Despite the teaser in the title, many elements of Mercury never made much sense. Throughout its entire tortured existence Mercury was arguably the most consistently fluid nameplate in American automotive history, with its uncertainty of purpose being one of its biggest legacies.
The early 1960s were yet another period of transition for Mercury, what with Ford having to recover from its embarrassing and unfulfilling fling with Edsel. At least it wasn’t all for naught as Edsel’s baby factory greatly helped in birthing the Comet.
By 1961 the Comet was quickly seeming to become the unintentional face of Mercury by handily outselling the full-sized cars at a rate flirting with two-to-one. A Mercury showroom wasn’t the most awe-inspiring place to find full-sized cars during the early Kennedy years.
Of course, some degree of this was driven by the craptacular economy in the United States during the early sixties combined with Ford’s redefinition of what a Mercury was supposed to be. Climbing a status mountain during 1957 and 1958, only to be be yanked back to earth by 1960, does require some readjustment. As proof, the price of a base Mercury two-door sedan dropped $14 between 1958 and 1961.
If that sounds like a pittance, compare the top dog 1958 Turnpike Cruiser convertible at $4,103, when Mercury was as far up the totem pole as it would ever be, to the highest trimmed 1961 Monterey convertible at $3,126. Given a 1961 Ford Galaxie convertible was around $150 less than said Monterey, it played well to the latest round of questioning on what purpose Mercury served.
In a weirdly coincidental way, Mercury’s need to again reinvent itself was well-timed with the emergence of more sporty-themed appearances, typified by Chevrolet’s introduction of the Corvair Monza in early 1960 and the Impala SS in 1961.
It was rather akin to arriving at the bus stop just as the bus is pulling up to the curb.
Realizing an injection of that hard to quantify element of sportiness was a cheap and timely way to gin up interest in its cars, Mercury dipped its bias-ply tires into these sporty waters with the midyear introduction of the 1961 Comet S-22. Based upon a two-door Comet sedan, the S-22 package was available in ten colors with standard features being front bucket seats, a vinyl clad steel console, deep-loop carpeting, front and rear arm rests, fender medallions, and extra sound insulation.
There were no special drivetrain goodies to be had as the 144 and 170 cubic inch straight-sixes were all that could be found lurking under the hood.
Selling 14,000 S-22’s in this abbreviated time frame emboldened Mercury for 1962. The new model year brought along a mid-sized Meteor S-33 and…
The Monterey Custom S-55 introduced mid-year.
Like the initial S-22, the full-size 1962 S-55 gave a buyer bucket seats, a console, and badging. Unlike the S-22, the S-55 provided the buyer with a standard 300 gross horsepower 390 V8 in lieu of the Y-block 292 V8 that was standard equipment in the Monterey Custom. Available as either a two-door hardtop or convertible, the S-55 carried a $500 price premium (about 18% to 20%) that was happily paid by approximately 4,000 buyers.
This was quite comparable to what was found in the new for ’62 Pontiac Grand Prix.
The S-55 continued into 1963, mimicking the physical changes made to the Mercury line and trying to woo a wider base of clientele by expanding to four body styles.
Among these was a four-door hardtop S-55 with the Breezeway roof. As with all S-55s, one had the no-cost choice of an automatic or four-speed hooked to the standard 390 cubic inch V8. Can you imagine a four-door Breezeway with a four-speed and powered by the optional 427?
Does this make sense?
Apparently it did not as Mercury only built 1,203 S-55 Breezeway sedans. Our featured convertible fared marginally better by selling 176 examples more than the sedan, making this red convertible a rather uncommon find.
For 1964 the S-55 disappeared only to return for 1965.
The title of this article alludes to making sense of Mercury. That’s certainly an uphill endeavor as one could write a doctoral dissertation about Ford’s seemingly perpetual bungling of the Mercury nameplate and its resultant spastic personality.
As CC’s resident defender and fanboy for Mercury (but only the biggies as the smaller ones come across as being sarcastic), writing about any Mercury does bring about waves of nausea when contemplating what might have been. It’s painful, but like a bout of constipation, one feels better when it’s over. So let’s ingest a metaphorical laxative of the mental variety.
And so it passes. Having given the matter enormous thought, one serious contention is Mercury was nothing more than a brilliant chameleon, reflecting the mood and color of the market.
If one goes back again to the earlier mentioned time of 1957, Mercury reflected the optimism of good economic times. Big, brash, and possessing a name like Turnpike Cruiser was something that couldn’t have been done at any other time.
Touting 290 standard horsepower certainly didn’t hurt, either.
Yet what goes up must come down. By 1960 Mercury was adjusting itself to reflect a sour economy and more austere times with a lowly, pedestrian Ford straight-six being standard motivation in the base models for 1961 and 1962.
