It wasn’t just Edsel that got creamed in the late 50s. Ford’s huge push to compete mano-a-mano with GM’s three powerful mid-market brands was a two-pronged attack. Edsel would cover the lower-to-middle range (roughly) of that coveted market segment, and Mercury the middle-to-upper range. That involved creating a new larger body for Mercury and the senior Edsels, as well as a suitable new big engine.
As just about everyone above a certain age or who has read the comic book version of automotive history knows, Edsel bombed out completely, and was gone within a couple of years. But Mercury got hit hard too, both from cannibalization from Edsel as well as from many of the same factors that killed Edsel. By 1961, Mercury was back to what it had been almost all of its life: a tarted up Ford. But for a few years Mercury spread its flashy wings and tried to soar; instead it came crashing back to earth.
The only other time Mercury had not shared its body with Ford was 1949-1951, when the Ford was downsized at the last minute. But it still wasn’t exclusively Mercury’s body; the lower range Lincolns used it too.
By 1952, Mercury was back to sharing the Ford’s body, all-too obviously. This went on through 1956.
The Ford company’s big push upwards and outwards started in 1957, with Mercury fielding an ambitious new range of cars that were topped by the flamboyant Turnpike Cruiser. It’s hard to think of a car of that period that more fully reflects the over-the-top mentality and aesthetic of this period. Every possible Jet-Sputnik-Googie-inspired affectation was in full display. Did it work? Hardly. 1957 sales were down some 15% from what they had been the previous couple of years. This was not a good start.
Why did sales drop? Although the recession of 1958 hadn’t yet properly hit, 1957 saw declines in almost all of the mid-premium brands. There was some growing economic unease, as well as an increasing resistance to the excesses on full display in this segment of the market. The longer, lower, wider, chromier, finnier mantra turned out not to be the one an increasing number of Americans were chanting to themselves when it came to car buying, and import sales swelled during these years, peaking at 10% of the market in 1959. Full size cars that had still been somewhat manageable were now just plain excessive, and a pain in the ass to park and navigate through increasingly crowded traffic. Or just didn’t reflect the the mindset of a growing number of consumers, especially women who never really bought into the length competition thing.
The 1958’s were mostly just a typical refresh, but the new Park Lane took things even further, with a wheelbase stretched from 122″ to a whopping 125″. Did it add any rear leg room? No. And yes, the factory optional continental spare on Mercuries of this vintage were not as rare when they were new as is often presumed now. Which of course made them look even that much more absurd. My speculations on these cars as to whether they were actually real can be found here.
It’s universally accepted wisdom that the Mercuries from this era (1957-1960) had their own unique body. But that needs to be qualified. Yes, they shared no external sheet metal with the big Fords, but they weren’t quite as unique one might be tempted to assume. The new 1957 Fords were plenty big in their own right, and the Fairlane series had a substantial 118″ wheelbase. It’s apparent that the Fords and Mercury shared the same basic underpinnings, the new “cow belly” frame that bulged out towards the rear, allowing rear seat foot wells but still requiring that the front seat had a high floor above the frame.
The only real significant differences appear to be that the frames were of course longer for the Mercuries (and Edsel), and its rear axle was wider, with a 60″ track instead of the Ford’s 56.4″. That made them look a bit less overburdened back there than the narrow rear track Fords. Their front tracks were the same, except for the minor difference of the Mercury’s wider wheels and/or brake drums.
Meaning: while it appears that the front ends of all of these cars were roughly the same structural width, the main section of the Mercury/senior ’58 Edsel body was wider, resulting in an extra inch or so of hip room and almost thee inches of more shoulder room.
The best way to illustrate how this was accomplished is by these two shots of ’58 Edsels: a Pacer, which used the Ford body (top) and a Corsair (below), which used the Mercury body. Note how most of the front end is the same, to share parts. The difference is in the front fenders, where the Corsair has a decided bulge that looks almost tacked on, starting just behind the headlight pods and extending ever wider to meet the doors of the Mercury body. This also creates a decided ledge on the top of the larger body’s door, unlike the Ford body door. This is how the same basic front ends (in track and suspension) were utilized across all three brands, but adapted to the wider Mercury body from the cowl back.
