Every once in a while, a car not found in the wild deserves its moment in the spotlight. Just by virtue of this being a pre-war Mercury makes the case for special attention, but that is only amplified by the story this Mercury can tell. Or maybe the story its owner can tell.
This Mercury belongs to Wes, whom we met a while back. When Todd and I arrived at Wes’s (here’s how I met Todd), I certainly wasn’t anticipating being greeted with a 1940 Mercury convertible. That alone is certainly capable of capturing ones attention. To be further amazed about such a terrific car by learning he’s owned it since 1968 certainly enhances the experience. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Ford introduced the Mercury brand in 1939. While Edsel Ford had realized the need for such a car for quite some time, Henry Ford was being his obstinate, bull-headed self by refusing to entertain the concept. He finally relented; perhaps part of his agreement was due to both General Motors and Chrysler Corporation having an intermediate priced brand.
Sitting on a wheelbase of 116″, four inches longer than found on a Ford, the Mercury helped plug the gap between Ford and the Lincoln Zephyr. Strategically priced between Pontiac and Oldsmobile, the Mercury brand sold 75,000 units in 1939 and climbed to over 81,000 for 1940. During its early years Mercury was usually in about 12th place in the sales race, with many of these sales being new market share for Ford Motor Company.
Motivation was by a version of Ford’s flathead V8 having the same stroke as the Ford engine but bored out to 239 cubic inches (3.9 liters) of displacement. Cranking out 95 horsepower, a Mercury was good for 100 mph, which was quite a feat for this era.
The primary selling points for Mercury were having a bit more room and power for a modest increase in price. Mercury was an early adopter was using a column mounted gearshift for its three-speed manual transmission, allowing valuable interior real estate to be utilized.
For its sophomore year of 1940, Mercury offered a variety of sedans, coupes, and convertibles. This year would also see the one-year only four-door convertible. With the declining popularity of the four-door convertible, it’s hard to understand why it ever saw the light of day. Mercury sold only 1,100 of them.
The two-door convertible, like what Wes has, would be around for another thirty years.
When we arrived, Wes had been in the midst of installing turn signals on his Mercury. Realizing he hadn’t been driving the car very much the last few years, he was anxious to get it ready for more regular active duty.
The phrase “active duty” was very apt when Wes began telling the story of his Mercury. After graduating from the University of Missouri – Rolla, Wes took a job with a petroleum company. Soon after he went to work he found this Mercury for sale somewhere in Arkansas, although it wasn’t Booger Hollow. For the princely sum of $350, Wes was soon motoring around at a faster clip than his 1929 Ford Model A ever allowed.
This didn’t last long. Uncle Sam soon tracked Wes down to give him experience in the United States Army. He would later be assigned to a tank company in Viet Nam.
When telling the story about his Mercury, Wes said he had paid JC Whitney all of $29 for the top. He suspicioned buying one now could cost much more should one even be available.
Wes added the seat covers were purchased at the same time and are just now starting to show a little wear. He figured that wasn’t too bad considering he’s put another 100,000 miles on this Mercury during his ownership.
Where was Wes when he filled out the order form to make this long-ago JC Whitney order? Sitting inside his tank, not far from the front line. At around the same time he also bought a two-speed rear-end for the Mercury. He said some guy had an ad in the back of a magazine and he guesses the vendor did a good job as it still works great.
One of the things we often ponder about around here is what the original owner was thinking when purchasing or ordering their car. This is one of the few instances when such questions can be answered as Wes has spoken to the original owner.
This Mercury was initially purchased by a loving father who wanted to fulfill his daughter’s wish of going away to college in a yellow convertible.
However, despite Mercury having eight different colors available in 1940, none of them were yellow. In order for his daughter to realize this dream, there was only one thing to do…
Take an available car, in this case dark blue, and paint it yellow. At some point prior to 1968 the car was painted black. Wes performed this bit of automotive archeology on the drivers door jamb after talking to the young lady who first had this Mercury.
Like all of Wes’s cars, the engine starts nearly as quickly as the starter motor engages. There is nothing quite like the sound of a flathead Ford V8 – or, in some cases, the lack of sound. This video of a 1953 Ford flathead V8 will give you a good idea of what Wes’s sounds like.
Wes knows keeping these engines cool can be their Achilles heel, so he has installed a larger capacity truck radiator and performed a few other modifications. The old flathead now stays as cool as a polar bears paw in January.
In 1940, Mercury was a new brand, searching to find its ultimate niche in the market. By the end of Mercury’s run in the 21st Century, one might say this niche was never found and the potential of the brand was never fully realized. As a Mercury fan that is a tough pill filled full of potent realism. Regardless of the outcome, it is fun to look back to a time when Mercury was fresh and vibrant to imagine what would be and what might have been.