colony Parks. Joining the S-55 subseries at midyear was a handsome "slantback" two-door like Ford's Galaxie Sports Hardtop. Engines remained strictly V-8's: 390's with 250-330 bhp, a new 406-cid enlargement packing 385/405 bhp, and, as a late-season option, a high-performance 427 with 410 bhp. Tradition returned for Silver Anniversary year 1964 in a revived four-series line of Monterey, Montclair, Park Lane, and Commuter/Colony Park wagons. The first three listed Breeze­way two- and four-door hardtops and four-door sedans (Monterey still included a pillared two-door), plus slantback "Marauder" hardtop coupes and sedans. A toothy convex grille replaced the concave 1963 unit. The previous 390 V-8's continued, but the 406's didn't, giving way to 427's with 410/425 ­optional bhp for all models save wagons. Big-inch Marauders were awesome performers. The record 1965 model year brought a larger full-size body with crisp, rectilinear lines "in the Lincoln Continental tradition," as well as a new "torque box" frame (tuned for each body to minimize noise, vibration, and harshness). Wagons now rode the 119-inch Ford wheelbase; other models were up to 123. Breezeways thinned to a trio of four-door sedans, all hardtops were now slantbacks, and the Marauder name was de-emphasized amid calls for greater automotive safety. V-8s now comprised a quartet of 390's with 250-330 bhp, plus a single 425-bhp 427. The basic 1965 look carried into 1966 with a new diecast "electric-shaver" grille and, for hardtop coupes, a "sweep-style roof" with a concave backlight. More-rounded bodysides mixed well with sharp-edged fenders for 1967. Sedans adopted conventional rooflines but still offered an optional drop-down backlight. Hardtop coupes received "faster" roof profiles. Three new limited-production line-toppers arrived: Marquis, a two-door hardtop with broad C-pillars and standard vinyl-roof covering, a similar Park Lane Brougham hardtop sedan, and a Park Lane Brougham Breeze­way four-door sedan. Intermediates were waging Mercury's sporty-car wars, so the bucket-seat S-55 ragtop and hardtop were in their final year -- and just a Monterey option package now. Respec­tive production was minuscule: just 145 and 570. After a minor '68 facelift, the big Mercs were fully revised for 1969. Wheelbases grew to 121 inches on wagons and 124 on other models (except Marauder), sizes that would persist until their first downsizing for 1979. Series regrouped around base Monterey, revived Monterey Custom, and a full Marquis line comprising Colony Park wagon, convertible, and base and Brougham sedans, hardtop coupes, and hardtop sedans. Riding the shorter 121-inch wheelbase was a new Marauder, a high-performance "tunnelback" hardtop that garnered 14,666 sales. Offered in standard and spiffier X-100 trim, it shared Marquis' hidden-headlamp front and the ventless side glass used by most other models. V-8s comprised the usual 390's and a new 429-cid big-block with 360 bhp, the latter being standard for Marauder X-100, optional elsewhere. The 1970's were basically reruns save minor trim and equipment revisions. Sporty big cars had mostly disappeared by now, and so would the Marauder after just 6043 sales that model year. The Mercury Cougar debuted in 1967 as an upscale version of the Ford Mustang. Mercury Cougar Origins One of the most interesting and desirable 1960's Mercurys was the Cougar. An upscale rendition of Ford's wildly successful Mustang ponycar concept, it premiered for 1967 as a two-door hardtop in three basic permutations. Convertibles were added for 1969. Sriding a three-inch-longer wheelbase than Mustang -- 111 in all -- Cougar offered more luxury and standard power for about $200 extra (prices started at $2851). Where Mustang's base engine was a six, Cougar had a lively 200-bhp 289-cid V-8. The big 335-bhp, 428-cid CJ became an extra-cost option for 1969-70. The 1967-68 Cougars arguably looked best with their crisply tailored lines, hidden headlamps in an "electric-shaver" grille, and a matching back panel with sequential turn signals, a gimmick borrowed from Ford Thunderbirds. Length and width increased on the 1969's, which sported Buick-like sweepspear bodyside contours, ventless side glass, less-distinctive "faces," and full-width taillights. The 1970's adopted a divided vertical-bar grille with a slightly bulged nose. Early Cougars came in several forms. The most luxurious was the XR-7, boasting a rich interior with leather accents and full instrumentation in a simulated walnut dashboard. A GT option delivered a firmer suspension