There’s no doubt that Ford (bottom) adopted most of this wider ’58 Mercury body (top) for itself in 1959, starting with the wider front fender tops and the wider door “ledges”. It was a cheap way to give the ’59 Ford a new look without much of the investment, and Mercury was finished mostly finished with it anyway, as it got a substantially new body in 1959. And it’s not just an illusion; the ’59 Ford’s shoulder room gained those three inches to equal the Merc’s. Yet clearly other aspects were different, especially the windshield and the same 56.4″ narrow track Ford rear axle instead of the Merc’s 60″ unit. Playing around with mix-and-match body components was a game Detroit was very familiar with, especially in the pre-unibody era when it was so much easier.
The extra length did the ’58 Mercury no favors on the market: sales utterly collapsed, from the already mediocre 286k to 133k, a whopping 54% drop. mercury was down to ninth place in the rankings. 1958 was a terrible year for everyone except Rambler and the imports, but undoubtedly Edsel’s 63k sales further eroded Mercury’s numbers.
So what was the response for 1959? A new and even bigger Mercury! The lesser models now had a 126″ wheelbase, whereas the Park Lane now sported a whopping 128″ wheelbase, as well as new (and longer) styling. Obviously these cars were locked in before the fiasco of 1958, so there was nothing left to do but suck it up.
And prepare for the mercy killing of Edsel, which for 1959 consolidated on a single Ford-based body with 120″ wheelbase. As noted earlier, this body was actually the wide ’57-’58 Mercury body recycled.
The senior ’59 Edsels were planned to also share the new ’59 Mercury body with the new greenhouse. But that was stopped in its tracks. Which left the 1959-1960 Mercury as the most unique ones ever, as they essentially nothing of their extravagant body with anyone else. Presumably it wasn’t really all-new, as main aspects of the inner body structure were almost certainly carry-overs, But the greenhouse certainly wasn’t, as well as the rest of the external panels.
Which brings us to our actual CC, which I found in Bend, OR on our recent camping trip. It was a fortuitous find, as it’s the first of its kind in my years of car hunting. And it’s in essentially original condition, making it a genuine CC. Not surprisingly, it’s a lower-trim Monterey, as that was by far the (relative) best selling line of Mercuries in 1959. It certainly looks relatively more down to earth than the Park Lane.
One of the most distinctive stylistic features of these cars were their huge windshields, which wrapped around on the top as well as the sides. Very impressive, except for the dog leg intrusion on entering and of the solar intrusion on sunny days. Its chromed surround is of course missing.
The scope of that giant windshield is best appreciated from the inside. The instruments and controls are housed in a multi-layered, highly sculptured structure. And unlike the pathetic exposed shifter rod on the Fords, the Mercury’s is fully integrated in the steering column. I’m not certain, but it looks like at least part of that column might have been shared with the Lincoln.
Here’s a factory shot that really puts that windshield into perspective.
Here’s a better shot from our archives.
The rear window is almost equally impressive as the front windshield.
No wonder the tops of the upholstery back there is sun-fried.
My shot of the rear compartment is less than clear, but you get the picture.
“Cruiser” designates the hardtops of the Monterey lineup, which also included sedans and convertible.
Wagons had their own designations. Somewhat curiously, the cheapest one, the 2-door Commuter, was a hardtop no less!
Under their capacious hoods, Ford’s heavy-metal V8s lurked exclusively. The standard version in the Monterey was the Y-block 312, rated at 210hp. For more power (and weight) the super-heavy-weight class MEL V8 was on tap, in two 383 inch versions; the 280 hp version standard on the Commuter wagon and optional on the Monterey. The 322 hp version was standard on the Montclair, Voyager and Colony Park. The Park Lane got the Lincoln-sized 430 inch version with 345hp standard, outgunning both Cadillac and Imperial in that department. Well, everyone, as the 430 was the biggest displacement engine in the US at the time.
Sales got a very small bump from all that extra effort, rising 13% to exactly 150,000 units. That increase was well below what its competition did in a substantially stronger sales environment. Quite clearly Mercury was under-performing, and undoubtedly its fate was sealed that year.
That would take until 1961 to be fully implemented, but the 1960 Mercury clearly showed where that was heading. The 128″ wheelbase was axed, prices were dropped, and its value proposition was emphasized, now that Edsel was no longer a reason to keep some distance above the Ford and its competition. Mercury was now playing Pontiac’s game (minus the styling), by competing directly with the low-priced three’s V8 models.
