I wish I had a photo of my 1964 Mercury Comet Caliente convertible, but I only took one, in black and white, and it was pre-digital so I’d have to dig out a print from the ancient middens in my closet and scan it. So the car pictured above is close.
The Comet comes from the glory days of the Big Three, when Ford needed not only a Mercury division, but Lincoln too. Today, Ford said that in the fourth quarter of this year it will be phasing out the 70-year-old Mercury division, which had 1,700 dedicated dealers (276 of them exclusive to Lincoln/Mercury). It was a long-expected move, and the brand has been on a death watch. Lincoln, equally venerable, could also face the ax down the line, though for now it is being freshened up.
Surely we all have had our Mercury moments, maybe in the back seat. James Dean drove one in 'Rebel Without a Cause' (remember the fateful game of chicken?), and the cars were the subject of the immortal “Mercury Blues,” whose definitive version was a 1980s take by David Lindley (though Steve Miller and Alan Jackson also recorded it).
“I’m gonna buy me a Mercury
And cruise it up and down the road”
Watch Lindley play a pretty hot version of it at the Roxy here.
Mercury was created in 1939 by Edsel Ford, originally with a somewhat upscale image. There were some memorable Mercs, such as the streamlined ’49 model (Dean’s car, see the video below), the huge ’58 Turnpike Cruiser (one of my favorite car names), the aforementioned “compact” Comets, and the ’67 Cougar (admittedly something of a Mustang also-ran). See a gallery of these models and more at the New York Times website.
This video, advertising the '49 models, looks like ancient history now, viewed through a time portal into the distant past:
Actually, now that I look at it, Mercury could never be said to have achieved greatness. And recently it had devolved into what is called “badge engineering.” All the real design work went into Fords, but they stuck a badge on a slightly resculpted model and called it a Mercury. Ford needs to concentrate on making its core brand great, and get serious about the electrification of the automobile. (The battery-powered Transit Connect is out, a plug-in Focus is coming next year, and a plug-in hybrid in 2012.)
“It’s a sad day,” said Ed Tonkin, chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association, and I guess it is, though if we shed tears for every departed marque we’d fill a river.
Cars.com Editor Patrick Olsen was clear-eyed about the loss: “While Ford’s move to shutter Mercury was hardly a shock -- and in fact was a step that many of us have suggested for several years -- the company clearly benefited from GM’s slashing of half of its brands, which makes the move seem less drastic, and more of a necessary step toward financial success.”
I know what he means. The auto industry has to move on. Should GM have kept its Edsel brand, named after poor Edsel Ford? (Ford was a good egg and doesn’t deserve to be remembered that way.)
When GM killed Oldsmobile at the end of 2000, I was on hand, though hardly reduced to a shuddering wreck. I wrote in the New York Times, “Current models like the Achieva and Alero are not likely to inspire a popular song, as did the very first car built by auto pioneer Ransom E. Olds in Lansing, Michigan from 1901 to 1905. The seven-horsepower Curved Dash Oldsmobile, weighing 650 pounds (and costing $650), was not only the first gasoline-powered automobile to be produced in quantity but also one of the first designed motor vehicles of any type. The Olds’ attractive curved dashboard was such a sensation that an unheard-of 4,000 were produced in 1903. The success of “In My Merry Oldsmobile” undoubtedly helped move them out the door.”
What, never heard “In My Merry Oldsmobile”? Here it is on video, with a cool and very surreal cartoon: