Vintage Review: 1973 Mercury Marquis Brougham – Getting Ready For Steve McGarrett

The full-size Mercury was one of the car lines that received a comprehensive redesign for 1973, so it’s no surprise that Road Test Magazine would be eager to get behind the wheel.  Seeing RT’s editors put a ’73 Marquis Brougham through the paces at a FoMoCo proving ground, I couldn’t help thinking of how well the new design would be received by Mercury’s target customers.  One in particular.

From 1968 to 1980, the actor Jack Lord played the role of Steve McGarrett on on the original Hawaii Five-O.  Appointed by Hawaii’s Governor, Detective Captain McGarrett was the head of an elite detective unit tasked with solving sophisticated crimes in spectacular settings.   McGarrett was also a Mercury man, and could often be found behind the wheel of his top-of-the-line Mercury sedan.  Between the cars, characters, storylines and tropical locales, the show was (and is) one of my all-time favorites, made even more alluring by the fact that it was “forbidden fruit” at home when I was growing up.

As a kid, my TV diet was pretty restricted.  Together with my parents, we watched sports, comedies like All in the Family and Julia Child’s The French Chef (what can I say, NOLA was/is a foodie town).  Saturday morning cartoons and The Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights were my “free” watching time with no parents.  Assuming homework and chores were under control, I was also allowed to catch reruns of family friendly fare like The Brady Bunch or Gilligan’s Island.  But that was about it.

However, all that changed for a magical few weeks every summer, when I’d get to stay with my paternal grandmother in Mississippi.  Wowo was a blast, and would organize all sorts of activities with grandkids of friends, children of neighbors, etc. to provide bountiful time for play during the day.

In the evenings, though, we’d often settle down to enjoy one of her favorite rituals: watching Hawaii Five-O.  Wowo would have an Old Fashioned, I might be given a Coca-Cola, and then we’d be transported to witness the troubles in paradise, as depicted in the show.  For me as a little kid, it was especially exciting and felt very grown-up, and I loved every minute of it.

To this day, my dream is to someday live in Hawaii.  Yes, I know that there is still plenty of trouble in paradise—as the recent 38 minutes of sheer terror will attest—but on balance it is an extraordinary place, and the producers of Hawaii Five-O did it justice, even if the plotlines were often dark.

Casting in the series was also excellent.  For women of a certain age, lead character Steve McGarrett was quite the object of desire, hidden or not.  I remember Wowo would sometimes give a little sigh, lean back, swirl her drink and purr: “he just has the nicest…. car.”

Come on, what did you expect her to say?  This was polite company in the South!

Indeed, the car casting for the show was great.  I adored seeing all manner of cars in every episode, and Ford Motor Company certainly got their money’s worth with the ample placements.  Steve McGarrett’s car, in particular, was spot-on for his character.  The 1968 Mercury Park Lane Brougham, painted black of course, was appropriately upscale but not too flashy.  Keep in mind that at the time, people still paid a lot of attention to the automotive pecking order.  McGarrett’s minions in the show would have driven Fords, while someone like his boss, Hawaii’s Governor, would probably be seen in a Lincoln.  So the “upper mid-market” Mercury was exactly the right choice.

Also, Ford Motor Company was still investing in providing meaningful styling differentiation between the full-sized Ford and Mercury models.  With the redesign for 1973, Mercury continued with unique sheet metal below the greenhouse—no body panels were shared with Ford.  Mercury also boasted a 3-inch longer wheelbase (124” versus 121” for Ford), which translated into increased rear seat legroom.  The Marquis series also kept hidden headlights, lending a more upscale “Lincoln Junior” look.

1973 Ford


1973 Mercury

1972 Marquis

 

1972 Monterey

Inside, FoMoCo cut corners a bit by having the Ford and Mercury basically share an instrument panel for 1973.  The only differences were in minor contouring and wood grain treatments.  This was a big change from 1972 when the Monterey and Marquis each had their own unique panels, and both were different than the Ford.  However, the rest of the interior trim for each Mercury series was a cut above the corresponding Ford models, providing the appropriately upscale ambience required to succeed in the more upper-crust “Medium Standard” segment against Buick, Chrysler, Oldsmobile and certain Pontiacs.