Did it work? Very slightly. Sales increased 3%, to 155k for all of the genuine Mercuries. Which makes the ’60s just as rare as the ’59s.
But the new 1960 Comet, originally intended to be a compact Edsel and not yet technically a Mercury, was a success though, selling 116k units.
That saved the bacon for the division overall, and Comet became a legitimate Mercury in 1961, when sales exceeded 300k for the first time again in some time. And of course the 1961 big Mercury was no just back to being a tarted-up Ford. Mercury division sales would stay in the 300k range through 1971. Starting in 1972, Mercury’s fortunes improved considerably, thanks to the industry-wide movement to favor mid-premium brands in the 70s and 80s.
On a personal level, I can attest to the poor sales of these Mercuries from their profound scarcity in my Iowa City years. The first one I encountered close-up was in a car port when I discovered a shortcut to my daily one-mile walk to Lincoln School. It was a four door hardtop, and one of the higher trim versions. I was somewhat astounded, as I felt I had discovered a completely new species of the family automobilus. I pored over this exotic car, whose unique windshields, front and rear, made it clear to me that this was not just a gussied up Ford, unlike the case with all of the Chrysler company cars which all shared the same windshield from lowly Plymouth to lofty New Yorker. This was a genuine exotic in every respect.
But Chrysler probably did it right. The extra effort put into these Mercuries made them a great find in 1961 as well as in 2018, but it did nothing for the brand and Ford Motor Company. But who cares about them? Life would be so much poorer without these extravagant follies.
CC 1957 Mercury Montclair: reaching Ford the Stars Only to Hit a Moon J.Shafer
Another excellent piece, Paul. You give perspective to what was always a confusing era of cars for me to understand. Why did automakers seem to always sell longer finnier (etc) when it usually failed? Or am I oversimplifying it? Were there enough times it worked to justify doing it over and over again? Am I asking too many questions? Seemed like the cleaner designs were more often hits.
Keep in mind that back then Detroit was working with a lot longer lead times. To start, CAD didn’t exist yet, we’re talking rooms filled with huge drafting tables and lots of paper.
So, a lot of what you are seeing here was originally mapped out by the 1955 model year. A year when the longer, lower, wider and slather on the chrome actually worked in the market place. Admittedly, in a more toned down version, although it didn’t seem so at the time. And if it worked that year, we add a little more the next year. Which still worked. So we push it a little more.
And sometime between 1957-58, it stopped working. Partially due to the economy (which nobody had expected back in ‘55), and partially because the designers took it too far for the marketplace.
Unfortunately, given the long lead times, everybody was still locked into the same design progression for a few more years. Which is why you didn’t see a general change in design until ‘61. And the exceptions (GM’s crash designs for the ‘59’s) were particularly off the wall and less than wonderfully thought out (it’s no surprise that Buick was the only cohesive design that year, it’s the design that everybody else had to work with and modify).
In the sixty years plus that I’ve lived with these designs, I long ago came to the conclusion that the last attractive American car designs were the ‘56 models, with one hell of a wasteland until ‘61. Five years. Which was close to the normal lead time to design a car back then.
I’ll second this. To me, with few exceptions, 55 and 56 were high water marks in design and nothing of the next five years came close. Between the recession and the forward look, bad news was all around.
The lead times weren’t five years. More like 18-36 months. The 1960 Valiant took 18 months from the decision to build a compact (but not nailed down in terms of size and details) to production. The famous ’59 GM cars were the result of seeing the ’57 Chryslers in August or September of ’56, and they were at the dealers 24 months later. We’ve gone over the very compressed time frame of the 1962 Plymouths and Dodges, also some 18-20 months, and these like the Valiant, were unibodies, which made the engineering much more complicated.
It wasn’t the lead times, but the huge investment that needed to be amortized. Once Ford committed to the larger Mercury/Edsel program, they needed to amortize that larger body and its production facilities.
As it is, they made some quick changes. The “large” Edsel was killed quickly for ’59,leaving just the Ford-based one, although strictly speaking, it now used the wider body along with Ford in ’59, but not as long as before.
Lead times were maximum 36 months, but more typically 24-30. And there’s plenty of times when there was a rush to do it sooner.
The 1958’s arrived in fall 1957, so about 2 years after ’55, when sales were sky high.