for more-capable roadholding and a standard 320-bhp 390 V-8 for extra go. For 1968 came a GTE package with several unique appearance features and a 390-bhp 427. The hottest 1969 Cougar was the Eliminator hardtop, with 428 power and a standard rear-deck spoiler. Convert­ibles saw very low sales: fewer than 10,000 total for 1969 and less than 4300 for 1970. Cougar never approached Mustang in popularity, though it was more solid and elegant, and just as roadable. Production was still more than respectable: 150,000 in the first year, about 114,000 in 1968, close to 100,000 in 1969, then about 72,000 in 1970. All are now collector's items. Cougar was the crowning touch to a decade that saw Mercury move into luxury cars rivaling Lincoln even as it recaptured the performance aura it established in the late 1940's and early 1950's. But the good times of the 1960's couldn't last. As the 1970's rolled along, Mercurys became more like equivalent Fords, while govern­ment mandates and the vagaries of petroleum power-politics conspired to sacrifice performance on the twin altars of safety and fuel economy. By 1980, Mercury had once again resumed its original role as a plusher, costlier, and sometimes larger Ford. The only differences were that the parallel model lines encompassed five or six different size classes instead of one or two, and that Mercury styling often related more to Lincoln's than to Ford's. The 1979 Mercury Capri, unlike earlier models with the same name, was a twin of the Ford Mustang. Mercury Ponycars of the 1970's The ponycar field was one area where Ford and L-M divisions parted company in the 1970's. The Mercury Cougar began diverging from the sibling Ford Mustang as early as 1971, when both models were redesigned. The Mercury swelled by two inches in wheelbase instead of one (to 113 inches) and looked considerably bulkier. Standard and XR-7 convertibles remained through the end of this generation in 1973, and have become minor collector's items, primarily by dint of low annual production: fewer than 2000 of each type, except for the 3165 XR-7s in 1973. Of course, this only reflected the abrupt drop in demand for all ponycars after 1970, and it prompted Mercury to chart a new course for Cougar. While Mustang became a smaller, lighter, Pinto-based sporty car for 1974, Cougar grew into a kind of alternative Thunderbird, adopting the 114-inch-wheelbase two-door platform of Mercury's midsize Montego models. Oddly, the L-M studio created the design chosen for the production Mustang II. But rather than field a badge-engineered clone of that car, the division opted to continue with the German-built Ford Capri it had been selling successfully since 1970 -- a "mini ponycar" like Mustang II, but better-built and more roadable. The Thunderbirdesque Cougar continued through 1976 as Mercury's marker in the midsize personal-luxury segment dominated by the Chevrolet Monte Carlo and Pontiac Grand Prix. The name was diluted for 1977, when it replaced Montego as the sole intermediate line (including a wagon), with the XR-7 label reserved for a single top-shelf coupe. Things were temporarily sorted out again for 1980, when Cougar really was a Thunderbird, a twin to that year's new downsized model on a special 108.4-inch version of the "Fox" corporate platform. In between, Ford again redesigned the Mustang, and this time Mercury wanted in. The result was a new American-made Capri for 1979. The direct descendent of the genuine Cougar ponycar, it was virtually identical with that year's new-generation Mustang save somewhat busier styling on the Ford's three-door hatch coupe body style, the only one available. Capri offered the same four engines as Mustang in base and luxury Ghia ­models (the latter honoring the famed Italian coachbuilder that Ford had purchased in 1970). More enthusiastic types could order a sporty RS package roughly comparable to the Mustang Cobra option (Mercury never called it "Rally Sport," likely for fear of objections from Chevrolet). One of the last cars of this era with a distinctly Mercury character was the Cyclone, which bowed out after 1971. Offered that year with standard 351 and optional 429-cid V-8's, this muscular midsize was impressively fast. Swoopier sheetmetal set it clearly apart from run-of-the-mill Montego linemates and Ford's corresponding Torino GT and Cobra, particularly the protruding nose and "gunsight" grille that appeared with the midsize line's 1970-71 facelift. Reflecting the muscle-car market's sad state of affairs at the time, Cyclone sold poorly in its farewell season, especially the desirable low-production Spoiler hardtop (just 353 of the 1971's were built).

