Curbside Classic and CC Drive Report: 1969 Mercury Monterey Custom – Buy Yourself A Mercury And Cruise It Up And Down The Road

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As George Washington once said, I cannot tell a lie.  Saying I don’t have a certain, indescribable attraction to full-sized Mercury models between roughly 1963 and 1978 would be a bigger whopper than anything ever served up at Burger King.  The upside is exposure to this particular Monterey has prompted some clarity about this minor quirk of my mine.

Let me take a moment to explain.

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We all have those moments that have stuck with us from our impressionable years of being children.  After much contemplation and introspection, I may have determined what helped create my terminal and wonderful yet inexplicable infatuation with the big girls from the winged messenger.

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Part of it can be traced to these two people who married around 1918.  Not only did my great-grandfather Isaac truncate our surname down to six letters, one fateful day in the early 1920s they discovered my great-grandmother Allie was pregnant with the third of their five sons.

Grown up, third-born James Leland was likely the only person ever to have purchased two brand new Edsels.  After Edsel evaporated James Leland transitioned to being a serial Mercury owner, but let’s face it – anybody who purchased two Edsels is a special case.

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So Isaac and Allie can be credited for James Leland who inadvertently facilitated my innate passion for the big-boned goddesses of Mercury.  By the time I came along in 1972, James was driving a 1970 Marquis that left a mighty big impression on my young, malleable mind (as did the bizarre and contrived stories he told a four-year old me on how he lost his left leg, but that’s for a different website).

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Credit for my Mercury affinity can also be given to my parents as they let me watch way too much television as a youngster.  I vividly remember being three years old and watching this square-jawed guy and his well-coiffed hair careening around some island in the Pacific, driving a 1968 Park Lane and, later, a 1974 Marquis.  It’s hard to get past those initial impressions.

All this early psychological imprinting certainly facilitated the monumental level of giddiness I had after Kale called, wanting to show me his 1969 Monterey Custom.

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Kale came across this Mercury outside of St. Louis earlier this year.  Looking for a 9″ Ford differential and a stout drivetrain, Kale was told this Mercury was a rusted out pile of junk.  So while the seller was grossly overstating the situation, Kale knew he had to purchase this Mercury.  He immediately realized this Monterey was way too nice to part out and he has no desire to do so.

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This Mercury was built May 21, 1969.  Shipped to the St. Louis sales district, it was purchased new in Troy, Missouri.  Originally owned by an older gentleman, the Monterey was used to pull a small RV camper.

The white on the roof is paint as this is a factory two-tone car.

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Incidentally, this dealer is in the same town and just up the street from where reader Sevair‘s father purchased the 1979 Cadillac Seville Paul, Jim Klein, and I rode in at the 2014 CC meet-up in Auburn, Indiana.

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Did I say this Mercury, in addition to being a charmer of epic proportions, has another 429 reasons for liking it lurking under the hood?  That’s a full seven liters of neck snapping torque – excuse me; in my excitement, I’m getting ahead of myself.  But I will say Mercury didn’t entertain the asthmatic straight-sixes and weak-chested small V8’s like Ford did during this time period.  Mercury was a indeed a step above Ford – at least for a brief while.

At whatever point this Mercury was sold to another older gentleman.  This second gentleman had a grandson who was turning sixteen and getting his driver’s license.  Grandpa wanted his grandson to have a large, safe car to drive.  Grandson hated it.

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However Grandson did drive it.  Being a young driver, he hit a road sign that fell and branded the hood.  This is about the worst blemish on the entire car.  And the rust the seller mentioned?  Yes, there is about a six inch strip on the left rocker panel, right in front of the rear tire.  It faces the ground and one has to look to find it; it hasn’t even perforated the metal.

It seems the grandson wasn’t the choir boy sort and is now under the long-term tutelage of the Missouri Department of Corrections.  This Mercury Monterey sat for several years before Kale came along and he was warned any number of things may be found inside.  Apart from an aftermarket stereo and some broken beer bottles in the trunk, the only thing of concern Kale found was the 1.3 meter long snake skin under the seat.  Kale was clipping wires to the stereo upon his discovery and he has never made such a hasty retreat.

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Despite the previous owner, the cloth and vinyl interior of this Mercury is quite remarkable.

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The backseat looks even better.  Given the ample room back here, let’s not think about what may have transpired with Mr. Non-Choir Boy.

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Like any car, the biggest story is told in how well it runs and drives.  Once upon a time, CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite had a show called You Are There.  So in an effort to recreate the sheer glory of this Mercury, I triumphantly offer:

Your very own form of being there – just turn down the sound if you are at work.  Keep in mind Kale had started this car exactly once prior during his ownership and that was two months ago.  Before that time it had been sitting for the last five to seven years.  This video shows it awakening from its two month slumber.  We did discover it to be a quart low on oil after the initial start seen in the video.

So often before driving a car, most of us tend to anticipate certain behaviors.  In the case of this Mercury, I had expected a lot of float, body roll, and quiet.  Good thing nobody was keeping score.

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As seen in the video, exhaust noise is present at speed but dual glass pack mufflers will make their presence known in any application.

