Wednesday, June 10, 2015

1962 Mercury S55

1962 Mercury S55 S-55 - Image 1 of 13

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1940 Mercury Convertible Coupe

1940 Mercury Convertible Coupe - Image 1 of 13

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1964 Mercury Marauder Sedan

1964 Mercury Marauder Sedan - Image 1 of 37

Click Here to check out this 1964 Mercury Marauder.


1970 Mercury Marauder Coupe

1970 Mercury Marauder Coupe - Image 1 of 50

Click Here to check out this early Marauder.


1956 Mercury Montclair 2 Door Hardtop

1956 Mercury Montclair 2 Door Hardtop - Image 1 of 24

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2004 Mercury Marauder

2004 Mercury Marauder

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1951 Mercury Deluxe

1951 Mercury Deluxe - Image 1 of 5

Click Here to check out this 1951 Mercury Deluxe that is for sale and to view other pictures with information on this vehicle.


1957 Mercury Monterey

1957 Mercury MontereyThis is an opportunity to stand out from the crowd! As the seller notes, there are a lot of more mainstream ’57 cars
out there, such as Fords and Chevrolets, but very few of these spectacular Mercurys. This Monterey is listed for sale here on craigslist for $7,500 and is located in Avinger, Texas. This car has the 312 V8, making 290 horsepower in this applicationimage:
. It also has power steering, power disc brakes, and, unusually, air conditioning. There are some rusty parts around the edges, but as a whole the body seems relatively solid. I’m not sure I’d leave the new custom wheels; I think steel wheels and small caps would be ideal for this car, but that’s me.
1957 Mercury Monterey AdAs you can see from this ad, Mercury liked this color scheme too. Just look at that “Dream Car
Design!” Is this pink and white cruiser your dream car?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Story Of The Edsel

Ford’s ill-fated Edsel Division was born in 1957 as part of an ambitious plan to match General Motors division for division. Edsel died only two years later, but it remained the butt of jokes for decades and its name became virtually synonymous with failure. This week, we look at the history of Edsel and the reasons it flopped.

1959 Edsel Ranger grille


Today, with car companies selling or shuttering divisions as fast as state franchise laws will permit, it’s become fashionable to criticize the auto industry — particularly General Motors — for its surfeit of brands. For decades, however, GM’s divisional structure was the envy of Detroit. Almost every automaker aspired to a GM-like brand hierarchy, from Chrysler to upstart independents like Kaiser-Frazer.

Until the late thirties, a major exception was the Ford Motor Company. Although Ford had acquired bankrupt Lincoln back in 1922, Henry Ford had never cared for expensive cars and he steadfastly refused to create a mid-priced line. In the early years of the Great Depression, that wasn’t much of a loss, but as the economy began to show signs of life, the vast price gap between Ford and Lincoln cost the company many buyers.
In the summer of 1937, Edsel Ford and sales boss John R. Davis finally persuaded Henry to authorize the development of a new mid-priced car. It emerged the following fall as the 1939 Mercury. Although the Mercury shared many components with the standard Ford, including a bored-out version of the familiar flathead V8, it was bigger, heavier, and more expensive, putting it in the same territory as mid-priced makes like Oldsmobile, Hudson, and DeSoto.

The Mercury sold reasonably well, but it was not a great threat to GM’s mid-priced divisions. Its main failing was that most buyers perceived it as a Ford, not a separate brand. Indeed, even Edsel Ford had wanted to call it the Ford-Mercury and all of the early promotional material carried that name. Most Mercurys were even sold through Ford dealers; there were a few dealers who only sold Lincolns and Mercurys, but they were rare before the war. The consequence was that each of Mercury’s direct rivals outsold it by more than two to one.

1948 Mercury station wagon badge


By the fall of 1945, Edsel Ford was dead and Henry Ford had reluctantly ceded control of the company to Edsel’s eldest son, Henry Ford II. Henry II, then only 27, realized immediately that the company’s problems were beyond his ability, and sought outside help.

Shortly after Henry’s ascendancy, he hired a group of young officers recently released from the United States Army Air Force, including Charles “Tex” Thornton, Ben Mills, Francis (Jack) Reith, and Robert McNamara.

All had worked together in the Army Air Forces’ Office of Statistical Controls, applying the latest techniques in business analysis to the war effort. When the war ended, Tex Thornton sent an impudent telegram to Henry Ford II, offering the group’s expertise to Ford.

The Whiz Kids, as Thornton’s group became known, were smart, ambitious, and ruthless. While they each aspired to top positions within Ford (which many of them later achieved), many of them had little interest in cars or the auto business for their own sake. Cars — and to some extent Ford itself — were simply a means to an end.

Clever as the Whiz Kids were, they were not much older than Henry Ford II, so Henry decided he needed more experienced managerial help. In the summer of 1946, he hired Ernest R. Breech, former president of GM’s Bendix subsidiary, as his executive vice president. Breech, in turn, recruited a host of other GM veterans, including Harold Youngren, Earle MacPherson, and Lewis Crusoe, who became Ford’s VP of operations and later the general manager of the new Ford Division. Unlike the Whiz Kids, who were after power, Breech’s group sought to make over Ford in GM’s image. Their ultimate goal was to do everything GM had done, only better — from management style to divisional structure.

Inevitably, there was great tension between the Whiz Kids and Breech’s group. Despite their youth, the Whiz Kids had just spent three years telling generals what to do and had an unshakable confidence in their own talents. They sometimes made a great show of deference to Breech and other older executives, but privately, they often regarded them as obstacles and adversaries.

Henry Ford II watched these conflicts unfold, never permanently siding with any one group. His only goal was to restore his grandfather’s company to its former position as the world’s number-one automaker, and he was willing to follow whatever path seemed likely to get him there. To some extent, he may have been intimidated by the brilliant and driven men working for him, but at the end of the day, it was Ford’s company.

1948 Mercury station wagon front
The 1946-1948 Fords, Mercurys, and Lincolns were lightly refreshed prewar designs; this is a 1948 Mercury station wagon. The 1949 models were introduced quite early in 1948: The new Mercurys bowed on April 29, almost six months earlier than usual.


Once Henry Ford I was gone, no one at Ford had any compunctions about expanding the company’s product line. Early plans called for an extensive new lineup: a bigger standard Ford, a new compact “Light Car,” two different Mercurys, and three Lincolns, the largest of which was to replace the Continental as the company’s flagship.

With Ford’s finances still shaky, however, those plans proved overly ambitious. The Light Car was sent overseas to become the 1949 French Ford Vedette while the bigger Lincolns were canceled. Ford launched a crash program to design a new standard Ford, the bigger Ford became a Mercury, and the larger Mercury became the base-model Lincoln.

When the all-new 1949 models finally appeared, the lineup was as follows:
  • The Ford, on a 114-inch (2,896mm) wheelbase, priced in the $1,300-$1,900 bracket
  • The Mercury, on a 118-inch (2,997mm) wheelbase, priced in the $2,000-$2,500 bracket
  • The standard Lincoln, on a 121-inch (3,073mm) wheelbase, priced in the $2,500-$3,200 bracket
  • The Lincoln Cosmopolitan, on a 125-inch (3,175mm) wheelbase, with prices ranging from just under $3,200 to about $4,000.
In theory, the new model range gave Ford an entry in each major segment of the American market. The Ford competed with Chevrolet and Plymouth; the Mercury with Pontiac, Oldsmobile, and Dodge; the standard Lincoln with Buick and Chrysler; the Lincoln Cosmopolitan with Cadillac and Packard. In practice, there were still large price gaps between the different model lines, the most problematic being the more than $500 gap between Mercury and Lincoln. That was a lot of money at the time, so the gap probably cost Ford a lot of middle-class customers. Marketing studies revealed that only about one in four Ford buyers moved on to a Mercury or Lincoln while more than four out of five Chevrolet buyers stepped up to a more expensive GM car. Ford needed something to fill the gap.