By the early 1970s luxury was the name of the game and Mercury was at its peak. Mercury enthusiastically tossed itself aboard the Brougham-brigade with what is likely the ultimate Mercury of all – the 1975 to 1978 Grand Marquis.
There is a certain undeniable allure associated with having 7.5 intoxicating liters of creamy V8 torque at your beck and call.
By the end of the 1970s the economy once again intervened and Mercury answered the call with the Marquis for 1979. It was a castrated shadow of what had been, with the stoutest power plant being a low output 351 V8 limply fighting ridiculously high 2.26:1 gearing.
But Mercury was no chameleon. Chameleons change colors to blend in and not capture attention. Mercury often did the opposite by changing to generate attention. This has often been called opportunism.
Backing this opportunistic theory is a Mercury from a mere twelve years after our featured Monterey S-55 and one that sat in showrooms right beside the most formidable 1975 Grand Marquis. The Bobcat took the idea of Mercury being nothing but a tarted up Ford to new highs – or lows.
Let’s also not forget the Mercury Monarch that fluttered all over the place around the same time as the Bobcat was clawing for market share. A change in grille and tail light lenses sure can take a car upmarket, can it not?
If these examples don’t seem relevant to our featured S-55, what does the S-55 possess that could not be found, for less, in a Ford Galaxie XL?
Looking at the Marauder from 1963 it is obvious it shared an abundance with Ford.
Thinking of it another way, Mercury’s opportunism is like a willow tree whose soft, flexible branches bend with the wind. Mercury certainly went in whatever direction the market winds blew, doing so quickly and sometimes effectively, and ultimately never standing for anything.
But this theory is also lacking as willow trees don’t move from where they are planted; Mercury roamed the entire automotive spectrum.
The real answer to Mercury’s persona is much simpler. Mercury was mercury, the fluid metal that easily takes the shape of any form it is poured into. Mercury was undeniably a reflection of its point in time, always reshaping and contorting itself into whatever Ford needed to fill a real or perceived market void. This S-55 certainly fit this description and Mercury would always be used to fill a void no matter how small or short-lived.
So maybe Ford did exactly as intended by creating a fluid nameplate and aptly naming it Mercury. While mercury is not for human consumption, a dollop of Mercury is very good for the automotive diet.
Found May 6, 2015 on US 63 between Rolla and Vienna, Missouri
Related Mercury reading:
A satirical take on a 1972 Mercury Marquis
The unparalleled 1975 to 1978 Marquis
“what does the S-55 possess that could not be found, for less, in a Ford Galaxie XL?”
Little fins! And an already bashed-in grille.
As a lifelong non-fan of the Breezeway look, the 63-4 Mercury offered few choices for me. But this S-55 convertible is a keeper.
One of the worst places to be in life is to carry all the responsibility for the results while having no authority to make any real changes. This kind of sums up most of Mercury’s life. It was responsible for a swath of market it took GM 3 separate Divisions to cover but almost never really given the tools to compete.
Gads, I just for the first time in my life noticed the rear door appendage on the 63 Mercury 4 door hardtop. It is just painted with no attempt to make it blend with the chrome trim on that Breezeway C pillar. Just wow.
Was Mercury a super-Ford or discounted Lincoln? It was both, at various times, which didn’t help branding much. With few exceptions, all Mercury models could be viewed in relation to these two poles of the FoMoCo line up. Unlike Pontiac (in its heyday) or Buick, it wasn’t something on its own, a brand that had appeal on its own merits without having to draw on features or status of its two brand stablemates.
Imho, this chronic lack of effective brand differentiation was the problem.
There are a few exceptions, some Mercury models achieved an image, with features and benefits not seen elsewhere in the Mercury line. The European-sourced Capri and, in some years, the Cougar were better differentiated, and showed potential. Too bad Ford didn’t have the perception to maintain this theme of distinction for very long.
It didn’t help that the one time Ford spent a big wad of money on Mercury (1957-60) it got zip in terms of sales or brand building. Even there (with 1960 as the exception) the Mercury used styling themes that gave people the impression that it was still a big, heavily styled Ford.
Agreed. And by 1965, the full size Mercurys were looking like the Lincoln. Indeed, the 1965 Lincoln jettisoned its Lincoln grille and adopted the Mercury front end for one year. Very odd, the expensive car styled to look like a cheaper one.
At least things reversed themselves ten years later. The 75-79 Mercury Marquis, especially the Grand Marquis is the most blatant Lincoln sedan rip off as one can imagine. I love my 77 Marquis, but I recognize the styling and features are completely in Lincoln’s backyard. Even the advertising of the day made this point, appealing to the parsimonious luxury car buyers who wanted all the features, appearance and size of the Lincoln without the price.
The 1968 fullsize Mercury had a particularly Lincoln-esque front end. My parents had a ’68 Marquis coupe that I learned how to drive in. Nice car.
