(first posted 11/22/2011)
Noun: A small body of matter from outer space that enters the earth’s atmosphere, appearing as a streak of light. The problem is once they fall to earth they aren’t all that spectacular, or easy to find. So goes the story of yet another one of Mercury’s flops, and a Turkey to roast.
When the Meteor debuted in 1962, it reflected the adrift-at-sea mentality that plagued Mercury. It took what was basically a decent American car, the all new for 1962 intermediate Ford Fairlane, and put more chrome and Jet Pod tail lamps on it.
So what did you get for your few extra dollars and loyalty to the winged-messenger god of the Ford family? Besides those new tail lamps and that huge piece of trim on the lower quarter panel not much. No distinct models or engine choices from the Fairlane other than this S-33 model that did a better job of adding a sportier element to these rather beige looking/driving mid sizers than the Fairlane Sport Coupe.
Those engines weren’t anything to write home about to begin with. Your base choice was the 170 cube inline six with 101 horsepower that had a hard time wheezing through life in a Comet or Falcon, especially when paired with the 2-speed Ford-O/Merc-O-Matic. I would guess that it would have been absolutely horrid in the ever so slightly heavier Fairlane/Meteor twins.
One way the Meteor could have been seen as a value would be to offer the 221 Windsor V8 as standard equipment. But even at 145hp, it wasn’t exactly a ball of fire either, especially compared with the eager new Fireball V6 throbbing under the hoods of Buick Specials, never mind the aluminum block 215 V8 found in Specials, Skylarks and F-85 Cutlasses. In a Motor Trend test the 221 V8/Ford-O-Matic Combination was only good for a 13.3 second 0-60 time. Which is what a 225 Slant Six Valiant could do on a cold Monday. So out came the “Challenger” 260 V8 mid-year with a brazen 164 horsepower. Again, something that could have been a Meteor exclusive that had to be shared with the Fairlane.
The other nuisance sat in the same Lincoln-Mercury living rooms as the Meteor: The comparatively wildly successful Comet (above). One can wisely say the Comet kept Mercury from going the way of DeSoto in the early 1960s, even if it wasn’t formally a Mercury until 1962. The Comet was larger than the Ford Falcon, with a 114 inch wheelbase, on average only $100 more than a comparable Falcon but with better trim and appointments. The Comet was almost as much car as the Meteor, which rode on a 116.5 wheelbase, one inch longer than the Fairlane. The gap between the Comet and Meteor was anything but galactic, and since the Comet arrived first, the Meteor’s entry trajectory was almost invisible.
The numbers really speak for themselves. Although the Comet had a relatively down year in 1963, 122,000 made their way out the door. That compares to just over 50,000 Meteors, even with the addition of a lovely hardtop coupe and a station wagon model. Although, for 1963 the Comet also got its first hardtop, plus a convertible and the option to fit the 260 V8 between its torque boxes.
The unloved Meteor made it to 1964, kinda. It retreated to being a basic big body Mercury back in Canada. But it became a pointless detour of the orbit of Mercury in the United States. Which makes you wonder if Mercury was possibly the biggest Turkey of all American brands.
What could have saved the Meteor? An exclusive 289? A Convertible? Who knows? Who really cares? Other than those looking for a cheap way to own an early 1960s Ford Product. Just look for an odd piece of stone that looks like 1963, but you can’t exactly remember where it came from.