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Mercury's Origin

The 1941 Mercury coupe was one of seven models the automaker offered that year. Mercury was conceived largely by Edsel Ford, who saw a place for it in the Ford Motor Company lineup some time before his father Henry did. It arrived for 1939 in the same price league as the Pontiac Eight but somewhat below Oldsmobile -- precisely where Edsel wanted it and Dearborn needed it. While Mercury would take many years to approach those GM makes in volume, it was successful from the start. Production averaged about 80,000 per year in the early '40s, good for 12th or 13th in the industry, thus winning important new business for Dearborn by filling the huge price gap between Ford and the Lincoln Zephyr. The original Mercury engine would remain in production through 1948. A 239-cid L-head V-8, it was a slightly larger version of the Ford "V-8/85," having the same stroke but a larger bore. Brake horsepower was 95 through 1941, then 100. Mercury quickly gained a reputation for performance appropriate to its name (after the winged messenger god in Greek myth­ology). Well-tuned stock models were quicker than V-8 Fords, and were usually capable of turning close to 100 mph. Mercury bowed on a 116-inch wheelbase, four inches longer than the '39 Ford's and sufficient to give its similar styling a "more-important" look. A dashboard with strip-type instruments was also like Ford's, but Mercury's column-mounted gearshift was a talking point at the time. Styling for 1939-40 featured a crisply pointed "prow," beautifully curved fenders, and rounded body lines. Initial offerings comprised two- and four-door "beetleback" sedans, a notchback sedan coupe, and a convertible coupe spanning a price range of $916-$1018. A $1212 convertible sedan was added for 1940, that year's heaviest and most-expensive Mercury. But four-door ragtops had waned in popularity, so this one was dropped for 1941. Only about 1150 were built. Models expanded to seven for '41 with a two/four-passenger coupe, business coupe, and wood-bodied station wagon. Styling, again in the Ford mold, was chunkier and less graceful despite a two-inch longer wheelbase; with higher, bulkier ­fenders; a divider-bar grille; and fender-top parking lights. Mercury tried harder for 1942 with a serious facelift, the aforementioned 100-bhp engine, and a new extra-cost semi­automatic transmission called "Liquamatic." The last proved very troublesome, though, and was quickly canceled. America's entry into World War II limited model-year production to fewer than 23,000 units. Chrome was "in," at least before the government diverted it to war use. All '42 Mercs wore a broad, glittery two-section horizontal-bar grille, double chrome bands on each fender, and a bright full-perimeter molding at the beltline. Parking lights shifted inboard to flank a still-pointy hood. The general effect was busier than '41, which had been busier than 1940. Like other '42s, the mostly chromeless, late-production "blackout" Mercurys are now prized by collectors. Before war's end, Henry Ford II, Edsel's son and old Henry's grandson, returned from the Navy to run Ford Motor Company. Edsel had died in 1943 of complications due to stomach cancer. Old Henry would live until 1947. HF II quickly resumed civilian production, and Mercury placed 10th in the 1946 industry race with about 86,600 units. As Dearborn delayed its first all-new postwar models to 1949, interim Mercurys were similar to the '42 editions. The inboard parking lights and two-band fender moldings remained, but the hood was blunted above a new vertical-bar grille carrying a large "Mercury Eight" nameplate. Mechanicals were unchanged except the fact that Liquamatic didn't return. Ford's adoption of the 239 V-8 for 1946 was ­hardly to Mercury's advantage. Mercury After World War II This 1949 Mercury convertible shows the "inverted bathtub" styling that debuted that year. Mercury's prewar lineup also carried over into 1946 with a single exception: The business coupe was replaced by the novel Sportsman convertible. Comparable to the like-named Ford model, Mercury's Sportsman was adorned with maple or yellow birch framing with mahogany inserts. The wood was structural, not merely decorative. This created a problem at the rear, where standard fenders wouldn't fit. Both Sportsmans thus used 1941 sedan delivery fenders and wood shaped to suit. The solid-wood framing was beautifully mitred and