The story is that the launch of Sputnik made American buyers less confident, etc, and recession came about. Would like to hear more stories.
One nice simple answer to this question: The executives of the Big Three were dead drunk all the time. They had lots of stupid Bright Ideas that nobody could overrule. (Sort of like a currently famous drug-impaired auto firm CEO.)
Mormon Romney was sober, and strictly constrained by budget limitations. He couldn’t afford to be stupid.
A truly astounding find. I’ve seen all of about two ’59 Mercurys in my life, with the more recent being about two weeks ago.
The sales numbers for 1958 are particularly interesting; it seems like Edsel sales came at the expense of Mercury, not unlike Falcon sales coming at the expense of the full-sized Ford a couple years later.
There’s one element in particular about this Mercury that just doesn’t work. That windshield wrapping itself onto the roof is not a good thing. It’s rather like a man with a very long forehead due to a quickly receding hairline. While GM did the very same thing during this time, it doesn’t jump out and punch a person the way it does on the Mercury.
Long ago, a great uncle of mine who lived in Houston had a 1960 Mercury as a company car. My grandfather told a story about how he drove this Mercury somewhere and had to get fuel. He could not find the fuel filler anywhere on the car. It seems a tail light had a hinge on it that hid the fuel filler. While it appears the fuel filler in centrally located and above the rear bumper on this example, am I all wet in this story about the highly related ’60?
I don’t know Mercury very well, and the 50’s cars are a bit before my time (I became aware of cars during the glorious mid 1960’s) but I don’t recall any Ford vehicles with the taillight gas filler.
I seem to think of it as a GM thing appearing on Cadillacs for some years during the mid 50’s. I also know that a friend’s 56 Chevy had it as well. I thought it was the coolest thing ever.
Anyhow I can understand your uncle’s irritation – you (or in those days, your gas station attendant) had to know the trick or you’d never find it.
Here’s a YouTube video of how to open one
A little online sleuthing indicates that something was wrong in your old family story. I would be pretty sure that the little door over the center of the bumper was for the fuel filler. Ford went to a center-fill system in 1952 and stuck with it for a long time, through 1964 on the big cars, I believe.
As a little kid, the rear of the ’60 tails reminded me of the “Gerber Baby”, in my imagination.
Cars were like cartoon characters to me.
Excellent article with a lot of insight and information. I cannot look at these photos and not think of Inger Stevens in the Twilight Zone episode “The Hitch Hiker”.
And in the opening episode of The Fugitive, Dr. Richard Kimble drove a 60 Mercury the night his wife was murdered by the one-armed man.
J P Cavanaugh: I cannot believe that someone besides my Father and I spotted the ’60 Mercury!
The series finale for “The Fugitive” was a huge event in the suburbs I grew up in.
Mom & Dad had a living room full of neighbors over to watch the last episode as we had the only color TV on the block. People brought over food, tv trays snapped into place, all the kiddies banished upstairs (I quietly watched thru the stairway railings).
I played the opening riff/refrain to this show on my tiny Casio keyboard organ so often my long suffering parents hid the darn thing on me.
I cheated a bit, as my Mrs. found a station that plays an episode every week. We have captured them one at a time on our DVR and are up into the beginning of season 3 now. The Ford Motor Company clearly supplied all of the cars, although there have been some exceptions like a Buick convertible here or an Imperial there. But FoMoCo cars and trucks make up the bulk of the rolling stock.
One of my all time favorite “Twilight Zone” episodes.
What a great find, and coupled with the kind of write-up it deserves.
I have long had a morbid fascination with Mercuries of the 57-60 period. It is hard to know what caused the failure because Ford made so many changes. First, Ford tried to move Mercury into a completely new price class, putting Edsel into the slot which Mercury had occupied for 20 years. That sort of thing may have worked for My Fair Lady in the theatre, but it was suicide to move Mercury so far from its customer base (that was never all that strong to begin with).
And then there is the car itself. This is one of those cars where each individual little piece of the design kind of works on its own, but when all of them come together it just falls apart.
There is a young guy on YouTube who goes by The Corvette Ben. He takes derelict cars and tries to bring them back to life. He recently had a video series on a 59 Monterey sedan that fought him at every step of the process. Some cars just want to stay dead and that was one of them.
I had also never noticed the difference in the front fenders between the Ford-bodied Edsel and the Mercury-bodied Edsel of 1958.
