Curbside Classic: 1966 Mercury Monterey Convertible – Geometry Class

(first posted 10/9/2017)     History has shown that styling trends of mainstream cars tend to be cyclical.  The pendulum has swung between straight-edged, more geometric designs, through an intermediate blend of lines and curves, over to more organic shapes, then back again in reverse ad infinitum.  Within my lifetime, I’ve witnessed the more rounded designs of the ’70s echoed in the “aero” forms of the ’90s, and both the ’80s and the ’00s featured lots of designs that employed many straight-ish lines.  This ’66 Mercury Monterey convertible, one of just under 3,300 produced for the model year, has the rectilinear look of a lowboy or a console TV from its era.  I could just see the (imaginary) ad copy: “New Monterey, by Mercury… With styling by Lane!”

There seems to be a certain “honesty” to a design that employs the appearance of so many straight lines.  Such lines symbolize structure, rigidity, order, compliance and conformity.  Anyone can trace a straight line against the edge of a ruler or new textbook, and the end result, every time, will have minimal variance, if the object against which the line is being traced is held reasonably still.  Drawing curves seems to involve much more of a creative process.

I don’t pretend to have any background in technical drawing, but it seems to me that there’s much more freedom of expression and emotional involvement in the choice of the shape, size, and placement of a curve.  Curves are beautiful, and their possibilities seem endless.  It is in an overabundance of curves, however, where the look of a car starts to look a bit arbitrary.  I offer up the second-generation Ford Taurus as an example of this.  On the flip-side of that coin, a car that looks devoid of much curvature often ends up looking like an appliance or piece of furniture.

The face of this ’66 Monterey is about as square-jawed and serious as they come.  The look of the no-nonsense stare from these four, round headlights is unmistakably masculine.  This car looks like it means business.  Mercury’s tagline of the day, “Mercury, The Man’s Car”, strikes me as unimaginative.  I much prefer “In The Lincoln Continental Tradition”.  However, taking one look at the sharp creases and finned wheel covers of this example, this car does look more than a bit manly – even in its shade of baby blue.  In fact, one of the few, fanciful flourishes I can identify on this car is the fun, cursive script font of the “Mercury” badge on the hood, but even that lettering has an air of restrained jubilance about it.

Top-line 1966 Mercury Park Lane 4-Door “Fastback” Hardtop.

Mercury offered convertibles in all three tiers of its full-sized platform that year, of which the Monterey was low man on the totem pole of prestige.  Against the aforementioned 3,300 Monterey soft-tops produced for ’66, there were also about 700 (not a misprint) performance-oriented S-55s, and roughly 2,500 top-shelf Park Lanes.  Standard power for our featured car would have come from a 390 V8 with either 265 hp with the 3-speed manual transmission, or 275 hp with the Merc-O-Matic.  The 345-horse 428 that was standard on the S-55 was also optional for the other full-sizers.

The styling of our ’66 Mercury may not have held up quite as well as some of the other mid-priced competition (I find the flowy ’66 Pontiacs and even the also-linear ’66 Dodges more attractive), but when new, I can imagine part of its visual appeal was its kinship with the straight-edged Lincoln Continentals with which it shared the showroom floor.  Granted, unlike the big Merc, the big Connie had just the right amount of extra curvature in its bodysides and greenhouse to keep it from looking like it was made with Legos, but like the Monterey, it also had a very geometric look to it.

The Lincoln’s simplicity of design was really its forte; By comparison, the abundance of creases on the Mercury come across as slightly forced and work against its overall aesthetic.  It was almost like big-brother Continental threw the party, and tag-along younger brother Monterey was trying a little too hard to impress the other guests.  It was a shame the slight family resemblance was not reflected in sales figures, with total Mercury production (including the mid-sized Comet) ranking 8th overall among domestic makes for ’66, behind four other mid-priced brands (Pontiac, Dodge, Oldsmobile, and Buick) and after the traditional low-priced three (Chevrolet, Ford, and Plymouth).

When I photographed this rare, multi-faceted gem of a Mercury over four years ago, it had then dawned on me that the last, domestically produced Mercury convertible, the 1973 Cougar, had rolled off an assembly line a full four decades prior to this sighting.  This is the only ’66 Monterey convertible I ever remember seeing as an adult, at a show, or otherwise.  That this particular example was street parked, combined with the small rust bubbles on the rear quarter panel (which I hope have since been attended to), seems to indicate that its owner is / was getting some actual use or enjoyment out of it… which is about as straightforward a purpose for owning a classic Mercury as I can imagine.

Uptown, Chicago, Illinois.
Saturday, May 11, 2013.