From the Collection of the Northeast Classic Car Museum, Norwich, NY
While shooting classics at a museum would seem like shooting fish in a barrel, the reality is a little different. The cars are posed so close together that it’s hard to get a variety of angles, and then you have to deal with the light or lack thereof. So I was very surprised to see this gem parked at the end of a row where I could get more than one good shot off.
The first thing that strikes me was the great similarity of the Cruiser to the Packard Predictor–the exact same roofline, down to the retracting rear window, which would become a Mercury hallmark during the sixties.
The only real difference was the electric razor grille of the Messenger of the Gods as compared to the Packard’s front end, which was eerily predictive of the Edsel’s . I often wonder what the reception to the Predictor would have been if S-P had somehow come up with the funds to put it into production, given the belly flop that the Edsel had with the same theme. As Louie B. Mayer supposedly said, “All predictions are difficult, especially those about the future.”
And it was the “Big M,” as it had shed the dressed-up-Ford image that Mercury had previously, and would once again come to embrace before suffering death as a Ford Crown Victoria with a different grill that only seemed to appeal those who could have bought a Turnpike Cruiser when they were new cars sitting on the lot at ‘Ford’ Groves in Cape Girardeau. Indeed, my only experience with a Mercury was a 1989 Tracer, a down-under Ford Laser with the ‘hockey sticks’ emblem substituted for the blue oval, and a fancy pants interior with little lights on the door that light up when the door opened (those Brougham-aholics can inform us of the correct term.) But it did light the way to the future with the newly legal dual headlights, at least in some jurisdictions. There’s a reason Ford and the ‘Big M’ had those brows on 1957, even if they had to use a tacked piece on the fender, reminiscent of what Studebaker did for the next model year. You could get your Cruiser with single lights as well, as this Monarch demonstrates.
The pizza-slice taillights also did last until 1959, and of course its retracting rear window was resurrected in the Breezeway.
My final thought: of all the 1957 brands that the folks in Dearborn imagined the ‘Big M’ going up against in 1957, all of them seemed to point to the end of one trend, and not the beginning of another. Only Virgil Exner’s (there he is again) finned missiles seemed close to predicting the much cleaner look of the Sixties, and even he seemed to have gone the wrong track by the time 1960 came around, giving us such memorable exercises as the 1961 line. Maybe the folks behind the Turnpike Cruiser don’t seem like such fools after all. Now, where did I put that slice of pepperoni pie?
The entire Ford Motor Company line for 1957 seemed to be reaching for the future, while having absolutely no idea what they were going to do with it if they got it. Both the Lincoln and Mercury seemed to be a gathering of all sorts of styling details without anyone worrying about whether or not they fit together in the slightest.
I’ve got a little bit of insight on the design on the mid-50 line because the guy I worked for at A.R. Adams Cycle in Erie, PA 1968-74 was one of the designers at Ford back in the 50’s. Nobody important, the guy’s name was Merle Adams, and his big success was some of his designs for hood ornaments, grille details, etc. being used on the ’55-58 Mercury’s. Knowing my background, one slow winter’s day he brought in his collection of drawings and we spent the day going over everything (and I even got paid for it!).
There was a LOT of emphasis on design of little bits and pieces of cars, like the air scoops at the windshield top corners of the Turnpike Cruiser, tail lights, bits and pieces of grilles. I seriously wonder if anyone actually designed a car in one piece at Ford at that time. It appeared that the general body shape was laid out, then all the little details were added. And nobody worried about whether or not they were over-adding.
Compare the above to Exner’s work for the same years, of the Mark II, all of which seemed like they were designed as one complete unit. Even the ’58 Lincoln’s and Continental’s, seemed to have some unity of design from front to rear, compared to this.
In all the years I worked with Merle, I always felt like he really didn’t like the bicycle business all that much. He didn’t even ride. After the day spent with him going over his drawings, I was always left with the feeling that, after the death of his father, he was forced to give up automotive design and take over the family business. Which he did until his death in 2010.
