The car above has special significance for me, and non-CCer types would probably respond with, “Why would you care about that ugly wreck?” What things individual people are drawn to is one of the great mysteries of life; and as my father once observed, “No matter how crazy or stupid something is, somebody is going to love it.” Well, the lines on this Mercury are a little bit crazy by modern standards; and it’s not stupid, but rare and fascinating. This car is also something of an enigma which perhaps CC readers can help unravel.
This car sat for many years in a apartment house parking lot on the corner of Morris Avenue and Edgar Street in Summit, NJ. I was born in Overlook Hospital in Summit, and my parents lived in neighboring Chatham, so it is quite possible that we drove past this car on our way home from the hospital that day. (I think my eyes were closed and I wasn’t paying that much attention.) After I got my driver’s license, I would occasionally travel along this stretch of Morris Avenue, and I would see this car–always in the same place, never moving. So one day in 1989, I took these pictures. And it’s a good thing I did, because a couple of years later, this strange archeological artifact from an antediluvian time known as “The ’50s” vanished mysteriously without a trace.
What exactly this car is, is also something of a mystery. The standard automotive reference works refer to it as a “Medalist”, however that name appears nowhere on this particular example. Mercury’s primary sales brochure (entitled “1958 MERCURY, Four Great Series with Sports Car Spirit and Limousine Ride”) lists Monterey, Montclair, Park Lane, and Station Wagon models–no Medalists. However, another brochure (“A Personal Message to Mercury Owners”) shows a picture of a 2-door Medalist like this one with the description, “Only your Mercury dealer has a value like this–the new low-cost Mercury that features big car value at a small car price. Ask your dealer about Models 58-C and 64-B.” Yeah–I can just see someone walking into a Mercury dealer in 1958 and saying, “I’d like to see something in a 64-B, please!”
And if that isn’t confusing enough, Consumer Reports in their 1958 Annual Auto Issue referred to this car as a “Custom”:
I start thinking about who originally bought this car, and why it sat neglected and forlorn for so long. In the “Ford Family of Fine Cars”, The Medalist (Let’s call it that for now) was priced above the comparable top-of-the-line Ford Fairlane 500, and mid-way between Edsel’s Ranger and Pacer models. Mercury dealers were getting desperate at this time, as sales were about half of 1957’s total, which was in turn lower than in very prosperous 1955 and ’56. The ’58 Medalist was probably an attempt to bring in customers with a lower price, although it wasn’t too successful at doing that, as only 7,750 2-doors and 10,982 4-doors were sold, while total 1958 Mercury sales came to 133,271. So this Medalist is a pretty rare bird (or whatever creature it is). Maybe somebody was watching Ed Sullivan on TV (sponsored by Lincoln-Mercury), ambled into a local Mercury dealer, didn’t like the high prices, but was convinced by a sharp salesman to buy this low-priced white beauty. The life this car led and how it survived as long as it did remains unknown.
What is it about cars like this that attract me so? The 1955-62 period was a time when cars had a sleek, “Spirit of Motion” aspect to their styling, accented with futuristic, Space Age elements like rockets, bumper bombs, hooded headlamps, fins, wrap-around windshields, neo-Art Deco instrument panels, and other finely wrought details that gave the cars a “larger than life” quality. The total effect suggests effortless, high speed, smooth travel (perhaps through interstellar space, rather than ordinary roads and highways of the United States). Gleaming in the showroom, the newest creation appeared to be science fiction-turned-science fact–a dream car that would be exciting to own and drive–and vastly superior to the older model you were trading in.
The other reason I suppose is nostalgia. When I was, say, between 4 and 12 years old, cars like this were occasionally seen, either on the road or tucked in unlikely places. They remind me of how I felt at that age–young, innocent, and pure–when the world was fresh and new, filled with fascinating things to see, feel, and explore. Today has its wonders too, but there will always be something magical about those early years, and the cars that represent “Peak Optimism” in American design.