Mercury tripped all over itself in the behind-the-scenes machinations that also helped sink the Edsel. Ford’s market research had been saying for years that they needed something more upscale than Mercury, but cheaper than Lincoln. Instead of doing that, they tried to push Mercury upscale in price (raising the price of the cheapest model more than $200), a risky idea, at what turned out to be the worst possible time. No additional dealers, a bunch of additional overhead from trying to split Mercury and Lincoln, and alienating entry-level customers — nice work, guys!
The expansion program that led to the introduction of the Edsel and Mercury’s upmarket move is a perfect example of an organization getting so caught up in making plans that it completely loses sight of the original objective.
It’s no wonder that McNamara was so eager to scuttle the Edsel and reverse the separation of Lincoln and Mercury.
My dad had a ’73 Mercury Marquis Colony Park. If Lincoln had a wagon…
Nice! Like my 1963 Mercury CC a few years ago I think red is not the best color for these.
I like the line of the convertible top better than the reverse cant of the breezeway, but it looks a bit like an aircraft carrier with the top down.
As a big fan of Mercury (and Ford), this was an excellent read, thanks for the analysis of this brand.
Have seen maybe 2 Comet S-22s in the metal in the last 50 years…I never have seen a S-33.
As far as the featured car, I prefer the 64 Maurader’s styling to that of the 63. The 64 is a bit more muscular looking than the 63, and perhaps also because the 63 looks so much like the big Ford. Why Mercury (Ford) ever offered it’s S-55 as a 4 door….and with the Breezeway roofline no less, is beyond me.
As far as 70s Mercurys go, the Bobcat was one of Mercury’s lowest points. Yet the idea of slapping a different grille and tail lights on a Ford, IMHO, made the Monarch a much more attractive looking car than the Granada. About the only thing I sometimes think the Monarch should have had was hidden headlights ala the concurrent full-sized Mercury. It would have been a bit more expensive but would have helped differentiate the Monarch from the Granny.
Finally, interesting that the comparison of the Mercury’s history was made (finally?) to the liquid-like mineral. Absolutely an apt comparison.
The 1960 model was perhaps the most unique Mercury, sharing little with Ford. Although unique, the ’60 was also huge, garish and came off a bit odd, selling poorly. It’s was clear at the time that this was to be FMC’s Buick, with Edsel a notch below. With the demise of Edsel the gap between Ford and Mercury was now too large and Merc was downscaled for 1961, now coming off something like a Pontiac of the ’50’s. Maybe the post Edsel Merc should have modled itself after its ill fated cousin, with four models over two wheelbases. The junior series could compete with Pontiac while the senior series with Buick.
The problem with Mercury from my perspective is that I never saw a Ford/Mercury dealer. It was always Lincoln/Mercury. So Mercury was perpetually in the unfortunate position of being the loss leader for Lincoln. It also was forced to assume roles that it shouldn’t have needed to, such as selling the Bobcat and Capri, that merely cheapened the brand even further. Mercury should have been the Buick/Olds (in their traditional guises) for FoMoCo.
Needless to say, if you wanted a fancy Galaxie, you should have been told to go to Mercury for that instead of Ford doing a ’66 Caprice to it and undermining their sales with the LTD. I suppose that wouldn’t have worked very well in small towns where there wasn’t a Mercury dealer nearby, so Ford was sort of under pressure to do that or lose sales to Chevy.
Should the Galaxie have been a Mercury while the nicest car Ford sold was a Fairlane?
Your comment makes me think of something. Could we say that GM’s downfall really got going once it began to copy Ford’s Mercury strategy of the 60s? By 1986 GM was offering multiple cars with different exterior styling but common mechanicals. There was no longer any functional difference between an Olds and a Buick other than their looks. Much like Ford/Mercury of 1963-64. Ford finally saw the light and kept growing the Ford line to the point where it was a credible substitute for everything GM built except for maybe Cadillac. This, of course, finally marked the winning strategy.
GM was doomed from the end of WW2. It just took a long time for its terminal cancer to fully manifest itself. And I’m not talking about its later quality problems from 1980 on or so. That was just the final coffin nail.
GM’s divisional structure was an artifact of its birth (by aggregating many companies by Durant) and by the Sloan, who forced into a stratified structure (“Sloanian Ladder”) as a way to make use of them in the highly stratified market of the 1920s. At that time there was no overlap in GM’s divisions, and a Cadillac cost many times what a Chevy did.
In the 1920s, incomes were highly stratified too, plus luxury cars were expensive because of how they were made, on a very small scale with massive amounts of labor (no scale).
That all started to crumble in the Depression. After WW2 there was a massive income compression, as well as the fact that small-scale luxury cars were a thing of the past. GM’s divisional structure going forward was not one that anyone would design from scratch in 1949. A modern MBA sent back to examine/review GM then would laugh, or cry. it was all wrong, for the new post-war world.
