Mercury was an automobile marque of the Ford Motor Company launched in 1938 by Edsel Ford, son of Henry Ford, to market entry-level luxury cars slotted between Ford-branded regular models and Lincoln-branded luxury vehicles, similar to General Motors' Buick (and former Oldsmobile) brand, and Chrysler's namesake brand. From 1945 to 2011, it was the Mercury half of the Lincoln - Mercury division of Ford (the Edsel brand was included in that division for the 1958-1960 model years). Using badge engineering, the majority of Mercury models were based on Ford platforms.
The name "Mercury" is derived from the messenger of the gods of Roman mythology, and during its early years, the Mercury brand was known for performance, which was briefly revived in 2003 with the Mercury Marauder. The brand was sold in the United States, Mexico, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Middle East. In 1999, the Mercury brand was dropped in Canada, although the Grand Marquis was still marketed there wearing a Mercury badge through 2007.
The Mercury brand was phased out in 2011, as Ford Motor Company refocused its marketing and engineering efforts on the Ford and Lincoln brands. Production of Mercury vehicles ceased in the fourth quarter of 2010 - the splits of Mercury from 4. The final Mercury automobile, a Grand Marquis, rolled off the assembly line on January 4, 2011.
In 1935, Edsel Ford designed a new, more luxurious version of the his company's mainline car, intended to bridge the enormous price gap between the highest trimmed Ford and the base Lincoln. There was debate within the company if this new intermediate car should be a new Ford model or spun-off into a new marque. Over 100 different model and marque names were considered before Mercury was finally selected:
- Beau Monde
- The Comet
- The Dearborn
- The Gazelle
- The Groundflight
- Luxury 8
- Pharaoh 8
- The Quicksilver
- The Trailblazer
- Vanitie 8
- Winged Victory
The 1939 Mercury 8 began production in 1938, with a 95 horsepower (71 kW; 96 PS) V8 engine. Over 65,800 were sold the first year, at a price of $916 (approximately $14,000 in 2010 dollars). It was an all new car, sharing no body panels with either Ford or Lincoln. Its body was six inches wider than Ford and rode on a 116 inch wheelbase, four inches longer than Ford.
From the very beginning, Mercury was a division that seemed to have a brand identity that was constantly in the process of finding its place in the North American automotive market. Sometimes, Mercury was presented as a performance division of more mainstay Ford products, while at other times, it was meant to match sales with Detroit crosstown rivals Buick, Oldsmobile and Chrysler during the 1950s through 1980s. Many times, Mercury models shared platforms with Ford products, such as the Mercury Cougar (shared with the Ford Mustang, Thunderbird, and Elite), the Mercury Bobcat (shared with the Ford Pinto), or the Mercury Comet (shared with the Ford Falcon, Fairlane, and Maverick).
1945-1969: "Junior Lincoln"
Mercury was its own division at Ford until 1945 when it was combined with Lincoln into the Lincoln-Mercury Division, with Ford hoping the brand would be known as a "junior Lincoln," rather than an upmarket Ford. In 1949, Mercury introduced the first of its "new look" integrated bodies, at the same time that Ford and Lincoln also changed styling radically. Again in 1952, Mercury offered a further modernization in its look.
In 1958, the Lincoln-Mercury Division and the ill-fated Edsel brand were joined into the Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln Division. Due to the introduction of Edsel, the market did not know how to regard Mercury as either an upscale Ford or a entry level Lincoln. It appeared that Ford was using the business model from General Motors, offering brands that were priced at specific levels, with Chevrolet at the bottom of the range, and Cadillac at the top. Buyers were not sure if Edsel or Mercury were alternatives to Pontiac, Oldsmobile or Buick in terms of equipment offered and marketing department definitions of what the cars were meant to offer.
Like Edsel, Mercury was a brand created from scratch as opposed to the 1922 acquisition of Lincoln. Mercury's heyday was in the 1950s, when its formula of stretching and lowering existing Ford platforms proved very successful. The identity of the marque has changed several times throughout its history. During the 1940s and 1950s, the make continued to be moved between a "gussied up" Ford to a "junior Lincoln" and even to having its own body designs. From the late 1950s until the early 1970s, Mercury began to distance itself from Ford and offered several different looking models such as the Turnpike Cruiser, Park Lane, and Marquis. At this time, Mercury's biggest competition was Buick, Oldsmobile, Chrysler's mid-priced products, and higher-end models from American Motors. In the 1970s, the brand was joined at the hip with Ford again and its image suffered as a result.
