COAL: 1967 Mercury — Help, I’m Trapped in a Truman Capote Novel

In 1985 my grandmother died and was to be buried in her birthplace, North Carolina, beside her deceased husband. I never met that grandfather; the closest I came to anything of him was when he passed away in 1972 and my mother came home from his burial driving his 1971 LTD. It spent a few days parked in our garage. That was weird to me; cars had owners, yet here was a car without an owner, just sitting there. What happens to ownerless cars, 7-year-old me wondered.

An LTD like my grandfather’s, only his was basic old-man spec with the base taillamps.


My grandmother had left my grandfather decades earlier, done with his philandering and abuse (the story was that, finally fed up, she chased him through the backyard with a shotgun, firing as he ran from tree to tree). I know she wouldn’t have wanted to spend eternity resting beside him, but that was the choice my aunts and uncles made. So in August of ’85 I went to North Carolina to see her buried.

I had to ride down with my mother’s cousin, Fred. (I know technically he was my cousin too, but to me a cousin is someone in your own generation, so to me he was always my mother’s cousin.) Fred was a dour, no-nonsense, stick-in-the-mud sort of dude, kind of like Hank Hill, except even Hank Hill would have seemed zany compared to Fred. (Fun story about Fred: not long before he died, as an old man living alone, he built his own garage, only to realize he had messed up and built it a couple of feet over the neighbor’s property line. So he jacked it up and moved it – by himself.) A Ford employee, Fred had always been impartial to T-Birds so it was a surprise when I got to his house and he was preparing to depart in a newer Riviera.

What Fred used to drive (Wikimedia source)


I always liked that generation (sixth) of Riviera although it lacked the drama of the earlier years. The corresponding Eldorado was too boxy and angular and the Toronado just looked like a placeholder, but the Riviera had style.

What Fred was driving in ’85 (Wikimedia source)


It was a long ride down. Fred didn’t talk much, so I read my Robert Heinlein paperback (Number of the Beast, with demonic artwork on the cover. Looking back, that must have caused Fred, a devout Christian, to have So Many Questions about me). Naturally Fred didn’t offer to let me share the driving duties and I knew better than to ask.

In retrospect, this probably wasn’t a good look in front of the strait-laced Fred


We got to North Carolina and I was free of Fred for a few days while I stayed at the house of another of my mom’s cousins, a lady named Cloris. Parked in Cloris’ carport was the vehicle pictured in the lead photo, which I was instantly drawn to: a 1967 Mercury…Something.

That lead photo is all I have of the car. I know Cloris said it was a ’67 and she had bought it new. The extra trim on the trunk lid between the taillamps identifies it as something above a base model. A Park Lane? The small rear window, just barely visible in the shadows, seems to be a brougham roof, but I’m sure it was a pillarless hardtop. Maybe it was a Brougham? A Park Lane Brougham? I’m not sure, which is why the title to this post just calls it a Mercury. I’m sure commenters will chime in to help out.

The brochure IDs this as a Brougham but makes no mention of Park Lane


It was a long, black four door. It looked like a baby Lincoln, and I mean not that it looked lesser than a Lincoln, but somehow more pragmatic, as if Cloris appreciated a Lincoln’s style but wanted to fly a bit below the radar. (If so, I can relate; that’s why I drive a VW instead of its Audi cognate).

But what struck me most about this car was the fact that it existed at all. In Ohio where I lived, you just didn’t see clean 18-year-old cars as daily drivers. Not in 1985. On summer weekends, the muscle car guys would drag their clean 442s and Chargers out of mothballs for a cruise around the neighborhood, and a woman in one of my college classes drove a rattling, rusty, late-60s Olds, but clean 4-door luxury sedans had been eradicated (erusticated?) from Ohio roads by the mid ‘70s. Yet here was one, chilling in the carport like it was no big deal.

I had a couple of days to kill before the funeral. Cloris, sensing my boredom, asked me if I wanted to go with her to the grocery. Of course I didn’t. But I did want to ride in that car! So off we went.

Backed out of the carport, the Mercury was revealed to have a parchment interior, wrapped in clear plastic slip covers. It was a high-spec model with power everything. Gliding through the summer afternoon on Southern small-town streets, all windows down, my mom’s elderly cousin at the wheel of an ancient luxury car: it all felt very Southern Gothic…Capote-esque, even. In spite of the black exterior, the interior was bright and airy, an impression enhanced by bright metal trim on the dash and door panels. Everyone should cruise, at least once, in an old luxury hardtop with all the windows down through the streets of a small town on a summer afternoon.

A different year and spec but this captures something of the brightness and airiness of the interior.


A couple of days after the funeral it was time to go home and I was searching for a graceful way to say to Cloris “Hey, we just met and we’ll probably never see each other again, but when you’re ready to get rid of the Mercury, hit me up, K?” But there’s no way to tactfully tell someone the greatest impression they made on you was their car, so I thanked Cloris for her hospitality and left, heading back north with Fred in the Riviera.

On the way back we got stuck in an epic traffic jam outside one of the tunnels on Interstate 77. Traffic was at a dead standstill, with people getting out of their cars to hang out on the roadway. It was a little bit of a party atmosphere but Fred was having none of that. Even though I rode hundreds of miles and many hours in Fred’s Riviera, it failed to make an impression on me as four miles in the Mercury had. Today I have a full stable (three vintage Porsches and three more-or-less current VWs), but if a black ’67 Mercury 4-door with a parchment interior popped up on my radar, I’d find a way to give it a home.