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Mercury In Retrograde: Seven Lustworthy Mercs

Posted in auto industry, Car Buying, Classic, Collector Cars, General, Mercury, Rust or Lust by Kurt Ernst | June 3rd, 2010 | 2 Responses |

1970 Cougar Convertible. Gone, but not forgotten.

Mercury may be no more, but the marque will always live on in the hearts and minds of the Mercury faithful. The brand hasn’t produced anything of interest to enthusiasts in years, at least since the Marauder was canned in 2004 after its two-year run.

That hasn’t always been the case, and Mercury built a loyal following through the years by offering fast cars with a bit more luxury and style than their Ford cousins. Below are seven examples of very lustworthy Mercs, cars we’d be proud to have in our own garages if space and bank accounts allowed. There’s something for everyone here, whether you like going slow and terrorizing the neighborhood, kicking ass in the quarter mile or collecting cars that will appreciate in value in the coming years.

2003 – 04 Mercury Marauder

2004 Mercury Marauder

Built in response to the 1994 to 1996 Chevrolet Impala SS, the Mercury Marauder was a full size, V8 powered, rear wheel drive “muscle sedan”. Equipped with Ford’s 4.6 liter V8, the Marauder borrowed enough go-fast parts from the Mustang Mach 1 to generate a respectable (for the day) 305 horsepower. The Marauder featured a retuned sport suspension with shocks mounted outside the frame rails for the first time on a Ford Panther platform, and came only with a four-speed automatic transmission. The aluminum driveshaft and limited slip differential with a 3.55 rear axle ratio were borrowed from the Ford Police Interceptor package, and the Marauder featured body colored trim and tinted lights. Inside, the upscale sedan featured front bucket seats, a unique instrument panel complete with tachometer, and a floor mounted shifter.

The Marauder was a disappointment to Mercury, selling just 7,839 units in its first model year. Things went from bad to worse in year two, when just 3,213 units were sold by Mercury dealers. We didn’t know it then, but the 2004 Mercury Marauder was the last attempt at a high performance vehicle from the once legendary brand.

1970 – 77 Mercury Capri

1971 Mercury Capri

The first car I lusted after was my brother-in-law’s 1971 Capri. Sure, it only had the 64 horsepower, 1.6 liter inline four, but it was German, it handled well and it didn’t look like anything else on the road. My love for the first generation Capris only got deeper when I was an exchange student in Germany; Capris were everywhere, and you could buy them for next to nothing. I actually looked at importing a German Capri as my first car, but soon realized that a bargain on the other side of the pond would turn into an expensive, logistical nightmare on these shores once I tried to license it. Sadly, I’ve never owned a first generation Capri, but still keep my eyes open for the right project car.

Were they fast? Not particularly. Did they handle well? Yes, for their price point. Their light weight and rear drive layout helped, but the live axle and leaf spring rear suspension kept them from greatness. The 2.0 liter inline four, introduced in 1971 and later used in the Pinto, was a much better engine choice. Stock, it put out 101 horsepower but offered almost unlimited tuning options and was about as durable a motor as Ford ever built. In 1972, a V6 option was added to the lineup, but this just made the car nose heavy. If you want a first generation Capri for vintage racing or autocross, you want to stick with the 2.0 liter versions.

A victim of slowing sales, the first generation Mercury Capri was discontinued in 1977. The name was revived a few years later, but this time it was stuck on the back of a rebodied Mustang. Sadly, things would only get worse for the Capri, as the third and final revision was a dismal 1.6 liter ragtop built in Australia. Underpowered, ill handling and saddled with a poor safety rating, the final version of the Mercury Capri was killed off in 1993.

1967 – 70 Mercury Cougar

1968 Mercury Cougar GT-E

Designed to give Mercury dealers a response to Ford’s wildly successful Mustang, the first generation Mercury Cougar was a slightly stretched (3” or so), rebodied and restyled Ford Mustang. Hidden headlights gave the Cougar a unique, aggressive look, and sequential rear turn signals added to the cool factor. Interiors were a bit more plush that those in the Mustang, as the Cougar was aimed more at the white collar buyer.

In 1968, Mercury got serious about using the Cougar to highlight the brand’s performance image. Engine options were expanded to include the 302 cubic inch V8, the 428 cubic inch V8 and the most lustworthy of all: the 427 cubic inch, Cobrajet V8.

Old Cougars used to be a dime a dozen, but they’re rapidly disappearing from America’s roads. Clean, unmolested examples are getting harder to find every year, which continues to drive up the pricing for survivors. If you’re goint to add a Cougar to your collection, the one to have is the 1968 Cougar GT-E, which came with the 335 horsepower (snicker) Cobrajet V8. Only 358 examples were built, so you may be looking for a long time. If you find one in good condition, buy it, since the price isn’t likely to come down any time soon.

Another Cougar of interest is the 1968 Cougar XR-7G, built to commemorate the Cougars raced by Dan Gurney’s Trans Am team. Buyers could opt for the 302, the 390 or the 428, and all XR-7G models came with fog lamps, a hood scoop, hood pins, bullet shaped rearview mirrors and special badging. A total of 619 examples were built, which makes the Dan Gurney Cougars a little bit easier to find than the Cougar GT-Es.