During the Ford Division's early 1960s "Total Performance" era, Mercury produced some equivalent models, such as the full-size S-55 and the Marauder, which shared the same body styles and mechanics as the Ford Galaxie 500/XL sports models. These big Mercurys were somewhat successful in racing. In 1967, the Cougar was introduced as Mercury's version of the Ford Mustang; although mechanically related, the Cougar's looks were intended to be more of a "European" flavor.
1970s: "Sign of the Cat"
Mercury's ride through the 1970s was not gentle, but it fared better than some. Shifting from performance cars such as the S-55, Marauder, and the Mustang-based Cougar, Mercury reverted to its historical role of selling badge-engineered Ford vehicles. Partially as a result of the first gas crisis, the "near luxury" segment was the bread and butter for 1970s American car manufacturers. However, the segment eventually became saturated. Only Mercury's niche products, like the Cougar XR-7, seemed to find real success with buyers. Much of this might really have had to do with Ford's topsy-turvy financial situation in the seventies. Lincoln-Mercury dealers had plenty of good selling cars, they just were not the right cars.
In 1978, Mercury sales peaked at an all-time high of 580,000. The Cougar and Lincoln Mk V shattered sales records, but the staples of Mercury's business, the mid-size and full-size sedans and wagons, moved out of showrooms at a snail's pace. In 1977, the Cougar became the sole mid-size Mercury, replacing the Montego; previously a personal luxury coupe, the Cougar was available in sedan and station wagon bodystyles. The small Bobcat did not lure economy minded buyers, instead bringing only bad press from its close ties to the ill-fated Ford Pinto.
Although the Bobcat trickled out of showrooms, Mercury introduced the Monarch as a replacement for the aging Comet compact. Although still mechanically based on the original 1960 Ford Falcon, the Monarch was intended as a compact near-luxury car; high-trim versions were popular choices as personal cars among Ford executives. In 1978, the Monarch's replacement, the Zephyr was introduced on the Fox platform. An all-new rear-wheel drive platform, it would be used by all late 1970s-early 1980s Mercurys except the Bobcat, Lynx/LN7/Topaz, and the Grand Marquis/Colony Park.
In 1971, Mercury introduced the Capri as a captive import from Ford of Europe; as the Cougar grew from a pony car into a personal luxury car, the Capri became its replacement. Assembled in West Germany by Ford of Europe, the Capri was powered by 4-cylinder and V6 engines. The decision proved popular, at times becoming the most popular imported car in the United States (after the VW Beetle). As such, Mercury did not sell its own version of the Ford Mustang II. The Capri was imported until 1977 with a few sold as 1978 models.
Although it was not badged a Mercury, Lincoln-Mercury dealers were the sole source of the De Tomaso Pantera from 1971 to 1975. It was an Italian-built exotic sports car with a Ford 351-cubic inch V8. Approximately 5500 were sold by Lincoln-Mercury.
1980s: Downsizing and starting over
The era of downsizing of the late 1970s achieved mixed results for the division. Although the 1979 full-size Marquis, Colony Park, and Grand Marquis survived downsizing without sacrificing rear-wheel drive, V8 engines, or significant market share, downsizing would prove disastrous for the mid-size Mercury lineup. Intended as the replacement for the Monarch, the 1980 Cougar sedan, coupe, and wagon were redesigned as clones of the Ford Thunderbird; the Cougar also shared its platform with the Zephyr. Controversial styling coupled with a struggling economy saw Cougar sales fall to barely one-third of 1979 levels. At the smallest end of the size spectrum, Mercury quietly replaced the Bobcat with the Lynx. The Lynx introduced Mercury to front-wheel drive and optional diesel engines; its LN7 variant was the only 2-seat Mercury ever built. As a replacement for its German-imported predecessor, the Capri became a clone of the Ford Mustang; it was built from 1979-1986.
By the mid-1980s, much of the Mercury lineup had been completely made over. After a disastrous sales decline, the Cougar was reverted to its traditional role of a two-door personal luxury coupe in 1983; although sales were still far lower than late 1970s levels, the new generation sold far better despite the single body style. The Cougar sedan and wagon remained in production, borrowing the Marquis nameplate from the full-size Mercury lineup (with the Grand Marquis/Colony Park becoming the sole full-size models).