I had never noticed it before last night either. 🙂 I decided it was time to unravel the mystery of these two bodies. Initially I assumed that maybe the Mercury body wasn’t really fundamentally any different except in length and exterior styling. But when I dug up some interior hip and shoulder room dimensions, it confirmed that it was wider. And rear track is wider. But the front track was the same. So I decided to focus on the Edsel, as it used both bodies. Were there two Edsel front ends, one wider than the other? Seemed crazy, from a tooling cost POV. Looking closely at them unraveled the mystery.
Now it’s so obvious I can’t believe I didn’t notice it earlier. “See and you shall believe”.
Edsel designer Roy Brown said he was inspired by the Packard Predictor show car. Wouldn’t it have been cool if for the larger E-M Edsels he had been allowed to keep the originally planned hidden headlights?
Wow—dumbfounded myself at never noticing that “hiding in plain sight.” When thinking about “the larger Mercury platform” I somehow had always focused on length rather than width.
Also, I’d never realized that the ’60 Mercury had worked so hard to sell itself on price/value—gotta go look up some price lists now.
This was decades-familiar turf for me today, Paul—but I learned plenty. Thanks!
When I was a kid friends of my folks owned a 59 Mercury wagon….black with a red interior. I thought that it was a really cool looking car.
The Ford dealership in my hometown was fairly small (actually, all the car dealerships were) so we did not have a Mercury dealer within 20-25 miles (and would never get one) so few people owned Mercurys. I can only remember 3 families that owned them in the 50s-60s. Ironically (?) Mercurys became more popular in the late 60s to early 70s as they became more Lincoln like.
I always thought that the 59 Ford looked like a small car, compared to any other full sized model in 59, but never knew that Mercury had gotten so huge. Or that, at least for a while, Mercury had THE largest available engine in a domestic branded car.
Hate to say it, but if I had to chose a car built in 59 as something to occupy a two car garage, I would strongly consider a 59 Mercury 2 door wagon. However, I think I would never grow to even like that instrument panel….though it isn’t much worse than that found in several other cars of the period.
I found a 1959 Mercury Ranchero at a car show recently. I’m working on a writeup of same and will submit soon. I was sure it was a Ford until I examined it more closely. Great find!
It didn’t help that they were ugly cars; they made the Edsel look almost pretty!
To be fair, the 59 model year was not known for what we now consider great tastes for anyone. There will always be some better designed than others, but by and large, the bigger, lower, wider, finnier, more chrome laden idea was in full force for almost all US makers.
My perception of Mercuries, from the early/mid-sixties when I was in elementary school, was that they were “fancy” cars like Oldsmobiles or Buicks, maybe even Chryslers. I don’t know if that was a legacy of this late fifties up-market move, or of the ‘49 Mercury which was already a classic, or just the fact that we had no Mercury dealer in my town. I don’t recall seeing many Mercuries compared to Fords and Plymouths and Chevies, but the radical wrap-around windshields and backlights have stuck in my memory.
“And it worked! 1960 sales jumped 80%, up to 271k, closer to the 300+k that Mercury typically sold in better years,… ”
Not a minor correction, the full-sized 1960 Mercuries which are the subject of this analysis sold 158,000 units: 102,539 Montereys; 19,814 Montclairs; 10,287 Park Lanes and 25,360 Counntry Cruisers. To arrive at your cited total one must included the 116,331 Comets, not yet title as a Mercury . Production figures are from the Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946-1975, 3rd Edition, Edited by John Gunnell.
The concept of up-market Park Lane to compete with 98, Electra and New Yorker was valid, but the one ingredient missing that could have made it succeed was to have the body/chassis platform share with Lincoln. It was demonstrated thoroughly by GM with their C-Bodied 98-Electra-Cadillac trio. Since no one at Ford seemed to understand this relationship, Lincoln had been saddled with a unique unibody which produced no miraculous results either, except to fill out Wixom volume.
By comparison, in the rising affluence of the 1960’s, B-O-P was positioned to take full advantage of that, while Mercury soldiered on as an also-ran. The mistake of not building L-M product planning on a unified platform left both makes at a continual disadvantage.
Thank you for uncovering a major mistake. It was getting late last night, and that huge increase attributed to the large 1960 cars seemed excessive, given how rare they were too. I should have checked that. The text is corrected now.
