(first posted 12/12/2012) No, this car never was built despite lingering rumors to the contrary. It was seriously considered as the production 1957 Mercury until they thought the wiser of it. Good thing.
Supposedly it came right down to the wire, too, but when Robert McNamara tried to open the rear door of the prototype during the final executive approval process, it stuck. Then, after he finally managed to yank it open, it wouldn’t close properly. It had bedeviled Mercury’s best engineers for months, but this was the final straw. Fail!
Of course, that wasn’t the only issue. During prototype testing on the Belgian cobblestone section of the test track, the 678 lb. front bumper consistently developed a terminal oscillation. Inevitably, the bumper would come flying through the ultra-expensive windshield, and with unfortunate consequences. Decoupling the bumper from the car caused a marked improvement in handling, a notable achievement considering those 13-inch front tires.
Given the stylistic similarities and possible cost savings, McNamara had strongly recommended modifying the 586 lb. rear bumper for use on both ends of the car. Calculations showed that its lighter weight would eliminate the oscillations, but Mercury’s lead designer wouldn’t budge.
Sadly, the bumper stylists were forced to scrap the proposed 10-sequential-turn-signal-lamps-per-side due to the absence of government approval. There was to have been a small, trunk-mounted IBM mainframe capable of producing 648 unique sequences for the 20 lights, each created from driver input (including age, sex, complexion, and bra or hat size) entered on pushbuttons in the steering wheel hub. If the driver was on the list of persons being investigated by the House Committee on Un-American Activities, all 20 red lights stayed at full brightness permanently and turn signaling defaulted to supplementary lamps in the fins.
Since air suspension was the hot thing in the late ’50s, Mercury engineers came up with a brilliant solution: Get rid of the rear axle and wheels altogether, then replace them with a cushion of air (those “tires” under the rear fenders do not turn, but can be lowered for parking, thus acting as an effective parking or emergency brake). A turbo-compound, supercharged 534 cu in Ford Super Duty truck engine, coupled to a variable-vector fan behind the rear seats, provided both lift and propulsion. Difficulties with controlling the vectoring precisely led to some rather strange phenomena, most of them involving the car’s inability to maintain a level ride height. In order to compensate, the electric seats incorporated an electric auto-leveling function that maintained the perception of a level ride height up to a 45-degree forward rake of the body, which was pretty typical during rapid acceleration.
All it needed was a bit more sorting out, but McNamara was having no more of it. The Mercury engineers wisely decided against even showing him their even more ambitious “Turnpike Cruiser” concept, whose nuclear power plant had been giving them a few minor problems.
In an act of desperation, McNamara combed the Advanced Design Studios for something he could live with, and instead of this gem we got this pathetic excuse for the 1957 Mercury–jeez, talk about not having any imagination. What a wet blanket.
(1957 Mercury Montclair prototype posted at the Cohort by c5karl)
I recall hearing a rumor back in the late 80s that the makers of the bugazzi were planning a revival of this design concept as a kit car based on a 2cv chassis, with funding from the Lithuanian government, but the whole thing was scrapped due to a scandal involving a moonshine distilling operation.
It does floor me that something so wild was so close to being approved for production. We’ll never see a modern manufacturer pushing the boundaries that much. Which is good and bad.
Uh, Phil? That WAS produced. Paul was making a funny.
Whoops. Obviously I don’t know old Mercurys very well, and skimmed the piece too quickly.
Yes, I agree! Looks to me like the car shown in the first few pics WAS produced in 58; now, the last pic is an artists rendering of what looks like to me a variation of the 61 Mercury, or maybe a prototype 61 Edsel(?). And the letters on the trunk and hood certainly dont spell Mercury…what up up with this scam???
The car in the last picture/illustration is a 1961 Meteor – a badge-engineered full-size Ford sold in Canada by Mercury dealers. (An earlier post downthread by ‘robadr’ refers to the car’s true identity.)
From ‘MadHungarian’ in the thread below:
“Although I know there is no evidence of this, I’ve always thought the ’61 Meteor looks like it started out as a design study for a ’61 Edsel. The rear, especially, looks exactly like what you would do if asked to create an Edsel off the ’61 Ford design. In front, all you would need is to add a central styling element to the grille much like the one on the production ’60 Edsel.”
The original source of the image is this brochure:
Yup. And, I periodically search Canadian car classifieds looking for a relatively cheap ’61 Meteor. Because, all I would need then is some 59-60 Edsel trim and badging off a parts car, and the dream would become reality . . .
Just wait for the post WWIII sales boom!
Another innovative idea was that solid cast, machined and polished piece of aluminum atop the rear quarter panels. It was actually an electrical conductor that received its power from a direct cable from the battery and served as a gigantic buss for all of the body wiring that would attach from the back side with adhesive connectors.