Like the modern namesake, Cougars were prone to putting on weight as they aged. By the late 1970s, Cougars had become bloated luxo-barge coupes, symbolizing everything that was wrong with American automotive design. Later attempts to revive the marque were a step in the right direction, but proved to be too little, too late. In 1999, Mercury confused the hell out of the car buying public by introducing a new “sport compact” with the Cougar name and available four or six cylinder engines. Buyers avoided the compact Cougar, which proved to be neither sporty not compact enough to attract a following. In 2002, the Cougar name faded into automotive history.

1970 Mercury Cyclone Spoiler

1970 Mercury Cyclone Spoiler

If you wanted a big, fast Ford in 1970, your options boiled down to a Ford Torino or a Mercury Cyclone Spoiler. The Mercury, though slightly larger than Ford’s Torino, came equipped with everything a gear head buyer could want. The standard motor, a 429 V8, put out 370 horsepower and breathed through a functional hood scoop. The transmission was a four speed with a Hurst shifter, and a Traction-Lok differential made sure the power got to the ground. The Mercury came with a “competition” handling package, though that term may have been optimistic, considering the Cyclone Spoiler’s 4,100 pound curb weight. On the inside, buyers got a full set of gauges (instead of the idiot lights found in the Torino, a round tach instead of Ford’s horizontal tach, vinyl bucket seats and real simulated woodgrain trim.

The Mercury Cyclone Spoiler was good for a 0 to 60 time of about 6.3 seconds, and could turn the quarter mile in the low 14s, just north of 100 miles per hour. It’s fastback body shape was stunning, even though the rear quarter panels and deck lid were a bit long for my tastes.

1951 Mercury Eight

1951 Mercury Eight

Whenever I think of the term “lead sled”, it’s a slammed Mercury Eight that comes to mind. Are they fast? As fast as anything that weighs as much as Luxembourg can be. Do they handle well? No, not really. Lead sleds aren’t about going fast or hitting up a track day. Lead sleds are plush; they’re about the ride. They’re about scaring women and children and making jaws drop. They’re about being seen, and sometimes, being obscene.

The Eight was the first Mercury to bear a model name, as earlier cars were only identified by the brand. The Eight was the first post-war Mercury, and its distinctive styling made it a huge sales success. The standard motor was a flathead, side valve V8, but tuners soon realized that overhead valve motors from Oldsmobile or Cadillac would bolt in and offer up more horsepower. The Mercury Eight lived on from 1945 until 1951, when it was replaced in the Mercury lineup by the Montclair.

How cool is the Mercury Eight? The 1990 Hot Wheels release “Purple Passion”, a slammed ’49 Merc, is one of the models most sought after by collectors.

1966 Mercury Comet Cyclone GT

1966 Mercury Comet Cyclone GT

Photo: Bring A Trailer

Sister car to the Ford Fairlane, the Mercury Comet Cyclone GT definitely got the best looks in the family. The exterior styling is not nearly as conservative as the white-oxford-shirt-with-the-starched-collar Fairlane, even though the family resemblance is obvious. From the rear, the Cyclone GT looks bland and harmless, making it an ideal Q-ship.

Power came from Ford’s 390 cubic inch V8, good for 335 horsepower and a 0 to sixty time in the low sixes. A Comet Cyclone GT could turn the 1/4 mile in just under 14 seconds at nearly 104 miles per hour; respectable, but no match for Pontiac’s GTO or Chevy’s Chevelle SS 396. Still, the car got good press and was chosen as the pace car of the 1966 Indianapolis 500.

As with other Mercs of the day, the interior was better appointed that what was available at your local Ford dealer. Round gauges were well laid out and the front bucket seats were split by a large console. A three speed manual trans was standard, but buyers could opt for a four speed manual or the three speed Merc-O-Matic slushbox, which allowed drivers to shift manually. Buyers could choose axle ratios ranging from 3.00:1 to 4.11:1, depending on their need to lay rubber off of stoplights. In keeping with Mercury’s emphasis on luxury, power steering, power front disc brakes and air conditioning were all available options.

1967 Mercury Monterey S-55

1967 Mercury Monterey S-55

Full size car buyers wanted to go fast, too, so Mercury offered up the S-55 Sports Package Option for buyers of their 1967 Monterey coupes or convertibles. The S-55 package included the 428 cubic inch motor with a four barrel carb (good for 345 horsepower), dual exhaust, front disc brakes, deluxe wheel covers (complete with fake knock-off caps), a four speed manual or Select Shift Automatic and an engine dress up kit. The S55 received special interior and exterior badging, and body side paint stripes.

The Monterey S-55 is a rare bird, since Mercury brass pulled the plug on the car shortly after it was released. Full size performance cars were seen as a contradiction to Mercury’s luxury manufacturer image, so only 570 coupes and 145 convertibles were built. It goes without saying that clean survivors command a high price, and that’s not going to change with the brand’s demise.

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2 Responses

  1. 68SportFury says:

    I’m particularly fond of the ’70-’72 Cyclone and the ’64 Marauder, myself.

  2. Dave says:

    My uncle by marriage had a 67 Cougar vert. Kind of a Baby Bkue with a white ragtop. This was when I was in my late teens, so this would have been late 80’s. I loved that car. I had always hoped he’d pull one of those “rich uncle” things and give it to me. Alas, he and my Aunt divorced, and I never saw the car again. Or him….