finished with multiple coats of varnish. But with only 205 sold, the Mercury Sportsman was dropped after '46. The likely reason for the low sales was high price: $2209, some $200 more than Ford's version, which did better business and continued into 1948. Ford's most-important 1947 corporate development was the organization of the Lincoln-Mercury Division. Henry II decided that the two makes could be more competitive as an auto­no­mous operation a la the various General Motors units. That year's Mercurys used more of the raw materials that had been scarce during wartime: mainly aluminum (for pistons and hood ornament) and chrome (interior hardware and grille frame). Belt moldings now ended just ahead of the cowl. Postwar inflation boosted prices an average of $450, lifting the range to $1450-$2200. Production of the '47 models didn't begin until February of that year, so Mercury's output was about the same as its 1946 tally. Except for serial numbers and deletion of the two-door sedan, the '48's were unchanged. They were sold from November 1947 through mid-April 1948, when the '49's appeared. As a result, model-year production ended at only about 50,250. The '49 Mercurys bowed with flush-fender "inverted bathtub" styling like that of the 1948-49 Packards and Hudsons. Mercury's new look stemmed from sporadic wartime work by Dearborn designers. Wheelbase was unchanged, but bodyshells were shared with a new standard Lincoln line instead of Ford, the result of a last-minute change in postwar plans. Styling was good: massive, yet clean and streamlined. The grille looked something like the '48 affair, but was lower and wider. A single bright molding ran full-length at midflank. As before, a single series offered four body styles: coupe, four-door Sport Sedan (with "suicide" rear-hinged back doors), convertible, and a new two-door wagon with less structural wood than the superseded four-door style. Like '49 Fords, Mercurys were treated to a new chassis with fully independent front suspension, weight-saving Hotchkiss drive (replacing torque-tube), and a live axle on parallel longitudinal leaf springs, ousting at last old Henry's cherished single transverse leaf. Resuming its power lead over Ford, Mercury got a stroked V-8 with 255.4 cid, dual downdraft Holley carburetors and 110 bhp to become a genuine 100-mph performer for the first time. Also introduced was an automatic-overdrive option priced at $97, teamed with a 4.27:1 rear axle instead of the standard 3.90:1. The 1949 Mercury was an attractive buy with its Lincoln-like looks, lower prices ($1979-$2716), and a V-8 more-potent than Ford's (necessary to offset some 100 extra pounds in curb weight). Buyers responded by taking over 301,000 of the '49s -- more than three times the volume of Mercury's previous best year and good for sixth in the industry, another all-time high. Despite few major changes, sales continued strong for the next two seasons: close to 294,000 for 1950 and a record-setting 310,000-plus for '51, when Mercury again claimed sixth. The 1950 models gained a hood-front chrome molding bearing the Mercury name; the '51s combined this with a large semicircular crest and also sported more-prominent grille bars, larger parking lights (swept back to the front wheel wells), and longer rear fenders with rounded corners and vertical trailing edges. Horsepower rose a nominal two for '51, when a significant new option arrived in Merc-O-Matic Drive. This was, of course, the new three-speed fully automatic transmission developed with the Warner Gear Division of Borg-Warner (and also offered for '51 by Ford as Ford-O-Matic). 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954 Mercury Cars The 1951 Mercury wagon was the automaker's most expensive model that year, going for more than $2500. Mercury added a couple of new models to its lineup for 1950: a stripped price-leader coupe ($1875) and the interesting Monterey. The latter was a spiffy limited edition with upgraded interior and a top covered in canvas or vinyl. At around $2150, it cost some $160 more than the standard coupe, but it wasn't the costliest 1950-51 Merc: The wagon was over $400 more. Monterey's purpose, as with the Ford Crestliner and Lincoln Lido/Capri of those years, was to stand in for the pillarless "hardtop-convertibles" being offered by GM and Chrysler rivals. Hardtops arrived in force for 1952, when Ford Motor Com­pany was the only Big Three maker with all-new styling. Mercury got a pair of hardtops: a Sport Coupe and a more-deluxe Monterey version (sans covered roof). Monterey