All the divisions were now highly compressed, and massively duplicating each other and competing with each other, which is of course insane. What business would deliberately do that?
The only reason it worked is because of inertia and scale:
Inertia was the fact that the buyers in the 50s and 60s had been deeply influenced in their youth to the market of the 20s, and developed brand loyalties that GM could still exploit. But did 80-90% of the buyers in the 50s and 60s give a damn that there were subtle differences in the V8 engines, transmissions, suspension and brakes underneath the shared body shells differentiated by superficial styling? Not. It was just the inertia of loyalty, and even that was often broken.
As long as GM had close to a 50% share of the market, it could afford this charade. But it was doomed. The global post-war era ushered in a wave of imports in the 50s, and the change in the market away from just full-size cars to many sizes and types (diversification) made this structure destined to fail.
Mercury and Edsel were doomed, as well as DeSoto, and significant aspects of Dodge and Chrysler, as they were positioned in the 50s and early 60s. It was absurd to compete against a chimera, in effect. Which is why McNamara was mostly right, at Ford, except he should have pulled the plug on Mercury as well as Edsel.
The ’58 TBird proved all of this, that brands didn’t matter anymore. Folks bought cars in the post-war era; not brands; brand loyalty was fading fast. Why? because in the 1930s, each division/brand only had one (maybe two) “cars”, in different body styles. With the fragmentation into many types/sizes of cars, that didn’t work anymore. Everyone knew that a TBird was a very different car than a Falcon. Folks aren’t that dumb, it turned out.
This was overwhelmingly proven in 1964, when the Mustang was eagerly slurped up by affluent buyers as well as secretaries And a gain in 1965, when the LTD blurred any distinction between low and mid-premium brands, even luxury brands, with its dose of “panty cloth” upholstery, some fake wood and a vinyl top. Game over.
After 1965, it was just all re-arranging the deck chairs on the GM Titanic. And when its quality went down the tubes, and the energy crisis forced small cars to be branded by Olds, Buick and Cadillac (Cimarron), it was truly all over, especially in the face of the Japanese and German invasion.
Ford was right with its “One Ford” strategy. GM’s divisional structure was an albatross, and only added to the huge weight they were dealing with. The post war modern era was going to be very different than Sloan’s 1920s, and GM didn’t get that until way too late.
And of course Ford too, with Mercury: It didn’t matter whether Mercury was a slightly tarted up Galaxie or stripped Lincoln. Either way, it was a dead man walking. It just walked a bit longer than might have been expected, or logical.
It’s hard to believe the degree of brand loyalty people had a couple of generations ago. Like Jean Shepherd’s fictional “Old Man”, my grandfather was an Oldsmobile man his whole life. When a brand was one car it represented one’s station in life. My grandfather was a small town Kansas rancher, prosperous and secure but not rich or flashy. An Oldsmobile man.
I wonder if Sloan’s GM was more successful at this brand loyalty than the competition. How common was a “Mercury man” or a “Dodge man”? (That was a time when it was usually the men who chose the cars.)
I agree. GM prospered when it provided genuine choices. A “Chrysler man” would be happy with anything from a Plymouth to an Imperial and a “Ford man” was happy with anything built by FoMoCo. My father was one of those and had all three, including one Mercury (a 76 Monarch Ghia). But there were indeed “Oldsmobile men” and “Pontiac guys” because each car looked different inside and out and drove differently too. My family was Oldsmobile people unless the budget was tight, then they were Pontiac buyers. There was never a Buick until very late in their lives, and ditto with Chevy, one of each that I can recall.
By the 90s GM was starting to crash (and I agree that their weaknesses started decades before then). Chevy was crashing and BOP were crashing in rough proportion because there was not enough differentiation in the cars and because the old timers who cared about the nameplates were dying off. It seems that GM was building almost nothing but Mercuries by the 90s, only without a successful “Daddy Division” like Ford was.
Some of it I think was that GM divisions had much, much greater dealer penetration than Ford or Chrysler and fewer combined dealerships. So, brand loyalty could be closely allied to dealer loyalty, which in a lot of places was a decisive factor.
It helped that GM did a better job of maintaining easily recognizable styling cues for each division.
An Oldsmobile, for example, looked like an Oldsmobile, and a Pontiac looked like a Pontiac – particularly with the full-size and intermediate cars.
This personal identity with a brand mostly passed on after the 1960s, as you say. But then… after driving Crosley, Nash and Studebaker in his youth, my dad drove Fords for 30 years, before retiring into a K-car Chrysler. That first Galaxie convertible, then a Mustang, then an XL 2-door coupe for a very long time, with a Maverick and a Pinto as the second car for awhile.
You might say Ford realized they could hold onto their brand loyalty as America went into multi-car households and much more diverse forms of identity. Which was just too bad for Mercury.
Paul, you often say a good comment makes for a good post. Your comment alone would make a good article, although I know you’ve covered a lot of this ground before.
