Curbside Classic: 1968 Mercury Monterey – Show Me Your Mercury

It’s a dark night, in late 1968.  Winter’s chill is beginning to be felt in the air. You’re in your brand new ’68 Dodge Charger after having had a load of fun at a just-concluded social gathering.  Sitting beside you is a sweet little thing you just met.  She is eager to go somewhere for further festivities, and you even more so.  She’s built like a brick privy and has a great personality to boot.  It’s a win-win!

Suddenly you see two revolving red lights in your rear view mirror.  Shit!  This could get ugly.  You pull over to the shoulder of the road.

What is this?  He’s not driving a Ford, Chevrolet or even a Dodge.  What the hell…he’s in a Mercury???

Why the surprise? After all, hot rodders constantly pursuiing more power and speed had been transplanting Mercury engines into Fords since Mercury came into existence in 1939. Even Ford did it it briefly in the 1950’s when they built cars specifically for cops.

So why not use a Mercury engine in a Mercury?

During the 1960s, many state law enforcement agencies had a minimum requirement for wheelbase length, typically 122 to 124 inches.  Contemporary Fords literally fell short, as the wheelbase on a 1968 Galaxie spanned only 119 inches. Thus, a 1968 Mercury riding a 123″ wheelbase met this standard while retaining the selling points of Ford reliability and durability.

The rationale for such a long wheelbase reflected the perception that length equaled stability.  When you had to chase a new Charger at triple-digit speeds, you didn’t want your chariot getting squirrelly–never mind that your steed might be as long as a wagon track. 

The 123-inch wheelbase debuted in the new generation of Mercurys introduced in 1965.

It was at this time that Mercurys started being used more frequently (but not widely) as law-enforcement vehicles. Indiana was one state that saw advantages in doing so. (Click here for more information on the car pictured below.)

Perhaps I’m biased– my pen name was Jack Lord, after all–but this ’68 Mercury is one of the best-looking Ford Motor Company products of the 1960s.  It is a very nice and tasteful blend of obvious Ford influences (such as the window frames) and distinct Lincoln traits (the slab sides and front-fender pinnacles).  In an article on the ’71 Monterey from earlier (here), I opined that Mercury was at its most autonomous, styling-wise, during the late ’60s and early ’70s.  I present this ’68 Mercury in support of my position; it is neither a tarted-up Ford nor an unembellished Lincoln.  It is a Mercury.

It’s a shame that eventually, the formula would be destroyed.

For model year 1968, Mercury built 30,727 Monterey sedans like this one. Mercury sold 55,000 of all body styles of this full-size base series.  The mid-level Montclair was the least popular big Mercury, with a sales total of only 15,000 two- and four-door hardtops and four-door sedans. Production of the top-end Park Lane was just over 20,000 units, including 1,112 convertibles.

It’s unknown how many full-sized Mercurys were built for law enforcement.  However, there is one black Park Lane that long ago was presented as being in police use, and it is argued to be the most photographed Mercury of all time.  It should look familiar to anyone even remotely familiar with ’70s-era American television!

This particular Monterey is privately owned, and a replica of what was used by the Missouri State Highway Patrol back in the day.  It’s equipped with a 428 cu in (7.0-liter) V8 rated at 340 gross horsepower, Mercury’s top engine offering in 1968.

The standard engine in the full-sized Mercury was a 390 cubic inch (6.5 liter) V8.  The 390 was rated at 265 horsepower if equipped with a manual transmission and 280 horsepower if mated to an automatic.  As an oddity, the 390 was rated at 315 horsepower when installed in the upscale Park Lane.

Another oddity for a ’68 Mercury was the availability of a fully synchronized, three-speed manual transmission in both the Monterey and Montclair.  This was an infrequently chosen item, with only 0.4% of full-sized Mercurys so equipped.  It is also interesting to note that 99.2% of full-sized 1968 Mercurys had power steering, so it looks like cheapskates preferred to spring for an an automatic transmission before power steering.  This is a lot of car for Armstrong Steering.

The Missouri Highway Patrol continued to use Mercurys throughout the 1970s, and into the early 1980s with the Panther platform Marquis.  There is a pristine ’78 Marquis patrol car at the highway patrol museum in Jefferson City.  It is presented as the last full-sized car used by the agency.

I found this Monterey at the Missouri State Fair, as part of a public display of equipment by the highway patrol.  Click on the picture to better see what the placard says about this particular ’68 Monterey.

Here’s something to ponder on.  In my first paragraph, I referred to a ’68 Charger being pulled over by this Mercury.  Chargers were pretty popular muscle cars, but times appear to have gone full circle.  Parked next to the featured Mercury was this determined-looking Dodge…