also offered a convertible and a four-door sedan (now minus the "suicide" doors). Following an industry trend, wagons were all-steel four-doors with simulated wood trim. Base-trim two- and four-door sedans completed the lineup. Bodyshells were again shared with Ford, though Mercury retained a three-inch longer wheelbase, all of it ahead of the cowl. Also shared with Ford was tight, clean styling, though the resemblance with that year's equally new Lincoln didn't hurt. Higher compression boosted the flathead V-8 to 125 bhp on unchanged displacement. The Korean war limited 1952 production throughout Detroit, so Mercury built only 172,087 cars to finish eighth in the annual race. Mercury bowed its first formal two-series line for 1953: the Custom series offered a hardtop and two- and four-door sedans, while the Monterey line listed a convertible, hardtop, wagon, or four-door sedan. Retained from '52 was a trendy dashboard with big aircraft-type levers flanking a large half-moon gauge cluster. Business picked up with the end of Korean war restrictions, and Mercury moved nearly 305,000 cars, though it once again ran eighth. Prices ranged from $2000 for the Custom two-door to nearly $2600 for the Monterey wagon. A significant engineering change for 1954 was Mercury's first overhead-valve V-8, a bigger version of the new "Y-Block" design featured on that year's Ford. Though little larger than Mercury's previous L-head at 256 cid, the ohv had modern short-stroke dimensions, a five-main-bearing crankshaft, and much more horsepower -- 61 with the standard four-barrel carburetor. With a low 3.90 rear axle and standard transmission, the V-8 made any '54 Merc quick off the line. Equally note­worthy was a ball-joint front suspension, another development shared with Ford. Styling improved for '54 via wraparound taillights and a clean but more-aggressive grille with larger bullet guards. Joining previous models was a new top-line hardtop, the Monterey Sun Valley (a name that must have amused Californians), which is more famous now than it was then. An outgrowth of Dearborn's experiments with plastic-topped cars (as was Ford's similar '54 Skyliner), the Sun Valley was nice in theory: the airiness of a convertible combined with closed-car comfort and practicality. In practice, though, it was something else. Though the Plexiglas front half-roof was tinted and a snap-in shade was provided for hot weather, customers complained the interior heated up like a sauna. Sales were unimpressive: just 9761 of the '54's and a mere 1787 for the follow-up 1955 Montclair version. At about 260,000 units in all, 1954 wasn't Mercury's greatest sales year, but hopes were high for '55. With colorful new styling on the basic 1952-54 shell, Mercury's first wheelbase increase since 1941 -- to 119 inches except on wagons, which remained at 118 -- and a more-potent V-8, the '55s couldn't miss. They didn't: Model-year production was a record 329,000-plus. 1955, 1956, 1957 Mercury Cars Phaeton versions were available for the 1956 Mercury Monterey and Montclair. Topping the '55 Mercury fleet was the new Montclair line: four-door sedan, hardtop, convertible, and Sun Valley. All wore a slim contrast-color panel outlined in bright metal beneath the side windows. A step below were the Monterey sedan, hardtop, and wagon, followed by the Custom series with the same body styles plus a two-door sedan. Common to all were Mercury's first wrapped windshield, an evolutionary form of the '54 grille, hooded headlamps, and eye-catching surface ornamentation. A Y-block V-8 swelled to 292 cid was offered in two forms: 188 bhp for Custom and Monterey and 198 bhp for Montclair. The higher output version was also available as an option for lesser models with the optional Merc-O-Matic. Four-door Phaeton hardtops arrived for 1956's "Big M" line, which represented an ambitious expansion into somewhat uncharted territory. To stay competitive in the face of rising prices, Mercury fielded a cut-rate group of Medalist two- and four-door hardtops and sedans at the bottom end of the medium­-price ladder. But inflation made these "low-price" Mercs more expensive than 1955 Customs ($2250-$2460) -- and not that much cheaper than the better-trimmed '56 Customs ($2350-$2800). Dealers pushed hard with two-door sedans, but Medalist sales came to only 45,812 in all. Custom, Monterey, and Montclair all beat the price-leader by more than 2-to-1. With that, Medalist was duly dropped, only to resurface for '58, when it interfered in a price bracket that should have been reserved exclusively