1950 Mercury convertible front
The 1949-1951 Mercury was originally designed by Bob Gregorie as the 1949 Ford, but Ernie Breech thought it would be too big and cost too much to build for the low-priced field, so it became a Mercury instead. Powered by a 255 cu. in. (4,184 cc) version of the Ford flathead V8, it had 112 hp (84 kW) in 1951. The 1949-1951 Merc was very popular with hot rodders and customizers, although its straight-line performance was no match for that of the new Oldsmobile Rocket Eighty-Eight. (Photo © 2007 Sp├Ąth Chr.; released to the public domain by the photographer)


In September 1948, only four months after the ’49s went on sale, Henry Ford II ordered a study group to explore adding a new mid-priced car between Mercury and Lincoln. Preliminary planning work started the following year, but it was put on hold in the summer of 1950, following the outbreak of the Korean War. The need hadn’t gone away, but with new production restrictions and severe shortages of strategic materials, Ernie Breech and the executive committee decided it was a bad time to introduce a new car line.

In August 1951, Emmett Judge, the head of product planning for Lincoln-Mercury, and Morgan Collins, Lincoln-Mercury’s controller, appeared before the committee with a new proposal. They had recently analyzed GM’s 1950 shared bodies program, which was one of the most ambitious in the industry to date, and concluded that if Lincoln-Mercury adopted a similar interchangeability program, they could save enough money on tooling for their existing lines to finance a new model.

The Collins-Judge proposal was eminently logical, but it was politically problematic. Various factions were busily wrestling for control of product planning decisions, and the Collins-Judge plan, while eminently sensible, satisfied none of these ambitions.

1951 Lincoln Cosmopolitan front 3q
From 1949 to 1951, Lincoln offered both a short-wheelbase base model (originally designed as a big Mercury) and the bigger Cosmopolitan; this is a 1951 Cosmopolitan convertible. In 1952, Lincoln consolidated its line on a single chassis, sized between the 1951 models. Since the cheaper model had accounted for more than half of all Lincoln sales, this move proved to be a serious marketing mistake. (Photo © 2008 Jagvar; released to the public domain by the photographer)

Nonetheless, the price-gap issue remained, so in January 1952, the executive committee assigned sales VP John Davis to conduct a new study on adding additional mid-priced models. Considering the work that had already been done, there was little logical need for another study, but it served as a sort of bureaucratic flanking maneuver, giving the different factions a chance to spin the existing proposals their own way.

The so-called “Davis Book,” a massive, six-volume treatise completed in June 1952, outlined in great detail what most Ford executives had already realized about the company’s position in the mid-priced market. If anything, that problem had only gotten worse: With the demise of Lincoln’s cheaper short-wheelbase model for 1952, the least-expensive Lincoln now cost almost $1,000 more than the equivalent Mercury. Although Ford chief engineer Earle MacPherson reportedly thought the Lincoln should target the Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight, the Lincoln was priced like a Cadillac, not an Olds or Buick. Mercury, meanwhile, lacked the prestige and distinction to appeal to Buick or Chrysler buyers.

The Davis Book basically reiterated the recommendations of the previous studies, proposing the creation of a new “big” Mercury (described as “Mercury-Monterey”) combining the Lincoln body shell with Mercury running gear. Davis added a new wrinkle by recommending that Mercury and Lincoln be split into separate divisions and that Ford introduce a new flagship model priced above existing Lincolns; the latter was intended to answer dealer requests for a successor to the old Continental. This flagship was to be built by a new Special Products Division, which would increase the total number of Ford automotive divisions from two four.

Henry Ford II reviewed these recommendations and assigned his younger brother, William Clay Ford, to lead the development of the flagship car. Lincoln-Mercury Division assistant general manager Richard Krafve was assigned to develop the “Mercury-Monterey” concept, initially slated for the 1956 model year.


Despite two marketing studies and an obvious need, development of the Mercury-Monterey proceeded surprisingly slowly. Styling work didn’t begin until mid-1954, fully two years after the Davis Book.

According to historian Tom Bonsall, many (though not all) of the Whiz Kids were dubious about the upper-middle-class model, thinking it would cost too much. Ford’s senior management, meanwhile, was preoccupied with early preparations for Ford’s first public stock offering, which took place in January 1956 and ultimately netted more than $640 million.

Until late 1954, the assumption was still that the new model would be an upscale Mercury, offered through existing Lincoln-Mercury franchises. However, a series of management changes in early 1955 changed those plans dramatically. In January, Ernie Breech was named the chairman of Ford’s new board of directors.

Lewis Crusoe assumed some of Breech’s former responsibilities with a promotion to group vice president of car and truck operations; Robert McNamara took Crusoe’s place as general manager of Ford Division. At the same time, Whiz Kid Jack Reith returned to the U.S. after a stint as general manager of Ford SAF, Ford’s struggling French subsidiary. Reith had just completed a deal to sell Ford SAF to Simca, which was heralded as a silk-purse/sow’s-ear achievement for a subsidiary many observers had considered a lost cause. After returning to Dearborn, Reith rejoined Crusoe’s staff, certain that he was bound for bigger and better things.

Crusoe and Reith expanded on the Davis Book’s recommendations with a remarkably ambitious new plan to expand the company from three automotive divisions (Ford, Lincoln-Mercury, and Special Products) to five, including separate Lincoln and Mercury divisions and a new mid-priced division known as “E-Car” (for “experimental”), positioned between Ford and Mercury. The divisions would share three basic body shells: one for Ford and the low-end E-Car, one for the high-end E-Car and the cheaper Mercury, and one for the big Mercury and Lincoln.

The new divisions were not intended simply as a paper shuffle; the principal motivation was to allow Ford to expand its dealer body. At the time, Ford had only about half as many U.S. dealer franchises as General Motors, which put definite limits on how many cars Ford could expect to sell. That was particularly true of Mercury. Although Ford’s mid-priced brand was doing quite well in the early and mid-fifties, its total sales amounted to barely a third of GM’s Buick-Oldsmobile-Pontiac trio — which together averaged around 1.2 million units a year — in part because Lincoln-Mercury had far fewer dealers than Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac.

In their presentation to the board on April 15, Crusoe and Reith claimed their plan would increase Ford Motor Company’s total market share by almost 20 percent in the next six years. Some senior Ford executives, notably John Davis, objected to the plan, arguing that trying to move Mercury upscale and shift its existing buyers to a new brand would be a disaster. Some of the staunchest opposition came from McNamara, who argued that the plan was so expensive that it wouldn’t show a profit for years. (Tom Bonsall suggests that McNamara may have seen the plan as an unwelcome power play by Reith.)

Despite those criticisms, the board of directors — including Breech — unanimously approved the Crusoe-Reith plan. The formal reorganization of divisions took place three days later, separating Mercury and Lincoln, renaming the existing Special Products Division Continental Division, and adding a new Special Products Division to build the still-unnamed E-Car. Jack Reith became general manager of Mercury, which Bonsall suspects was Reith’s goal all along. The new general manager of the E-Car division was Dick Krafve, who, ironically, had opposed the Crusoe-Reith plan, arguing that the E-car should be a Mercury. Despite his reservations, Krafve accepted the assignment and vowed to do his best.


By the time the board approved the Crusoe-Reith plan, styling development of what would become the E-Car had been under way for almost a year, led by a young designer named Roy Brown, Jr., previously part of Gene Bordinat’s Mercury studio. In an interview with Dave Crippen in the eighties, Bordinat recalled that Brown was ecstatic about his new assignment: To be able to set the direction for a completely new car was every designer’s dream.

Brown’s team had several directives for the new car’s design, of which the most important was the imperative to make the car immediately recognizable from any angle. Distinctive styling was critical to the E-Car’s commercial prospects, since it would be using body shells shared with other Ford Motor Company models.

1958 Edsel Ranger front 3q
The Edsel’s “horse collar” grille, designed by stylist Jim Sipple, was inspired in part by Alfa Romeo. This four-door hardtop is a 1958 Edsel Ranger, the base EF (Ford-bodied) model. Rangers and Pacers were 213.1 inches (5,413 mm) long on a 118-inch (2,997mm) wheelbase; the larger Mercury-based Corsair and Citation were 218.8 inches (5,558 mm) long on a 124-inch (3,150mm) wheelbase, tipping the scales at over 4,200 lb (1,920 kg). The big Edsels were actually larger than the low-end Mercurys that shared their body shell. (Photo © 2005 Robert Nichols; used with permission)

That push for uniqueness was responsible for most of the E-Car’s controversial styling features. The vertical grille, which would inspire a host of imaginatively unflattering epithets, was chosen because no other American car of the time had a similar front-end treatment. The same logic inspired the dramatic gullwing taillights and side scallops. Whatever its other virtues, the E-Car did not look like anything else on the road.