Heck, even Paul can make an occasional error!
In addition to the comparison with GM’s C Body, could one of Mercury’s problems have been tying in with Lincoln for the dealer network? Were there standalone Mercury dealers, or were there larger (not just small town) stores selling all three brands? My town had a standalone Cadillac shop, plus as I recall, a Buick-Olds dealership, Pontiac, plus Ford, Chevy, AMC, VW, Volvo and Mopar. Whereas a Mercury buyer not only had to go to the next town over, they had to go to a Lincoln dealership. That may have seemed too exclusive/expensive/intimidating compared to going into a standalone mid-priced brand dealership. Plus, would a Lincoln salesperson want to sell down? They’re supposed to sell up. But hey, I’ve never been a retail or marketing guy.
Ford Motor Company had both Ford-Mercury and Lincoln-Mercury dealers in smaller towns and cities. The former pairing were a legacy of the 1939 Mercury introduction to get full market coverage. Ford dealers were granted a Lincoln-Zephyr franchise when the make appeared for the same reason. At some point, many received Mercury in place of Ford when the L-M Division came to be. Dual franchises by GM and Mopar to give a dealer broader market coverage was the pattern being emulated.
There were also stand-alone Mercury dealers which largely came to be in the early 1950’s as its sales were on the rise. These were dealers who had handled independent makes successfully and were becoming disenchanted as those makes faded. District managers for Mercury enticed many to jump to Mercury with promises of higher sales and profits. Locally, there was a long-time Studebaker dealer who switched to Mercury in 1953-’54 period.
My great grandfather had a Lincoln franchise with his Ford agency in the late 20’s, but I don’t think they kept in the depression, nor did they pick up Lincoln-Zepher in when those came out in 1936. I always understood that Mercury was paired with Lincoln to give dealers a volume brand to sell, as even L-Z sales were relatively low.
#IMO: No match for the “over the top”, polarizing ’59 Chevy/Pontiac/Buick….much less the gorgeous, graceful ’59 Plymouth/Dodge/DeSoto.
My father’s favorite cousin and her husband had a 1959 Park Lane convertible when I was very young. It was black with a red interior, and was the first car I’d ever ridden in that had power windows. It was traded for a 1959 Cadillac Coupe De Ville in the late 1960s.
There is a 1959 Park Lane four-door hardtop that shows up at various local car shows, including the big Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) meet in October. It’s light gold, and in original (good, but not perfect) condition.
Seeing these cars in person makes one realize how over-the-top they really are. They look much more massive than the GM and Chrysler competition.
Mercury’s full-size cars never really got back on track until the 1970s. If I recall correctly, the full-size Mercury generally placed last, or next-to-last (before Dodge), in sales of all non-luxury full-size cars.
The ’69 Marquis, with hidden headlights, seemed to inject life into big Merc sales. “Lincoln looks for less.” And, the eventual Grand Marquis lasted until 2011 in BOF/RWD.
Classic Curbside Classic! I don’t know that I’ve ever before seen a ’59 Mercury (I was going to say I don’t know that I’ve ever noticed one, but that would be ridiculous). From today’s perspective, I surely wouldn’t want to have to park it, fuel it, (pay to) replace its windshield, (pay to) replace its backglass, (pay to) do any bodywork on it…just a really impractical vehicle.
But planned obsolescence was a primary main structural plank of the American auto industry at that time, and cars like this with all kinds of edges and swoops and curves and trim on the body get old in a hurry because it’s difficult and costly to fix even minor parking lot knocks—and that’s alongside the rust-early, rust-often tendencies of that era’s cars.
Still and all, I’m filing this under Why can’t we have things that look like this? (and also right next to “mongoose” under exasperating plurals. Is it “Mercuries”? “Mercurys”? Neither looks right. There’s a Mercury, and another Mercury.)
This example you found is in amazing condition. The PAR36 sealed beam frog lights are as useless as can be, but whoever installed them looks to have done a craftsmanlike job of it; they look like they belong. The wraparound taillamps look like they were probably visible side-on,
a clear safety benefit that wouldn’t be mandatory until 1970an accidental oversight corrected by Mercury stylists by 1961. I surely wouldn’t want to be stuck in the back seat on a hot summer’s day with the sun beating through that giant backglass; it’d feel like a bug under a magnifying glass!