for the new Edsel. Mercury's '56 styling was a good update of its '55 look. All models save Medalists wore jazzy Z-shaped side moldings that delineated the contrast color area with optional two-toning (the area below was generally matched to the roof). Monterey and Montclair added Phaeton hardtop sedans at mid-season, replacements for their low-roof pillared Sport Sedans held over from mid-1955. Mercury also offered a second convertible for the first time, a Custom. The Y-block was enlarged again, this time to 312 cid, good for 210 bhp that could be tuned to 235; the latter was standard for Monterey and Montclair. Though 1956 was a "breather" for the industry as a whole, Mercury was an exception with some 328,000 sales, slightly off its '55 pace. An encouraging sign was the premium Montclair, which proved almost as popular as it had in frantic '55. The midline Monterey was still the big breadwinner, though. The '57's were all-new, trumpeted as "a dramatic expression of dream car design." They were previewed in 1956 by the XM-Turnpike Cruiser show car, which also had direct showroom counterparts in new top-line Turnpike Cruiser two- and four-door hardtops. The Turnpike Cruiser had glitz and gimmicks galore: "skylight dual curve windshield," drop-down reverse-slant rear window, and dual air intakes over the A-posts housing little horizontal antennae. If that wasn't enough, there was optional "Seat-O-Matic," which automatically powered the front seat to one of 49 possible positions at the twist of two dials. Mercury also joined Chrysler in offering pushbutton automatic transmission controls, another "space-age" Cruiser standard. Arriving late in the season was a Convertible Cruiser, honoring Mercury's selection as the 1957 Indy 500 pace car, and supplied with replica regalia decals. Yet for all their gadgets -- and likely because of them -- the Cruisers failed miserably. They were not just expensive -- $3760-$3850 for the hardtops, $4100 for the ragtop -- they were too far out, even for the dawning space age. Significantly, the '57s had their own bodyshells on a new 122-inch-wheelbase chassis -- the first time Mercurys were neither "senior Fords" nor "junior Lincolns." Like that year's all-new Ford, this was done partly to prepare for the '58 Edsel line that borrowed some from both makes. Monterey and Montclair were bereft of station wagons, which were split off as a separate series with six models. Offered, from the top, were a woody-look Colony Park, a four-door nine-seater; metal-sided two- and four-door Voyagers; and three Commuters with the various seat and door combinations. All had pillarless-hardtop rooflines, the new rage in Big Three wagons. Styling matched the "Big M's" more-expansive '57 dimensions, looking square, heavy, and contrived. Up front, a massive dual-oblong bumper nestled beneath a slim concave grille of vertical bars. Headlights were quads where legal, regular duals otherwise. Long scallops, typically contrast-colored, carried the beltline from midbody through the upper rear fenders to huge pie-slice taillamps. Weight was up, but so was horse­power. A 255-bhp 312 was newly standard except on Cruisers, which carried a 290-bhp, 368-cid Lincoln V-8 that was optional elsewhere. The 1957 Mercurys did fairly well, but less so than the '56's. Volume dropped to about 286,000 and the make's production rank fell from seventh to eighth -- not encouraging for an all-new design in a fairly strong sales year. 1958, 1959 Mercury Cars The 1959 Mercurys, such as this Montclair Cruiser, were bigger than the 1958's with a four-inch longer wheelbase. A minor facelift yielded slightly quieter styling for 1958 Mercury models, but production plunged to 153,000 in a disastrous industry year. The Convertible Cruiser was abandoned (after only 1265 of the '57's) and the two closed Cruisers became Montclair submodels. Lower prices failed to perk up sales (barely 6400 between them). The cheap Medalist returned for a brief encore with two- and four-door sedans, but again proved disappointing: Only 18,732 were sold. Topping the line was the new Park Lane series of two hardtops and a convertible (also available as Montclairs and Montereys). These were ostensibly Cruiser replacements with less hoke and a giant 360-bhp 430-cid V-8 shared with that year's Lincolns. A new auto­matic transmission called Multi-Drive debuted (basically Ford Division's Cruise-O-Matic), as did a 383-cid V-8 -- the same size as one of Chrysler's new '58 wedgehead engines but with more-oversquare dimensions. The 383 was standard for all '58 