Curbside Classic: 1971 Mercury Monterey – You Could Have Had A Marquis

(first posted 6/14/2012)      It was going to happen eventually; the odds were simply too good, and now it has come to pass. I needed a user name for use on a certain website (where it would eventually become a byline). For no particular reason, I appropriated the name of a TV actor whose character drove a series of big Mercurys during his show’s 12-year run–and now I’ve actually stumbled upon one in the real world. Well, at least it isn’t black.

When this car made its debut, during the heyday of black Mercurys careening around islands in the Pacific, the idea of Mercury going the way of Packard and Studebaker seemed unlikely if not unimaginable.

Mercury spent most of its existence in search of a niche, and it never did definitively answer the persistent question of whether it was a puffed up Ford or a deflated Lincoln. In truth, the answer changed from generation to generation. In terms of achieving autonomy, Mercurys of the generation that produced this 1971 Monterey probably came as close as any before or since.

For example, consider the styling. Study the picture on top and you’ll detect a relationship to the contemporary big Ford in front, as well as a respectful nod to Lincoln in the body lines. Keep looking (doing so without corrective lenses is helpful) and you can also see a resemblance to Mercurys dating back to, say, 1965 (including the ’68 model pictured below). Neither Ford nor Lincoln created such a strong sense of styling continuity; indeed, Mercury styling consistently reflected a lineage that would continue for a few more model years.

The Monterey’s standard engine was a 240 hp, 351 cube V8 with a two-barrel carburetor. Optional engines, all V8s, included a 400 mill with 260 hp, and 320, 360 and 370 hp versions of the 429. In addition, Montereys were the only full size Mercurys to come with a manual transmission as standard equipment.

In 1971, the Monterey played second fiddle to the upscale Marquis.  Weighing in at a svelte (by 1971 standards) 4029 pounds, our feature car is one of 22,744 Monterey four-door sedans built that year.

While that sounds good versus the 12,411 Monterey Customs and 16,030 Marquis sedans produced in 1971, that year’s most popular four door Mercury was the Marquis Brougham sedan, of which 25,790 were built; apparently, during the Great Brougham Epoch all that extra chrome, hidden headlights and fender skirts counted for quite a lot. Four door hardtops were still available, but their pillared siblings outsold them handily.

By 1971 the Monterey’s days were numbered. The Marquis lineup had greater prestige and bigger sales numbers, and 1974 would be the final year for a model name that first appeared in 1950.

Styling might bring folks to the dealership, but it’s the ride and drive that seals the deal. As illustrated by this video, Mercury tried hard to seal the deal on ride in 1971.

A first-hand account of driving new, comparable ’71 Fords can be found here.

I found this car (along with the ’68 Galaxie parked in front of it…stay tuned!) while driving through a town about 60 miles south of where I live. Although the license plates on both cars show current registration, the gentleman with me said they’d been sitting in front of this house for years. I find it curious that this base Monterey sports optional, Marquis-style fender skirts–an odd juxtaposition of cheapness and luxury, wouldn’t you say?

While researching Mercurys of this vintage I learned something interesting: The 1969-1978 full-size Ford/Mercury chassis is Ford’s second-best selling car chassis of all-time, right behind that of the Model T.  Ford built 7,850,000 full size Fords and Mercurys during that period, so it sounds like the ride really did seal the deal for many, many people.