Back in the 1930s, Ford designers began work on a vehicle that would have more features and styling then was offered on any other current Ford product. As the vehicle neared completion in 1938, Edsel Ford and Ford Sales Manager Jack Davis decided to launch an all-new brand for the premium range to set it apart from the mainstream Ford Blue Oval products and Lincoln luxury cars. And, with that, Mercury was born.
The vehicles from Mercury would compete with mid-level offerings from GM, Dodge and Chrysler’s DeSoto, but would slot in just below the Cadillac lineup.
“Mercury was actually born because there was a niche between the deluxe Ford V-8 and the Lincoln Zephyr V-12,” said Bob Kreipke, corporate historian, Ford Motor Company.
Henry Ford’s son, Edsel, chose the name Mercury – the winged messenger of the Roman gods. Mercury, the god of commerce in Roman mythology, symbolizes dependability, speed, skill and eloquence. Ford’s vision for Mercury included improved power, ride, handling, stopping distance, internal noise and enhanced styling.
The first model, the 1939 Mercury 8, sold for $916 and had a 95-horsepower V-8 engine. More than 65,000 were built the first year. The offerings included a two- and four-door sedan, a sports convertible and a town sedan.
“It went over phenomenally ... we broke records for a first-year vehicle,” said Kreipke.
Just two short years after Mercury debuted, America entered the war and production was halted. When the war ended in 1945, Mercury was coupled with Lincoln, and the Lincoln-Mercury Division was born.
In 1949, Mercury introduced the first of its "new look" integrated bodies – the first fresh design from Mercury since the war. The 1949 Mercury was a favorite of the hot-rod generation. Movie buffs saw James Dean’s customized version of the '49 Mercury Series 9CM when he drove a de-chromed version of the car in the 1955 movie classic Rebel Without a Cause.
“It was popular,” noted Kreipke. “It had a great suspension and an engine all its own, with a very special power pack which had 10 more horsepower than the Deluxe Ford V-8. The Mercury was just something that was kind of ‘leading edge’.”
The 1950s featured even more modern styling and innovations such as the industry first fixed sunroof/moonroof on the 1954 Mercury Sun Valley, with a transparent Plexiglas top. In 1957, Mercurys grew wider, longer, lower and more powerful with what was called “Dream Car Design.” Mercury had entered its heydays as a premium brand with models like the Montclair, Monterey and Turnpike Cruiser.
During the Ford Division's 1960s "Total Performance" era, Mercury added performance and speed with vehicles such as the S-55 and Marauder, which found some success in racing. In 1967, the Cougar was introduced, which was Mercury's version of the Ford Mustang. The 1970s saw the introduction of the Grand Marquis, Mercury’s best-selling nameplate. Mercury sales peaked in 1978 at an all-time high of 580,000.
Mercury’s reputation for performance was briefly revived in 2003 with the return of the Marauder, built off a hot-rodded Grand Marquis which shared a platform with the Ford Crown Victoria. But after interest in Ford’s mid-brand waned and sales began a steady Ford decided to drop Mercury in Canada for 1999, although the Grand Marquis was still marketed there wearing a Mercury badge through 2007. Production of Mercury vehicles ceased in all markets during the fourth quarter of 2010, with the final Mercury automobile, a Grand Marquis, rolling off the assembly line on January 4, 2011. Ford completely phased out the Mercury brand in 2011, as the company refocused its marketing and engineering efforts solely on the Ford and Lincoln brands.
“Mercury has been a tremendous line for Ford Motor Company because it filled the niche between our Ford and Lincoln lineups,” said Kreipke. “It had served the product need during its time for something quite desirable right in the middle.”