Mercs, save Medalists (which came with a 235-bhp 312) and Park Lane, and delivered 312 or 330 bhp depending on model. Although the bottom dropped out of the medium-price market in '58, Mercury remained eighth despite building only 40 percent of its 1957 volume. But significantly, Rambler passed the Big M in sales and was fast gaining on Pontiac, Olds, and Buick. Mercury would join the rush to compacts and inter­mediates soon enough. In the meantime, it could only offer more of the same. More the '59 Mercurys definitely had, with even bigger bodies on a four-inch longer wheelbase. Styling was still square but more sculpted, marked by a mile-wide grille, huge bumpers at each end, enormous windshields and rear windows, and a more sharply creased version of the odd 1957-58 rear-fender scallops. The Medalist and Turnpike Cruiser models were forgotten, and Montclair and wagons each slimmed from six models to four. Engines were detuned in a faint nod to a newly economy-conscious public. The '59 slate listed a 210-bhp 312 for Monterey, a 345-bhp 430 for Park Lane, and 280- and 322-bhp 383s for others. Despite the retrenchment, model-year volume failed to top 150,000 units -- hardly the hoped-for recovery. Looking back, Mercury sales stumbled after 1956 at least in part because the fleet, good-looking cars of earlier years were abandoned for shiny, begadgeted behemoths that couldn't hope to sell well in a down economy. But the make would return to "hot cars" in the '60s and, with them, achieve new success. Indeed, volume went up substantially for 1960 -- to over 271,000 -- though that was owed mainly to the new compact Comet. The four-series big-car line (which might have been Edsels had things gone better there) remained two-ton heavyweights with huge compound-curve windshields, but a handsome facelift removed a little chrome while adding a tidy concave grille and more-discreet "gullwing" rear fenders. Model choices were mostly as before: Cruiser two- and four-door hardtops in each series, four-door Monterey/Montclair sedans, Monterey two-door sedan, Park Lane convertible and, still a distinct series, four-door Commuter and wood-sided Colony Park hardtop wagons. The 1960s: More Mercury Models, Fewer Buyers Mercury underwent frequent model and name changes in the 1960s, but the Monterey, shown here as a 1967 in S-55 trim, spanned the decade. Mercury offered three V-8s for 1960, all with lower compression for the sake of economy (such as it was). The 312 was cut to 205 bhp for Monterey and Commuter, the 383 returned as a single 280-bhp option, and a 310-bhp Lincoln 430 was standard elsewhere. Production rose slightly to some 155,000. The "Big M" shrunk noticeably in both size and price for 1961. In fact, it was again a "deluxe Ford," though on an inch-longer, 120-inch wheelbase. This was done in the interest of production economies as well as fuel economy, and the resulting cars were indeed lighter, thriftier, and more maneuverable. Of course, this also ended four years of unique Mercury chassis and bodyshells, reflecting the collapse of Dearborn's grand mid-'50's "divisionalization" scheme, a stab at a GM-style five-make structure that had spawned separate Edsel, Continental, Lincoln, and Mercury Divisions. Dismal sales since '57 had rendered a separate Mercury platform unacceptably expensive, hence this return to the make's original concept. Beginning with the 1960 Comet, Mercury followed the growing industry trend of adding models in new sizes, with name changes sometimes confusing buyers. The latter was perhaps symbolic of the make's mixed fortunes in the '60's. Still, Comet and Monterey spanned the entire decade. A new name was Meteor, long the brand of a Canadian-made Mercury derivative, which appeared on two quite different U.S. Mercurys. The first arrived at the low end of the 1961 full-size line: two- and four-door sedans and hardtops in "600" and nicer "800" trim, offered at vastly reduced prices beginning at $2535. In effect, they filled the gap left by Edsel's demise the previous year. Monterey resumed as the premium Mercury, listing a four-door sedan and hardtop, a two-door hardtop, and a convertible. The separate Station Wagon series reverted to conventional pillared four-doors: six- and nine-passenger Commuters and Colony Parks. Styling was even more conservative than in 1960. The grille remained concave and fins vestigial, but flanks were rounded and '50's gimmicks were mere memories. Meteors carried a standard 223-cid Ford six with 135 bhp; the optional V-8, included on Montereys, was a 175-bhp 