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RIP, Mercury

Mercury1 Last year, when General Motors announced that it would be phasing out its once-proud Pontiac brand, we wrote a lengthy obituary and launched a two-week posting barrage paying tribute to the weird and wonderful cars nestled within the brand's corporate heritage. Now, with Ford announcing Mercury's demise, we have the opportunity to do the same thing for Mercury. But, strangely, we just don't really have that much to say on the subject.

Ford founded Mercury in 1939, and since that time Mercury has filled the hole between the value-level Ford brand and the luxury Lincoln brand. Unfortunately, that niche proved to be quite narrow; Mercury was upscale, but not that upscale, and Ford's insistence on keeping desirable luxury and performance cars within its own lineup left Mercury without a real foothold in the market.

As a result, while Mercury had some beautiful, fast, compelling cars, those cars were invariably very similar to beautiful, fast, compelling Fords. As a case in point, the Cougar, likely the most famous Mercury of the last 45 years, was based heavily on Ford Mustangs and Thunderbirds for most of its life. During the 1980s, the Cougar's primary distinguishing characteristic from the Thunderbird was its squared-off C-pillar. Likewise, the Car Lust Classics we're running this week--the Mercurys we cared enough to write about over the past few years--were almost entirely available in Ford trim as well.

I'm convinced that car cloning is an addictive drug for car manufacturers. The rush of cost savings and increased profits leads them to more and more excessive abuse, until they wind up hitting rock bottom with duplicative cars that offer no unique value and that undermine each brand's individual brand equity. Excessive platform sharing helped muddle GM's Chevrolet/Oldsmobile/Pontiac/Buick hierarchy to the extent that two of those brands are now dead. Mercury, which had less of its own independent heritage or powertrain reputation than any of those brands, was an even more extreme example of the perils of over-sharing.

Mercury2 The unique cars that did show up in Mercury dealerships--such as the Capri, the Capri II, the Merkur XR4Ti and Scorpio, and the roadster Capri--for the most part weren't sold under the Mercury name, and were almost completely misunderstood by the Lincoln-Mercury sales force. And really, what sporty-car buyer would think to shop at Lincoln-Mercury dealers?

Ultimately, it came down to this; customers ignored Mercury because it had little unique to offer that customers couldn't get from Ford or Lincoln instead. When smart used-car shoppers pick up used Mercurys instead of Fords because they devalue so quickly, that's a sign that the brand has some serious problems.

I have always wanted to like Mercurys; in practice, they were semi-quirky Fords with better standard equipment, and their comparative rarity made them seem more special. Mercurys have also had some really memorable names--Cyclone, Comet, Cougar, Capri, Marauder, Mariner, Mountaineer, Sable, Tracer ... in a car world dominated by unimaginative alphanumeric designations, those names were evocative and, matched to the right products, potentially powerful. Heck, even the Ford Pinto clone, the Bobcat, had a pretty cool appelation. Some Mercurys were cars worthy of their names, but most were not. Imagine a Bobcat sport hatchback. Or a Mariner luxury sedan. Or a Tracer sports car. It kills me that these names were wasted on rebadges of mediocre cars.

So ... Mercury. Losing a car brand is generally a sad thing, as it contributes to a further homogenization of our roads, but it's difficult to feel too outraged at this news. Pontiac had its long stretches of mediocrity, but those stretches were also punctuated by moments of its own unique genius. Mercury had some high points, which we'll try to highlight this week, but those high points were more derivative of Ford's high points than anything else. Overall, I'm more disappointed that Mercury wasn't more interested than I am that it's going away.

--Chris H.

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In the past few years, Ford has shared platforms with Mazda and Volvo and done an excellent job of giving each brand a unique feel. It's hard to understand why they couldn't have also given the Mercurys more of a distinct personality.

The captive imports--Capri and Pantera and XR4ti--were always interesting cars, even if they never quite fit in with the vinyl-roof-and-hood-ornament flavor of the rest of the product line. Those of us of a certain age will remember the "Sign of the Cat" advertising theme, with commercials that were usually cooler than the cars they were pitching, and the hot rodders will always have the '49s, the mother of all lead sleds, to play with.

Apart from the Marauders, the '67-70 Cougar is about the only Mercury that I really like. I do recall the '90s Capri as being lauded somewhere as the best roadster you never heard of.

But hey, they had Farrah-Fawcet and Jill Wagner as spokesmodels!

Somewhere, James Dean and Steve McGarrett are weeping..

I remember my dad renting a last-gen Cougar with a 4-cylinder engine and a three(!!!) speed automatic. We were driving down a two-lane highway when we got stuck behind someone who thought that doing 5 MPH below the speed limit in rural Nevada was a fantastic idea. Not sharing this viewpoint, I proceeded to get into the opposing lane to pass.

Fifteen seconds later, my dad said, "It's a rental. You can floor it."
I replied, "I am!"

30 seconds later, we finally accelerated sufficiently to get around the slow driver.

