Car Show Classic: 1957 Mercury Monterey – Does Anybody Know Who’s Running This Place?

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The history of the automobile is riddled with fascinating anecdotes involving spectacular failures in addition to the successes of popular folklore.  Mercury’s story is more often sad than happy, but all of Ford Motor Company in the late-1950s seemed to be guided by a runaway diesel engine of expansion, exploding magnificently by 1961, when a more sober way of thinking prevailed and a vestigial brand was shed.  Was the 1957 Mercury, however, led by the notoriously jukebox-like Turnpike Cruiser, really all that bad?  Judging by this Monterey, I’d say history has been too unkind to these extroverts, which were really no more garish than their competition.

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So that I’m not accused of editorial license, I’ll admit that this Monterey isn’t akin to Helen of Troy, but neither is it a Medusa of granite proportions.  General Motors in 1957 certainly couldn’t deflect all criticism from the armchair stylist, with ample chrome and stainless trim adorning its mid-priced models, and extra truckloads on the docks just waiting for 1958 to arrive.  And while the 1957 Fords were fresh and attractive, the Monterey, with its busy anterior and posterior, seemed to steal too many motifs from late-career Harley Earl (or vice-versa). It’s certainly a product of its time.

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For the first time in 1957, the Mercury received its own body, one it would eventually share with Edsel, and this was a plan that would only last until 1961, when Mercury reverted to the Ford body with dubious results. In the first year of this body not-sharing plan, Mercury managed to sell almost 300,000 cars, which sounds convincing until one considers that Oldsmobile sold closer to 400,000.  When Edsel arrived and sliced this pie even thinner, it becomes clear why Mercury always seemed to be the missing destroyer in your childhood game of “Battleship,” and why Edsel never stood a chance.

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Although Mercury used all new bodies in 1957, it borrowed its engines from Ford’s other divisions.  The standard engine in the Monterey was Ford’s short-lived 312, offering 255 (paper?) horsepower in the Mercury compared to 245 in the Ford.  The “Turnpike Cruiser” engine option was the Lincoln 368, in its last year of availability before the introduction of the MEL (Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln) 383 and 430.

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courtesy of barrett-jackson.com

Mercury rated the 368 at 290 horsepower, although a rare option rocked dual-quads for a quoted 335.  Shown above, it was dubbed the “M335” and looked suitably businesslike under the hood of a ’57 Monterey.

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In fact, Barrett-Jackson sold this M-335 equipped Monterey at its Scottsdale auction in 2015 for an impressive $44,000.  If you don’t like the feature Monterey with its four-headlight grille and whitewall tires, this Mercury with a NASCAR vibe might sway your opinion.

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The hood, however, was not up on our feature Monterey, although nothing about it betrays the fact that it would be the recipient of the optional engine.  Notice the lack of a gear selector on the column; the 1957 Mercury used a “keyboard control” for its Merc-O-Matic, anticipating the undoubtedly less reliable “Teletouch” system in the 1958 Edsel’s steering wheel hub.  In the late 1950’s, the Mercury wore a Sputnik-like instrument panel that was perhaps the most dazzling part of the whole car.  The hooded speedometer and bi-level dashpad fascinate me; it’s one of my favorite dashboards of the 1950s.

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In comparison, the rear end is somewhat tame, only a wisp of a tailfin protruding from its flanks.  Those flanks, however, seem styled by a stray thumb in the clay model. Combined with the sculptured roof, package tray, and trunk, the roof trim and side coves create a busy bit of discord that is certainly in the eye of the beholder.  I like it, but it’s understandable why some avoided the Mercury dealership in 1957.

If the Motor Trend of 1959, however, is to be believed, the 1957 Monterey hardtop was one of the most popular used car options of the year, so maybe time vindicated it.  After all, 1959 was arguably the high-point of questionable automotive taste, rendering this ’57 a conservative option for those in search of a lightly used mid-priced car.  In comparison, examine the ’57 Pontiac parked next to the Monterey, and ask yourself if its side trim is any more graceful or understated.

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The 1950s were not, of course, all about good taste, and a modern collector may very well like his/her plaything to be styled like an alien object.  In a year of the “Forward Look,” a new Ford, and the now-iconic ’57 Chevy; it’s easy to see why a Mercury sighting is rare, but as with all things in life, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and this clean Monterey is one of which I’m fond.