Car Show Classic: 1960 Mercury Commuter – There’s Nothing Wrong With A Cold Blatz

Ever since I found my late grandpa’s collection of Fleischmann’s Bicentennial bourbon decanters stashed in my parents’ basement when I was 20 or so, I’ve been a bourbon sipper.  I haven’t drunk to excess since around that time, and I’m not one of those guys who mentions or even understands flavor notes, but at least two nights a week I’ll be sitting with my 1964 Chevrolet dealer glasses with a straight three fingers and an ice cube.  On the other hand, I’m not above drinking a good cheap beer on occasion, such as the Coors Banquet tall can I recently enjoyed while watching the NASCAR All-Star race on a Sunday evening in May.  What’s this got to do with a rare Mercury?  Follow along, it’s about to get circuitous.

I took these pictures of this ’60 Mercury last summer down in Dearborn, and they reminded me of my uncle and the best man in my wedding (who is still my good friend).  In my aforementioned youth, my friends and I would carry out an annual event that we titled the “Bad Beer Off.”  In essence, we went out and bought whatever cheap 40 oz. bottles we could find and used the competition as a ruse to give meaning to our decadence.  Plus, we were bored.  Generally, it came down to Altes, Blatz, Milwaukee’s Best, and Black Label.  One year, Altes “won” because we all agreed that it was comparable to drinking whatever a smelly foot tastes like.  Blatz won the next year because it went down like liquid sandpaper; my best man and I still talk about it.  These days, I’ll nominate Genesee Cream Ale because I find it universally awful.

Anyway, to my uncle.  My late Uncle John was a unique person, a very intelligent Vietnam vet who was probably the closest family member to me in his general take on situations and people.  He didn’t suffer fools well and was unafraid to show it, which may be one explanation for the fact that after his second divorce, his P.O. Box was the local bar a few miles away from his hunting land.  Uncle John stopped by our house regularly, as he and my mom were very close, and I gave him the rundown on the most recent Bad Beer Off.  He shot me a wry look and said, “Aarie Baby, there’s nothing wrong with a cold Blatz.  But it has to be really cold, like 38 degrees.  I used to stash it where your grandpa wouldn’t find it.”  Uncle John never steered me wrong, so fast forward about 15 years.

I was redoing my kitchen.  Although a wrench often feels like an extension of my hand, I’ve never enjoyed home improvement projects, so I was extra irritable as the summer of 2012 elapsed.  Uncle John had passed away from Mesothelioma, and the kitchen was hot work, so I decided I wanted a cold Blatz in his honor.  My lovely bride and I drove around Michigan’s thumb in an unsuccessful search for Blatz by way of hole-in-the-wall convenience stores.  After an afternoon of driving lonely two lanes, I finally called the local liquor distributor, who informed me that they sold it exclusively at a local grocery store about five minutes from my house.  The catch was that I could only buy it by the case; so that summer, I drank a lot of cold Blatz and gave a lot of it away to my wife’s father and stepfather.  It wasn’t too bad, and there was nothing, and I repeat nothing, better on a hot, sweaty afternoon in the kitchen.

Back to the car.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen another ’60 Commuter in person, although they aren’t as rare as I first imagined.  Mercury made over 14,000 of them in 1960, but the survival rate of any ’60 Mercury seems anecdotally low, given their absence from my everyday life.  According to my car room library, the standard engine in the Commuter was the old 312 Y-Block.  I say old because although the Y-Block had only been around since 1954, it was already on borrowed time as engine development quickened throughout the 1960s.  The now-forgotten MEL 383 and more well-known 430 were options.

One of my happiest Mercury memories is of the 1960 Commuter driven by minor antagonist Shelby Ashton in Disney’s The Absent-Minded Professor.  I’ve never been all that interested in Disney movies in general, but I’ll still watch this film and its sequel, Son of Flubber, any time I see them on television (which is rare these days).  If you like 1960 Ford, Mercury, and Lincoln automobiles (and Model T’s), you’ll have a good time car spotting.

Since this post is mostly about disconnected memories, I’ll add another.  Sitting behind the wheel of a 1959 or 1960 Mercury is a tremendously satisfying experience: Perhaps no car did “counterfeit ’50s spaceship” better.  Around the same time period where I was sweating in my kitchen, a local auctioneer was holding an estate auction with a fleet of long-neglected sedans from midcentury America.  One of the cars on the block was a seafoam green 1959 Mercury hardtop, and I had some money in my pocket in case I found something too good to be true.  Nothing was, but I was able to sit behind that wheel of that behemoth and dream of driving it back home to my not-big-enough garage.  Unfortunately, it was a rusted Michigan car that still managed to sell for over $4000, a staggering sum for a car with no parts availability in poor condition.

In the 1960s, I would imagine that exactly nobody was dreaming of a Mercury Commuter station wagon (a hardtop, too!).  But today, who would turn down a chance to own something so uniquely of its time?  Sure, it’s gauche, but look how many memories it’s jogged for me, and even my dad was only a preteen in 1960.

Besides, who doesn’t like looking in the mirror now and then, even if one is looking through beer goggles.