The images that leap to mind when most people hear the words "muscle car" are generally not "business suit" or "family man" or "middle manager". The association is generally more along the lines of "t-shirt" or "gearhead" or "line worker." It makes sense, as the classic muscle car era is usually assigned to the time between the introduction of the GTO in 1964 and somewhere in the early 1970s when the last of the great big block, high compression V-8s rolled off the assembly line.
Like the GTO, most classic muscle cars followed a familiar pattern: take a cheap base model coupe, strip it down to its essentials, squeeze in as big an engine as possible, and make enough aftermarket performance parts to allow the average mechanically inclined 20-something to turn it into a quarter-mile monster.
But when the concept of the muscle car began to take shape in the late '50s (some would argue earlier; these 'origins' discussions can be tricky), it had much different connotations. Power went with luxury, and was only rightfully available to those who could afford both. Before Goats and Judges and Chargers and Super Sports prowled the streets, the kings of the power hill were 300s, Galaxies, and Impalas: big, heavy 4-door sedans with options and comfort galore. To drive one of these meant you'd made it; you could afford not only power but all of the high-end doodads that manufacturers had to offer. Power and prestige went hand in hand. Yes, before those miserable upstarts came along, the Big Cars ruled the power roost and everybody knew it.
But alas, physics being what it is, power-to-weight ratios eventually won the day and the big luxurious muscle cars largely went the way of the dodo. Almost. Throughout the years, at least one manufacturer kept the old concept alive, if only in short bursts. And so I give you the Mercury Marauder: the thinking man's muscle car.
Mercury has always occupied something of an odd place within the Ford hierarchy. A step above Ford models, but not quite as luxurious as Lincoln, Mercury never really had its own distinctive character. But at times they've let the stops out a bit and jumped into the performance market with interesting, if not always successful, results.
In 1963 Mercury tapped Bill Stroppe to produce something to bring Mercury back to stock car racing after a rather lengthy layoff. What he came up with was a two-door coupe dubbed the Marauder and based on the S-55. Driven by Parnelli Jones, it jumped into the racing circuit in 1963 and won several major races in 1964 (you can see a replica here). Success on the track spawned a series of Marauders for public purchase, though in an interesting twist, the "Marauder" was in reality an option package offered on three separate cars. Thus, one could walk into a Mercury showroom in 1964 and purchase a Marauder as either a Monterey, a Montclair, or a Park Lane. All were full-size cars with either two- or four-door configurations, making for six model choices altogether.
Externally, the Marauders were identified by special badges and little else, although none could be had with the odd-looking (but very functional) "Breezeway" rear-window configuration. All engine choices
were big-block V-8s, either the durable 390 or 427.
The 390 came in a variety of horsepower versions, from 250 up to 330, and the 427 produced up to a whopping 425 horsepower. Transmission choices included 3- or 4-speed manuals, a 3-speed manual w/ overdrive, or a Dual-Range Merc-O-Matic automatic. Despite weighing up to 4,500 pounds, the Marauders were no slouches. The 390s could pull a Marauder to 60 mph in the 8-9 second range, and the 427 could approach 7 seconds.
Still, with a 120-inch wheelbase and 215 inches in overall length, Marauders were ungainly, especially compared to the smaller GTOs then beginning to take over the streets. Marauders remained in Park Lane and Montclair versions for the 1965 model year before being discontinued.
But you can't keep a good idea down, and the concept was revived in 1969, this time as part of the "personal luxury" segment and as a distinct model. It was based on the Ford XL and came in only a hardtop coupe. The wheelbase remained long at 120 inches and the car still weighed in the two-ton range; still a big car. Style-wise, they were definitely distinctive.
The front end contained hidden headlights borrowed from the Marquis, an upright "tunneled" rear window, rear fender skirts, non-functional side air intakes in the rear quarter panels, and an available matte-black rear deck finish (see brochure below). The fender skirts make it distinctive among muscle cars, and overall the styling, in my view, makes it look rather ungainly and bottom heavy--definitely not the lithe look of a pony car. Still, it was upscale muscle, perfect for eating up the highway miles and, with a cavernous 18-cubic-foot trunk, ideal for loads of luggage (or golf clubs).
Engine choices were similar to the '63-'65 with the venerable 390 returning, along with a 429 that produced 360 horsepower and a massive 480 pound-feet of torque. 0-60 ranges were again around 8 seconds and it had a top speed of 125 mph. Why one would push such a big car to 125 is beyond me, but there you have it.
Prices were pretty reasonable--$3,368 for the base model and an extra $800 or so for the X-100 trim, with various options bringing it over $5,000--still $1,000 below that of other personal luxury vehicles. Despite the price, only 15,000 were sold in 1969, with sales falling to just over 6,000 in 1970, at which time the nameplate was once again resigned to the dustbin of history.
The marque was reintroduced once again for 2003-2004 but we shan't tarry too long on this model--even though it's one of my personal favorites. This time, it was based on the full-size Grand Marquis platform, sharing an engine--the 4.6-liter V8--with the Mustang, among others. With its dual exhaust, that engine produces one of the nicest exhaust notes out there today, with just enough rumble to let you know it's coming but not enough to shake your neighbors' windows. Again, it wasn't exactly a sales success and was discontinued after only two years.
Marauders aren't usually considered within the pantheon of Great Muscle Cars, but they deserve respect. They continued the earlier tradition of powerful luxury and gave a choice to those who wanted a bit more performance while retaining some semblance of functionality and comfort. It doesn't seem to have a sustainable market niche though; nearly every time it's been tried, the high-performance luxury car
seems to have a short shelf life (see, for example, the 1994-96 Impala SS).
Still, there seems to be something of a resurgence lately, with Chrysler at least being marginally successful with its resurrected 300 and Charger models. I suppose we can expect to see another resurgence once again in 10-15 years, but until then, let us stop to lend some appreciation to these throwbacks to earlier times.