When it was originally designed, the E-Car was bigger than the standard Mercury, but after the approval of the Crusoe-Reith plan, Brown’s team rescaled their design for two different versions: the Ford-bodied (EF) standard models and the Mercury-bodied (EM) big cars. That decision was made fairly late in the design process, so there was little stylistic difference between the EF and EM versions other than trim and overall dimensions.

Roy Brown presented a full-size fiberglass model of an EM convertible to the board of directors on August 15, 1955, receiving a standing ovation led by Ernie Breech. The design was approved precisely three months after the approval of the Crusoe-Reith plan.


In late 1955, Special Products Division marketing specialist David Wallace ordered yet another marketing study, this one an in-depth analysis of prospective buyers conducted by Columbia University’s Bureau of Applied Social Research. This study, which involved 1,600 interviews in Peoria, Illinois, and San Bernardino, California, went well beyond the typical marketing survey, attempting to quantify the psychological motivations of new-car buyers.

Motivational research of this kind was a new idea in the fifties. The hipper ad agencies had embraced it, but conservative businesses viewed it with great suspicion and it had drawn the ire of social critics like Vance Packard, who saw motivational research as an insidious force, manipulating people into buying things they neither wanted nor needed. Many Detroit executives dismissed it as mumbo jumbo.

The Columbia study later sparked considerable controversy and some critics even blamed it for the E-Car’s eventual failure. Although the study’s questions and methodology were a bit peculiar, the conclusions mostly reiterated the previous studies, suggesting that the E-Car’s target audience should be upwardly mobile families and young executives. In any event, the study’s actual impact on E-Car product planning appears to have been very limited. It seems that the study’s real purpose was not so much to draw new conclusions as to rationalize choices that had already been made months months or years earlier.

1958 Edsel Ranger rear 3q
The Edsel’s gullwing taillight treatment is almost as dramatic as its grille, presaging the rear-end styling of the following year’s Chevrolet. Edsel running gear and suspension were very conventional — double wishbones in front, Hotchkiss drive in back — but it was one of the first Ford products with self-adjusting brakes. (Photo © 2005 Robert Nichols; used with permission)


The Columbia study did not address what became the most contentious part of the E-Car’s development: selecting a name. Early on, Dick Krafve had suggested “Edsel,” thinking it would be an appropriate way to honor the man who had brought Ford to the mid-priced market in the first place, but the Ford family had not been enthusiastic.

The naming process, which took months, ultimately involved the Special Products Division marketing staff; a local market research firm; and the division’s new ad agency, Foote, Cone & Belding (FCB). David Wallace and product planner Bob Young even asked the well-known Modernist poet Marianne Moore to suggest some names, which yielded ludicrous results; among Moore’s suggestions were “Andante Con Moto,” “Mongoose Civique,” and “Utopian Turtletop.” (Tom Bonsall notes that contrary to popular belief, Ford did not actually hire Moore, although Young and Wallace did send her flowers to thank her for her efforts.)

Special Products PR director Gayle Warnock presented the more rational name suggestions to the board in mid-1956. Ernie Breech summarily rejected all of the choices and asked to hear some of the runners-up. Eventually, they came back to “Edsel” and Breech suggested they call the E-Car that. Dick Krafve pointed out Henry Ford II’s previous opposition to the name, but Breech said he would talk to Henry personally. (In later years, Breech tried to downplay his role in this decision, claiming that Crusoe had talked him into it. However, it was Breech who convinced Henry Ford to secure the reluctant approval of the Ford family for the use of the Edsel name.)

Warnock was very uncomfortable with the Edsel name, which was not exactly mellifluous; Warnock later claimed it cost the E-Car 200,000 sales. Moreover, the division had just wasted months of work and thousands of dollars trying to come up with new names just to come back to Dick Krafve’s original idea. That pattern was becoming an overriding theme of the entire E-Car program.

The work done on alternative name choices was not wholly in vain. Some of the rejected names became the Edsel’s initial trim series: The smaller EF (Ford-based) models were the Ranger and Pacer, supplemented by Roundup, Villager, and Bermuda station wagons while the EM (Mercury-based) cars were named Corsair and Citation.

Ford announced the Edsel name to the public in a press statement on November 19. With the announcement, Special Products Division became the Edsel Division.

1959 Edsel Ranger Edsel badge


By the time of the Edsel announcement, the Crusoe-Reith plan was already fraying.

The first warning sign was the demise of the original plan to share bodies between Mercury and Lincoln. In the fall of 1955, however, Earle MacPherson had suggested switching the 1958 Lincoln to unibody construction and building it in Ford’s new Wixom, Michigan, plant alongside the 1958 Ford Thunderbird. Wixom did not have sufficient capacity to build Mercurys and no other Ford plant was then capable of handling unitized construction.

As a result, the ’58 Lincoln would once again have a stand-alone body and the so-called “Super Mercury,” a crucial part of Jack Reith’s plan to take Mercury upscale, would have to settle for a stretched version of the standard Mercury body. Reith protested, but MacPherson, by then Ford’s vice president of engineering, had more clout. The board approved the unitized Lincoln.

To make matters worse, the Continental Division had turned out to be an expensive flop. Its first product, the $10,000 Mark II coupe, had been released in November 1955 to mild critical acclaim and meager sales.

Although production continued until August 1957, Ford shuttered the division in July 1956 and rolled its operations back into Lincoln’s. In November 1956, Edsel inherited the former Continental offices. It was not an auspicious omen.

In May 1957, the Crusoe-Reith plan lost one of its principal architects: Lewis Crusoe suffered a heart attack that forced him into early retirement. Robert McNamara, who was still strongly opposed to the whole plan, replaced Crusoe as group VP of car and truck operations.

Reith himself was the next casualty. That August, he was fired as general manager of Mercury and Lincoln and Mercury were reintegrated under the leadership of James Nance, formerly the head of Studebaker-Packard. With Reith’s exist, the only significant remnant of the Crusoe-Reith plan was the Edsel.

1958 Ford Fairlane front 3q
Part of the rationale for the Edsel’s overwrought styling was to distinguish it from its less-expensive Ford sibling — the 1958 Pacers pictured above share the same body shell as the 1958 Ford Fairlane. (Photo © 2005 Morven; used under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license)


Edsel pilot production began on April 15, 1957, exactly two years after the board approved the Crusoe-Reith plan and about a week after the first dealership franchise agreements were signed. Full production began in July.

Early on, there had been a tentative plant to give the Edsel division its own factory, but the board decided instead to expand the capacity of several existing plants and build the Edsel alongside its Ford and Mercury cousins. The sales force was told that this was a temporary measure and that Edsel would eventually have a factory of its own.

Building the Edsel on the same lines as Fords and Mercurys may have made financial sense, but it was disastrous for quality control. Despite their structural commonality with the contemporary Ford and Mercury, Edsels had unique trim and many unique components, which greatly complicated assembly line operations and created many opportunities for error. Shared production also generated considerable resentment among factory workers, who were annoyed at having their jobs made more difficult by another division’s products. Ford quality was already sub-par that year and Edsels were often even worse, with some cars arriving at dealers in unsalvageable condition.

That was apparently Robert McNamara’s conclusion about the entire Edsel operation. Around the time the first Edsels went on sale, McNamara allegedly told FC&B’s Fairfax Cone that Ford already planned to phase out the division.

1958 Edsel Pacer hardtop coupe front 3q
All 1958 Edsels had V8 engines; a six became optional in 1959. This 1958 Pacer hardtop coupe has a 361 cu. in. (5,902 cc) V8, part of the new FE (Ford-Edsel) series that spawned the later 390 (6,391 cc) and 427 (6,986 cc) engines. The Edsel version, called E-400, was rated 303 gross horsepower (226 kW) with a single four-barrel carburetor. The 1958 Corsair and Citation used the E-475, a 410 cu. in. (6,722 cc) version of the big MEL-series engine shared with Mercury and Lincoln, with 345 gross horsepower (257 kW). (Photo © 2007 Redsimon; used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license)


The 1958 Edsels debuted with great fanfare on September 4, 1957. Its launch was preceded by months of teaser ads and grandiose claims by Ford management. In January, Ford had announced that the Edsel would be a radical new design, using many new production techniques. Dick Krafve told the press that Edsel expected to sell 200,000 units in the first year.