In the face of industry trends, the division adopted front-wheel drive platforms in an effort to increase its fuel economy. A year after the Cougar and Marquis were introduced, the front-wheel-drive Topaz replaced the Zephyr. In 1986, the Mercury Sable was introduced as the replacement for the Marquis; along with the Ford Taurus, it was one of the most aerodynamic cars in the world at the time. Originally intended to be replaced by the Sable, stability in gas prices and demand for full-size car sales led to the continuation of the Grand Marquis and Colony Park.
Although the post-1983 Cougar was easily distinguishable from the Thunderbird, the Capri, Lynx, Topaz, and Marquis differed little from their Ford counterparts. The 1986 Sable not only advanced American automotive design, but introduced styling themes (the aerodynamic styling and the lightbar grille) that would be seen on Mercurys for over a decade. In 1988, the Lynx was replaced by the Tracer, a version of the Ford Laser designed by Mazda, assembled in Mexico and Japan. The Tracer was the first Mercury since the 1978 Capri with no US-market Ford equivalent.
Beginning in 1985, Ford experimented with importing what were, for the American market, some advanced European Fords under the Merkur (the German word for Mercury, pronounced mare-coor) nameplate. The Merkur lineup consisted of the XR4Ti, a modified version of the Ford Sierra, and the Scorpio, a rebadged version of Ford's European flagship sedan. Declining sales along with passive restraint regulations led to the discontinuation of the brand after 1989. Another key factor behind the demise of Merkur was an unfavorable exchange rate between the United States and West Germany; at US$27,000 (nearly $47,000 in 2010 dollars), the Scorpio had a higher base price than a Grand Marquis yet bore a strong resemblance to the Sable.
Lasting from 1985 to 1989, Merkur is the shortest-lived automotive nameplate on the American market in modern times.
The 1990s: Post-Merkur
The discontinuation of Merkur began another major transition of the Mercury lineup. In 1989, the Cougar switched to an all-new platform; although still a personal-luxury coupe based on the Thunderbird, interior room and handling were improved. The Capri, a name dormant since 1986, was revived in 1991 as an import from Ford of Australia. Envisioned as a Mazda MX-5 Miata competitor, the front-wheel drive Capri did not capture the same type of following as the rear-wheel drive Mazda, lasting through 1994.
In 1992, the Grand Marquis was redesigned for the first time since 1979; using the same platform as before, it shared no sheetmetal with the 1991 model and both V8 engines were replaced with a single all-new design. Although significantly more aerodynamic than before, Mercury left the basic shape of the Grand Marquis intact including its radiator grille. The radical redesign of the 1991 B-body full-size cars by General Motors was left with a lukewarm reception at best; Chrysler had not fielded a direct competitor since 1981. Mercury sales rebounded in 1993 to over 480,000, their highest level since the 1978 all-time high. In the mid-1990s the brand received some free advertising when country music star Alan Jackson scored a hit with a 1993 cover of K. C. Douglas' "Mercury Blues", a song which heaps complimentary praise on their vehicle range. Ford later used a different version of the song in its truck advertising.
In terms of Mercury's smaller cars, the Tracer name was retained, but in 1991, Ford (and Mazda) compact cars were designed onto a common platform and the Tracer became a twin of the Ford Escort. In 1995, the Mystique was introduced as Mercury's Topaz replacement; a version of the Ford Mondeo mid-size "world car", it was commonly viewed as compact for an American car. The Sable was controversially redesigned alongside the Taurus for 1996; although they still shared much of their sheetmetal, the Sable now could be better distinguished from the Taurus. As the 1990s progressed into the 2000s, Mercury's compact car line shrank during a series of redesigns. As the Ford Focus replaced the Escort, the Tracer was not replaced and the Sable became the smallest Mercury sedan after the 2000 discontinuation of the Mystique.
Entering new market segments
A casualty of the 1992 redesign of the Grand Marquis included the Colony Park station wagon; by the early 1990s, full-size station wagons had largely been replaced by minivans. Although Ford had introduced the Aerostar in 1986, it had already undergone a midcycle refresh and was considered too trucklike to be a good fit with Mercury dealers. The 1993 Villager (a name used from Mercury's 1960s and 1970s station wagon lines) was developed in a joint venture with Nissan; it was assembled in the United States by Ford with a Nissan Quest front-wheel drive powertrain. Although more successful than other Japanese-designed minivans, the Villager struggled to compete with the far larger Ford Windstar. Like its Aerostar and Windstar counterparts, the Villager was initially designed without a driver's side sliding door. When one was added in 1999, the minivan segment (as a whole) had begun to decline in sales.
