Curbside Classic: 1988 Mercury Colony Park – Colonizing Mercury

(first posted 5/7/2012)    The Mercury Colony Park was one of Mercury’s longest-lived models, lasting from 1957 to 1991. While it did have some Mercury identity (such as it is) early in its life, as the years went by it got closer and closer to Ford wagons. It never really got out from under the shadow of its more popular Ford sibling, the famous Country Squire.

Mercury was already familiar with wagons, well before the Colony Park’s first appearance in 1957. Between 1940 and the mid 1950s, station wagons went from a wood-bodied, ultra expensive specialty vehicle, to a steel sided suburban staple, and then to a suburban status symbol, at least in the top trim versions. Mercury’s ‘wood wallpapered’ Colony Park was top of the Ford wagon heap in 1957.

While the Country Squire was also very well equipped, the Mercury had the distinction of being a pillarless wagon, as all Mercury wagons were between 1957 and 1960. Starting in 1961, however, Mercury became essentially a retrimmed Ford, and would remain so through 1964.

The 1965 models were thoroughly redone, with a bit of Lincoln Continental in their lines. As usual, the CP was top of the line. If you could do without the plusher interior and Di-Noc siding, you could get essentially the same car with the less expensive Commuter wagon.

Full size Mercury wagons continued in much the same fashion through the rest of the Sixties and into the Seventies, although they had increasingly more in common with the Ford Galaxie and LTD under the skin. Sheetmetal was still unique., however. Starting in 1969, Colony Parks had a unique front end with hidden headlights, shared with the Marquis line.

In 1975, however, the Monterey line was discontinued and all full size Mercurys became Marquis models with hidden headlights, wagons included. The woodgrained sides still set the CP apart, though. This was as big as the Colony Park would get – a whole new downsized model would replace the Chris Craft-sized wagons after 1978.

The 1979 Colony Park was drastically changed from 1978 models. Mercury wagons were down to 218 inches long, with a 114.3″ wheelbase and 79.3″ width. Colony Parks could still carry a lot of stuff though, with total interior volume of 164.9 cubic feet and 52.7 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat. The Colony Park (and all 1979 full size Mercurys) were powered by a standard 5.0L (302 CID) V8 and Select-Shift automatic transmission. A 351 CID V8 was optional.

As always, the Colony Park featured woodgrain siding. According to the 1980 brochure, it was “designed with both beauty and practicality in mind. The full length of its bodyside, and the tailgate section, feature appliques in rosewood color with matching bright and woodtone rails.” Twin Comfort Lounge seats, shown above in green leather, were optional. You could also get dual facing rear seats if you needed to haul more than six passengers. The three way Magic Doorgate, pioneered by Ford, was standard on all wagons.

Of course, if you were concerned about the woodgrain peeling and fading in a few years, you could also get a plain Marquis wagon. But you’d be losing a lot of cachet at the country club…

The Marquis line soldiered on through the 1980s with only a mild facelift here and there. When the Fox-bodied Cougar sedans were redesigned in 1983 with more of an aero theme, they were redesignated Marquis. Thus, all ’83 full-sizers were now ‘Grand’ Marquis models.

The Panther-bodied 1988 Grand Marquis and LTD Crown Victoria were revised with smoother front and rear sheetmetal, the last facelift for the 1979 body, as it turned out. Colony Parks (and Country Squires) received the new nose only, with carry over tail lights and rear quarter panels.

The CP carried on largely the same throughout the late ’80s, competing primarily with the Buick Estate Wagon, Olds Custom Cruiser, and of course, the Country Squire. A fully loaded Colony Park was as close as you were going to get to a Town Car wagon. With turbine alloy wheels, the JBL sound system and leather interior, these wagons were very plush.

While they were luxury wagons, they could get down and work when it was called for. With the optional trailer towing package, the CP could tow up to 5000 pounds. Try that in your 2.2L four-cylinder Caravan!

But the Caravan would have the last laugh. Starting in 1984 with the release of the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager, station wagons started losing ground. These ‘garagable vans’ could haul seven people in comfort, without having any passengers shoehorned into the ‘way back’, as was the case with full-size station wagons. They were so practical, and overnight these vans – plus Chevy Astros, GMC Safaris, and Ford Aerostars – were seemingly everywhere.

After 1988 the Colony Park received only minor changes, and was gone for good after a short 1991 model year. However, I believe there was a strong and loyal market for full size wagons, folks who liked the comfort and luxury of a car-based people hauler. Ford apparently disagreed, and when the Crown Victoria and Grand Marquis were redesigned for 1992, there were sadly no wagons to be found. The dedicated wagon buyers could still go over to General Motors for full sized woody wagon goodness – at least until 1996.

Late Eighties and early Nineties Panthers are still seen in my area, but wagons are pretty rare. I was passing the local K-Mart (where I spotted the 1996-98 Skylark, incidentally) when I spotted this Colony Park. Yes, it had that typical Midwestern fringe of rust, but it’s still pretty solid for a 20+ year old wagon. The interior was pretty clean too. While it looks like it’s white in the photos, it was actually a very pale beige – it might even be very faded Almond paint – as seen in the brochure picture further up.

Yes, wagons used to rule the roost, and this Colony Park is proof that the Wagon Age did in fact exist. Will wagons ever make a comeback in the US? It would be nice.