There’s a point at which something is so ugly, it crosses over a line and takes on a perverse kind of beauty. This Mercury crosses over that line. People call the ’58 Edsel ugly, and they’re right, but Ford’s Ugly Car Team was working overtime in the late ’50s, .
I wouldn’t call this Mercury ugly or the 58 Edsel.They’re attractive like a French Bulldog is.I quite like it,not as much as the 58 Ford though.Now a 58 Lincoln is one ugly brute,Ford’s Ugly Car Team surpassed themselves with this gargoyle.
Aw Gem, aren’t you ever going to come around on the ’58 Lincolns 🙂
I like all the ’58 FoMoCo products, be they Ford, Edsel, Mercury or Lincoln.
Sorry Tom,I can’t make myself like anything about the 58 Lincolns.How they could make beautiful cars like the MkII Continental and the 55/56 Lincolns then take a big step back with the 58 is a mystery.
Those little lights on the doors are called courtesy lights. They light the ground so that you can see the mud puddle you are about to step in.
They have also on occasion been referred to by manufacturers as “puddle lamps”. Those were the days, when cars had turning lamps and puddle lamps. 😉
You mean cornering lamps no?
“Those were the days” – you mean the 1990’s?
Was going to say “puddle lights” but you beat me to it!
It was an age of ‘Excess’ overdone to the point of nausea and those 20 inch Continental extensions just look horrid on any car. I had an Uncle who had one of those C-kits on his car, when I first saw it I couldn’t stop laughing! this was like 1965 too – they had really gone out of fashion over night. It was a cheep car he bought right out of high-school.
Glad its in a museum though, a monument to the folly of the late 50’s American Car disaster, I meant design… lol
weird we’re now entering another ‘bigger is better’ age in vehicles… pointless excess.
Bigger is better and way too much is almost enough. Throw in a vinyl top and it’s perfect.
I’ll agree, the design theme is one of ‘They couldn’t see the forest for the trees.’ A lot of little futzy details that by themselves would be good, but added altogether looked like a Christmas tree rolling down the street. As Syke said, they all did their own little thing, seemingly without checking to see what the person at the next drawing board was dreaming up.
Kev, thanks for the lights and the grille – my joke is I get paid as much for writing these as you do for reading them.
It was the throw-everything-you-got-and-see-what-sticks school of design.
There’s the icing on the cake at the back–the continental kit. They look terrible on anything but an early Continental and a ’56 T-Bird. Why do people add those?
Lose the Continental kit and I’ll have one in my lottery winning garage.Continental kits are horrible as are Mopar toilet seats.
I agree the C kits are awful, which seems to be the popular sentiment at CC. I wonder if the fad of installing these on classics has faded. It was certainly popular for some time.
I actually like the Turnpike Cruiser. But gads, the single headlight versions are worse than the ’57 Fords.
Wow, that Mercury looks gorgeous with the all-red paint! But the Continental kit has to go.
I did a Car Show Classic on a ’58 Park Lane last year, which was also super sharp–but it too, had the unfortunate Connie kit: https://www.curbsideclassic.com/blog/car-show-classic-1958-mercury-park-lane-convertible-inconspicuous-its-not/
The 57-58 Mercury cleaned up quite nicely when that body was repurposed for the 59 Ford, losing much of the gingerbread in the process.
This car, along with the 58 Lincoln, shows again that Ford seemed to have the basic square shape down before GM or Chrysler, but just got carried away with hanging jewelry onto the things.
It seems like 1958 was the ultimate year of ugly for all Amercian cars,
This is such a cool collection!! I need to find a good excuse to drive all the way up there one of these days (not until it’s much warmer out, though).
