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 CC. It’s the same reason why pretty much the only Mercurys at the old site were the Comet, Bobcat and Cougar: big Mercurys 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 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. (Update: the basic frame and chassis were largely all the same, except for Lincoln. The Mercury and senior Edsel had a longer wheelbase and used a rear axle with wider track.)

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 Mercurys were huge, 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 a 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 1962 big Mercurys 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.

This Mercury has one really significant upgrade over the Ford: a fully enclosed steering column.

No wonder the big 1960-1962 Fords sold so poorly; their naked steering column with that exposed shifter rod looked so…1947. Ugh.

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.


Related reading:

Curbside Classic: 1959 Mercury Monterey Cruiser Hardtop Coupe – Mercury Spreads Its Wings And Crashes

Curbside Classic: 1962 Mercury Monterey Custom – No Respect

Curbside Classic: 1963 Mercury Monterey Breezeway – The Cure for the Heatwave