Buyers readily agreed, as Mercury sold 129,162 Marquis for ‘73, including the single best selling model of the year, the Marquis Brougham 4-door pillared hardtop, which found 46,624 homes (including one in my family—more on that to come).  Mercury also sold 55,184 Monterey models, bringing the full-size Mercury total to 184,346, which was healthy volume for cars starting at $400 to $1,000 ($2,315 to $5,787) more than for related Ford models.

While the “Medium Standard” segment still served up plenty of profitable sales to the Big Three, it wasn’t the most exciting category of cars and there wasn’t a lot of buff book coverage.  Road Test Magazine, as always, proved to be the exception, taking the fully redesigned Marquis Brougham out for a drive on Ford’s proving grounds.

In summary, Road Test noted that the Mercury Marquis Brougham was nicely upgraded and improved for 1973, though still very much a traditional American cruiser.  Using 1973 prices in place of 1972’s as shown by Road Test, a well-equipped Marquis Brougham would have gone out the door for around $6,812 ($39,409 adjusted), not a bad price for an upscale car that Road Test felt rode like a Lincoln.

Mercury did a lot of advertising touting the ride of its big cars.  Obviously a Mercedes offered ample benefits in performance and handling beyond what Mercury could ever provide, but for a pillow-soft ride the Mercury performed well.  The Marquis Brougham really did come off as a little Lincoln, and I actually know that first hand from the times I spent as a kid riding in one.

That’s right, I had Seventies seat time (especially the back seat) in a ’73 Marquis Brougham that belonged to Cousin Dell (short for Adeline).  She was actually Wowo’s first cousin, and lived right down the street from Wowo’s older sister Roberta in Memphis, Tennessee.  She was a much younger cousin, however, and was around my Pop’s age (mid-40s) when she got the car.  As such, she probably represented a pretty typical Marquis buyer: married with kids and living in a nice neighborhood.  It’s important to note that these cars were still seen as desirable for 40-something buyers, and hadn’t yet become the last wheels for the geriatric set.

Dell’s Marquis Brougham was quite nice actually, at least as far as big, comfy American cars were concerned.  Based on color swatches for ’73, I’m guessing that Dell’s car was finished in Ginger Glamour Metallic with a matching dark brown vinyl top.  Unlike the car pictured, Dell’s had the body-colored wheel covers, which really made for quite the chocolate-colored style statement.

Inside, hers had the Twin Comfort Lounge seats, with the tall “tombstone” headrests.  The brown interior color was called Tobacco, and Dell’s car even had the little powered front vent windows that Mercury started offering in ’73.  It was a smoker’s paradise!  Making the Tobacco tombstone seats rather fitting….

No matter the color, the Marquis Brougham was very comfortable.  The car definitely felt like something that would have been a viable alternative to an Olds Ninety-Eight or Buick Electra, which I am sure was Mercury’s intention.  It was roomy, quiet and plush inside, perfect for anyone seeking a cushy, convenience-filled cruiser.  Dell wasn’t a demanding driver, but she did expect the car to be trouble free.  Given that she owned her ’73 Marquis Brougham until 1979, when she traded it for a Grand Marquis, I’m thinking she was a satisfied customer.

But enough about Marquis matrons in Memphis, let’s go back to Hawaii and consider another Mercury loyalist.

Steve McGarrett clearly loved his big Mercury, but the 1968 Park Lane Brougham was starting to get on in years.  When the new Marquis Brougham arrived for 1973, there’s no doubt it would have caught the McGarrett’s eye.

Being the deliberate sort, McGarrett undoubtedly “got the facts” before taking the plunge with a new Mercury.  But when the time was right, the trigger was pulled and McGarrett started driving a 1974 Marquis Brougham 4-door Hardtop (black on black, naturally), which other than a different grille and other minor trim differences, was very similar to the ’73.

The ’74 Marquis remained McGarrett’s ride for the duration of Hawaii Five-O (he was even kind enough to let others drive it, like Danno, his trusted second-in-command).

So McGarret’s newest Mercury provided years of enjoyment to viewers like me, who loved seeing the big black sedan lurch and screech around Hawaii (looking much like the ’73 driven by Road Test at the FoMoCo proving grounds).  It was another time and another place, but the Mercury Marquis played its role well.

Additional Reading:

Curbside Classic and Automotive History: Good Lord!  The 1972 Mercury Marquis and its Flirtation With Infamy by Jason Shafer

CC Capsule: 1973 Mercury Marquis Brougham – Time Can Change Me, But I Can’t Trace Time by Edward Snitkoff