I used to think these cars were hideous, and I still kinda do… but now I like them a lot. What really turned me was stumbling across a trippy promotional film Mercury did for their 1957 cars. It was full of animations showing Mercury’s vision of the highways of tomorrow and had original music created for it (“Dreaaaaaaam caaar, Dreaaaaaaam caaar, Mer-cu-ry! The Big M! For ’57! Dreaaaaaam Caaar!” – wish I could find it on YouTube, but it looks like it was taken down). And of course, the Turnpike Cruiser was “the most distinct realization of Dream-Car Design!” with it’s own instrumental theme that sounded like the score to a sci-fi B-movie. When applied to the lesser Mercury models, maybe that was all just pure marketing trying to dress up a bulky and ridiculous car, but the Turnpike Cruiser actually was full of new ideas and bold styling themes. Most of it seems like kitsch in retrospect, but I still have to admire the creativity that went into creating it. When I look at them now, I see an optimism that I hadn’t previously. Mercury’s engineers and stylists weren’t dreaming as hard as, say, Citroen, or as coherently as Chrysler, but the Turnpike Cruiser is still a great IGY hallucination and glimpse into a world that never came to be.
Considering they must have spent a fortune on the film, I’m surprised I can’t find more print advertising – but here’s one of them. Not unlike that excellent ’58 Lincoln Living Garage ad.
I LOVE that artwork! I can only imagine the conversation inside: “Honey, will you get us some martinis while I turn down the Hi-Fi. Honestly dear, I don’t know why you put on a Stan Kenton album when guests are here – I can’t hear myself think!”
Very seldom does one hear a Stan Kenton allusion; well done, JP. 🙂
I second that!
The 1957 Mercury has quite an interesting history behind it – probably more interesting than the car itself.
The design that was supposed to be the 1957 Mercury had been approved by management. Francis “Jack” Reith, one of the original “Whiz Kids,” then presented the proposal that ultimately became this car to senior management. They approved the basic concept. According to his co-workers, Reith didn’t know when to stop adding ornamentation. Hence, the gaudy, over-the-top Turnpike Cruiser, which sat at the top of the Mercury line-up. This car, and the other 1957 Mercurys, were a crucial part of Ford’s assault on GM’s fortress in the medium-price market.
Popular Mechanics conducted a survey of 1957 Mercury buyers for its “Owner’s Report” series. Mercury buyers viewed the Mercury as a good compromise between the roly-poly GM medium-price makes and the “space age” Mopars styled by Virgil Exner. Complaints about quality, however, were rampant.
Reith had been a rising star within the Ford Motor Company, thanks to his efficient handling of Ford’s lackluster French subsidiary. He had whipped it into shape and then engineered its sale to Simca. The 1957 Mercury, however, led to Reith’s downfall. It didn’t sell as well as was originally hoped. Quality problems were rampant. This car, along with the 1957 Ford, had the highest percentage of owners who gave it a “poor” rating in the history of the Owner’s Report series.
Between the lackluster reception afforded this Mercury, and the Edsel disaster, Ford began pulling in its horns. Reith’s career at Ford was soon over, and he would be dead within four years of a self-inflicted gun shot wound. It was ruled accidental, although there has always been speculation to the contrary.
In the end, he was blamed unfairly for this car’s failure. The quality problems experienced by Ford in 1957 were not limited to Mercury. The 1957 Ford, which was not his responsibility, was almost as bad as the 1957 Mopars in the quality department. The entire medium-price market was already soft in 1957. A big reason why was because of cars like the 1957 Ford Fairlane 500, which had been developed in reaction to Buick’s success from 1954 through 1956. During those years Buick had dislodged the perennial third-place seller, Plymouth, to claim the number-three spot. No doubt the Fairlane 500 stole more than a few Mercury customers, as well.
The Turnpike Cruiser is definitely over-the-top, which is what makes it so interesting today. The “standard” 1957 Mercurys aren’t that bad-looking, in my opinion – from a styling standpoint, I’d take them over any of the GM medium-price makes for that year. Of course, if you were concerned about quality and longevity, you were better off buying one of the “old fashioned” 1957 Oldsmobiles or Pontiacs.
The 57 Monarch was a Canadian model only. The Monarch and Meteor were both Ford of Canada products brought to market because of the US-Canada auto pact.