Unfortunately, it was hugely expensive. The cost accountants were trying to bring expense down when a prototype on the test track was hit by lightning. Not only were the rear doors instantly welded shut, but super-sized sparks jumped the gaps between metal pieces in the interior of the car. Because there was no space of more than 6 inches between any two pieces of metal, the entire inside of the car became a gigantic bug zapper, tragically killing both the test driver and his assistant.
I think that somebody at GM looked at stuff like this and then decided to add 175 more lbs of chrome to to every Buick and Olds for 58 (but who am I kidding I love them for it)
Look at the kid in the last picture. If that’s not Bruce McCall’s work I’ll eat my hat. After all, he worked in Ford’s Toronto office.
It sure DOES look like Bruce McCall’s work. In fact, the Merc itself looks like he could have designed it.
Buglemobile! It`s so big that the front and rear ends are in two separate time zones.
In fact McNamara’s choice was so popular in the market they passed it down with few changes to Ford in 1961. A rare case when the Ford was just a restyled Mercury.
I’m going to wear my serious hat for a moment. What’s interesting to me about the 1957 Mercury is that it represented the first installment of Ford’s hugely expensive expansion in the premium-priced field. This is what the Whiz Kids thought would sell. To be fair, the Mercury was arguably a better car in many ways than its competitors; even Consumer Reports said as much.
Nevertheless, the ’57 Mercury suffered from lots of assembly line sloppiness. And while its styling wasn’t as over-the-top as its sister Edsel, the public was hardly wooed by it. Sales were mediocre and, if I recall correctly, the Whiz Kid who was responsible for the Mercury had a heart attack.
Ford’s expansion drive had an odd, tragicomedy quality. Like bringing on Nance, fresh off of his spectacular destruction of Packard. Great judgment, Ford!
McNamara may have been far too utilitarian to be an effective automobile executive but he was right that Ford had vastly overreached. The 1961 Continental is one of the key results of McNamara’s re-entrenchment. It was everything that the 1958-60 Lincoln was not, e.g., understated, timeless and unusually compact for an American luxury car.
So one could argue that the bizarre excesses of the late-50s did result in the pendulum swinging the other direction — with sometimes happy results . . . such as the glorious 1961 Rambler Ambassador.
If I recall correctly, the 1957 Mercurys were the brainchild of Francis C. Reith, who was a Whiz Kid. He had made his name by whipping Ford’s money-losing French subsidiary into shape and selling it to Simca.
Ironically, the French subsidiary sold what was supposed to be the “small” 1949 Ford envisioned by Edsel Ford and Bob Gregorie. When Ernie Breech joined the company, he reviewed the plan to offer both a small Ford and a large one in 1949, and sent the small Ford to France and turned what was supposed to be the large Ford into the 1949 Mercury. He instituted a crash program for an all-new car that became the 1949 Ford we know today.
One wonders what would have happened if Ford had stuck to its original postwar plan. Selling two sizes of car under the same brand was exactly what Ford and Chevrolet would be doing by 1960! Perhaps Ernie Breech’s cancellation of the original Ford-Gregorie plan was another example of the “groupthink” mentality that, as you’ve noted before, has plagued Detroit for so long.
These Mercurys were supposedly everything the buying public wanted – longer, lower and wider. In all fairness, this Mercury was conceived soon after the flashy, huge 1954 Buick and Oldsmobile had knocked the sober, practical 1954 Plymouth back to fifth place in the sales race. That shocker resulted in the 1957 Chrysler Forward Look cars, the 1957 Ford Fairlane 500 on a longer wheelbase, and this Mercury. GM would top all of them with the even more outlandish 1958 Buick and Oldsmobile.
If Americans wanted big, flashy, low-slung cars with wild, radical styling, then that is what Detroit would give them.
As you noted, the Mercurys were handicapped by serious quality problems, and pretty much derailed Reith’s rise within the Ford Motor Company. He shot himself in 1960 – some say it was suicide, others say it was an accident.
Also, the exec who departed due to a heart attack was not one of the Whiz Kids, but Lewis Crusoe, who had been the first general manager of Ford Division from 1949 to 1955, then group vice president until his early retirement in ’57. Crusoe was much older than the Whiz Kids; he was one of Breech’s crew. (Crusoe had been Breech’s special assistant at Bendix and before that had been the controller at Fisher Body Division.)
I think one of the ’57 Mercury’s major problems was just that it tried to move into a higher price bracket more quickly than existing customers were prepared to accept. Both of the two low-end series were deleted for ’57, so the cheapest ’57 Mercury was now something like $350 higher than in ’56. That was a very big jump in those days.
After it was cancelled for production, to salvage their losses, they turned the prototype into the Mercury Mermaid, and went after speed records at Daytona Beach. This hot rod Lincoln averaged 159 miles per hour. Lots more photos, follow the link.
I see a car crying out For Still More… Turnpike Cruiser full bang shizam treatment, later to be called Park Lane….. I always wondered .There Was a Park Lane in Montclair ,New jersey , just wide enough to ride bike thru.. I grew up there, Maybe the Mercury Name Stylist lived there as well?
