(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)