Now, I'm sure that certain trim levels of Cougar were really fun and compelling. I just want to know why they bothered making the other ones.

"The unique cars that did show up in Mercury dealerships--such as the Capri, the Capri II, the Merkur XR4Ti and Scorpio, and the roadster Capri--for the most part weren't sold under the Mercury name, and were almost completely misunderstood by the Lincoln-Mercury sales force."

Reminds me of when Buick dealers were selling Opels, around the same time as the Capri. They didn't have a clue.

My favorite Mercury vehicle!http://tinyurl.com/2b9pw7e

Gosh darn it, gee willikers, and dag-nab it! I'm gonna miss Mercury. Maybe not for what the brand was, but rather what it represented - an upscale Ford or stripped-down Lincoln, take your pick, depending on the model.

But wait, how can a car marque with only four models (Two of them SUVs, one a land yacht that hasn't seen a serious update since circa 1990, the other a pretty cool car), be taken seriously? http://www.mercuryvehicles.com/allvehicles.asp

Mercury's demise was not the fault of bad quality or poor taste. They just didn't have anything fresh to offer. And nobody but the suits at FoMoCo/Mercury is to blame for this.

Thanks, Jjd241. That IS the coolest Mercury ever!

Besides the Cougar and the '49,The Merc that had its own real identity was the 1963 Monterey Breezeway. Its unique notchback with roll-down rear window was featured famously driven by Jack Nicholson in the '70 film Five Easy Pieces.I always thought they were cool in their own quirky way.

I bought a 2003 Mercury Marauder because I thought it would be the last of the V8 rear-wheel drive full sized American cars. Guess I will have to hold onto it since it was the last cool car in the Mercury lineup.

Well, since no one else seems inclined to defend Mercury much, I guess I'll give it a go. Actually, it's more a defense of the Grand Marquis I spose, since that's the car I have and the one I always wanted NEW. Oh I know it's been pretty much the same car the last 20 years or so, but so what. Lots of people like the big Fords, Lincolns and Mercs for reasons no one can seriously refute. I get so tired of hearing how my Grand Marquis is "out of date" or that it needs modern technology (it's got lots), mostly spouted by know-it-alls who think we all should be riding around in go-carts. I don't agree, and I don't want to spend upwards of 60, 70 or 80 grand (or more) on a larger V8 automobile with fancier festooning. Seems the "enthusiast" and elitist crowd, including the morons (sorry) at Consumer Reports, only like a larger car if it's foreign, costs as much as a house, and is a "true, luxury brand". Spare me. I don't want to mortgage the kids' futures to get a car I like, one where I don't bump my elbows every time I move, one that moves reliably, safely and smoothly enough, and one that's comfortable enough for a longer trip. Oh, and one with a decent stereo.

I grew up driving a variety of brands and gradually realized that, overall, Ford made a better larger car, like the LTDs and larger Mercs. (My 2000 Sable LS was terrific too.) Durable as hell, and achieving 180-200 thousand miles was pretty much a sure thing (if maintained) going back at least to the 70s. Now all the "experts" tell us we don't realize we'd really rather have a compact, a SUV or a fancy space age car, with nav. Whatever's trendy. You know what? I don't think so. Lots of us don't. It's too bad Mercury is going away but I'll get over it. In ten years though, when I need a newer car maybe, I'll be wishing I could buy me an upgraded new Mercury RWD V8 cruiser w/ air ride, leather and a moon roof. Sneer if you must, but that's what I've got now. And Ford didn't charge me a fortune to be in it either. Thank you Ford. (And by the way Ford, in 3 or 5 years, why don't you bring back a middling large, full frame V8, either a Ford, Lincoln OR a Merc. Maybe people will appreciate you and them more when new ones will have been unavailable for a while.)

And don't EVER call my late model Merc a land yacht or a pontoon! It ain't so! (And it hasn't been so since I had my 77. Now THAT was a car, and I ain't smokin no crack pipe either. See the Jalopnik article on the 78 Grand Marquis if you haven't already.)

Now hear ye, the word of Wiki:

"Landyacht is colloquial term in the United States, Australia and parts of Canada, used to describe the large sedans that American automobile manufacturers produced, particularly full-size, rear-wheel drive sedans, from the 1950s through the 1990s. Features commonly found in vehicles that are referred to as landyachts include not only very generous exterior proportions, but also somewhat vague steering and a "spongy" ride with a feeling that is often described as being "floaty." Today, the term is applied to large, traditional American sedans, regardless of the actual characteristics featured in the vehicle." ...

The first new car I ever bought was a 1998 redesigned Cougar. I had a great time with that car. I put 120,000 miles on it. It was shipped to Europe and back. I never had a problem with it other than a broken tie rod end. It was a very fun car. Ran like a jet with a well powered V6. I know it wasn't a hit with the auto media, but I liked that car and it gave me good service.

