Monarch and Meteor were pure Canadian

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The Canadian market has always loomed large for the Ford Motor Company, partly because of Detroit’s proximity to Windsor and Ontario, but also because of Canada’s status as a Commonwealth country.

Indeed, Henry Ford and his Chatham-born secretary-treasurer James Couzens weren’t long in establishing a Canadian presence. The Ford Motor Company was organized in Detroit on June 16, 1903, and the first Ford to be built in Canada was assembled at the Walkerville Wagon Company in Windsor in October 1904.

Henry Ford was at first a minority shareholder in the Walkerville enterprise but eventually the Ford Motor Company became the sole owner.

Ford’s Windsor production was necessary if the company was to sell cars into the Canadian and British markets.

Other Detroit-based car manufacturers eventually followed Ford to Windsor. General Motors, Chrysler and Packard would establish plants, while Hudson would assemble cars in nearby Tilbury.

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So great was the surge of American automotive investment into Ontario that the Yanks would eventually dwarf the Canadian car industry. The largest and most successful of these, Chatham-based Gray-Dort Motors, stopped production in 1925. Perhaps the last purely Canadian car company was Dominion Motors, which operated in Toronto (actually Leaside, Ont.) before being shuttered in the mid-1930s. Its general manager was Petrolia-born Roy Kerby.

It was initially thought that both the American and Canadian markets were similar, but they were not. The Canadian market was much smaller, and its citizens generally not as affluent. That was reflected in their spending habits. Ford recognized this disparity but only began to address it following the Second World War.

Ford’s problem was that its product was limited to three car divisions, compared to General Motors’ five. A Ford owner who aspired to own a more expensive car could purchase a Mercury car – a division Ford had established in 1938 – but competition in the medium-priced field was intense, especially against Pontiac and Oldsmobile.

And the price gap between Mercury and the more expensive Lincoln was even wider. That void was easily filled by Oldsmobile, Hudson and Chrysler. How many potential customers Ford lost to its competitors because of this gap will never be known.

Although Ford’s problem wasn’t unique to Canada, it was its dealership network in Canada that at last clamoured for change. And so two distinctly Canadian cars were born in 1946 – they were the Mercury 114 and the Monarch. The two new cars wouldn’t satisfy Ford’s overall problem, but they would help, at least in Canada.

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The Mercury 114 was actually a Ford but featured Mercury attributes, such as a Mercury grille, taillights and trim. It was equipped with a 239-cubic inch V8.

At 114 inches, its Ford wheelbase was four inches shorter than the Mercury wheelbase.

Monarch, on the other hand, was a Mercury with trim, a grille, taillights and other features that were specific to the Canadian market.

Canadian Mercury dealers could sell their Canadian-specific Monarch, while Canadian Ford dealers could sell the Canadian-specific Mercury 114.

Monarch was considered to be more costly than most Mercury cars, although not as costly as Lincoln.

By 1949, the Mercury 114 had a new name – Meteor. It was built in Windsor and was equipped with Mercury trim. In its first year, 23,000 units sold. Over the years, from 1949 to 1961, Ford would build 378,463 Meteor cars for the Canadian market.

Meteor was initially offered with the same 239-cubic-inch V8 that was available in Ford cars, but a six-cylinder engine would be made available for 1950.

Monarch was also introduced to coincide with the all-new 1949 Mercury in May 1948. Monarch was also built at Windsor. That initial year would be its best, with 11,317 units built and sold (according to research by the late Perry Zavitz).

It’s estimated that roughly 95,000 Monarch cars were sold over its 15-year existence. Its direct competition, at least in those early years, included Olds, Hudson, Chrysler and Nash.

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Meteor was Edsel-like, in that it shared parts with both Ford and Mercury brands. For example, by the early 1950s, its dashboard and instrument panel was borrowed from the Mercury line. Canadian Ford buyers who desired the more costly Mercury were quickly finding a satisfying compromise in Meteor.

Monarch, meanwhile, stayed very close to Mercury and Lincoln styling.

For 1949, the Monarch grille was unique from Mercury’s and featured three horizontal chrome bars, split by five vertical uprights. Its V8 produced 110 horsepower and featured an automatic choke as well as rubber engine mounts to reduce vibration.

By 1954, the Meteor line became even more Canadian. Dropped were Ford-based names such as Mainline, Customline and Crestline. They were replaced by the base Meteor and the more expensive Niagara and Rideau.

When Ford introduced its all-new Galaxie in 1959, it also introduced the equivalent top-of-the-line Montcalm for Meteor.

Monarch enjoyed the same distinctive branding. Its cars would eventually carry such names as Richelieu, Lucerne and Sceptre.

Monarch cars were always handsomely designed and well-appointed. An excellent example was on display in 2017 at the Sombra Optimist Club car show at Port Lambton. The 1956 Monarch Richelieu two-door coupe is owned by Murray Steel of Morpeth.

Both car brands filled an important gap for Ford in Canada in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s.

Indeed, it can be argued that Meteor and Monarch collectively kept almost 480,000 Canadians from purchasing an automobile outside of the Ford family.

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But Ford’s price and marketing gaps remained in the United States. By the mid-1950s, Ford executives decided to introduce an entirely new division that they hoped would fill those price gaps. Little mention has ever been made about the Canadian influence on the decision to introduce Edsel, but the parallels between Meteor/Monarch and Edsel can’t be ignored.

In fact, when Edsel was introduced for the 1958 model year, it featured four models. The first two were based on the Ford platform and were priced accordingly, while the second two models were based on the more expensive Mercury platform and were also priced accordingly.

Ford hoped that its all-new Edsel division would forever erase any price gaps between its family of cars, while at the same time providing a solid wall of defense against GM’s five divisions and Chrysler Corporation’s five divisions (as of 1955, with the new Imperial Division).

And ironically, it was a Canadian-born Ford employee who designed Edsel. Roy Brown (1916-2013) was born in Hamilton but moved to Detroit while in his teens. His father was an engineer for Chrysler. Brown was initially hired to work in GM’s design studio. Later, while working for the Ford Motor Company, he was tapped to design Edsel.

The new Edsel made Monarch redundant, and so the Canadian “Mercury” was mothballed for the 1958 model year. But when Edsel failed to find an audience in both countries and became a spectacular failure, Monarch was quietly resurrected for the 1959 model year.

Monarch would continue to be built for a few more years before being dropped permanently, but Meteor cars would continue to be built until 1976.

They represented the Ford Motor Company’s desire to placate and satisfy a Canadian market that desired products unique to Canada.

The distinctive rear of the 1956 Monarch Richelieu, on display in 2017 at a car show in Port Lambton. Peter Epp photo
The distinctive rear of the 1956 Monarch Richelieu, on display in 2017 at a car show in Port Lambton. Peter Epp photo

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