292. Across-the-board options comprised a 220-bhp 352 and new big-block 390s with 300 or 330 bhp. Although Meteor actually outsold Monterey, sales were not spectacular. Accordingly, the line was replaced for '62 by a "Monterey 6," and the name moved to Mercury's version of the new intermediate Ford Fairlane. The Meteor's styling was busier than the Fairlane's and model names were different, but bodies were shared. So were powertrains, including Ford's fine new small-block V-8 with 221 cid and 145 bhp or 260 cid and 164 bhp. Custom denoted the upmarket midsize Meteors, S-33 the sportier bucket-seaters -- a two-door sedan for '62, a hardtop coupe for '63. Wagons -- woody-look Country Cruiser and plain-sided Villagers (a name transferred from the Edsel line) -- joined hardtops as 1963 additions. For all that, this Meteor didn't sell nearly as well as the Fairlane, and Mercury dropped it for 1964 in favor of an extensively upgraded Comet. Mercury Comet Station wagon was one of several body styles available for the 1963 Mercury Comet. Once planned as an Edsel, the first Comet was basically Ford's hugely successful 1960 Falcon compact with squared-up rooflines, a double-row concave grille, and an extended stern with canted fins and oval taillamps. Wheelbase was 114 inches on two- and four-door sedans; wagons used Falcon's 109.5-inch span. Comet wasn't exciting, but it sold well: over 116,000 for the abbreviated debut season. Sales set a record for '61 at 197,000 and were strong for '62, which hurt Mercury's new Meteor model. In fact, one reason Meteor didn't sell well is that Comet was comparably sized yet more affordable. Mercury was thus wise to make Comet its only small car after '63. Sales jumped by 55,000 units for '64 and remained high into '67. Early Comets ran less than $100 above comparable Falcons, yet were more elaborately trimmed. S-22, a $2300 bucket-seat two-door sedan, responded to the sporty-compact craze beginning in 1961, when all Comets gained an optional 101-bhp six. Custom sedans and wagons and a posh Villager wagon with imitation wood trim aided '62 sales. The following year brought Custom and S-22 convertibles and Sportster hardtop coupes. A squarish facelift arrived for 1964, when S-22 was renamed Caliente and any Comet could be ordered with the outstanding 260-cid small-block. A midseason Caliente offshoot, the $2655 Cyclone hardtop, offered even higher perform­ance from a standard 210-bhp 289. Comet received its first major overhaul for 1966, going from compact to intermediate by shifting to that year's new Fairlane platform. This underlined a basic marketing assumption: Mercury buyers were wealthier than Ford's, and thus probably wanted a compact larger than Falcon. This 116-inch-wheelbase platform continued on Comets through 1969, but sales waned. By 1967, the Comet line started with a pair of very basic "202" sedans. The rest of that year's line comprised Capri (borrowed from Lincoln to replace "404"), Caliente, Cyclone and Station Wagon. All gave way for 1968 to a three-series Montego line on the same wheelbase. This offered a standard sedan and hardtop coupe; MX sedan, hardtop coupe, convertible, and wagon; and top-line MX Brougham sedan and hardtop. The last was furnished with a high-quality cloth interior and other luxuries. The Comet name was retained for one price-leading two-door hardtop, then was temporarily shelved after 1969. Mercury jumped into the midsize muscle-car market with both feet and won several racing laurels. Model-year 1966 brought a smooth Cyclone GT hardtop coupe and convertible powered by Ford's 335-bhp 390 and offered with a variety of useful suspension upgrades. The '67 was even more thrilling with optional 427s delivering 410-425 bhp. Similar street racers were available for '68, though the 427 was detuned to 390 bhp. Besides Montego, that year's midsize line included new base and GT Cyclone hardtop coupes with curvy new lower-body contours and racy full-fastback rooflines a la Ford Mustang/Torino. There was also a one-year-only GT notchback hardtop. For 1969, Mercury unleashed the Cyclone CJ with Ford's 428-cid big-block Cobra Jet engines. GT's and CJ's had black grilles, special emblems, bodyside paint stripes, and unique rear-end styling. CJ's carried a functional hood scoop when equipped with optional Ram-Air induction. Although Ford won the 1968-69 NASCAR championship, Cyclones turned in some of the most notable performances. A memorable highlight was Cale Yarborough's win in the '68 Daytona 500 at an average speed of 143.25 mph. Source: Internet