What I found truly surprising was how well this Monterey carved through corners – it doesn’t drive like it’s on rails, but it isn’t a like water buffalo wearing ballet toe shoes, either.  The road to Kale’s house is rather winding; to provide better comparison, I had driven my ’63 Ford Galaxie there.  This Mercury, on its ancient tires, swooped through these same corners at speeds a good five to ten miles per hour faster and without the body lean experienced in the Galaxie.  I’m curious how a set of non-aged tires would benefit this Mercury.

While I was driving the tires did squeal once while navigating a curve above the advisory speed.

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The seating position is very comfortable although the angle of the seat back is a degree or two reclined from ideal.  Room for the driver is ample in every way possible, but this car isn’t some sprawling mass of living room furniture encapsulated in sheet metal.  Visibility and maneuverability are both excellent for the era, easily masquerading its 124″ wheelbase.

It has disc brakes up front, allowing me to easily and quickly scrub velocity from this 3,968 pound Mercury.  While the steering is heavily boosted, any input results in immediate and noticeable course correction.  It isn’t 1970s era Ford Delayed Response™ steering.

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Earlier I mentioned there being 429 compelling reasons residing under the hood for liking this car.  While the FE Series 390 cubic inch (6.4 liter) V8 was standard issue, this car was built with Ford’s 385 Series 429 cubic inch V8 (7.0 liter) with 320 horsepower being generated under its two-barrel carburetor.  However, somewhere along the way, the two-barrel in this Mercury was jettisoned for a four-barrel Holley.  In original equipment form this would have been good for an additional forty horsepower; torque is around 450 lbs-ft.

This car is delightfully powerful and the torque will push your head back even during moderate acceleration.  During harder acceleration, the force on your head pulls at the edges of your mouth, causing a wonderful fertilizer-ingesting grin.  It’s the snappiest accelerating car I’ve ever driven of this size and of any car equipped with a 2.75:1 rear axle ratio.  Ample torque can easily camouflage gearing.

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All these elements combine into this Mercury hitting a really sweet spot.

That sweet spot is from this Monterey having one foot firmly planted in a higher quality and more tasteful 1960s era adornment with safety features facing the future.  It’s the best of many worlds – unencumbered with an emissions strangled engine, a more contemporary braking system, and power steering and brakes that aren’t ludicrously over boosted.  It also does not have the novocaine infused suspension settings and plasticized interior the Monterey and Marquis would gain in the early 1970s.

This is likely one of the most drivable and pleasant examples of this platform.

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Unfortunately, this translated into the mid-range Monterey Custom being the poorest selling full-sized Mercury behind the base Monterey and top-tier Marquis.

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Mercury sold exactly 7,103 Monterey Custom four-door sedans, the most-popular body style of Monterey Custom.  All Monterey Customs had a front seat center arm rest, leather door pulls, and rear dome lights.

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This Monterey appears to have influenced the Australian ZH series Fairlane that would come along in the mid-1970s.

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Oddly, an automatic transmission still wasn’t standard fare despite 99.7% of Monterey Customs having one.  This translates to around 440 Monterey Customs having a three-speed column-shifted manual transmission.  How times have changed; what manufacturer now would gear up anything for such a ridiculously low take rate?

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Speaking of ridiculously low take rates, one has to wonder how many Montereys were sold to the boys in blue.  At the time, Mercury was quite the popular police cruiser, being used by the highway patrol (or equivalent) in Indiana, Missouri, and Iowa in 1969.

Going further with low take rates, these ground pounders were all equipped with the 428 cubic inch (7.0 liter) Ford FE Series engine due to the ability of its lighter rotating mass winding up quicker.  This engine was not available in the retail Monterey as only the 390 and 429 were offered.

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source: hemmings.com

California followed suit in 1970, purchasing just over 1,800 Monterey cruisers.

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This piece starting with explanation of my fondness for the full-sized Mercury.  It is safe to say I do suffer from some degree of Mercury poisoning, but there are worse things to endure.

One of those would be to own this sweet Mercury and having a need to sell it.

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Yes, Kale is reluctantly and painfully putting this Monterey up for sale.

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The odometer states it has 83,000 miles.

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Kale has been amazed at its overall solidity.  The doors close better than those in some new cars and this Mercury is free of rattles and air leaks.

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These pictures were taken January 1, 2016, and the ambient air temperature was right at freezing.  While Kale was driving it (we took turns), we realized the gasoline we were burning was a good five years old.

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This Monterey isn’t perfect, but is in remarkable shape.  It would benefit from some carburetor adjustment, replacement of rubber parts, and fluid changes.  It’s doubtful the factory air conditioning is still holding a charge of refrigerant.

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If you are interesting in purchasing this Mercury, please email me at mercury.enthusiast@gmail.com.  I will put you in touch with Kale.

This Mercury sits on a platform that sold 7.8 million units, Ford’s most successful platform after the Model T.  While I do suffer from Mercury poisoning, that affliction has been given such an unfortunate negative connotation.

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Related reading with more full-sized Mercury goodness:

1963 Mercury Maurader

1966 Mercury Monterey

1968 Mercury Monterey

1971 Mercury Monterey

1972 Mercury Marquis

1973 Mercury Monterey Custom

1976 Mercury Marquis