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Ford Bans The Mercury Brand

History shows a long decline of what was once a powerhouse.

by on Jun.03, 2010

Mercury cars of the 1949-1951 model years, like those of 1939-40, had distinctive bodies that appealed especially to the customizers of Southern California.

The demise of Mercury was a long time coming. To understand it, you have to know a lot about the car’s history, and how things work inside Ford Motor Company.

First the history: During the 1930s, so-called “medium-priced” brands like Buick and Dodge flourished. However, Ford marketed nothing between the basic Ford and the big and expensive Lincoln. For example, 1934 Ford sedans ranged in price from $535 to $625 but the least expensive ’34 Lincoln sedan cost $3,450—a big gap.

So the company decided to plug the gap. The first step to counter General Motors and Chrysler Corporation in the middle of the market was the 1936 Lincoln Zephyr, introduced in the fall of 1935 and priced at $1,320. Buicks for 1936 ranged from $885 to $1,695 for a four-door sedan.

The second step in Ford’s plan was Mercury, introduced in the fall of 1938 as a 1939 model. A four-door Mercury was priced at $957, fitting neatly into the lower-medium priced market, as things were done on those days. About 66,000 were sold the first year. Contrary to popular misinformation, Mercury then was not just a badge-engineered Ford. It had a larger 239-cid, 95-horsepower V8 (versus Ford’s 221 with 85 horsepower), a longer 116-inch wheelbase and a unique, wider body.

Overseas, Mercurys became relatively popular as an upscale car in those European countries without native auto industries, the likes of Norway, Finland, Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland. Canadian plants assembled right-hand-drive Mercurys for the British Empire market. As an example, the last Ford Motor Company civilian car produced after Pearl Harbor was a Canadian right-hand-drive Mercury built in April 1942 for export to Kenya.

The Lincoln-Mercury Division as a marketing organization was established in 1945, right after the end of World War II. Aping General Motors’ medium-price brands, Mercury was to have its own assembly plants, engineering, purchasing and eventually engines. Benson Ford, Henry II’s younger brother, served as general manager of Lincoln-Mercury until the brands were split into separate divisions in 1955 in an aborted attempt to copy GM further.

Mercurys of the 1949-1951 model years, like those of 1939-40, had distinctive bodies that appealed especially to the customizers of Southern California. Think James Dean. Accordingly, original unaltered versions have long been hard to find, and now will be rarer yet.

Winged no more, as Ford management claims the Mercury brand wont fly, based at least in part on their stewardship.

Ford Motor Company’s mid-Fifties multi-brand scheme, hatched by former GM execs lured to Ford after the war by Ernie Breech, envisioned a Continental Division as a competitor to Cadillac, a Lincoln Division to face off against Buick, the new Edsel Division to counter Oldsmobile and Mercury Division versus Pontiac.

Ford Division of course would continue to compete with Chevrolet in those good old days when the highest selling import was MG. As we all know, the grand plan collapsed when the Edsel became an instant flop at its introduction in 1957.    (more…)