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

While the majority of the nation is in the grips of a heatwave, it’s another blustery “summer” day in the Bay Area. This would be the day I’d run across a car that could only exist in that period of automotive gadgetry before the marvel of air conditioning became affordable to the majority of car buyers.

I’m not sure that air conditioning in automobiles had even a 35% take rate by 1963. It was still an option in most luxury cars. Adding the equivalent of a box fan at the front door (your cowl vent system) and opening the kitchen door out back (your rear window) must have seemed like a good idea.

Packard initially tinkered with the idea of a reverse slant roll down rear window for the Balboa X show car of 1953. Intended as a coupe variant of the Caribbean convertible, the disastrous year of 1954 made the coupe a moot point for Packard. They sold the design rights for a reverse slant roof to Ford. Ford then tinkered with the idea of a reverse slant roll down rear window on various concept cars. One of the earliest examples was the Lincoln Diplomat concept from 1956. But in the one blast of uniqueness that characterized the whole life of Mercury, the finally unique models of 1957 brought the wondrous wind tunnel to its top-of-the-line Turnpike Cruiser models.

Priced in Buick Roadmaster territory without the prestige, they didn’t sell well. The Cruiser was gone by 1959. But of all oddities the concept moved far upmarket to the massive new for 1958 Unibody Continental based on the gargantuan Capri/Premieres.

The irony was that the distinctive reverse slant of the Mark III “breezeway” option was a cost cutting measure. After the beautiful Mark II lost so much money, there wasn’t much of a budget to make a unique bodied Continental. So in comes a few electrical motors and 3 panes of glass for distinction. Even the Continental Convertible during these years had  a reverse slant single glass window that rolled down in much the same way as the Hardtops.

By the early 1960s, the failure of the unique Mercury left it no more than a Galaxie with curious trim. Unlike its rivals from Dodge or Pontiac, there was little in styling or engineering that gave buyers incentive to cough up the extra $75 to $200 over a comparable Ford.

To the average eye, I doubt any buyers could really tell the difference between the Galaxie and Monterey for at least a minute. Both were clean, unobtrusive cars. But other there’s little incentive to spend the extra dough for the Mercury. I give my nod to all Fords with afterburner tail lights. And you had the same list of options, engines and transmissions to pick from. At least a Dodge Dart gave you wart hog styling over the Plymouth “Valiant Origami” Fury. At Pontiac you got the pubescent sprouting of round hips and a choice of two Hydra Matics over a run of the mill Impala. Only selling 107,000 big cars in 1962, Mercury needed a gimmick and it needed it fast.

So a Gimmick from the waning years of the Eisenhower administration got plopped on the Camelot era Mercury. And the gimmick worked, somewhat. although sales of the full sized cars only increased by about 15,000 cars, 76% of all big Mercury deliveries were Breezeways.

Mercury kept the Breezeway as an option through 1968. But it never had as much as an overwhelming impact as it did in 1963. Nor did it look as oddly “right” as it did in this iteration.

There was enough detail difference for 1963 that the Monterey didn’t immediately scream “Quick! Get the Galaxie more chrome!” But in those details it re-hashed a series of failures during McNamara FordMoCo. The rear end unabashedly recalls the 1958-60 Mega Lincolns, down to the 6 round tail lights and blunt versions of the fins at the tops of the fender and on the bumper.

Meanwhile the face is generic 1960s American car. Dodge reused this same basic face for its equally generic hodge-podge 880 series for 1964. And it’s not all that much different than how the 1963 Rambler Classic/Ambassador look up front either. Whenever in doubt on how not offend your buyers? Put four headlights in a concave grille, and put your turn signals in a plain bumper. Mission Accomplished.

It all comes back to that curious roof doesn’t it? It’s such a frilly, fussy detail in an era where American automotive styling was striking a fine balance between crisply tailored lines and voluptuous curves. From the remarkably well executed 1963 General Motors B and C bodies, to the Hail Mary pass-saving of the 1963 Plymouth, only an Imperial, or the still cockeyed 1963 Dodge Polara seemed to look towards past trends instead of embracing the future.

A remarkably high number of survivors still tool the streets of the Bay Area, rear window rolled down.  I lived near a 1964 Breezeway for two years, and always thought as I drove by if a “For Sale” sign appeared in that rear window I’d at least have to test drive it on the freeway, to see what the effect was like. Motor Trend Articles of the day found lowering the window partially to be a great ventilation aid, although lowering the window all the way lead to furious buffeting. Perhaps that’s why for the final 2 years the Breezeway option was placed in a conventional 4 door sedan roof and only lowered 2 inches.

You can add it to the list of remarkably oddball American cars of the past I wish I could own. When it comes to open air options from the 1960s, only a Studebaker Lark Cruiser or Daytona coupe with a very German style canvas sunroof seem comparable.

But what else would make a time warp to 1963 with Martha & The Vandellas “Heatwave” blaring more authentic. Some would say an Impala, Riviera or Sting Ray would be more of a zeitgeist choice. But in those pre A/C dominated days, on a 100+ degree heatwave day, A little breeze would have been more than welcome.