Paul, this is as good a brief synopsis of the woes of the American car industry as I’ve ever read.
This is an excellent synopsis of how the Sloan Ladder which functioned in the stratified pre-war world, crumbled in the prosperous, brave new world of postwar America. Marque brand loyalty would be called a ‘legacy attitude’ which was going to last as long as the generations weaned on their marque willingly held to their beliefs. Middle-priced marques would live only as long as there still existed a critical mass of loyalists. By the 1980’s, those groups were dying off, but automakers were stuck with intractable structures to support a dying market, hard to get rid of.
Marc, Ford didn’t do a Caprice. It was the other way around. The Caprice was a response to the popularity of the 65 Ford LTD.
Oh, I thought it was the opposite with the Caprice. What can you say, I was 1 or 2 at the time 🙂
I appreciate all the comments, I’ve learned a little more than I did before. My personal perspective started to build after 1975 or so when I was 10.
GM should have been smarter and simplified once it became apparent the Sloan Ladder was too cumbersome.
By that time the dealers were too powerful a force to be dealt with. And as the market fragmented, every dealer wanted to be in every segment which was what led to cookie-cutter rebadges with no added value to the customer.
When Iacocca dreamed up the LTD, he was president of Ford Division, as opposed to the whole company. His mission was to drum up profits for that division only, irrespective of the bigger picture. That the LTD was treading on Mercury was of no consequence to him.
In my experience, growing up in rural Pennsylvania, dealers sold Ford or Ford AND Mercury. In the tiny town my father grew up in, the dealer sold Ford, Mercury, Fordson tractors, and apparently would special order and then service Lincolns. It would not be until I moved to Memphis, Tennessee that I would see my first Lincoln-Mercury dealerships.
BTW, Ford’s LTD came a year before Chevy’s Caprice.
I agree, the 60 Mercury was the brand’s most outrageously styled car…ever. It looks like Ford/Mercury was trying to outdo the 59 GM full sized sedans with there huge fins and swooping curves. Not sure which is uglier, a 60 Mercury or a 62 Dodge or Plymouth.
“Given a 1961 Ford Galaxie convertible was around $150 less than said Monterey, it played well to the latest round of questioning on what purpose Mercury served.” My parents bought a 1961 Ford Galaxie convertible, and I don’t remember any visits to the Mercury dealer. What they really aspired to was a gorgeous new Thunderbird.
The big T-Birds were bad news for Mercury.
Nobody wrote a song called “Fun, Fun, Fun till your daddy takes the Marauder away.”
But there was Mercury Blues.
“Gonna buy me a Mercury and cruise it up and down this road.” 😉
I always thought this song referred to ’49–51 Mercurys – the ones everyone made into customs.
I wouldn’t go along with ‘uncertainty and fluidity’. From the start in ’39 to somewhere around ’59, Mercury had an unmistakable meaning if not a distinct look. The sound, along with the way a Merc went down the road, signified grit and determination. This car was ready for dirt roads and hard travel.
The quality doesn’t come through in pictures and specs. I think Jason isn’t quite old enough to have heard and felt it directly.
You are the first in a long time to refer to me as young. 🙂
At 45, I exceed the average US median age of 37.8 by a lot. I mention that as many are likely too young to have experienced the first twenty years of Mercury’s existence. But when looking at the entirety of Mercury, combining your 20 year timeframe of 1939 to 1959 along with the 51 years that followed, there was neither a clear objective nor trajectory.
I’ve been a vocal advocate for Mercury during my time at CC, to the point of not writing up this car for two years as I’ve pounded the Mercury drum repeatedly, but I’m also not blind to how Mercury was an opportunity squandered for most of its existence.
I’ve long thought of Mercury as both “alternate Ford” and as the creative “vent” for the otherwise conservative, buttoned-up Ford Motor Company. Reading Mary Walton’s “Car” made it pretty clear the 3rd-Gen Mercury Sable was just an alternate design for the Taurus, not something designed specifically to a brand ideal.
When I was at Ford in the 2000s, a running joke was that Mercury was the brand for gays and women. They advertised to the LGBT community in an era when doing so earned the ire of right-wing culture warriors, and it seemed like a whole lot more effort and attention was focused on the Mercury interiors. That’s not to say that Mercuries were designed to any sort of brand ideal, but it seemed like Mercury was allowed to “experiment” more than Ford or Lincoln. Heck, I think the first Mercury was a function of that “experimentation” as much as the last one, the Milan.
Maybe that’s the true story of Mercury, the story of the “eccentric uncle” and “confirmed bachelor” that never found an accepting society or true love and whose identity was shaped as much by its flamboyant relative Edsel being mercilessly bashed to death as it was by its desire to be true to itself and find true love.
