Posts from ‘Mercury’
I write a lot about the effects of the great American automotive downsizing that began in the late ’70s. Most of the cars shrunken at the time suffered from looking ill-proportioned or just from having changed too much too suddenly. Sure, this wasn’t always the case. Most folks paying attention at the time found the 1977 redesign of the Chevrolet Impala and Caprice to be an unmitigated success. Still, I would argue that, at best, most of the cars of the period could be described as inoffensive.
It was during this period, in the weak-kneed aftermath of the muscle era, that makers began focusing on bling and faux luxury, as there was no horsepower story to sell. As it turned out, combining downsized cars with baroque levels of bright trim and vinyl roofing proved unfortunate—at least to these eyes.
Unlike the previous ugly-car lists I’ve penned, here I am focusing on very specific versions of certain cars. Seems makers picked a few special trim levels on which to truly pile on the kludge. No doubt you have your own list of ugly rides from this era. Please feel free to let us know what they are.
Note: This article is reprinted from the February 2013 issue of Collectible Automobile.
The 1959 Mercury should have been more popular. Redesigned for the second time in three years, Ford Motor Company’s medium-price mainstay offered the biggest, smoothest, roomiest cars in its 20-year history, plus better handling, new features, and arguably nicer styling. Yet for all that, Mercury sales skidded to a decade low of just less than 150,000. In the segment, only Chrysler, DeSoto, and ill-starred Edsel fared worse.
What happened? Basically General Motors, whose rival Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac lines were unexpectedly redesigned—and in dramatic fashion. Though all three improved on their mediocre ’58 sales, the handsome Wide-Track Pontiac was the big winner, jumping from sixth to fourth in the industry race on substantially higher volume of nearly 383,000 units. Mercury, meanwhile, slipped a notch to ninth.
I probably remember 1979 better than I recall any other year of my youth. My last year of grade school (and first year of high school), ’79 was the year I managed to fall out of a tree and badly injure myself, the year I had to make clear to my mother I wanted no part of being a priest, and the year I discovered legs. As it turned out, the last two items were not entirely unrelated. Where are you now, Lauren Tewes?
An interesting part of being young at the time was the automotive bubble we would-be gearheads lived in. We more or less understood that the new cars of the era sucked, but those were the cars we knew and—despite OPEC, the EPA, and DOT—occasionally loved.
My buddies and I argued often about what was cool at the time, and what wasn’t. Interestingly, only one guy among us had any Corvette love. Maybe it was the price, or the relative rarity, but Corvettes didn’t click for most of my friends. Nor did Mustangs, though I suspect that was just because of the small sample size of my immediate clique. Toss in a few more guys and I expect some Mustang fawning would have registered.
For this ’80s Flashback, we’re really going “deep ’80s.” Remember the Merkur XR4Ti, Ford Motor Company’s “captive import”? Merkur was the short-lived American-market version of the European Ford Sierra, which was built in Germany. It was sold in Lincoln-Mercury dealers and lasted just five model years in the U.S.—from 1985 to ’89. The short lifespan is not surprising; it’s hard to imagine the über-Euro Merkur luring many Continental or Grand Marquis intenders, and those shoppers who could be swayed had a hard time justifying a $17,000 XR4Ti over a well-equipped $14,000 Mercury Sable LS.
So, any Merkur was scarce then and much scarcer now. But let’s get really obscure—all-but-forgotten B-side obscure—and unearth another gem from our Consumer Guide photo archives: the aftermarket-tuned Rapido Merkur XR4Ti.
The Rapido Group, then in Placentia, California, could outfit a Merkur with the best in Euro-inspired performance and appearance upgrades. Rapido still exists today, serving what must be a pretty small group of Merkur enthusiasts, but these shots are all real-deal late ’80s vintage stuff.
Not to speak ill of the dead, but it seems that General Motors is doing just fine without Pontiac and Saturn, and it doesn’t look like Ford misses Mercury very much. In our hearts, we knew that the clock was ticking for all three of those marques, but it took the fallout of an economic catastrophe to really nail the coffins shut.
But from death comes life, and if life to you is a good deal on a used car, then look no further than the five we’ve got listed here. It seems that picking over the carcasses of the fallen can lead to ghoulishly good bargains—that is, of course, if you don’t mind the term “dead brand.”
2011 Mercury Milan Premier V6
Carmax Price Range: $15,599-$17,500
Even in life, Milan was a ghost. While everyone talked about (and purchased) the likable Ford Fusion, the mechanically identical Milan went unnoticed. And that’s a shame, because Milan was arguably better looking on the outside and subtly classier on the inside.
And the dead-brand impact on pricing? It seems that used Milans trade for slightly less than comparable same-year Fusions, despite Milan’s nominally enhanced standard equipment list and slightly more upscale trim. It’s a ghostly good deal.
What if all the big American car companies (other than Ford) were given the task of designing this famous Mercury?
While incorporating design elements from the 1956 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser concept car, General Motors, Chrysler, AMC, and Studebaker-Packard would have needed to use one of their existing body/chassis combinations. GM probably would have used the new Buick Special/Century and Oldsmobile 88 shell, Chrysler the Dodge/Desoto Firesweep bodies, AMC the big Nash/Hudson unit, and S-P the Hawk configuration. Using as much existing hardware and as few new pieces as possible, and based on each corporate design director’s view of what a car from his company should look like, they might have done something similar to the drawings below.
Mercury Pikehawk Cruiser by Studebaker-Packard
S-P would have been faced with a very difficult job to transform a Studebaker Hawk into a Mercury.
Starting with a Hawk body and frame plus front fenders and doors, and lots and lots of fiberglass, the most expensive change would have been a completely redesigned cowl because the Cruiser needed to have a wraparound windshield to be considered really modern.
Earlier this week, we took a look at some of the amazing original vehicles that were on display at the 2012 Bloomington Gold Survivor show, and now we’re back with another round of fantastic unrestored vintage machines. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I haven’t had a eureka moment in the car in years. You’d think that someone with a long commute would occasionally, when deep in thought, stumble upon a perfect solution or a brilliant plan—but not so much. Unless you consider remembering to pick up sriracha and Diet Pepsi brilliant, I’m not getting too much mental business done while in transit.
I do spend a lot of time looking at other cars, though. As my memory is still largely intact, I have slowly, over the years, picked up on a number of interesting patterns and truisms that can be applied to traffic and commuters in general. Here I have compiled a list of 10 things that I have found to be either completely true or darn near always true. These are things I’ve noticed during the 600 hours or so I spend each year getting to or from work. Sure you can argue that my time might have been better spent, but you can’t say that I wasn’t paying attention.
Do you have an automotive truism to share? We’d love to hear it.
The folks that bring you Consumer Guide and The Daily Drive also produce Collectible Automobile magazine, a highly respected bi-monthly automotive history magazine that is about a year and a half away from celebrating its 30th anniversary. One of CA’s most popular regular features is Car Spotter, which runs two or four pages every month. It’s a simple concept: Eagle-eyed readers from all over the world spy interesting old cars in their daily travels, take a few decent snapshots, and send ’em in to us. These aren’t car-show photographs or glamour portraits; these are “man on the street” pics of vintage vehicles hidden in plain sight, be it on the street, in someone’s backyard, or in the supermarket parking lot.
It’s the serendipity of discovering an intriguing vintage machine peeking out from the sea of modern-day commuter-mobiles that makes Car Spotter so much fun. The vehicles themselves are in wildly varying states of repair. Their conditions run from “semi-pristine” to “attractively patina’ed” to “rough and rusty” to “soon to be reclaimed by the elements.”