The automotive press was scrupulously polite about the Edsel’s looks, but the public was far less kind. The Edsel’s grille immediately became the punchline of many off-color jokes, which compared it to everything from a horse collar to female anatomy. Not since the “coming or going” Studebaker of 10 years earlier had a new car’s styling been the subject of so much public ridicule. Edsel’s frequently poor early quality control did nothing to help.

1958 Edsel Ranger dash
The dashboard of a 1958 Edsel Ranger. The left-most pod is a compass; on upper-series Edsels, it was filled with a tachometer. The dials to the right of the steering column are a clock and the heater controls. The left bank of switches control the lights, antenna, and courtesy lights, while the right bank (not visible) controls the heater fan, wipers, and cigarette lighter. The buttons on the steering wheel bus are the “Teletouch” transmission controls. Unlike the pushbutton transmissions used by contemporary Chrysler products, Teletouch was electrically operated. It was a neat idea, but it proved grievously unreliable and was dropped at the end of the model year. (Photo © 2005 Robert Nichols; used with permission)

Aside from its styling and assembly quality, the Edsel’s fundamental problem was the worrisome ambiguity of its market position. Although Jack Reith’s long-awaited big Mercury — now called Park Lane — also debuted that fall, the original plan to take Mercury upmarket did not materialize. As a result, the Edsel straddled the Mercury line rather than fitting between Ford and Mercury. Worse, there was still a gap of nearly $700 between the most expensive Mercury Park Lane and the cheapest Lincoln.

If the Edsel had debuted two years earlier, it might have done somewhat better, but it had the misfortune to arrive just as the economy began to sink dramatically. The stock market had taken a nosedive back in June and by September, the U.S. economy was entering a full-fledged recession. Moreover, buyers had apparently had their fill of overwrought styling just Detroit’s new models hit new heights of rococo gimmickry. As a result, sales of most mid-priced cars immediately tanked, with some makes falling by more than 30%. Mercury’s total volume plunged from about 286,000 for the 1957 model year to about 153,000 for 1958. Edsel’s first-year total was only 63,110, less than a third of Ford’s optimistic sales projections.


By the end of 1957, it was clear that Edsel sales did not justify the expense of maintaining a separate division. On January 14, 1958, it was rolled into Lincoln-Mercury, which was renamed the Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln Division with Jim Nance as general manager. Richard Krafve resigned from Ford a year later; he went on to become the president of Raytheon.

1959 Edsel Ranger front
The 1959 Edsel was, if anything, less ostentatious than its overwrought ’59 Ford sibling, retaining the vertical grille concept in a much less confrontational form. If the 1958 Edsel had looked like this, it might have sold better than it did.

Ford tried hard to put a positive spin on Edsel’s weak debut. A June 1958 press release admitted that first-year sales were disappointing, but spoke optimistically about the marque’s future. In fact, Edsel’s fate beyond 1960 was already in considerable doubt.

In August 1958, James Nance was ousted as the head of Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln. His replacement was Ben Mills, another of the Whiz Kids. Mills announced that the 1959 Edsel line would be pared down to the Ranger, Corsair, and Villager station wagon, all using the smaller Ford shell. The bigger EM (Mercury-based) models and the big MEL-series engine were dropped. The Ranger traded its previously standard 361 cu. in. (5,902 cc) FE-series engine for the 292 cu. in. (4,778 cc) Y-block; Ford’s 223 cu. in. (3,653 cc) “Econo-Six” was now optional. The optional automatic transmission on smaller-engined Edsels was now the Mile-O-Matic, essentially the same as the new two-speed Fordomatic. The unreliable Teletouch pushbuttons were long gone.

1959 Edsel Ranger front 3q
Most 1959 Edsels had smaller engines than their 1958 counterparts. The Ranger had the 292 cu. in. (4,778 cc) Y-block with 200 hp (149 kW), while the standard engine on the Corsair was now the 332 cu. in. (5,436 cc) FE with 225 hp (168 kW). The ’58 Ranger’s 361 cu. in. (5,902 cc) four-barrel engine, renamed “Super Express,” was optional; it again had 303 gross horsepower (226 kW). Four-door Ranger sedans like this one were the most popular 1959 Edsel; they had a base price of $2,684 and accounted for 12,814 sales.

The 1959 Edsel’s styling was toned down considerably from its first year. Contrary to popular belief, the more conservative look was not a reaction to the public ridicule; Roy Brown’s team had designed the ’59 in late 1956 and early 1957, well before the 1958 Edsel went on sale. The new styling was much more conservative than the ’58, although it was also more ordinary, making the Edsel look more like the facelifted Ford it was.

Despite the smaller engines and toned-down styling, the 1959 Edsel was more expensive than the ’58, by as much as $120. The higher prices, combined with the still-rocky state of the economy and lingering buyer doubts about the Edsel’s quality, made for dismal sales. The total for the 1959 model year sank to about 45,000, just behind Chrysler’s equally moribund DeSoto.

Roy Brown, who was transferred in April 1958 to Ford of England, also developed full-size clay models for the 1960 Edsel. However, Robert McNamara decided that Edsel sales didn’t justify the tooling investment. Stylist Bud Kaufman was ordered to create a cheaper alternative design with a minimal tooling budget of less than $10 million — small change by Detroit standards. It meant that the 1960 Edsel would be little more than a badge-engineered Ford.

1959 Edsel Ranger rear 3q
All 1959 Edsels shared the body shell of the ’59 Ford. Although the wheelbase was stretched from 118 inches (2,997 mm) to 120 inches (3,048 mm), the 1959 Edsel Ranger was slightly shorter than the ’58, 210.9 inches (5,357 mm) overall. Car Life, testing a four-door hardtop Ranger with the same powertrain as this car, recorded a 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) time of just under 11 seconds with gas mileage of about 14 mpg (around 17 L/100 km), average performance for the time.


By May 1958, Jim Nance and Ben Mills were thinking about taking Edsel in a completely new direction. Ford was then busily developing a new compact model, which emerged as the 1960 Ford Falcon. With small-car sales booming since the start of the recession, Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln dealers were screaming for a compact of their own. Nance and Mills decided that an M-E-L compact would make most sense as an Edsel, which would preserve Mercury and Lincoln’s market position and finally give the Edsel brand a unique product.

The board of directors approved the Edsel compact proposal, dubbed “Edsel B,” in September 1958, shortly after Nance’s departure. The Edsel B, later named Comet, would share the Falcon’s body and running gear, but it would be somewhat bigger and a little more expensive, allowing a higher level of trim and features. The plan was for the Comet to supplement the larger Edsels for 1960 and then to replace them entirely by 1961, demoting the E-Car from mid-priced model to upscale economy car.

1960 Edsel Ranger side 2010 Fletcher6 CC-BYSA30 Unported
A final-year Edsel Ranger shows off Bud Kaufman’s new styling. Not quite visible is the split grille that bears a distinct (if probably coincidental) resemblance to the 1959 Pontiacs. (Photo © 2010 Fletcher6; used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license)

In any case, Edsel didn’t make it that far. The 1960 models debuted on October 15, but dealers were extremely reluctant to order them. In the first month, there were only 2,400 orders from nearly 1,500 franchises. By then, many Edsel dealers had either given up or gone under, and most survivors also had Ford and/or Lincoln-Mercury franchises. They had little interest in taking a chance on yet another Edsel.

On November 19, Ford announced that it was pulling the plug. Sales for the abbreviated 1960 model year amounted to 2,846, bringing total Edsel production to 110,847 cars in three model years. Ford offered hefty dealer incentives to clear stocks of unsold cars.

If Edsel had still been a separate division at that point, the Comet might have died with it, but Ben Mills saw no reason to throw away a promising new product. The Comet went on sale through Lincoln-Mercury dealers in March 1960, about four months after the Falcon. (Although contemporary reviewers tended to describe it as a Mercury, it was technically a separate make with no other marque identification.) In its first year, the Comet sold over 116,000 units, exceeding the entire three-year total of its late parent. The Comet’s success inspired the very successful intermediate Ford Fairlane and a whole genre of midsize cars.