I didn’t know Mercury advertised specifically to the LGBT community, although I was aware of their efforts, particularly with Jill Wagner’s commercials, to appeal to female buyers. That’s very interesting because from memory, in the US wasn’t it mainly Volkswagen and Subaru that targeted the LGBT community the most during the 1990s and early 2000s?
That’s something I’d love to read more about… Worth an article!
I never knew this also. I’d love examples. My gay male friends, including myself, would likely get huge laughs out of it, mostly being actual Gear Heads. All I can think of that is anywhere near LGBT marketing was the ad in 2009 for Lincolin that used the song “Burnin for You” covered by the Shiny Toy Guns. Yeah guys, we all don’t like “techno” for the record:
Yep, Ford and Subaru were the early ones to embrace the LGBT community. In 2005 or so, it was enough to earn Ford Motor Company a boycott from the then-notable American Family Association, as well as much hullabaloo from the Christian evangelicals. As I recall it, they advertised in some of the magazines, some websites, and maybe a spot here and there on Logo.
As I recall it, the boycott never really made much impact on Ford’s overall sales. That was around when Alan Mulally came on board, and the company’s fortunes started to stabilize. Ford ended up cutting the ad budget, so AFA claimed “victory.”
AFA was the same outfit that boycotted The Home Depot for sponsoring Pride parades, ultimately with no effect. They were branded as a Hate Group by the Southern Poverty Law Center about five years ago, and they’re a mere shadow of what they were just a decade ago. This in no way, shape, or form hurts my feelings.
And yeah, you gotta put Mercury on your list!
Re the article’s last sentence, Mercury was once thought fit for human consumption ̶ as an anti-syphilitic. There were other pharmaceutical uses as well.
I had forgotten about the anti-syphilis characteristics. Several years back I read a biography of John Dillinger and the injection point for his bout of syphilis was, uh, memorable.
Mercury may have been a dead man walking from the big T-Bird’s arrival in 1958, but it walked another fifty years. It rose to the #5 selling US brand in 1983.
Then in ’86 came the radical Sable, which was quite a bit different than its Taurus sibling, probably the last major investment in the Mercury brand. We test-drove both Taurus and Sable in ’87 and bought the Sable, mainly for its styling but also because it was quieter and nicer inside. I loved that car. Over two million Sables were sold from ’86 to ’05 says Wikipedia.
The dead man still had a couple of blips of energy in him, eh?
Mercury success in the early-mid 80s was the result of GM’s decline at the time and having fresh product. The aero cars give both Ford and Mercury a big boost, but it was hardly a new lease on life, in the case of Mercury. If Ford had sold a Platinum/Titanium version of the Taurus, the Sable would have been unnecessary.
Sometimes certain forces converge for a hit, despite the brand. But not often enough.
In the featured Mercs’s era there was lots of clever disguising of and reusing previous Ford metal, that saved a ton on tooling while not being obvious to casual observation. Of course the savings went to Merc’s bottom line, allowing it to flounder on.
As to Merc’s last gasp, again, at minimal cost Grand Marquise was nicely separated from its Ford brethren. While Ford carried the stigma of often being dressed in police and taxi uniform, Merc did not. Making the big Merc a hit with “last chance” buyers of traditional upmarket Detroit iron.
Good point, but the GM and the CV were very similar, even to a casual observer. The selling point of the GM was that it was more luxurious (whether true or not) in the eyes of the buyer. The GM/CV conundrum was best personified in the Maurader. What should have been a sporty, 2 door CV with all the cop car go-fast goodies instead came out as a Mercury. The go-fast guys did not want a Mercury, and the Grand Marquis drivers did not want to go fast. They would rather stay in the left lane, blinkers on, going 30.
I think of the Milan as the last Mercury. At least, it was the newest of the Mercury nameplates at the time of death.
Had they done for Mercury what they did with the Milan 15 years earlier, Mercury’d still be here today. The first Milan genuinely felt different than the first Fusion, inside and out. Yes, the side profile revealed the hard points (as did the contemporary Zephyr/MKZ), but the styling was notably different outside. Inside, the brushed aluminum, contrast stitching, and other little touches made it feel very different than the Ford or Lincoln counterparts (honestly, maybe they had their target of women and gay men pegged, because I thought it the most attractive of the three, inside and out).
Funny thing was, though, in terms of pricing it really was an alternate Ford. Perhaps if one spec’d out examples of each the Mercury was more expensive, but a well-equipped Milan was about the same money as a well-equipped Fusion.
And that’s what I find interesting, xequar. By the end, Mercury wasn’t necessarily positioned above Ford as the pricing was often lineball with Ford. But instead of following the same old tactic of “give it some woodgrain and chrome”, they did make the Mercurys differ only in trim but they went for a different look. Yeah, there was extra chrome, but there was two-tone interior trim and brushed “metal” accents inside. There were the Voga models. Very different ad campaigns. They were more elegant but not necessarily more upmarket. Interesting strategy, but Ford starved Mercury of products: they never got any crossovers after the Mariner, the Grand Marquis stuck out like a sore thumb, and the final Sable was short-lived.