When my Dad left me his nearly new Milan, I thought that I'd keep it a while and trade it for something we really wanted. Well, my son's driving it now (We quibbled over who got that or the Civic), it's quick (six cylinders), quiet and handles well. I can't compare it to the Ford version but, at least when my father bought it, it was a good deal for the money. It's a 2006 which has only required basic maintenance. I would have looked at new ones when trade in time comes around but I guess that won't be happening now. Maybe I'll look at the Lincoln but it seems like it has more stuff than I need.

The coolest thing about that Cougar (pictured) was the sequential taillights. My uncle had one, I thought it was awesome!

If FoMoCo hadn't made the announcement, how many of us would really have noticed if Mercury had slipped beneath the waves and quietly ended production? They didn't make much, and what there was is available from Ford under another name, so even the Mercury enthusiasts (both of them) are still well served.

The land yachts have their purpose, and it's not one the Euros or the CR pundits are all that familiar with. Crossing this nation in a few days, either N-S or E-W, in comfort and safety while carrying a hefty payload is what they do well. Cars with these abilities should not be limited to the well-heeled elites, but remain within the means of those who work for a living.

The automotive press has destroyed enough useful automotive concepts already. Let's hope their elitism doesn't bring an end to the land yachts.

A chopped and chanelled '49 - '51 Merc is the personification of Drive-In Evil. Back in '63, one in particular would rumble through The Barrel now and then, low and slow, and all of us clean-cut high school guys would get real quiet, scared shitless.

Mesides my uncle's '49, I always remember that beautiful convertible Mercury Monterey in "The Long, Long Trailer" (1953).

I also have Milan, great car and as mention in article a bargain, only a little more than the Fusion on used car market.

Chris L's tribute to the large American car rightly points out that vehicle's virtues. Strangely as more and more Boomers reach an age at which they can appreciate the virtues of their father's Oldsmobile - or Mercury - the U.S.-headquartered car makers are giving up that whole market segment. Toyota's latest ad campaign for its Avalon with the tag line "comfort is back" shows that the Japanese carmaker is ready to grab another market segment from Duh-troit.

Good article, Chris. Many years of forgettable products, but . . .

I'll always be grateful to Mercury for providing the most over-the-top cars in those outlandish '58 and '59 model years. Mercury anticipated it all with the '57 Turnpike Cruiser. Seeing all of those garish gimmicks laid on in layers must have been horrifying for those car buyers with taste at the time, but Mercury added a lot to the most vibrantly colorful chapter in automotive history.

I can't imagine the obit for Merc being very long. It was the bridge between Ford and Lincoln that never needed to be built. It gave Edsel Ford somewhere to make a name for himself with a line of his creating (not that you technically have to make a name for yourself as the son of Henry Ford...). It gave Edsel a place for a bit more creative outlet where he wouldn't clash so much with his father.

A Merc of note is the 1963 S-55 with the 427 under the hood. I'd love to have one. Another is the 1957 Merc Voyager - a 2 door station wagon. Seriously, who thought a 2 door wagon was a good idea? They do look cool/odd though - I've only ever seen one of them.

I currently drive a 2003 Marauder, and it's the best car I've ever owned, but I bought it used in 2006. My previous car was also a Mercury, a '96 Mercury Sable, which was basically an uglier Taurus, but with the same crappy interior, uninspiring ride, lousy radio, and lackluster power plant. It lasted about 175,000 miles, the Marauder is flirting with 65,000.

While I ADORE my Marauder, I've told dozens of people what I drove and gotten blank looks. It seems nobody's ever heard of the only car that they never advertised. While it's probably the best Mercury to emerge in the past 25 years, it was a sales failure, probably because it was Mercury's most expensive model, it was completely unheard of by the general public, and Mercury has never been a performance brand, which would have been the ideal niche. Ford=Economy, Mercury=Perfomance, Lincoln=Luxury would have been a better organization. Offer the Ford Mustang as a V6 and the Mercury Cougar as a V8, for example. Ugly headlight housings do not sell cars.

I've looked at Mercury's current stable for the last couple of years with disdain. None of their current line up would be an acceptable replacement for my Marauder when I retire it to Show Car status. Certainly, there are some Fords, but no Mercurys, and I still consider Lincolns to be too expensive for what is basically just a fancy Ford, although I LUSTED after the LS when it was available.

A mid-70s Mercury Comet gave me some of the most entertaining driving of my high school years, including being the drive for my one date with Mary Brown that I still remember fondly.

Proud owner these past 3 months of a 2004 Mercury Marauder, grey. 3000 miles of driving, mostly Interstate, and I cant believe I did not buy this wonderful car sooner. To think I have been driving a Volvo 850 turbo when I could have been really riding in style. Fuel economy is comparable (both require premium fuel) but the Marauder after three hours driving is the winner hands down. Sounds better, just as fast on a sweeper, more comfortable, and with legroom for this tall guy. And the fine twin chrome exhaust tips placed just right. And a V-8. and the blacked out grille. And an understated interior. Very positive feel at 80 and beyond on the open road. I finally realized that it's the honorable descendant of a friend's '53 Merc sedan that saw serious action in high school in the distant past. So glad I found this car.

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