1962 Mercury Comet front 3q
The original Comet was styled by Bud Kaufman, marrying a stretched version of the Falcon body with a formal roof inspired by the 1959 Ford Galaxie. The Comet shared the Falcon’s 144 cu. in. (2,365 cc) and 170 cu. in. (2,780 cc) sixes, but it rode a 5.5 inch (140 mm) longer wheelbase and was about 100 lb (45 kg) heavier, making it even slower than its Ford cousin. (Photo © 2007 Infrogmation; used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license)


There is no doubt that Ford lost a lot of money on the Edsel fiasco. The most commonly cited figure is $250 million (equivalent to almost $1.9 billion in 2010 dollars), which was the cost Ford announced for launching the new model. Ford spent about $100 million on marketing and the overhead costs of running Edsel as a separate division; as a point of comparison, Ford said that re-consolidating Lincoln and Mercury in 1957 saved about $80 million a year in administration and overhead expense. The estimated $150 million spent on factory expansion was obviously not a total loss, since Ford continued to use that capacity after the Edsel was gone.

Regardless of the actual dollar losses, the whole debacle had other costs. First, we suspect that a fair number of the sales Edsel did achieve came at the expense of Mercury. The first Park Lane sold poorly and most Mercury sales in 1958-1959 were low-end models that competed directly with Edsel in size and price. Second, not sharing bodies between Mercury and Lincoln proved to be very expensive. The 1958-1960 Lincolns also lost money and Lincoln came very close to cancellation, although it was saved by the new 1961 Continental. Third, and perhaps most seriously, Ford never actually plugged the gap between Mercury and Lincoln, so the E-Car’s original objective remained unfulfilled.

Over the years, historians have laid the blame for the Edsel’s failure on many things: the styling, the name, the market research, the poor timing of its debut. There’s some truth to each of those conclusions, but we think that the E-Car’s greatest failing was that Ford lost sight of what it was supposed to be. The initial goal — filling a hole in the lineup — was straightforward enough, but it was completely overshadowed by nine years of political gamesmanship. When the E-Car finally appeared, it was redundant. Even if the market had been better, the best it could have done was to eat away even more at Mercury’s market share. The Edsel didn’t simply fail; it never had a chance.

The Edsel remained a sore subject within Ford for many years after its demise. Lee Iacocca, who became general manager of Ford Division in 1960, convinced Henry Ford II to cancel the FWD subcompact Cardinal by warning him that it would be another E-Car. The Edsel’s failure was particularly bitter for Henry Ford; not only had it lost a huge amount of money, it had made a joke of his late father’s name. Edsel — both the car and the man — deserved better.


The Mercury Comet And Ford Fairlane

One of our biggest challenges in writing these articles is that we sometimes become fascinated by something for reasons that aren’t easy to articulate. Some of our subjects have obvious interest, like the Ford Skyliner or the Jaguar XK120, but others may be puzzling to the casual observer. That is certainly the case with this week’s subjects, which are thoroughly unexceptional in engineering and design, and have styling that could charitably be described as ordinary. However, they were at the forefront of an emerging debate that is still going on: the question of exactly how big an American sedan ought to be. This week, the history of the 1960-1965 Mercury Comet and 1962-1965 Ford Fairlane.

1965 Ford Fairlane badge


The early 1960's saw a profound shift in the way U.S. automakers approached the mass market. Until 1959, the Big Three’s bread-and-butter cars were very much of a piece. There were different trim series, different body styles, different engines, and sometimes minor variations in wheelbase or length, but you could speak with authority about “the Ford” or “the Chevrolet.” Discounting specialty cars like the Ford Thunderbird or Chevrolet Corvette, each manufacturer’s different models were nearly identical in basic engineering, concept, and size.

The independent automakers, looking for niches in which they would have less direct competition, were the first to challenge this paradigm. Nash introduced its compact Rambler in 1950, followed a year later by Kaiser’s Henry J and in 1953 by the Hudson Jet. None of these small economy cars replaced the companies’ bigger models, but they provided a cheaper, more economical alternative. Most were not particularly successful (only the Rambler survived past the mid-1950's), and the Big Three went on with business as usual. It was not until the recession of late 1957 and 1958 that compact sales increased enough to make GM, Ford, and Chrysler take notice. As we have seen, they each developed compact models of their own, which emerged as the Chevrolet Corvair, Chrysler’s Valiant, and the Ford Falcon.


In the summer of 1958, a few months after Ford’s Falcon was approved for production, the management of Ford’s recently unified Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln division began lobbying for their own version of the version compact. The 1958 model year had been horrendous, with the Edsel a particular disaster, and the division’s new management wanted to make sure they’d have something to sell if buyer interest in economy cars continued to grow. M-E-L’s version of the Falcon was originally intended as an Edsel, known internally as the Edsel B. It was eventually named Comet.

1964 Mercury Comet 404 badge
When Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln adopted the Comet name for their version of the Ford Falcon, they discovered that the name was already in use by a small coachbuilder called Comet Coach, a manufacturer of hearses and ambulances. Ford bought the rights to the name in the fall of 1959.

Making an Edsel out of the Falcon posed an interesting challenge. The Falcon was engineered as a strictly no-frills package, offering maximum usable space with minimal cost and weight. The Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln division was supposed to be luxurious and upscale, but for economy reasons, the Comet had to share as much of the Falcon’s hardware as possible.

1960 Mercury Comet two-door sedan © 2007 Infrogmation CC BY 2.5 Generic
An early Comet. Until 1962, the Comet was not actually badged as a Mercury, although it was commonly counted in Mercury production totals. (Photo © 2007 Infrogmation; used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license)

In a later era, the company would probably have settled for slightly different trim and styling, but at the time, newly minted M-E-L general manager Ben Mills was struggling to justify the division’s continued existence. Mills convinced Ford vice president Robert McNamara that the Comet needed greater distinction from its Falcon sibling. It would still share the Falcon’s body shell, suspension, and engine, but its wheelbase and overall length would be stretched. The Comet would be 13.8 inches (351 mm) longer than the Falcon on a 5-inch (127mm) longer wheelbase, weighing about 160 lb (73 kg) more. Cabin volume was nearly identical, although its greater length gave it a slight edge in trunk space and helped to distinguish the Comet from the Falcon.

1962 Mercury Comet rear 3q © 2007 Infrogmation CC BY 2.5 Generic modified by Aaron Severson
The early Comet had a stylish formal roof with slightly recessed backlight. This roof design was introduced on the 1957 Ford Skyliner retractable hardtop and later popularized by the 1958 Ford Thunderbird and Galaxie; using it on the Comet gave the compact a more upscale feel. Note the modest tail fins, which help to make the Comet look less stubby than the contemporary Ford Falcon whose body shell it shares. (Photo © 2007 Infrogmation; modified by the author and used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license)

In November 1959, not long before the Comet entered production, Ford announced that it was shuttering the Edsel brand after the 1960 model year. The Comet actually survived the demise of the Edsel brand, going on sale in March 1960 as a separate marque, albeit sold through Lincoln-Mercury dealers.
Despite the late introduction and lukewarm reviews, the Comet sold well, a bit over 116,000 units in its shortened debut. Its first full year was even better, tallying nearly 200,000 sales — more than 60% of Lincoln-Mercury’s total business. For 1962, the Comet was finally badged as a Mercury, but it remained quite successful.


The development history of the midsize Ford Fairlane is somewhat obscure — in most accounts it is overshadowed completely by the compact Ford Falcon and sporty Ford Mustang — but we speculate that it was inspired by the development and perhaps the early success of the Comet. Ford’s market research had already indicated that there were buyers who liked the idea of no-nonsense, smaller car that wasn’t quite as small or as Spartan as the Falcon. The Comet confirmed that assessment, and so the natural follow-on was a bigger compact Ford — that is, an intermediate.

The new midsize Ford took its name from what had previously been the popular mid-level trim series of Ford’s full-size line: Fairlane. (As we mentioned in our history of the Ford Skyliner, the name was derived from Fair Lane, the Ford family’s Dearborn, Michigan estate.) Unlike the Comet, the Fairlane didn’t share the Falcon’s body shell, but it had a similar unitized structure and suspension. It was 2.2 inches (56 mm) longer than the Comet on a 115.5-inch (2,934mm) wheelbase and weighed about 200 pounds (91 kg) more. The Fairlane was quite a bit bigger than a Falcon, but more than a foot (312 mm) shorter than a 1962 Ford Galaxie. Despite its smaller size, the Fairlane actually had slightly more rear legroom, headroom, and trunk space than the Galaxie, although its narrower width cost the smaller car a modicum of shoulder and hip room.

