Keith Quick of Leamington owns an interesting car that has an equally interesting backstory. It’s a 1962 Mercury Monterey, a four-door sedan he had on display at the Old Autos car show in Bothwell in August.
Equipped with a 352-cubic-inch V8, the Monterey is interesting because of its relative rarity. Indeed, the most frequent comment Keith heard from admirers at the car show was that they appreciated his Monterey because of its uniqueness.
The Monterey was the top-of-the-line Mercury from 1961 to 1964. Except for some cosmetic changes, the car remained relatively the same over those four model years, and shared the frame and mechanics with Ford’s top-selling Galaxie. But, as always with Mercury, the Monterey was a bit more luxurious and more stylish than its Ford counterpart.
For 1962, Monterey was offered as a four-door sedan, four-door hardtop, two-door convertible and four-door station wagon. Buyers had a choice of five engines, including an economy-minded 223-cubic-inch Straight Six. The larger V8s included the 390 and 406 cubic-inch engines. Transmission options included a three-speed manual, four-speed manual, and the three-speed Merc-O-Matic automatic transmission.
Monterey was a familiar name for Mercury, having been introduced in 1952 as a replacement for the venerable Mercury Eight, the debut model line of the Mercury division 13 years earlier. Monterey would always be attached to Mercury’s full-size cars, and would continue in that form until 1974. Later, the Monterey name would be resurrected as a minivan, a few years before the Mercury name itself was retired in early 2011.
Mercury was never a major contributor to the Ford Motor Company’s bottom line. In most years, its sales were modest, and when compared to the rest of the divisions found within the Detroit car companies, its position was rarely higher than sixth or seventh. An example is the 1949 model year, when sales for a newly-designed Mercury surged to 301,319 units, pushing the division to sixth overall in Detroit. But such success was rare for Mercury.
The Mercury division for 1962 sold 341,366 units, and most of them would have been full-size cars, although the compact Comet was also offered that same year. Over the four years of the 1961-64 styling cycle, Mercury sales ranged from 301,581 units to 346,751 units.
In terms of being ranked with other American-built vehicles, the division’s sales were satisfactory but not really that strong. Mercury was ranked seventh in sales for 1961 and 1962, and ninth for 1963 and 1964.
The Ford division, of course, dwarfed Mercury sales, with 1,338,790 units for 1961, and 1,476,031 units sold for 1962.
Taken as an entire company, Ford Motor Company sales for 1962 amounted to 1,848,458 units, but Mercury sales accounted for only 18.4 per cent of that total.
If you suggested that Mercury wasn’t meeting Ford’s expectations, you would be correct. The division was introduced in late 1938 to help fill the mid-priced segment of the automobile market, to compete against the likes of Pontiac and Oldsmobile, and Dodge and DeSoto. But Pontiac’s incredible surge in popularity, beginning in 1960 and continuing through until the early 1970s, helped snatch away potential Mercury sales. Even Oldsmobile was out-performing the Winged Messenger. Olds sales routinely trumped Mercury throughout the Fifties and Sixties.
Part of Mercury’s problem wasn’t the competition, but the Ford Motor Company itself. In the first half of the Fifties, Ford executives plotted to introduce two new divisions to better compete with General Motors and with Chrysler Corporation. The new Continental division would offer an ultra-luxurious and expensive coupe to compete with Cadillac and Imperial, while the all-new Edsel would be yet another mid-priced car for a segment of the market that was greatly expanding by the middle of the decade.
The problem was that by the fall of 1957, when Edsel was introduced, the United States and Canada were entering into a rare post-war recession. At the same time, the mid-priced segment of the car market was actually shrinking while being glutted with product.
Edsel and DeSoto would be casualties of this phenomenon. Both would be gone by 1961. Edsel’s impact on Mercury, however, should be noted. Mercury sales for 1955 and 1956 – both incredible years for the Detroit-based industry – were 329,808 and 327,943 respectively. But Mercury sales for 1957 fell to 286,163, and for 1958 fell to a dismal 133,271. Sales recovered slightly for 1959, but just at 150,000 units. Those results were simply awful.
Edsel’s introduction in September 1957 disrupted Mercury’s position within the Ford family of cars and within the marketplace. Edsel offered four models – the two more expensive models were based on the Mercury, while the two lower models were based on Ford. The Ford Motor Company was looking for great things from Edsel, but sold only 63,110 units for 1958, and fewer than 45,000 for 1959. It pulled the plug on Edsel for the 1960 model year but not before selling just over 3,000 units.
Edsel was a disaster for Ford, but its impact was felt more widely on Mercury. No one can really sale if Edsel sales came at the expense of Mercury – that certainly wasn’t Ford’s intent – but it’s obvious that Mercury sales suffered during Edsel’s short run.
Over at Chrysler, the DeSoto division was axed in November 1960, and it’s quite possible that Mercury could have met the same fate. Its numbers certainly offered little confidence for the future.
A few things were certain, however. The reasons for Mercury’s introduction for the 1939 model year still existed 20 years later. Ford sales were stellar, but the company’s only other offering to the public – outside of Mercury – was Lincoln, and Lincoln cars were expensive, and – truth be told – they weren’t selling that well either in the late Fifties.
Ford executives were caught in a bit of a dilemma. They saw what had happened to DeSoto, and they were also personal witnesses to Edsel’s demise. Mercury’s performance was so poor that the division probably deserved the same fate, except that Ford needed Mercury despite those poor sales.
Sales recovered somewhat for 1960, at 271,331 units, but they jumped for 1961 to 317,351. Part of the reason was new styling. The 1961 Mercury’s design was entirely new and, as with General Motors’ new cars for ’61, were far more elegant and less conspicuous than what they had been in previous years.
As already mentioned, the same basic design continued until 1964, at which time Ford executives made an important decision that would impact Mercury’s future for the next 25 years. Beginning in 1965, Mercury and its Monterey stepped away from the Ford Division’s influence and moved closer to Lincoln’s. The new Lincoln Continental, as expressed by designer Elwood Engel for the 1961 model year, was breathtakingly beautiful and was responsible for revising Ford’s luxury car division. Beginning in 1965, Mercury’s styling cues would be taken from Lincoln and not Ford. The cars would become more Lincoln-like and less Ford-like.
Ford’s decision didn’t have an immediate impact on Mercury sales. The division sputtered for the rest of the decade, rarely leaving eighth spot in the Detroit sales roster, and not reaching 400,000 units once.
Mercury’s breakout year was 1972 when sales blew past 400,000 for the first time, for 441,964 units. 1973 was even better at 486,470, but sales in 1974 – the first model year to be impacted by the 1973-1974 Energy Crisis – fell to 403,977. Mercury sales actually fell to ninth.
As for Monterey, its status as the top Mercury was challenged by Marquis, introduced in the 1967 model year as a two-door hardtop Monterey. Marquis’ role was enlarged for the 1969 model year as a full range Mercury, and the Monterey was assigned as an entry level full-size car.
The Monterey name was retired in 1974.