Cookie's post on the LTD inspired me to write about my own experiences with a similar beast: A 1978 Mercury Marquis Brougham Sedan, pictured below.
I originally purchased it for $300 when gas was $0.98 cents per gallon, purely because it had working air conditioning. That summer was extremely hot and humid, and my other cars (a 1968 Charger and a 1997 Neon
) lacked that feature. I had the room for it, so why not? Over the course of owning it for a year and a half, I learned a lot about how people give you a lot of respect when you are driving a gigantic, rusty battletank with dings, rust, and missing hubcaps. Merging onto the freeway was like the parting of the red seas; everyone saw me coming and seemed to think, "Oh crap, this guy doesn't care at all! Get out of the way!" Then again, perhaps it was my sticker. My Uncle works for Raytheon, a missile defense company, and he'd given me a sticker that adorned my rear bumper. It read, "Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle: Discriminate and Destroy."
My particular Marquis had a 400-cubic-inch Cleveland V-8, which emissions components strangled to a still-respectable 200 horsepower. Yeah, it was somewhat slow, but it sounded nice and was capable of pegging the needle; its speedometer only went up to about 80 mph. The only repair it ever needed was a power steering hose. The high-pressure return line would spray power steering fluid onto the exhaust manifolds, which on cooler days would result in slightly annoying smoke but on hotter days,would start a fire in my egine compartment.
Yep, my car lit on fire on a regular basis. It was frightening the first time it happened. Someone told me they saw flames, so I ran about twenty feet away and jumped into a ditch expecting a fiery explosion behind me. Nothing happened--it just sort of sat there. I didn't fix it for a while, so I kept a towel (The Hitchhiker's Guide was right!)
in my backseat. When the smoke became bad, I'd pull over, pop the hood, slap out the flames with my towel, let the engine cool down for a few minutes, then continue driving. The main issue was that on hot days, I had to keep moving. If I slowed down and made a lot of turns, the engine would be hotter and more fluid would spill. At one point, in Platteville, Wis., I had to pull over for eight fire engines and a few ambulances to let them pass. Of course, because I pulled over, my car started on fire again. I eventually replaced the hose, a $30 part, and all was well.
The Marquis had a bit of rust, which I fixed with a few friends one afternoon. We started cleaning up the cancerous areas with a corded drill and abrasive disc, but it didn't seem fast enough. To remedy this situation, a friend had brought over a pack of adhesive discs with a rubber wheel that attached to a drill. The only problem is it wouldn't fit, since the shaft was too big. So, we improvised. We grabbed a router, removed the guard, bolted in the rubber disc, adhered a pad of sandpaper, and I turned it on. Some of you may realize just how stupid this was--you see, routers spin at about 25,000 rpm.
The large rubber disc spooled up, shaking violently, and then smoothed out and made a high pitched shriek as the disc disintegrated into chunks of shrapnel spraying in all directions. A piece the size of a AA battery hit my friend in the shoulder, who was wearing a sweatshirt over a T-shirt--it left a purpleish yellow bruise visible for quite a long time. Whoops.
Another great memory this car gave me came during one of those summer nights where you leave the windows down, the radio up, and you really bond with your car. This particular night, I was driving home and hit road construction. Literally. The Mercury had peaked fenders surrounding a peaked hood, and from the driver's seat it just seemed like you were looking down the sight of a rifle. But, instead of a rifle, the car was a 4,500-pound ramming machine.
Someone had blocked off a perfectly usable lane with those folding blinky construction signs, and I cackled as I veered into one of them with my front bumper. Time slowed down to a crawl, and I was rewarded with a serrated orange arc of light as the sign sailed about 30 feet into the darkness beside me.
The weirdest thing about that car--and I know you won't believe me--was that it could actually handle. I don't know why; the thing was 22.5 feet long and weighed more than most construction equipment. But when I took on ramps I discovered I could go about as fast as I could in my modified Dodge Neon (pictured behind the Mercury). The Neon had always been a great-handling car, so I was perplexed by the fact that the Merc could hang with my Neon. I investigated the front suspension, and while I may be wrong, from what I could figure out, the thing had two swaybars in front. Why? I have no idea.
I eventually sold the car to keep my Charger, but in retrospect it should have been the other way around. I know Chargers are iconic, but this Mercury was truly a great car. I fell in love with its ice-cold air conditioning, its comfortable ride, the sparking hazard switch, and all of it's other little defects that gave it its personality. More importantly, it seemed to bond with me somehow, and it always treated me right. Except for the whole fire thing, of course
The first photo is mine, the only surviving picture I have of it, sitting in front of my Neon, and the other pictures are from the Mercury Archive,
a great resource for fans of gigantic luxury cars.
--Rob the SVX Guy