I recently stumbled across pictures I had taken during the weekend of the CC meetup that took place in the greater Detroit area at the beginning of June 2017. Winter has traditionally been a good time for me to go back through years of photographs I’ve taken and not looked at since, as during warmer weather months I’m often outdoors making new memories and documenting it all in pixels. I suppose this isn’t dissimilar to how many animals and creatures gather enough food for the winter before reemerging or reappearing once the snow melts. It seems almost unbelievable that it has been almost five years since I had first met Paul, Jason, Dan, J.P., Dean, and so many others in the CC community face-to-face.
The Beach at Campus Martius Park.
While the meetup itself was the main reason I was in Detroit after having attended my first Indianapolis 500 only the weekend before, I knew it was just as important for me to be by myself with my camera for a while. The Motor City is one of my happy places, and at the risk of repeating myself from earlier posts, the magic of this city lies within so many things about it that speak to me or that I can relate to. To offer just a brief list, there’s its vast historical significance within the automotive and entertainment industries (especially popular music), its ethnic diversity and multiracial population, its no-nonsense ethos, and its beautiful architecture that’s a mixture of both classic and modern styles, among many other things.
Modern Detroit also symbolizes a strong, steady, focused, phoenix-like ascent from a low point, which is something I feel in my very soul. It still has a way to go and, granted, I’ve largely spent time mostly in the downtown area, but its continued resurgence compared to even only five or six years ago, when I had first spent any significant amount of time there in over a decade, has been nothing short of breathtaking. Detroit inspires me to continue on my own personal journey of making sense of things from my past, renovating the great things about myself that may not have gotten needed attention at some point, and just being the best version of me that I can be without excessive fanfare while also acknowledging where I’ve been. In more than a few ways, I feel like I am Detroit.
This mid-’80s Panther platform Mercury Grand Marquis that I spotted while attempting to get lost downtown also reminded me of The D. It is a big, old, traditionally-styled thing that symbolizes how personal transportation used to get done for much of middle America. It is not remotely chic though classically styled, it has a healthy appetite, and is a little big around the waist. It knows, however, exactly what it is and does care what you think. Detroit was very much a significant part of the Industrial Revolution in the United States, and a ton of manufacturing was done here. Similarly, full-sized cars with rear-wheel-drive and V8 power were what many families aspired to have in the garage or carport. If a family could afford better than one of the low-priced three (Chevrolet, Ford, or Plymouth) like a Mercury, it was often seen as an outward expression of their relative affluence.
That last point was probably not as true by the mid-’80s, when there was less differentiation between makes with models that shared a corporate platform. I will say that with the proliferation of Ford LTD / Crown Victoria taxi cabs (along with Chevy Impalas and Caprices) in that decade, a Mercury always seemed a clear and obvious step up from a comparable Ford. A Grand Marquis simply looked richer and more expensive than the nicest LTD Crown Victoria, and it helped that I never saw any running around as livery. My own grandparents made the switch up from a Crown Vic to a Grand Marquis around ’88, and owned three in a row as their last vehicles.
After managing to snap a few frames of this car in traffic, I stopped into American Coney Island on Lafayette for one of the most “Detroit” lunches I crave: two coneys and a heap of salty French fries drizzled with ketchup. (This was late in the afternoon, which is partially why I wasn’t yet hungry by the time the CC group met up that evening at Westpoint Bar-B-Que in Dearborn). After leaving the restaurant and walking around for a while, I spotted the Mercury yet again. It appeared to be “getting lost” or wandering about by itself, just like me, and in that moment I felt I had found a kindred soul in the form of this big car and its driver.
The 114.3″-wheelbase, full-sized Grand Marquis was anything but lost during its mid-’80s tenure as a money-spinner for Lincoln-Mercury Division. I’d argue that with the exception of the Sable which would arrive for ’86, the Grand Marquis possessed the strongest Mercury identity of any of that make’s offerings from that time. Even though it shared a platform with the Crown Victoria, it seemed like the net effect of its various detail changes was greater than the sum of its parts. More importantly, from this 1983 – ’87 generation, it was consistently Mercury’s volume seller, outselling everything else with the exception of the Cougar for only ’86 (109,400 Grand Marquises vs. 135,900 Cougars). Many buyers in the United States clearly found value in the extra $1,000 or so over the comparable Ford, even if the Crown Vic usually outsold it.
The Grand Marquis actually outsold the Crown Victoria for ’87 by over 2,300 units (131,200 vs. 128,900). Unable to see our Mercury’s license plate or otherwise verify its exact model year, I went with the grille and taillamps in determining it must be from one of the five model years between 1983 an ’87. Over this time period, it sold an average of 129,300 units annually, versus 145,000 for the Ford – a difference of only 12%. This was during a time period in the mid-’80s when Mercury’s annual sales volume ranged from between only 27% (1987) to 46% (1983) of Ford’s, which brings the success of the big Merc into clear focus. People went to Lincoln-Mercury dealers to buy this car.
Standard power came from the Ford 302 cubic-inch V8 with horsepower ratings that ranged from 140 to 155. My Encyclopedia of American Cars from the Editors of Consumer Guide shows that a 351-V8 was available through ’84 (with 180 hp that year), exclusive to police cruisers from between ’81 and ’84. I have never seen a Grand Marquis of this vintage outfitted as a police car, not even in TV shows. Were any actually made?
One key difference between this old Mercury and Detroit is that unlike the Motor City, the Mercury brand is probably not coming back. Still, I saw this particular example as being like one of Detroit’s many architectural gems. This Grand Marquis may not be on anyone’s list right now as a candidate for the kind of restoration that’s currently happening at the historic Book Tower or Michigan Central Station, but it clearly looked cared for at the time of these photographs, even with the small dent in the rear quarter panel. It appeared to be rust free, its panels were straight, and its paint was shiny. I didn’t see it again during that CC meetup weekend while I stayed downtown, but I found inspiration in the way that, like me, it seemed to be simply wandering about, lost in the wonder of seeing something beautiful being reborn.
Downtown Detroit, Michigan.
Saturday, June 3, 2017.
The 1985 brochure photo was sourced from www.oldcarbrochures.org.