As much as I’m intrigued by the Mercury brand, it was a smart decision for Ford to shutter the brand. I wonder what the difference in outlay was for Ford to develop Titanium/Platinum/Limited models vis-a-vis running the Mercury brand.
The only downside was even though Lincoln’s lineup was expanded considerably to supplant the lost Mercury volume, Lincoln didn’t see a huge (or IIRC, much of any) increase in sales once Mercury shut down. And I wonder if those buyers even migrated to the new Ford models. As pointless as Mercury was, it surely must have been profitable, if not quite at GMC levels of profitability.
I’ve always wondered what a 2010 Sable would look like. Or a Mercury Edge or Flex.
Mercury did almost introduce a Freestyle called the Magellan but it never reached production.
I agree, Ford didn’t lose much when they wound down Mercury. Inside, I was strongly suspicious they were going to do it, especially after Mulally took the helm, and I remember people occasionally questioning what the point of Mercury was. There’d be all these product announcements for Ford, and Lincoln got the MKX. Crickets, though, for Mercury. It was pretty obvious Mercury was being starved of product not because of tough times, but because the feeding tube had been pulled. By 2010 I think no one was surprised. At the time, the running story was that Mercury required very little investment to hit a niche of the market that was sufficiently profitable to keep the brand around. Probably true, but Alan Mulally had no interest in niches. He was interested in offering cars, trucks, and utilities; small, medium, and large that people wanted and valued. That was the message at every town hall and what guided the company.
We, of course, now know Lincoln was slated to go the same way, but for the intervention of Mark Fields.
The Magellan, as I recall, did the auto show circuit as the Meta One concept around 2005.
In the great scheme of “what if”: What if Mercury would have got the T-Bird from the beginning, rather than Ford? It would have been a better fit for the brand, but would have not had as much exposure due to the fewer Mercury dealers, but it would have made more sense there than in a Ford dealership in 1955. Edsel would have folded into that Mercury with little to no fuss, with the new Comet being a welcome addition that proved that point. By the time the time they were selling Bobcats to old ladies by saying that they were “heavier” than a comparable Pinto, they had jumped the shark. If we could go back in time and convince the old man to release the Mercury Thunderbird, the brand would have had the sport/luxury pedigree, Ford would be the base models, and Lincoln could focus on Luxobarges. They sort of did it starting with the TBird and Continental sharing a common chassis.
This sort of question: what if Mercury had gotten the 4 seater Thunderbird (and Ford had stayed with the 2 seater), is along the lines of something I was thinking about just this morning.
In 1974 Ford split the previously similar Cougar and Mustang apart, with the Mercury growing and the Ford shrinking. But Ford, not content to let Mercury have a market niche to itself, HAD to produce an alternative to the Cougar…..the Elite.
For whatever reason, Ford always seemed to feel the need to sabotage any chances for success that Mercury STARTED to achieve.
BTW, my father bought his first new Ford in 1955, it was replaced by a new 1958 Chevy that my mom insisted was the worst new car they would ever own. In 1960 my Dad would buy a new Ford….and stayed with the brand until the last car he would buy (50 years). I would have stuck with Ford (well, Mercury) if Ford had not been so conservative in their engineering in the 70s-80s.
It worked in reverse, too. Mercury got the dead cars of Ford in the 90s. Remember the Escort? Well, they continued to be built in Mexico as Mercury Tracers, well past the expiration date, and while Focus was in the Ford inventory. The Probe lived on as the Cougar. That, and selling a Nissan minivan, completed the indignities imposed on the dying brand.
However, Chrysler did similar with Plymouth/Dodge rivalries, and GM…well we have hashed those DSs to their end. All the US groups cannibalized brands in an effort to push one or the other’s sales figures.
Yes, I was doing the same “what if” thinking this morning. I think it goes back to “what if the Corvette had been an Olds?” Then the T-Bird could very well have been a Mercury.
Since the Corvette was a Chevy the first 2-seat T-Bird was naturally Ford’s response. So why did the Corvette belong to Chevy? Seems out of character for the bread-and-butter brand. Much better fit with Oldsmobile, which was GM’s Rocket 88 performance brand at the time.
Here’s the 1954 Oldsmobile F-88 concept car, which was built on a Corvette chassis. What if?
Frankly, I’m glad they didn’t rob Peter (Ford) to pay Paul (Mercury). Differentiation is good, and a two-seater Ford T-Bird and a four-seater Mercury T-Bird would have been a great example of that. But I’m glad Ford didn’t stick to being base models only. That would have just sabotaged them as the import brands gained steam in the US market… After all, Honda, Toyota and Nissan did just fine with two brands, they didn’t need pointless mid-market marques like Mercury and Oldsmobile. And you can see how Chevy is paying the price today of GM protecting its higher-end brands, and GM is reversing course and giving the brand the High Country models it should have had for years.
