Curbside Classic: 1971 Mercury Montego – Henry Was a Grouch After His Zeppo Lighter Fell and Bounced Off His Harp, Leaving Marx on His Chick

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In the time I have been writing articles here, my affinity for Mercury has prompted a few accusations of my having Mercury poisoning.  For that, I can only plead to being guilty as charged.  Just don’t think I’m as whacked out as The Mad Hatter; this affinity only applies to the full-sizers.

This white Montego is a mid-sizer.  It is simply a gussied up Torino, the car that can readily trace its roots back to the humble Ford Falcon of 1960.  With Ford having doused this Montego with Torino DNA – a car I have limited capacity for liking – having any warm fuzzy’s for this particular Mercury is going to be very unlikely.

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Our featured Montego is a stripper model, something that should be (but obviously isn’t) oxymoronic for any car wearing the Mercury label.  Sitting on this Montego for weeks, I’ve been looking for a way to effectively explain and convey my thoughts on this Mercury.  I didn’t want to totally eviscerate the car.

Then it hit me.  An analogy for the entire 1971 Montego line, all enveloped in a wrapper that helps illustrate the inherent spirit of the Montego series.

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The Mercury Montego line for 1971 can be viewed as being analogous to the personas of these four gentleman.  Look at them closely, you’ve likely seen them before.

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At the top of the Montego heap was the Montego Cyclone.  It was loud, it could be visually captivating, it had a language all its own.  Production was low, but if you’ve ever seen one, it made an impression that sticks with you.

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Think of it as the Mercury version of Harpo Marx.  Always making noise and not blending in with the crowd was his specialty.

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Moving down the ladder of the Montego line was the Montego Brougham.  Slathered with a vinyl roof, chrome do-dads galore, and all kinds of other flourishes, it sported an abundance of fakery and pretense.

Like the Cyclone, it wasn’t the best seller.  People tended to either love these or hate these – there really was no middle ground.

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The mustache and eyebrows were grease paint accessories; think of it as being like a vinyl roof.  Groucho was a cocktail of snarky and obnoxious, much like the luxury of the Montego Brougham.

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The Montego MX was the everyman of the lineup, the one always trying to get ahead.  The best seller of the line, it was successful in that regard as it was sedate and relatively inoffensive.

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Do you see a pattern yet?

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Where does that put us?  Oh yes, determining the base model Montego’s comparison to the Marx Brothers.  It certainly seems to fit; but what about this base model?

Zeppo was the straight man whose seeming lack of persona relegated him out of the typically remembered Marx Brothers trio.

This base model Montego was the Zeppo of the bunch, the quickly forgotten youngest brother.  Frequently overlooked in history, the base Montego – like Zeppo – was actually one of the more crucial members of the lineup.  Zeppo could double for any of his brothers both physically and in voice, much like this Montego could be gussied up to mimic all the other variations.

Maybe this comparison is somewhat unorthodox.  Then again, this particular Mercury is rather unorthodox in terms of the typical 1971 Montego.

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By 1971 automatic transmissions were seemingly becoming as common as tread on tires, with over 97% of all Montego’s having an automatic.  Not this one; it’s one of the three percent requiring a shifty person.  A three-speed in a Mercury seems so 1951, not 1971.

Also, V8 engines were rapidly filling engine bays all over North America, with nearly 92% of Montego’s having eight pistons pumping away in a harmonious symphony.  This one is squarely in the minority as the standard 250 cubic inch six is under the hood.

It’s also in the minority for air conditioning and likely power steering.  As stripped as this car is, I cannot imagine power steering as part of the package.  This car has the appearance of a loss-leader to draw in customers, enticing them into a nicer Montego or, better still, a full-sized Monterey or Marquis.

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A google search reveals no Bill Bogley in Bethesda, Maryland; somebody in Maryland will likely know what happened.  Despite however long it sat on the lot, it ended up in the St. Louis area by 1975, as evidenced by stickers on the windshield.

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Numerous articles throughout the archives can be found to discuss “Bunkie Beak”, a syndrome of certain early 1970s Ford’s, particularly Thunderbird’s, having a pronounced protrusion from the frontal regions.  Named for Semon “Bunkie” Knudson, it was a Pontiac design element Knudsen brought with him to Ford.

Arguably this is one of the worst manifestations of Bunkie Beak on any Ford Motor Company Product.  This unruly trait even succeeded in imprinting itself in the minds of non-car people. How so?  In the early 1980s, the drunk teenage children of a neighbor crashed their Montego into some large, fixed object.  My mother, the orthopedic nurse, commented how they had been so badly injured yet the headlights on their car weren’t even broken (the Montego had been dumped in open sight near their house for nature to reclaim it).  When I explained they were driving that Mercury with the grossly inset headlights, it all made sense to her.

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Something that does not make sense is using tail lights from the Comet on the mid-sized Montego.  Did this succeed in elevating the Comet or lowering the stature of the Montego?  And why do this on a Mercury?  Ford didn’t have such tail light sharing between the Maverick and Torino; their tail light sharing was between the Maverick and Pinto.

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Was the ambition to create a mid-sized Montego so weak as to forego all originality?  This is an unfortunate outcome for a car intended to compete with GM’s mid-ranged cars.  GM didn’t share tail lights nor did Chrysler.  Just blatant repurposing of tail lights is straight from the AMC playbook and AMC did so only because they were financially destitute most of the time.  Mercury wasn’t, so why was this allowed to happen?  Given sales were about one-eighth that of the Torino and half those of the Comet, it appears nobody really cared.  Or those at Mercury treated the Montego endeavor with a healthy dose of Marx Brothers irreverence.

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When I started this, I wondered if the comparison to the Marx Brothers was logical.  Perhaps in the bigger picture it is.  Like the Marx Brothers, the Montego was completely offbeat while possessing distinct personality traits; unlike them, it does not make a strong case for itself being in the lineup.

In the automotive world, being an offbeat model of an offbeat brand is not an enviable position to have.  This Mercury is very much the Zeppo Marx of the 1971 lineup, but the world is a richer place for this Montego having been produced.

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