1962 Ford Fairlane 500 front 3q © 2011 Sicnag CC BY 2.0 Generic
The initial 1962-1963 Ford Fairlanes had small fins, which were dropped for 1964. Styling is otherwise much like a scaled-down full-size Ford of the same year. Some intermediate Fairlanes were also assembled in Australia (from CKD kits built in the U.S.), like this 1962 Fairlane 500. Its wheels are not stock. (Photo © 2011 Sicnag; used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

For critics who felt standard-size cars had become too big, the Ford Fairlane represented a welcome dose of moderation. The Fairlane was actually very similar in size to the enormously popular 1949 Ford and Ford’s press materials called the new car “a return to the traditional size” of the low-priced market.


The Ford Fairlane broke no new ground in styling or engineering, but it did introduce what would become the company’s most important new engine since the 1932 flathead V8. Developed by engineer George Stirrat, the new small-block V8 used the latest “thinwall” casting techniques to make it as small and light as possible. Unlike Buick’s small V8, the Ford engine was cast iron, which was both cheaper and more reliable than aluminum, but it was actually more compact than the Buick. The Ford V8’s dry weight was only 470 pounds (213 kg), heavier than the aluminum Buick engine, but around 65 lb (30 kg) lighter than a small-block Chevrolet V8.

The new V8 was initially a Ford Fairlane exclusive, although it eventually replaced the last of the 1954-vintage Y-block engines in all of Ford’s cars and trucks. In its initial form, the V8 displaced 221 cubic inches (3,620 cc) and produced a respectable 145 gross horsepower (108 kW). It very quickly increased to 260 cu. in. (4,267 cc) and then to 289 cu. in. (4,728 cc) and 302 cu. in. (4,942 cc). Most of these versions were quite mildly tuned, but knowledgeable hot rod artists could easily extract 300 or more horsepower (224 kW) with a little massaging. Ford would use this basic engine through the year 2000 and it is still produced as a crate motor for restoration or racing use.

1965 Ford Fairlane 500 Sports Coupe front
The 221 and 260 cu. in. (3,620 cc and 4,267 cc) versions of the new small Ford V8 were gone by 1965, replaced by the 289 cu. in. (4,728 cc) version with either 200 or 225 horsepower (149 or 168 kW). Some Fairlanes and Comets of this vintage had the 271 hp (202 kW) “K-code” 289, although it was dropped from the Fairlane option list in 1965. This 1965 Ford Fairlane 500 Sports Coupe has the base engine with the three-speed Cruise-O-Matic.

The V8 gave the Fairlane notably better performance than the standard 170 cu. in. (2,780 cc) six and could run rings around its Ford Falcon and Mercury Comet cousins. Still, the Fairlane was no drag racer, particularly with the two-speed Fordomatic that most buyers ordered. Motor Trend‘s early Ford Fairlane 500 with the 221 cu. in. (3,620 cc) V8 and automatic needed more than 13 seconds for the 0-60mph (0-97 km/h) run and couldn’t quite reach 95 mph (153 km/h). Car Life found another Fairlane with the optional 260 cu. in. (4,267 cc) engine and automatic about a second quicker to 60 mph (97 km/h), with a top speed over 100 mph (161 km/h). Fuel economy was reasonable for an American car of this size and era, usually ranging from 16 to 19 mpg (12.4 to 14.7 L/100 km).


When the midsize Ford Fairlane debuted for the 1962 model year, it found itself in that most enviable of arenas: an untapped market niche. Unlike the Falcon, the Fairlane neither looked nor felt small and it was as roomy as theBuick Special, and Oldsmobile F-85, which had debuted the year before. The Fairlane was bigger and roomier than the senior compacts and was cheaper than any of them except the Tempest. As a result, the Fairlane outsold all of its competitors by a significant margin, racking up nearly 300,000 sales. Sales were even better for 1963, totaling more than 340,000.

1962 Ford Fairlane 500 Sports Coupe front 3q
Both the 1965 Ford Fairlane and the 1965 big Fords were boxy and slab-sided. You might think it was a styling trend, but Ford stylists of this era say it was done at the orders of Engineering; boxy, square designs are easier and cheaper to build than curvaceous ones and Ford styling did not usually have the power to overrule such decisions. Still, it makes the 1965 Fairlane look dowdy compared to its GM contemporaries.

The Ford Fairlane’s success caused a great deal of soul searching at GM. The general managers of Oldsmobile and Buick had been uneasy about being in the compact market in the first place, believing their customers had come to expect bigger cars. The Fairlane was closer to where they felt they should be.

Chevrolet, meanwhile, had no intermediate at all and the appearance of the Fairlane pointed out the big gap in size and price between its compact Corvair and Chevy II and the cheapest full-size Chevy. Chevrolet was in no immediate danger — it outsold Ford by around 50% in both 1962 and 1963 — but it was a chink in the division’s armor that could not be ignored. GM’s response was to shift the Tempest, F-85, and Special to a new intermediate-size A-body platform for 1964, which was shared by the new Chevrolet Chevelle.
Before, the Ford Fairlane had had little direct competition, but now it faced a host of formidable rivals. Its 1964 sales fell to fewer than 280,000 units.


Both GM and Ford assumed that the major reason the Ford Fairlane had outsold the GM senior compacts was that it was bigger than any of them. (The failure of the Mercury Meteor suggested otherwise; see sidebar.) The initial 1964 Chevrolet Chevelle was actually a bit smaller than the Fairlane, but the other A-bodies were noticeably larger: the Oldsmobile F-85 and Pontiac Tempest were each 5.4 inches (137 mm) longer than a 1964 Fairlane. For 1965, Ford stretched the Fairlane another 1.2 inches (30 mm), giving the intermediate bulky, slab-sided styling that contrived to make it look even bigger than it was.

1965 Ford Fairlane 500 Sports Coupe rear 3q
The 1965 Ford Fairlane was actually bigger than the 1966-1967 Fairlane in most dimensions other than overall width; the ’65 was 198.8 inches (5,050 mm) long, 1.8 inches (46 mm) longer than the ’66. Although it still used the same basic body shell as the ’62-’63 models, the 1965 Fairlane was about 140 pounds (64 kg) heavier and had a softer suspension that improved ride at the expense of handling.

The idea of jockeying to offer the biggest smaller car seems more than a little absurd, but the equation of size and value was (and remains) deeply ingrained in the American psyche. That went for engines, as well as the cars themselves. Pontiac had upped the ante in 1964 with the big-engine Tempest GTO, which included a 389 cu. in. (6,372 cc) V8 with 325 gross hp (242 kW). Its GM siblings quickly followed suit and in 1966, Ford began offering its own 390 cu. in. (6,391 cc) FE-series V8 in the Fairlane.

The big engines added power, but they also added weight: installing the 390 (and the chassis reinforcement that it required) made the big-engine Fairlane about 430 pounds (195 kg) heavier than the basic six-cylinder car. A 1962 Fairlane with V8 and automatic had weighed 3,150 lb (1,429 kg); a 1966 Ford Fairlane GTA with the 390 and automatic weighed over 3,500 lb (1,588 kg).

1965 Ford Fairlane 500 Sports Coupe hardtop
The first 1962 Ford Fairlanes were offered only as two- and four-door sedans, but a wagon was quickly added and the two-door pillarless “Sports Coupe” was introduced mid-year. Bucket seats (which this car has) were optional.

The added bulk didn’t dissuade customers. The U.S. economy was in good shape in the mid-sixties, gasoline was cheap, and the promise of big-engine power was alluring to young Baby Boomers just reaching driving age. By 1966, buyers were losing interest in compacts like the Falcon and Corvair, while intermediate sales continued to rise. The Ford Fairlane sold almost 320,000 units in 1966 and, after an abysmal 1967 run, around 380,000 for 1968.

The Fairlane accomplished this without ever being particularly exciting. Other than a handful of cars offered with the rare and expensive 427 cu. in. (6,986 cc) “side-oiler,” even Fairlanes with big-block engines had lukewarm performance compared to the hottest GTOs or Dodge Chargers. Car Life, testing the raciest big-block 1966 Ford Fairlane, concluded that it was still basically a family sedan. As for its styling, the most generous critics called it pleasant and bland. It was hardly an eyesore, but it was not a car dripping with sex appeal.

