The premium small car genre (and especially the small premium CUV genre) is more popular now than ever but back in the 1970s small cars in North America were generally bought for economy and low price, but hardly ever for luxury or snob appeal. The Mercury division though did notice how popular the Ford Pinto was and decided they might as well try adding it to their lineup as well. While they could have called it good enough with just the basic two-door runabout, they also added the wagon version, after all, Mercury did already sell the Marquis Colony Park as well as the Montego MX Villager to those for whom the Ford equivalents were just too everyday.
So why not, take the Pinto, slap a different grille and hood on it, some wood siding, gussy up the interior, and try to make some hay. 45 years later, one of those wagons has finally called it a good run and convinced its owner to let it go to that great big parking lot in the sky. But before it gets there, there’s that little waiting room where all and sundry get to admire it, the junkyard.
Here’s how she looked back then, bright, shiny, maybe even with two pretty ladies and a kid beside it. Which brings up the question, was Mercury ahead of its time and was this depicting an alternative parenting relationship? (Not that there’s anything at all wrong with that). Or perhaps it was just overtly being marketed more toward the fairer sex and those two are sisters.
The “Rosewood woodtone vinyl exterior paneling” as Mercury described it in the brochure has on this example been whitewashed to bring it at least into the 1990’s, but it’s all still there along with the trim around it. Someone seems to have gone to the trouble of removing all of the badging and then replacing it after painting the wood. The roof rack was an optional extra as was the deflector at the rear.
The front does look a bit more premium with that large chromed grille and the lettering spelled out across the hood. The little indicator lights even look just a bit Lincolnish…these days I suppose this would be a Lincoln, maybe they’d call it the “Memorial”. Or the “Nebraska”. Maybe the “Abe”, like Opel did when they called their small car the Adam a few years back. A few years ago it would have been the MKP. Of course it would have to be jacked up a bit since Lincoln doesn’t offer anything not SUV’d these days.
It is surprising though that there is no hood ornament. But Bobcat sounds sort of sporty so maybe that’s the reason. I’m not a particular fan of the Pinto, but don’t really have against it either I suppose, and the Mercury is definitely a little fancier so I’m not altogether opposed to the idea.
I will admit to not being as up on my vintage Mercurys as some are, so just now realized the genesis of the Villager name on the later Mercury/Nissan minivan joint venture.
This one does have the 2.8l V6 to motivate it, Bobcats were porkier than most little cars of the era so the extra oomph was surely appreciated. It’s pretty wedged in there, these were not very big cars.
The interior is fairly plush, those front seats have vinyl around the perimeter but the seating surface is an off-white velour with some sort of floral-looking pattern. At least the gauge panel looks halfway sporty and doesn’t channel the horrific baroqueness of the Monarch/Granada. There’s almost no ersatz wood here thankfully, and the vent placement and number approximate that of a modern car.
The seats are mounted quite low, while there is no center console there is a transmission tunnel that probably gets in the way of a proper man-spread. I’ll point out that the one here really is no smaller than the average one in many a FWD car currently, this is where FWD really helped, at least at the start. The one time in my life that I got a ride in a Pinto I was amazed at how low one sat and how high the dashboard in front loomed, a far cry from the Civics and Rabbits I was more used to in the SoCal area at the time of that ride.
Those hooded binnacles almost channel an Alfa Romeo, or might if not surrounded by a bigger binnacle, still, the black surround helps. Speed, fuel, and four warning lights, the bare minimum. At least there are no blanks, but then again this is the top of the line. That butterscotch color would seem to live on into the Ford Explorer era, but Mercedes too used and still does offer a very similar color if I am not mistaken.
Automatic transmission, air conditioning, and an AM/FM with cassette deck. Very well equipped indeed for 1976. No power windows though, perhaps they were not available.
It even has the little rotating map light up above as well as stitched visors. Premium.
I can’t determine if the rear seats really came covered in all vinyl while the fronts had the velour centers. This one does look all original so perhaps this is how it is. That back seat is the most bucket looking rear seat I’ve ever seen though, that seems difficult to get out of once your buttocks are firmly entrenched into its depths. The cushion looks mighty short too, I wasn’t about to check out how my 32″ inseam would fare back there. At least there are ashtrays for everyone and visibility for miles with those matchstick pillars.
Carpeted cargo mat and a spare distributor cap just in case. The rear seat windows pop out for ventilation and the seatback folds down to extend the cargo area too.
And under the mat is a full size spare wheel and tire, which is easy when the standard wheels and tires are smaller than the smallest space saver today. That one is a 175/80-13 with a date code of 5299, the last week of 1999, wouldn’t want to need it but would probably risk it if stuck in the boonies. Somebody went with a red, white, and blue theme for this car which is appropriate given its a 1976 model, America’s bicentennial year. This is the least faded of all of the wheels though, sorry you can’t get the full effect by looking at the whole car anymore.
The “T” in the VIN indicates this one was built in Edison (actually Metuchen), New Jersey, however these were also built in Milpitas, CA, where there now stands a large mall in the former factory building. (Or at least it was a mall when I left the area, someone can tell us if it’s still there). Milpitas is just across the freeway from the Tesla factory which is of course the former NUMMI plant. The “Z” indicates the V6, the leading “6” means 1976 and the 22 is the designation for the Bobcat wagons. The last six digits are the sequential serial number.
I cannot recall the last time I saw a Pinto of any sort, to say nothing of a Bobcat, and especially a wagon version of either. This one seems to be as loaded up as it was possible to get them back then, and while obviously somewhat worn, this one is in remarkably good condition overall.
It’s really not unappealing and if not predisposed toward the Japanese or German cars of the era I can see how this would be attractive to people, at least those that didn’t do the math on price vs poundage. Bigger isn’t always better, not sure if smaller was either at the time to many people, but perhaps the Bobcat Villager overall was just a little (or a lot) ahead of its time.