Curbside Classic: 1961 Mercury Meteor 800 – The Beginning Of The End

(first posted 4/11/2011)     There’s a reason this is the very first Mercury at the new CC. It’s the same reason why pretty much the only Mercuries at the old CC were the Comet, Bobcat and Cougar: big Mercuries are mostly a sad tale. There are some exceptions, and we’ll get to one of them as soon as I catch that ’64 Breezeway outside of its carport. But the Mercury story must be told, and this ’61 is a key player, even if it’s song is in a minor key.

Ford and Chrysler perpetually faced the same problem: GM. More specifically, the mid-upper brands at GM, which perpetually dominated the charts. The Ford and Plymouth brands could give Chevy a real run for the money, but otherwise made very few serious dents against the Pontiac-Olds-Buick-Cadillac juggernaut. Ford made its one and only really serious attack in the 1957 – 1960 period, and staggered out, bloodied and blood-let.

Ford’s very ambitious mid-fifties plan was to go mano-a-mano against GM, with five full divisions against theirs: Ford, Edsel, Mercury, Lincoln and Continental. I don’t have to tell this crowd how that turned out, but let’s just stick to how Mercury was involved and battered. Although Mercury survived, it was never a really serious player again.

From its birth until 1957, Mercury had always used Ford bodies, except for the ’49 – ’51 period, where it used a body originally planned for the ’49 Ford, and shared with the low-end Lincolns. In 1957, Mercury got a totally separate bigger body, to be shared with the upper-end Edsels. This made Ford a three-body company, a la GM’s A, B and C bodies of the times.

With the crash of Edsel and the whole ambitious Ford scheme, for 1961 Mercury went back to what it would remain to the end of its days: a slightly tarted up Ford. At least the 1963-1964 reverse-slanted rear window Breezeway models looked a bit different than the Fords; this 1961 Meteor 800 requires a closer look to distinguish it from the Galaxie. Pretty sad indeed.

On the other hand, 1961 was a good year to downsize, as everyone else was doing. The 1959-1960 Mercuries were huge wallowing barges, and without any of the GM pizazz to sell them. Sales were abysmal, and they’ve been rare on the streets for decades.

This 1961 lives the life a of a daily driver for its owner, who used to live  few blocks down the street from us. It’s fun to see it coming and going, although I imagine $4.00 gas may have something to do with not seeing as much anymore. Or maybe like so many of the vintage daily drivers, it succumbed to a malady and is awaiting the time, energy, parts or money before its burble once again graces our neighborhood.

I know this one has a V8, as its fairly hard-driving owner makes all too clear. Normally, one would never have to even consider whether a full-sized Mercury had a V8 or not. But here’s an interesting trivia fact to add to your list to impress your friends: the 1961 and 1961 big Mercuries were the only years ever when a six was even available. Mercury was deeply associated with being a slightly more flashy and powerful V8 Ford from day one in 1939, and never again would a six sully the biggest RWD Mercuries again.

That does make this 1961 a serious low point in the Mercury story; helps make everything afterward look a bit more cheerful, eh? Good thing then, because this one sure looks like it could use a bit of cheering up.