SIDEBAR: The Mercury Meteor and the Midsize Comet

When the midsize Ford Fairlane was introduced for 1962, it spawned a Lincoln-Mercury version, the Mercury Meteor. The Meteor shared the same body as the Fairlane, but rode a slightly longer, 116.5-inch (2,959mm) wheelbase, stretching 6.8 inches (173 mm) longer overall. While the Comet and Fairlane were commercially successful, the Meteor was a flop. Apparently, Mercury buyers were satisfied with the compact Mercury Comet — particularly in 1963, when the V8 engine became optional. Meteors accounted for only about 69,000 sales in 1962 and a bit over 50,000 in 1963, after which it was dropped. The Comet survived, doing respectable business: about 165,000 for 1964, more than 170,000 for 1965.

1964 Mercury Comet front 3q
1964 Mercury Comet rear 3q
The 1964-1965 Mercury Comet was structurally similar to the Ford Falcon, but rode a longer, 114-inch (2,896mm) wheelbase and had jazzier styling. Mercury tried to give the Comet a sporty flavor with the hotter Comet Cyclone model, which had a 225 hp (168 kW) 289, bucket seats, full instrumentation, and the option of a four-speed manual transmission. Buyers preferred the mid-level Comet 404 model, like this one, or the luxury-oriented Comet Caliente.

For 1966, Lincoln-Mercury followed the lead of Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac by transferring the Mercury Comet name to a new intermediate model. It was 6 inches (152 mm) longer than the Fairlane, but was otherwise mechanically identical. Despite the popular Comet name, the intermediate Mercurys still didn’t sell well despite the publicity of a successful NASCAR campaign.

Lincoln-Mercury dropped the Comet name after 1969, but in 1971, they revived it for Mercury’s version of the compact Ford Maverick, which survived through 1977.


The Ford Fairlane nameplate survived until 1970 in the U.S., although starting in 1968 the top intermediate models were renamed Torino, possibly at the behest of Ford’s Italian-American vice president, Lee Iacocca. In 1971, the Fairlane name was dropped entirely (except in Australia; see the sidebar) and all midsize Fords became Torinos.

By then, Ford’s midsize cars had become gargantuan. A 1972 Ford Torino four-door was 211.3 inches (5,359 mm) long on a 118-inch (2,997mm) wheelbase, tipping the scales at 4,250 lb (1,928 kg) — actually larger than a full-size car of a decade earlier. In the interim, the big Fords had also grown larger; a 1972 Ford LTD was 218.4 inches (5,547 mm) long on a 121-inch (3,073 mm) wheelbase, weighing close to 4,800 pounds (2,175 kg). The industry’s former compacts, meanwhile, were beginning to approach the size of the 1962 Ford Fairlane.

1965 Ford Fairlane 500 Sports Coupe rear
The 1965 Ford Fairlane’s increase in length over the 1964 model was largely in the tail, which was stretched to improve trunk space. “Gunsight” tail lamps are the same basic shape as the contemporary big Fords, but the full-size cars have the tail lamps oriented vertically, rather than horizontally, like the Fairlane.

This growth came to an abrupt halt in the late 1970s, when new federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) rules forced Detroit to downsize its bread-and-butter cars. The new full-size models shrank to what had previously been intermediate dimensions. The 1979 Ford LTD sedan, for example, was 209 inches (5,309 mm) long on a 114-inch (2,896mm) wheelbase, roughly the size of a pre-downsizing Torino. The new midsize Ford Fairmont, meanwhile, was about the size of an early Mercury Comet.
SIDEBAR: Ford Fairlanes Down Under
Ford sold locally assembled U.S. Ford Fairlanes in Australia in the early sixties, but slow sales led the model to be dropped in 1965. In 1967, however, Ford Australia introduced a new Fairlane: a stretched version of the Australian Ford Falcon, analogous to the original Comet. The Fairlane name evolved through a multitude of subsequent generations, finally expiring in the summer of 2007.


The effects of downsizing proved to be temporary, and by the late 1980s cars were again getting larger. The growth is no longer simply an American phenomenon; the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, which began as superminis, are now as big as the mid-size Honda Accord and Toyota Camry of 20 years ago. The Camry and Accord, meanwhile, are now classed as “large cars.” As those models have grown, the manufacturers have introduced new, smaller products to fill the gap. Clearly, the pattern established by the intermediates of the sixties and seventies continues apace.

Looking at all of this suggests several interesting conclusions:
  1. Customers like having choices, but more choices don’t necessarily mean higher sales. Both the Falcon and the Ford Fairlane were commercially successful when they were first introduced, but Ford’s total sales during that period remained almost flat. Rather than attracting new buyers, the new models seemed to simply divide existing customers into smaller subcategories. (The only new Ford product of the period that actually seemed to increase total sales was the Mustang.)
  2. Consumers are motivated by perceived value, which is not necessarily the same thing as size. Automakers tend to assume American consumers always like bigger cars, but the evidence suggests that that is only partly true. Within the intermediate class, buyers did seem to prefer the bigger models, particularly when the prices were similar. On the other hand, if we compare the sales of Ford’s intermediate and full-size cars in the sixties, it appears that the growth in intermediate sales was largely at the expense of the low-line big cars. The price difference between a deluxe Ford Fairlane 500 and a basic full-size Ford was not huge, perhaps $150, but buyers preferred the former, trading sheer size for plusher trim and more equipment. Mercury buyers, meanwhile, clearly felt that the midsize Meteor wasn’t worth the modest price premium over the Mercury Comet, larger dimensions or no.
  3. There seem to be certain sizes that American consumers particularly like, which manufacturers are continually reinventing under different names. Buyers loved the 1949 Ford and the 1955 Chevrolet, for example, and when those models grew beyond recognition, their dimensions were reinvented as the early-sixties intermediates, which buyers loved again. When fuel economy standards forced downsizing in the late seventies, that size was reinvented a third time. Not coincidentally, the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, the best-selling sedans in America in recent years, are again approaching those dimensions.
Interesting as all that may be from a marketing standpoint, none of this helps to make the early Fairlane any more exciting in its own right. There was nothing wrong with it, but after practically creating its market segment, it consistently failed to stand out from the crowd. There’s little honor, it seems, in defining the middle ground.


The Mercury Breezeway Sedans

What’s a Mercury? For the past 30 years or so, the Mercury badge has generally meant a re-trimmed Ford product with slightly different styling and features, offered mostly to give Lincoln-Mercury dealers something to keep them alive between Navigator and Town Car sales. Other than the “electric shaver” grille treatment of recent cars (reminiscent of the 1967 Mercury Cougar), there’s little of substance to differentiate a Mercury from its Ford sibling. Throughout Mercury’s roller-coaster 68-year history, however, FoMoCo has made periodic stabs at giving its ill-starred middle-class division a unique product to sell — like the 1963-1968 Mercury Breezeway sedans.
1964 Mercury Montclair Breezeway window


For all former chairman Alfred P. Sloan’s rhetoric about cars for every price and purpose, the main reason General Motors long had a surplus of middle-class brands is that it started out that way. General Motors was originally formed as a conglomerate of other existing automakers: Buick, Oldsmobile, Oakland (the predecessor of Pontiac), Chevrolet, and Cadillac were all independent automakers before becoming part of GM. The same was true of Chrysler’s Dodge Division; the Dodge Brothers were selling cars long before the formation of the Chrysler Corporation.

While Ford’s Lincoln division was originally a separate company that Henry Ford had acquired in the early twenties, Mercury was created out of whole cloth in the late thirties. It was founded at the urging of Ford Motor Company president Edsel Ford, Henry Ford’s only son, who had been concerned for several years about the vast price gap between the most expensive Ford and the cheapest Lincoln. Henry Ford, whose interests lay almost entirely in the low-price field, wasn’t particularly concerned, but Edsel recognized that the company was losing a lot of middle-class buyers. Customers who wanted something bigger or fancier than a Ford, but who couldn’t afford a Lincoln, were simply leaving for Pontiac, DeSoto, or other middle-priced rivals.

Development of the first middle-class Ford began in July 1937, led by engineer Larry Sheldrick and Ford design director Bob Gregorie. It was in almost every respect a bigger version of the standard Ford; its chassis, suspension, and running gear were nearly identical and it used a bored-out version of Ford’s familiar flathead V8. Edsel even wanted to call the new model the Ford-Mercury, but Gregorie and the Ford sales organization eventually convinced him that it was better to brand the new model as a separate entity.

The first Mercury bowed in October 1938 as a 1939 model. Although its obvious Ford origins earned it some derision, it was reasonably popular, selling about 69,000 its first year, more than 81,000 in 1940. Its bigger engine, with about 10 more horsepower (7.5 kW) more than the regular Ford V8, made it particularly popular with hot-rodders, and postwar Mercurys became a favorite of customizers. By 1949, Mercury had topped 300,000 sales a year.

