If you wait at a campground until seeing a passenger car towing a trailer, you’ll be there for an awfully long time. Trucks and SUVs are assigned that task these days, and for obvious reasons – first, they’re more numerous than cars to begin with, and second they have higher towing capacities. But of course that wasn’t always the case. In the 1970s, for instance, campgrounds were full of sedans, coupes and wagons assigned to temporary towing duty. As a result, manufacturers occasionally published towing brochures for their full car lines, and examples like this one take us back to an earlier time – both in terms of cars and also camping.
Just about everything changes over the course of several decades – cars and trailers being among them. This Mercury towing guide doesn’t just provide information on the featured cars’ towing limits; it also provides a window into the world of camping that folks experienced when this brochure was published. We’ll take a glance here at the cars themselves, and also at the equipment (mostly travel trailers) that they’re hauling. So grab some s’mores and lawn darts, and let’s go on a camping trip with the Brougham family!
There’s no question about what kind of vehicle is preferred at modern campgrounds. Pickup trucks, and their SUV brethren, rule these places, and often serve the dual role of family car / occasional towing vehicle that the Lincolns and Mercurys in our featured brochure were expected to perform back in their day. Obviously, trucks were around in 1971 as well, but their generally utilitarian nature reduced their appeal to most families. For people with recreational towing needs, a passenger car equipped with towing features was considered a sensible choice.
We’ll start off our camping trip with this Monterey hardtop sedan matched to a Starcraft Wander-Star trailer. This would have been a common setup for a family of five on a camping excursion 48 years ago. Mercury’s bread-and-butter offering, Monterey was a full-size car that offered more allure than Ford’s LTD but was still competitively priced. That combination, however, wasn’t exactly successful, as the Monterey found itself overshadowed by the more glamorous Marquis. Within a few years, the Monterey’s nameplate would sail out of existence.
Regardless, full-size Mercurys like the Monterey and Marquis were capable of towing trailers up to 5,000 lbs. if equipped with the 429-cu. in. V-8 and optional Class III Trailer Towing Package (a $91 package consisting of a heavy-duty radiator, transmission cooler, suspension, a higher axle ratio, and of course the hitch frame and wiring). For around $4,000 a family could have a nice, full-size car, and a capable towing vehicle as well.
The Starcraft trailer shown with the Monterey is well-matched. Starcraft built mid-range travel trailers, as well as their mainstay product, boats. This particular model, the Wander-Star, was Starcraft’s largest offering (sold in various sizes, from 18’ to 28’) – similar to how Mercury’s full-size sedans found themselves as the full-size yet mid-range cars.
Though this is a Mercury brochure, a Lincoln sneaked in. Here a Continental is shown towing a 28’ Avion Travelcader (the same trailer shown on the cover photo being hauled by a Marquis). Like the Monterey, the Marquis and Continental were rated to tow up to 5,000 lbs. when appropriately equipped, and this 4,500-lb. aluminum-bodied trailer is right up against that maximum. Again, this was a good pairing of car and trailer – Avion was a high-end manufacturer whose products appeared right at home with the plush Lincoln.
And for anyone who thinks a ’71 Continental is the broughamiest thing on wheels, may I introduce you to an Avion? Shag carpeting, provincial-style wood cabinetry, floral-patterned couches… these trailers had it all! If I had the time, resources and knowledge, I would love to own one of these Avions along with a suitable 1970s luxury tow vehicle.
Of course, not everyone can be highfalutin with their camping apparatus. These sportsmen are making do with an intermediate-size Montego wagon and a compact Cree Teepee trailer. Montegos (coming with a 351-cu. in V-8 as opposed to the Monterey’s 400/429-cu. in. engines) couldn’t tow large trailers, so here it’s paired with one of Cree’s smaller models, falling well under the Montego’s 3,500-lb. limit.
Michigan-based Cree Coaches made relatively affordable campers in a variety of sizes. Certainly not luxurious like Avions, these travel trailers made camping accessible to folks on a budget. As seen in this ad, the Teepee models were among the smallest Crees; the Montego’s trailer appears to be about 18’ or 20’ in length.
A Montego’s still too big for you? No worries, you can hitch your Cougar up to a pop-up camper. Though the Cougar was rated only for Class I towing (up to 2,000 lbs.), a simple pop-up would fall under that limit. Pop-ups, in fact, have withstood the test of time – modern equivalents look remarkably similar to this Starcraft Galaxy.
What we now know as pop-up campers are almost as old as cars themselves, with the first combinations of tents and trailers having been sold in the early 1900s. With their low weight (many examples are still under 2,000 lbs.), modern pop-ups are the type of camper most likely to be encountered being towed by a passenger car, and the same was true in 1971 as well. Pop-ups were/are marketed to folks whose space or financial considerations direct them to smaller equipment.
Rounding out Mercury’s towing brochure was a Comet. It’s fitting that the brand’s smallest car is paired up with the lightest towing stock (though the Comet’s towing capacity was similar to the Cougar’s). In this case, our featured Comet is shown hauling not a camping trailer like the other cars, but a 900-lb. 15’ Starcraft TR-150 fiberglass boat.
Small boats are versatile and popular, like small cars, so it’s not surprising to see automotive allusions in boating ads. And this may be the world’s last advertising reference to a rumble seat – a concept unknown to many people nowadays.
While that completes our look at this towing guide, Mercury wasn’t alone in marketing such publications. Many brands used such guides periodically, and they provide a good dose of enjoyment for those of us interested in both cars and camping. And it’s a whole lot easier to leaf through one of these brochures than to wait for a genuine curbside classic to roll into your favorite campground!