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
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