(first posted 5/4/2016) Hurt by the high gas prices of the ’70s and early ’80s, a generally “uncool” image, and the introduction and rise of more hip alternatives such as minivans and SUVs, it was apparent by the mid-1980s that popularity of the full-size station wagon in America was waning.
Few probably imagined that the full-size American station wagon would become obsolete so soon, but only a decade before this event, Ford and GM were still building and selling these dinosaurs through all of their non-luxury car divisions, with six different wagons between them.
Over at Mercury, things were much the same as they’d been for decades. Mercury’s entry in the full-size wagon field was still the Colony Park, entering its thirtieth season when our featured Di-Noc cladded 1986 car rolled off the assembly line. Full-size Mercury wagons once boasted their own platforms and unique styling, but by 1961 their low production volume didn’t warrant this added expense.
Beginning with the 1961 model year, and through the end of their lifespans, full-size Mercury wagons shared the same platforms and basic body as the full-size Ford wagons. Mercury’s top trim wagon, the Colony Park, was thus twinned with Ford’s top trim Country Squire, and the two would continue this way, with only minor differences in styling elements, interior, and trim for the next three decades.
Starting in 1969, the Colony Park became integrated into the Marquis lineup, as opposed to a separate series. It would remain part of the Marquis series, officially as the “Marquis Colony Park”, through 1982. With the introduction of the midsize Fox-body Marquis, all of Mercury’s full-size Panther-platform cars carried the previously top trim Grand Marquis moniker, resulting in the wagon’s now 4-word name of “Grand Marquis Colony Park”.
Regardless of name change, the Colony Park was largely the same as it was when the downsized sixth generation debuted on the new Panther platform back in 1979. Some 11 inches shorter and over 1,000 pounds lighter than the 1978 model, the 1979 Colony Park was still a very large car by today’s standards. For comparison, Ford Motor Company’s largest car-based “wagon”, the three-row Explorer is still nearly two feet shorter and one inch narrower, although it can be up to 1,000 pounds heavier.
In any event, the sixth generation Colony Park actually boasted two more cubic feet of cargo volume than its predecessor. It could also could still legally carry eight passengers, courtesy of Ford’s unique dual sideway-facing third row seats. V8 power was still standard, though now in the form of the smaller 4.9L (rounded to 5.0L for marketing purposes) Windsor V8, with a 5.8L version optional.
The three-way tailgate, a full-size Ford/Mercury wagon feature since 1966, was also still standard on all Colony Park and base Marquis wagons. Typical of most full-size wagons, regardless of side windows, the tailgate window was power-operated via a switch from the front.
Initially, the Colony Park name was only applied to the higher of two Marquis wagon trim levels (with the base just referred to as “Marquis wagon”), but just as all full-size Mercurys became Grand Marquises in 1983, all full-size wagons became Colony Parks, with the deluxe trim now known as the Colony Park LS.
1983 Grand Marquises and Colony Parks continued without their attractive front fender louvers (which disappeared the previous year), but gained a new 14-section waterfall grille. Comfort and convenience features such as power windows, 16-ounce cut-pile carpeting, full-length door armrests, dual front courtesy lamps, an analogue quartz clock, and Twin Comfort Lounge seats (50/50 split front bench) were standard on all models.
All Colony Parks still featured their hallmark Di-Noc woodgrain exterior paneling, in simulated “Rosewood-tone”, as well as the Grand Marquis’ electroluminescent coach lamps mounted on the B-pillars. Inside, Colony Parks featured a familiar instrument panel, with generous woodgrain trim on the dash and door panels, and additional metal-look trim on the dash. Regular Colony Parks featured their seats upholstered in “easy to clean” Duraweave vinyl, whereas the Colony Park LS added velour upholstery, with leather optional.
After 1981, availability of the larger 351 (5.8L) Windsor was limited to Grand Marquises with the available police package. This engine disappeared for good after 1984. In the meantime, the 5.0L version gained throttle body fuel injection for 1983, which was later upgraded to multi-port fuel injection in 1986. Regardless of engine, a 4-speed automatic transmission with overdrive was the only transmission after 1981.
For the most part, changes to the Colony Park and the rest of the Grand Marquis lineup were minimal over the car’s lengthy design cycle (1979-1991). Buyers didn’t seem to mind, however, as the average Grand Marquis/Colony Park demographic was typically a seasoned full-size American car buyer who preferred more of an “old school” approach and a greater sense of familiarity.
1988 brought the most significant visual changes since 1979. All full-size Mercurys were treated to revised forward sheetmetal that was more aerodynamic both in form and function. Although a facelift was welcomed after nearly a decade on the market, the 1988-1991 models didn’t exude the same kind of distinctiveness of the 1979-1987s. Regardless, the mild facelift looked attractive and helped the Grand Marquis remain fresh against its dwindling competition, which now was largely limited to the higher trimmed Chevrolet Caprice Brougham and Brougham LS models for the sedans, as well the Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser and Buick Estate wagons.
Sedans also gained revised rear sheetmetal and styling elements, but Colony Park wagons continued the same as they’d been since ’79 from the windshield back. While that was fine, it’s a shame the Colony Park didn’t at least receive some new, more inspiring taillights. Additionally, the rounder front end didn’t blend so seamless with rest of the car as it did with the sedan. Whereas before, the woodgrain neatly covered the entire front quarter panels all the way around the headlights, it now abruptly ended at the start of the front clip, looking nonaligned with curved turn signals.
Much like the rest of the Panther offerings, Colony Park sales actually peaked mid-decade in 1984 at 17,421 units, a result of subsiding gas prices and a resurgence in demand for the now narrow offerings in full-size vehicles. Sales fell to around 14,000 in 1985, and then remained in the 8,000-11,000 range through 1989, upon which they fell to under 5,000 for the Colony Park’s final two years.
By this point, those seeking family transportation under the Ford umbrella with a bit more modern panache were likely buying Sable wagons or Aerostar minivans. Grand Marquis Colony Parks were reserved for the traditionalists, but unfortunately there just weren’t enough of them to justify a seventh-generation Colony Park coinciding with the Grand Marquis’ “aero” redesign for 1992.
By the end of its run, the Mercury Colony Park was somewhat an antiquity, and a token of simpler days gone by. It’s no secret that cars are a huge trigger of nostalgia, taking us back to fond memories, often of carefree childhood times. Even if they did not specifically play a major role in our lives, for many Americans at least, there is no vehicle more symbolic of a somewhat glorified past than the full-size Di-Noc cladded station wagon. In that respect, this 1986 Mercury Grand Marquis Colony Park still holds some relevancy.