After all, you can’t say, “Hey, we won’t sell you a Silverado or Impala with these features. But you can go check out our Buick and GMC models that have them.” What if the buyer is an avowed Chevy fan and only wants a car/truck with a bowtie on it? Ford was smart in axing Mercury and giving buyers the option to spec up their models to Limited/Platinum/Titanium levels. And if they want more of a luxury car dealer/service experience, there is still Lincoln.
I always enjoy your Mercury articles Jason! I am no means a 1960s car expert, let alone 1960s Mercurys, so this was an interesting read for me!
Yes, I second that, Jason. It is truly remarkable how Mercury was manipulated and neglected and pushed and prodded. It never seemed to have any clear brand identity, ever. Ford just couldn’t stick to a script.
Thank you, gentlemen.
Ahh Mercurys. When was the last time you saw this in a hotel parking lot?
what an interesting story on the Big M. my dad started working at the Mercury plant
in North St Louis county in 1948 was there in the body shop over 30 years
there were some up and down years!
If automotive history memory serves me correctly, wasn’t the initial creation of Mercury itself a marketing decision? Designed to fit into the gap between Ford and Lincoln?
Mercury was at it most interesting from 1955-1960, notwithstanding individual distaste for their flamboyant styling excesses, as a make it had a strong identity and personality. For the bean counters, reverting it to a dolled-up Ford certainly made sense, but as long as a critical mass of brand loyalist still existed, it continuation was necessary in some form, even a watered-down one.
Having driven both ’63 Fords and Mercurys in my youth, there wasn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the two. Behind the wheel, you couldn’t tell the which was which, but enough Mercury buyers must still have thought so.
For those who weren’t around then, there were Ford-Mercury dealers in smaller towns, even Mercury only dealers. Many decided to take up the franchise after being independent make dealers who were recruited to Mercury when it as in sales ascendancy in the early 1950’s as the independent makes faded.
Lincoln, other than its earliest years, had never stood alone without either being teamed with a Ford or Mercury franchise. When the Lincoln-Mercury division was created in 1946, some Mercury dealers gained a Lincoln franchise which might have given them a bit of ‘prestige’ but very little profit as Lincolns weren’t big sellers then.
In Chambersburg, Pa., a small, family-owned dealership held the Lincoln-Mercury franchise for decades. Despite Ford’s decision to phase out Mercury, the dealership has managed to stay in business only selling Lincolns. It has managed to survive and remain in the ownership of the same family. I don’t know of any other nearby dealers that only sell Lincolns.
In the Harrisburg region, there were two Lincoln-Mercury dealers. About 2005, both went out of business, and the largest local Ford dealership acquired a Lincoln-Mercury franchise. Now that dealership sells Lincolns and Fords.
This is a dandy essay, Jason, showing your Mercury knowledge and devotion. All of the comments today were an enjoyable bonus as well.
Edsel: I can’t know if anyone on the Mercury side of things was pleased with Edsel’s failure, but at least they knew where they stood–as you said, facing GM’s B-O-P all alone once the dust settled.
Here’s a Chicago dealer, 1956-ish. Is it truly a Mercury-only?
And another S-33 ad for the heck of it:
Quite the homely face on the ’57-’58 Mercurys, especially the ’57, which seems to have dual headlights stuffed into single headlight fenders. I thought that quad headlights were still illegal in most states in 1957, I only knew of the Cadillac Eldorado Broughams having them. Was the Turnpike Cruiser a late 1957 addition to the Mercury lineup?
The ’57 Nash had quad headlights too. Mercury, Chrysler, Imperial, and Desoto for ’57 had quad lights in states that allowed them – the fronts were designed to accommodate duals or quads. Lincoln pulled a bit of a sneaky by having slightly smaller “road lamps” mounted below the headlights to give the impression of quads.
Buffalo, NY area had two Mercury-only dealers during the 1960’s:
Dankner Mercury, 2695 Bailey Avenue.
Broecker Motors, 2061 South Park Avenue.
A Lincoln-only dealer survives in Chambersburg, PA! Amazing considering how poorly Lincolns have been selling in recent years, must be debt-free!
A Mercury to remember: the Marauder from ’69 and 70, as I recall. With the long rear deck, and the buttress roof. And the fender skirts. And the flat back trunk and associated areas on the sporty X-100 model.
The fender skirts were anything but sporty – sporty cars were showed off their wheels. And the Marquis front clip said “staid” and “lugzury” (as it was pronounced in advertising of the time). But that long floaty shape, and the occulded rear view and the sheer size of the car made it as distinctively 1970 as any car ever built. A sales flop, I think. But in a league of its own.
And probably Exhibit A in why Ford wouldn’t pay up to differential Mercurys a little more. It just didn’t much work.