As to the 1958: I’m trying my best, but I just literally cannot even.
There were probably only a handful of these cars imported into Canada.
And yes, these cars were all about falling to pieces in a few years. Keeping any car of the era past ten years was impossible. The thing would simply rust to nothing and every part except the drive line will fail.
I find the ’57-’59 Mercury to be a little over the top even by late 1950s standards – the ’58 was the best of a bad bunch. The 1960 Merc was much cleaner and a big improvement. A 1959 Edsel based on the Mercury platform was planned, but it never saw the light of day for obvious reasons.
Wow, that two-tone really loses the plot up front. Bit of a Ford problem, that, as with the ’55 Fords that had different inner and outer front fender colors but one-color trim rings around the lights.
Great article on a great CC find! Who would think there is at least one 59 Mercury being driven around for transportation still?
You alluded to it, but I just read a book about AMC so I immediately thought of how Rambler was a large beneficiary of the growing interest in modest, compact cars. Or perhaps you could say the interest was always there but increasingly ignored by US makers in the 50’s. AMC/Rambler had huge sales increases in the late 50’s, probably at the expense of Mercury (and others of course).
I’ve always liked 59 and 60 Mercs. They characterize the best and worst things about the era. The long stretched out appearance, the half mile from the front seat to the dashboard and giraffe-worthy steering column, the huge windshield. These are more extreme than even other mid price makes, it seems to me. They don’t necessarily make for a practical car, but these unique Mercurys are fun to look at.
I love the way the power seat switch says fore and aft, like an airplane.
A 59 two door hardtop Commuter wagon would be an ultimate car for my garage. Maybe someday!
IIRC, Hitchcock’s Psycho had a 59 Merc driven by the PI Arbogast right before his ill-fated attempt to interview Norman Bates’ mother.
Rambler maybe benefited from the “low priced 3” cars getting bigger and thirstier, too. Former base Chevy/Ford shoppers likely balked at the “tanks”.
The 1960 Mercury is truly beautiful in my opinion. I built an AMT kit of one back then and still have it – one of my favorites. My well off neighbor’s was a tan convertible that he bought new. I didn’t like the color so much though. I figure FoMoCo should have kept Mercury in its traditional place above Ford in competition with Pontiac and placed Edsel higher up. Would have been a good fit for Packard dealers in particular and maybe would have resulted in a more effective “ladder” at Ford. Where I live, our Studebaker dealer took an Edsel franchise and continued to sell Studebaker at his existing location when Edsel first came out. He had about the largest shop in town at the time and it looks to me that price-wise at least, Edsel would have suited his customers well. Wonder how many other S-P dealers made the jump? Harold took a Dodge franchise when Studebaker stopped building cars.
This is one of those cars (like the ’57 Plymouth) that went from showroom to junkyard way too fast. In the early ’70s I remember seeing ’59 Fords, Chevys, and Pontiacs, but not these.
Look! There’s a ’58 Buick Limited on top of the heap! (Another late ’50s chrome masterpiece, totally valueless and unloved by the end of the ’60s).
I can recall seeing exactly *one* of these on the road after, say, 1970. It was in maybe 1978 or so and it was a faded yellow car with bad rust absolutely everywhere – a real rolling wreck that had one tire in the junkyard, so to speak. I have never seen another out on the road or parked somewhere other than a show (or a classic car dealer) since.
I’m glad this example Paul found doesn’t have the optional row of rear reflector lights which I see on a lot of ’59 Mercurys. They make the rear look over-decorated, confused–and even more menacing! I think that’s why, in the original brochures, the cars are never shown with these extra lights.
Your example gives some support to my idea that the 59 Mercury used two different and unrelated rear end treatments, one atop the other.
Neat find and great write-up.
I guess this is the place to drop this factory photo:
Actually I’m going to drop it into the article, if you don’t mind. Thanks!
^^I’m of course tickled to share something useful, Paul .
This photo makes me wonder: was the 59 Mercury the first postwar American car with parallel action windshield wipers? The 46-48 Lincoln is the only other I can think of, but that was a prewar design.
The lady model looks like Janet Leigh, of “Psycho”, on her way to the Bates Motel!
Learned so much with this post + the comments. This is why CC is the best.
