Marques of Distinction - Mercury

By: Unique Cars magazine

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mercury mercury

Holding the middle ground between Ford’s basic models and the upmarket Lincoln has been a generally unenviable task for the Mercury brand

From Unique Cars #264, Aug/Sep 2006 

Mercury

Announced in 1939 as a rival for Oldsmobile, Dodge and lower echelon Buicks, the Mercury range had barely begun to establish a presence when its plant was turned over to wartime production. However, its role in producing ‘combat’ versions of the Ford V8 and early success in competition brought acknowledgement of Mercury as a performance brand.

Helping secure that reputation was a fortuitous piece of product placement that saw rising star James Dean driving a Mercury in the trend-setting film Rebel Without A Cause.

| Read next: Mercury 1964-73 market review 2017-18

Double-height front bumpers became a distinctive styling feature of mid-1950s Mercury models but the cars remained similar in overall size to mainstream Fords. However, 1957 took the brand further upmarket with dramatic colour combinations, spectacular fins and a Lincoln-inspired roofline. Initial buyer response was excellent and more than 275,000 of the spectacular 1957 series were sold. But by 1959 the brand’s appeal had collapsed and its survival depended on the success of a Falcon-sized Comet model.

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While the ploy initially succeeded, introduction of Ford’s Mustang attacked Comet sales and another new direction was needed. It came in the shape of the Mustang-like Cougar that was announced in 1967 and immediately added 150,000 sales to Mercury’s annual tally.

The brand was active during the late 1960s ‘muscle car’ era – its most significant contenders the Cyclone ‘Cobra Jet’ hardtops that contributed to Ford dominance of NASCAR racing and Eliminator versions of the Cougar that shared their 5.0-litre engines with the ‘Boss 302’ Mustang.

Mercury’s approach to the 1970s era of fuel efficiency brought models like the hatchback Bobcat and a Lynx people mover but retained and actually enlarged its big Grand Marquis range.

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Aerodynamics came to Mercury in 1986; its Sable drawing obvious inspiration from the Audi 100CD. Australia took a brief role in the brand’s 1990s history – our front-wheel drive Capri sports car sold briefly and under the same name through Lincoln-Mercury dealerships.

Fuel price increases during 2005 were answered by a Mariner SUV that was the first Mercury to feature hybrid engine technology. Emergence this year of an attractive new Milan four-door sedan with 2.3 or 3.0-litre engines provided a viable rival to Japanese brands, however, plant closures and severe pruning of its model range help maintain speculation that Mercury will be the next major US make to follow Oldsmobile into extinction.

 

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