(first posted 10/24/2012) What is it about some people? Some folks just get no respect. Comedian Rodney Dangerfield made a career out of that observation. It is the same with some cars.
There are cars, like the Duster, that begin life with little esteem but eventually become beloved, or at least respected. Then there are others, which despite being born with the world at their feet, eventually manage only to become objects of scorn and derision: Continental Mark IV, anyone? Finally, there are cars that start with no respect and remain so forever. Could there be a more fitting poster child for this special class of cars than the 1962 Mercury Monterey?
Mercury spent the previous decade bouncing all over the place in terms of market positioning: In 1956, it was the not-so-big “Big M” (CC here). In 1957-60, it was newly positioned to battle Buick and Chrysler (alas, unsuccessfully) in the near-luxury market segment. In 1961, it became the market’s fourth low-priced car; in Mercury’s words, it was “priced right in the heart of the low-priced field” (CC here) — and throughout it all, the formerly line-leading Monterey nameplate was downgraded nearly out of existence.
Then, in 1962, came a unique concept. With the new Meteor hitting showrooms at mid-year, Mercury would start the year as a unified two-car brand, but would end it with a lineup of three. According to plan, the big Mercury would sweep out all the cheap stuff into the alley, and then start over as Ford Motor Company’s upscale, no-compromise mid-market line. Those looking to save a little money would be shown the slightly smaller cars on the other side of the showroom.
There would be only one version–or two, depending on how we’re counting. The Monterey and Monterey Custom would be the Alpha and Omega of the big Mercury line, whose purpose in the market was to plug the gaping hole between the Galaxie 500 and the Continental.
Unfortunately, the 1962 Monterey fell to the ground with a resounding thud. Despite the mid-year addition of the sporty S-55 subseries and the demise of competing DeSoto, the artist formerly known as The Big M sold only about 107,000 cars. Let’s put that figure into perspective. It was about 30,000 units above a mortally wounded Studebaker. The Montereys’ volume was roughly equal to the total production of the slanty-eyed 1962 Chryslers, but only if we subtract New Yorkers. Not since 1948 had so few Mercurys been sold, with only Studebaker, Lincoln and Imperial keeping the standard-sized Mercury from being the lowest-volume line in America. It was only the sales of Comet and Meteor that boosted the brand anywhere near the realm of respectability.
Why was the car so unpopular? It was certainly not ugly or funny-looking. Given the still-fresh memory of the many unattractive cars that had only recently blighted competitors’ showrooms (and continued to do so at Mopar stores), the Monterey should have provided a welcome respite of serenity and good taste. Instead, the Monterey still could not hit 110,000 units at a time when the entire Chrysler Corporation was imploding due to bizarre and otherworldly styling? Seriously?
Seriously. The oddball ’62 Dodge Dart/Polara line outsold it by nearly 40%! Then again, serenity and good taste were certainly in abundance in Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick showrooms.
Mechanically, the Monterey was a pretty good car. While the base 292 Y-block wasn’t much to brag about, Mercury buyers could choose from the full range of Ford FE engines, including the 352, the 390, and even the 406. In a Motor Trend road test (here), the Monterey garnered praise for its ride, handling, brakes and all-around competence. So why so little respect for the big Monty, both then and now? Perhaps it all comes down to the one thing Mercury was not: Its own car. There simply was no disguising the fact that a Monterey was nothing more than a Ford Galaxie 500 with an extra inch of wheelbase and some cool taillights.
This Mercury was a harbinger of Mercurys to come: an ever so slightly disguised Ford. Outside or inside, the disguise is thin, right down to the dash panel. Oops, for the extra money, Mercury at least gave the buyer a proper steering column with a concealed shift tube for the transmission lever. Maybe Ford was still working out the kinks in the design, because this particular lever looks to be in quite an unnatural position.
But why, after all this time, has the ’62 Monterey failed to gain its due. After all, if the ’62 Falcon can become retro-cool in a certain hipsterish way, why not a Monterey, that was a much better car in almost every respect? We all remember Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi – was there also a Respect Nazi? “Get out! No respect for you!” There is not even a brochure for this car available on Old Car Brochures.com. I did not have time to look into it, but this may be the only car of the 1960s not represented there. And nobody really cares.
But me. I am going out on a ledge here, and declaring that I love the ’62 Monterey. Why? It must be those taillights. And the little pictures of the Roman messenger god, which are just cool looking. Otherwise, I have no idea. But then, I love 1964 Studebakers too, so what do I know?
Even though I possess the (apparently) rare personality disorder that makes me appreciate these cars, I had no idea that there was a visible difference between the Monterey and the Monterey Custom until I shot these pictures. Notice the big chrome slab on the leading edge of the front fender and the little strip of contrasting color right below the side windows. Be honest – how many of you (at least those of you over 50) ever noticed these details that adorned the Monterey Customs? Neither had I. No respect.
In 1996, I considered buying one of these before I found my ’68 Newport. I was searching for a well-kept old sedan for a daily driver, and called in response to an ad for a ’62 Monterey. The seller went on about how beautiful the car was, how his grandfather had lovingly cared for it for many years before getting too sick to keep it. By the time I got off the phone, I was in full-fledged Mercury Love, and I had to see this fabulous car. It was on the complete opposite end of the county, and was every bit of a thirty five minute drive. I got there to find a beige Monterey (not Custom) sedan that was in no better condition than this car, either inside or out, other than that the taillights were still intact. The seller was either the biggest liar or the biggest fool I have ever had the displeasure to speak with over a car. But the poor Mercury could not help the fact that it was owned by a crum. Does this experience bring me closer to ’62 Monterey ownership than any other follower of Curbside Classic? Quite possibly.
In any event, the car got no respect in 1962, and still gets none today. And over a thousand words into this piece, I still have no idea why. I have read that Rodney Dangerfield began his career as a stand-up comic in 1962. I suspect that at some point early in his career, he probably drove one of these. Would there have been a better way to live the total lifestyle of no respect? Not likely.