The superstitions around “Mercury Retrograde” are perceived as explanations for communication and travel gone awry. Maybe that was the first mistake Ford made; naming their middle brand Mercury in the first place. For every two steps forward the brand made, it seemingly made two steps back, and always ended up in the same place: being a Fancy Ford.
The biggest step forward should be considered to be the 1957 models. Previously Mercury had done a dance that placed them as either Fancy Fords (1939-48, 1952-56) or Junior Lincolns (1948-51). The design androgyny mimicked the mercurial label. However, in a flush mid-priced market, the decision was made to make a full fledged, individual Mercury.
The caveat would be that the senior Edsels would join the Mercury on the same basic body the next year. After a solid 1957 model year, the Mercury chassis had an in-house competitor in different drag. The scenario wasn’t helped by overlapping model prices between the two brands. Granted, the situation of overlapping models fighting to justify their existence wasn’t unique to Dearborn; DeSoto fought with both arms with encroaching Dodges and Chryslers.
Nor were matters helped by Mercury pulling a schizophrenic Studebaker-like move and re-introducing the Medalist, last seen in 1956. Better finished and more appealing the first go around, the second helping definitely has a Vienna Sausage and Pork ‘n’ beans vibe. Considering Mercury was aspiring to move solidly into the Oldsmobile/Buick, DeSoto/Chrysler segment of the market, this attempt to cover such a broad swath of the market made little to no sense.
A bit more rationality came with the rethought ’59 models. Gone was the miserly Medalist and the technologically tricked out Turnpike Cruiser. Furthermore, there weren’t any senior Edsels muscling in on the heart of the Mid Price Dancefloor. Bulk was up, as was glass area with the compound curve windshield.
Horsepower was down, however. The Monterey traded its swift kick in the pants 383 V8 from the previous year for the 312 Y-Block that was in engine bays for 1956 and ’57. With a mind towards recession-friendly economy, the former 255 horsepower zing that it provided in ’57 was strangled down to 210 horsepower in a vain attempt to give these bruisers some sense of modesty at the fuel pump.
This makes the 1959 models no less odd ducks than any iteration of this attempt to give the Ford’s middle children an identity all their own. In relative terms it wasn’t a failure; DeSoto during these years always fared worse in sales. However the volume on the premium side of the sales scale Mercury was hoping for didn’t materialize. It depends on who you cross compare Mercury to: they definitely weren’t making significant in-roads to Olds or Buick volume, but they were holding their own.
After one more year of unique clothing, Mercury went direct again in 1961. It returned to being what it had been, a Fancy Ford. It would be stuck in this role until its demise 49 years later. Perhaps, had Ford stuck with crafting a unique mid-priced product beyond 1960, the fate of Mercury might have been less subject to further retrograde periods full of “Ford Twin” products. Review and analysis of what you could have done better in a Mercury Retrograde is pointless, however. In the aftermath of your foiled plans, you might find your true direction.