1948 Mercury coupe badge
The 1948-1950 Mercury coupe was a popular basis for “lead sleds” and other customs, particularly in 1949, when its flathead V8 was stroked from 239 cu. in. (3,910 cc) to 255 cu. in. (4,194 cc), raising rated horsepower to 110 (82 kW).


Mercury sold well through the mid-fifties, but Ford still wanted a bigger slice of the mid-priced market. After a lot of debate, the company decided to separate Mercury from Lincoln add a new mid-price division, Edsel, positioned more or less between Ford and Mercury. Mercury, meanwhile, was supposed to move upscale, filling the gap betwen Ford’s existing mid-price cars and Lincoln.

1956 Mercury Montclair HT front 3q
Mercury sold very well in 1955 and 1956 and then lost steam in 1957. This is a 1956 Mercury Montclair hardtop with the 312 cu. in. (5,111 cc) Y-block V8 with up to 225 gross horsepower (168 kW).

In 1957, Mercury received a new image-leader model, the Mercury Turnpike Cruiser. The Turnpike Cruiser had originated as a 1956 show car called the XM-Cruiser, styled by Don DeLaRossa under Mercury studio chief Elwood P. Engel. Its most novel feature was an unusual roof treatment Mercury dubbed “Breezeway.” Possibly inspired by the contemporary Packard Predictor show car, it had reverse-slant C-pillars with a rear window that could be opened for ventilation.

The Breezeway roof was subsequently adopted for the production Turnpike Cruiser, giving it a unique silhouette and allowed both excellent ventilation and fine headroom for rear-seat passengers. The Turnpike Cruiser was not a sales success, but a similar roofline was applied to the 1958 Lincoln Continental line.

Unfortunately, both the Edsel and Mercury’s move upscale proved to be ill-timed, arriving at the same time as the 1957-1958 Eisenhower Recession. Even if the public had loved their styling and features, which they evidently did not, all mid-price brands were hit hard by the economic downturn. Mercury’s sales fell from almost 328,000 in 1956 to 153,271 in 1958 and fewer than 150,000 for 1959.

By 1961, Edsel was dead, Mercury and Lincoln had been reunited, and Mercury was back in its traditional role of selling redecorated, slightly plusher Fords.


The Mercury line was all-new in 1963, although it still shared the body shell of the big Ford. For reasons now obscure, Mercury stylists decided to revive the Breezeway roof. We’re not sure why, since neither the Turnpike Cruiser nor the 1958-1960 Continentals had been particularly successful.

It appears that the styling of the 1963 Mercurys was originally intended for the 1964 Fords, so it’s possible that the designers intended to use the Breezeway roof on the full-size Ford line, creating a styling ‘trickle-down’ effect. For whatever reason, the Breezeway ended up a Mercury exclusive. It was offered in four variations: two- and four-door pillared sedans and two- and four-door pillared hardtops.

1964 Mercury Montclair front
Like all 1963-1965 Mercurys, the Mercury Breezeway had a standard 390 cu. in. (6,391 cc) V8 with 250 gross horsepower (186 kW) from a single 2-bbl carburetor. With well over two tons (1,900 kg) of curb weight, progress was best described as ‘stately.’ With the base engine, 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) took around 12 seconds and top speed was around 105 mph (169 km/h). Three-speed manual was theoretically standard, but the vast majority had three-speed Cruise-O-Matic.

If nothing else, the Breezeway roof did serve to differentiate the Mercury line from the big Fords. However, that distinction was muddied midway through the 1963 model year when Mercury added a more conventional-looking Marauder hardtop to the line, sharing the sleek “slantback” roof of the 1963-1/2 big Fords. The slantback roof had been introduced for the benefit of Ford’s NASCAR racers and its appearance on the Marauder was intended to support Mercury’s own return to racing in 1963. As a result, the slantback Marauder was far more heavily featured in advertising than the Mercury Breezeway, even though the latter accounted for the bulk of Mercury’s full-size sales.

1964 Mercury Montclair rear window
The center section of the Mercury Breezeway’s rear window can be lowered electrically, allowing good ventilation with less wind noise than driving with the windows opened. Thanks to the roof overhang, it can be opened even in light rain with little fear of rear passengers getting wet.

Mercury buyers weren’t blown away by the looks of the Breezeway and Mercury’s total 1963 sales were down almost 40,000 units from 1962; the compact and midsize lines outsold the big Mercury Breezeway cars by a significant margin. Sales were little better the face-lifted 1964's, which deleted the four-door hardtop Breezeway in favor of a four-door version of the Marauder hardtop. Business rallied a bit for 1965 and 1966, but model-for-model sales of the full-size cars were depressing; only the four-door sedans broke into the five-figure range.

1964 Mercury Montclair side
This Mercury Breezeway is a 1964 Mercury Montclair four-door sedan, the most popular body style, although that meant only 15,520 sales. Base price was $3,116. The Brezeway an enormous car: 215.5 inches (5,474 mm) long on a 120-inch (3,048mm) wheelbase, tipping the scales at around 4,500 pounds (2,040 kg). 

1964 Mercury Montclair rear 3q
With the standard suspension, the Mercury Breezeway had nautical handling, even by the standards of its time; heavy-duty suspension was theoretically available, but rarely ordered. Brakes, 11-inch (279mm) drums all round, were also barely adequate for its ponderous weight. In consolation, build quality for Fords and Mercurys of this vintage was excellent and survivors are surprisingly solid, particularly given their age.

At various times, Mercury had had a reputation as a fairly hot car, but the Breezeway cars were not particularly fast. A handful of 1963-1964 Mercurys were ordered with Ford’s 427 cu. in. (6,986 cc) V8 in either single-quad (410 hp, 306 kW) or dual-quad (425 hp, 317 kW)) forms, which trimmed the big Merc’s 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) times to less than 8 seconds and gave it a top speed of over 130 mph (210 km/h), but the 427 was rare, expensive, and finicky. It was definitely a specialist engine: It could only be ordered with the optional four-speed manual and couldn’t be had with power steering, power brakes, or air conditioning — the belts wouldn’t stay on at the 6,000+ rpm engine speeds of which the 427 was capable.

1964 Mercury Montclair rear
Big Fords and Mercurys in 1964 still used Hotchkiss drive in the rear, a live axle on multi-leaf springs. The springs were softened for a smoother ride, which led to poor axle control and a sea-sick quality on rough pavement. The 1965 models adopted a three-link, coil spring suspension instead.


The Mercury Breezeway body style was discontinued after 1966, although Lincoln-Mercury continued to offer a less dramatic version of the retractable rear window on big Mercurys for a few more years. It was obsolete by the late sixties, since the same effect could be achieved with a good flow-through ventilation system — something Ford pioneered in the U.S. on the 1964-1966 Thunderbird. By 1970, Mercury had once again relinquished any distinctive body styles for its mainstream cars.

1968 Mercury Marquis hardtop side
By 1968, Mercury had reverted to more conventional roof lines; this is a 1968 Mercury arquis hardtop.
Since then, Mercury has made occasional stabs at offering unique products, usually “captive imports” like the European Ford Capri, the Nissan-based Villager, and the Australian Capri roadster, seldom with much enthusiasm. Ford seems to lack either the will or the resources to seriously distinguish the division from its Ford mate.

Why Ford keeps Mercury alive is an interesting question. It does not appear that re-badging Fords lets them sell more cars — at this point, any additional prestige the Mercury name might have carried is long gone and it’s unlikely that anyone is buying a Mercury who wouldn’t buy the same thing with a Ford badge. A more significant reason is that Mercury is paired with Lincoln. Having products to sell other than Lincolns helps to keep those dealerships afloat, particularly given the ongoing “die-off” of Lincoln’s traditional buyers. Still, one may question the logic of offering multiple, badge-engineered variations of cars for which buyers seem to have only mild enthusiasm to begin with.

Rumors have been flying for the past few years that Ford CEO Alan Mulally will finally pull the plug on Mercury, but Ford has yet to issue a definitive statement one way or the other. It appears that in the corporate mindset Edsel Ford’s original logic holds true: Mercury may not be a great brand, but it fills a gap they think needs to be filled.

If we must have Mercury, though, maybe a little genuine wackiness wouldn’t hurt.