Paul, I’d suggest one little thing: shoehorn a pic of the 59 Edsel on a Mercury body that Tonyola posted in a comment above into the main post. I’d never seen it before.
Good to know.
Yes, I’m going to add that picture, as I’ve not seen it before either.
These were very rare in Canada, where the Meteor line was what we got for Mercury. I had never seen one until about a decade ago in White Rock BC there was one parked on the street. Every possible gee-gaw, fin or jet-ray one could imagine was on the thing. I was really impressed that such a level of kitsch could be actually brought to market at a price anyone could afford. Granted, the number of folks in Soviet Cancuckistan circa 1959 who could afford to buy one was minuscule anyway.
It was so intrigued that I looked up some reviews from the period and there were plenty of folks who were disgusted and shocked by such ostentatious land ships.
Still, I am glad that they were built. They are a bit of culture on wheels.
These were sold in Canada under the Monarch name, one was at the recently covered orphan car show https://www.curbsideclassic.com/blog/car-show/car-show-classics-22nd-annual-orphan-car-show/
Great read. I love that little nugget about the bulge along the Ford’s front clip.
A slight tangent, but why did Mercury stay with the 58/9 basis when but Ford and Edsel went with the Quicksilver in 1960?
There are so many great questions about Ford and Mercury of this period. Like the 2 year short wheelbase Ford of 57-58 and the single year wide-body Ford of 1959. I suppose we should be lucky that Ford didn’t recycle that big Mercury body as a cheap 61 Lincoln when that car’s future was in doubt.
The ’59-’60 Mercury platform was more ideal to create a fully competitive full-line 1960’s Lincoln than was the unibody employed. It wasn’t simply a matter of styling, rework of the unibody for 1964 adding 3 inches to wheelbase for adequate rear seat legroom and the addition of the 1966 coupe, were efforts to correct the initial deficits.
The ’59 Park Lane, already essentially outfitted as a Lincoln chassis, required simply a restyle to ’61 Lincoln design as well as change of the greenhouse. Doing so would have enabled Lincoln to field a full selection of body styles included the important premium sedan to challenge Cadillac 60 Special and Imperial LeBaron. Platform sharing was the real avenue for luxury makes to create fully competitive cars. Although the platform-sharing 1970’s Lincolns are found less interesting now, they finally hit stride in sale volume and presumably profitability.
My guess is that it was to amortize that new greenhouse and huge windshields that came in ’59. Two years were generally the minimum for such investments. And the ’59-60 body was already designed to take the longer wheelbase(s) that the Merc was seen to need to differentiate itself. It would have taken more money to modify the ’60 Ford for that.
the Edsels look handsome in comparison to the Mercurys
amazing Mercury lasted so long as unfortunate-looking Fords
The ’67 Cougar and ’69 Marquis helped Mercury make a comeback, for a while…IMHO
That car is an identical twin of mine, same model and exterior and interior trim and colors. only differences are the roof color ( mine is monotone ) and the missing additional rear reflector “lights” , which are very common on these cars.
never saw one equipped so close to mine.
If Curbside classic didn’t show and mention these hypermobiles , Mercury as a carmaker would keep definitely forgotten in the global car’s history lot . New generations do not have any pale idea of what about a car called Mercury can be mean .
I loved and still love the 60 Mercury 2 door hardtop Cruiser. I had one from 64 to 67 and always hated myself for getting rid of it. One thing that hasn’t been mentioned. Speed. My car came with the 430 engine with a 2 barrel carb. It had a rear axle that was 217 if I remember correctly. In any case, it’s top end was way over the 120 on the speedometer. I saw one car magazine test on one equipped like that and the calculated top speed was in the 160s. I was in Arizona at the time and I spent many hours in my Big M with the speedometer sitting on 100 MPH. It took a long time to get there but it would just cruise once there. I knew an Officer that bought a 65 Tri power GTO. Told him I’d race him and he told me he’d leave me in a cloud of dust. Told him I’d race him from Tucson to Phoenix. I’d catch him in 20 or 30 miles and just run away. The muscle cars of the day were geared for the 1/4 mile. Top end was less than 120. And if you ran very long at those speeds they would overheat. He wouldn’t take my bet. You know how you can get in a car, not watch your speed and it would just settle out at a certain speed? My Big M would settle out at 90 MPH. I recently found one but it is eaten up with rust. But we may try to save it.