My Dad would never have a car with so many Doodads is what I remember thinking , but I loved The juke box like design.
1264 pounds of chrome bumper, only in America in the 50s!
Often forgotten is the fact that the Russians later succesfully copied the design for a heavy tank.
An obscure thought that just entered my mind was that this protoype was the first effort by engineers and designers the Whiz Kids had recently hired away from the Wurlitzer Corporation. Certainly the influence can be seen in the design.
Canada has always had to wait for the good stuff. Canadians were still thrilled and proud however when the Advanced Design Studio’s ’57 Montclair was put into production as the ’61 Meteor – with the added excitement of those wide spaced ‘Canada-only’ sequential headlights. You couldn’t miss them on the highway!
As a historical footnote, Robert McNamara was so frustrated by his difficulties with the 57 Montclair that he decided to devote himself to less challenging pursuits, including a land war in Southeast Asia.
Another small serious note – the door handles actually were gimp on these, and on the top two Edsel series that shared that body for 1958. Inside and outside ones both – I rode in my best friend’s 58 Citation hardtop and the door came open a couple of times. Well, maybe it was the latches that were gimp – that was 51 years ago after all, and the car was four years old and had a few miles on it by then.
This proto-type has a name, Wynona Ryder. thanks for the stories I can spin about her birth guys!
And to think how many 1983 Ford Ranger pickups could be built out of just one of these if properly recycled…
Hahahahah! You had me scratching my head at the weight of those bumpers!
I had to make sure the post didn’t say (first posted 4/1/2012)!
Gee, its a good thing they narrowly avoided building this monstrosity, could have been really disastrous for Mercury! Seriously, what Mercury marketing promoted as Dream Car Design even in the Mid-Century Modern mindset of the times, these were too much.
Another problem never fully sorted out was the weeping of the hydraulic frame rail tensioners.
Oxidization of self reversing horn fluid check valves was due to fluid not meeting vibration harmonics specifications.
I agree with the comments that say that it has a fair bit of Edsel in it……which is both good and bad. Good that it’s unique, but bad in that it was a little bit too different to really catch on.
A fact that has been glossed over by the “my news, your news” news networks is that this very car, with all of it’s chrome and sheet metal stripped off, was the actual lunar moon buggy that we all saw on TV on 1971. With scrap prices high due to the Viet Nam war, the price paid for all of that stripped off metal paid for the fuel to get this Mercury chassis —— I mean lunar moon buggy to the moon. It was the first and last moon buggy because after driving all over the moon the astronauts could not find a single drive in restaurant to eat at so they had to live off of the land eating nothing but cheese.
It’s still a lot nicer than a brougham.
These were the broughams of their times……
Ack! 7/13/13 is the day that I first noticed 58 Studebaker-style pods on the front fenders of the 57 Mercury, presumably for the same purpose of accommodating quad headlights. Now these will never be unseen.
No mention of the push-button transmission?
My grandfather had this ’57 Merc …. I spent hours in the driver’s seat, turning knobs & pressing buttons, since my feet couldn’t reach the floor.
It was a total zoom-car with more flash & shine than a 4-year old could ever ask for.
I recall, however, that my grandfather was always complaining about the short life-span of the exhaust system. With dual mufflers, if he wasn’t replacing one, he was replacing the other.
This car actually gives me hope for the future of car styling vs. today’s crop of over-styled over-over flamed, over-uglified, mutant frog faced (insert more comments here) jacked up station wagons. That the early 60’s cars returned to sane, tasteful designs after this shows that it could happen. My dad was due to trade in the ’55 Olds 88 in 1958. After a trip to the car show he postponed this to 1961, because of stuff like this. Of course he still wouldn’t spring for a radio.
Even as old as this thread is, I was there when the ’57 Mercury was new and thought I would add my two cents. First, these were wildly popular cars with the Jet Age minded motoring market of that era, coveted for their styling, power, and speed. I suppose you had to be there. That said, though, the larger Montclair and Turnpike Cruiser had grown too expensive for the niche they were designed to occupy, which also had some impact on the sales of the smaller Ford-based Monterey. My parents’ black Turnpike Cruiser was not meant to be as prestigious as a Lincoln, but, in fact, fully optioned with cruiser skirts, the “Big M” continental kit, full power, and air, it actually cost more than the entry level base Lincoln Capri. Ultimately, this “identity crisis” confused the market and compromised sales. It was also what frustrated McNamara to the point that he proposed discontinuing the Lincoln, Mercury, and Edsel brands, and returning to Ford production, alone. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, but a temporary trim of series from each division in 1961 allowed Ford to re-expand a few years later, but with more sensible pricing that was better related to the position of each series within a division…..Ah well, that’s all bean counter stuff. It doesn’t have anything to do with the excitement that these amazingly styled machines generated in those of us who once believed that they were the promise of a gleaming new future.