In the mid-1990s, mid-size sport-utility vehicles began increasing in popularity for use as family vehicles. Although Mercury was not the first nameplate to introduce a SUV (following the Range Rover and the Oldsmobile Bravada), the 1997 Mercury Mountaineer was among one of the first to popularize luxury SUVs. Based on the Ford Explorer, the Mountaineer had a standard V8 (at first) and all-wheel drive instead of four-wheel drive. Mercury did not receive an equivalent of the Ford Expedition/Lincoln Navigator or the Ford Excursion. The Mountaineer is also notable for introducing the silver "waterfall grille", which became a common styling theme on virtually all succeeding Mercurys.
2000-2011: Revival and decline
By the end of the 1990s, the Grand Marquis had remained a sales success, becoming the top-selling Mercury product line. Although it was highly profitable, it posed a problem for Mercury dealers, as the average age of a Grand Marquis buyer was far higher than what Lincoln-Mercury buyers were trying to attract into showrooms. Over the next decade, a number of product changes were made in efforts to attract younger buyers towards the Mercury brand, but nontheless, Mercury still struggled to appeal its brand identity to younger buyers.
In 1999, the Cougar, after a year's hiatus, was re-introduced as a front-wheel drive sports coupe; based on the Mercury Mystique platform, it was considered the replacement for the Ford Probe. For the first time since the 1991 Capri, the Cougar was a Mercury product line that had no direct Ford equivalent (in North America). The Cougar was discontinued after 2002, after finding only moderate success with buyers. At the other size of the performance car spectrum from the Cougar sat the Marauder. Introduced in 2003, the Marauder was a high-performance version of the Grand Marquis intended as Ford's answer to the 1994-1996 Chevrolet Impala SS. The Marauder was dropped after 2004, primarily due to lack of marketing.
Although Mercury's full-size and mid-size sedans performed well in the marketplace, the division phased out smaller cars completely in favor of minivans and SUVs. The Tracer was discontinued in 1999 (three years before the Escort) and the Mystique was dropped in mid-2000.
During the mid-2000s, after relative stagnation, the Mercury range was targeted for major updates to attract new (primarily, younger) buyers. The full-size 2004 Montego, a clone of the Ford Five Hundred, was introduced as the (intended) replacement for the Grand Marquis while the mid-size 2006 Milan, a clone of the Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ would become the Sable replacement. The 2004 Monterey and 2005 Mariner both were introduced as badge-engineered Fords as well. However, the Grand Marquis remained in production; in contrast to the Dodge Charger selling nearly as well as its Chrysler 300 counterpart, the Montego sold only a fraction in comparison to its Ford Five Hundred counterpart and was also outsold by the Grand Marquis as well. Unlike Ford's "F" model naming scheme, reaction to Mercury's "M" naming scheme was less extreme, as it had been in use since the 1950s.
Traditionally, Mercury was given a counterpart to most Ford platforms. During the 2000s, Ford focused on making its cars more luxurious, meaning Mercurys were less distinctive from other Ford nameplates. The exception was the Grand Marquis, which had all but replaced the civilian Crown Victoria; the latter was discontinued from retail sale after 2007. While Mercury had reached the minivan and SUV segments before a number of other foreign or domestic brands, by the time Mercury received a more competitive entry (the Monterey, its version of the Ford Freestar), the minivan segment was in decline. The Mariner crossover SUV debuted in 2005, four years after its Ford Escape twin. Mercury also had no version of the Ford Edge Mercury had proposed a new compact car based on the global Ford Focus Mk3, this would revive the Tracer name, however this plan was scrapped upon announcement of Mercury brand discontinuationon.
On June 2, 2010, Ford announced the closure of the Mercury line by the end of the year. In terms of sales, Mercury represented only 1 percent of North America's automobile market, while Ford has a 16 percent share. Ford Motor Company has stated that additional Lincoln models will be introduced to help replace any shortfall from the discontinued Mercury brand. At the time of the announcement of Mercury's closure, Mercury was selling fewer than 95,000 units a year, which is less than both Plymouth and Oldsmobile right before they were phased out. The Mercury Mountaineer was discontinued in the 2010 model year, with the remaining Mercurys following suit after an abbreviated 2011 model year. Mercury's U.S. sales in 2010, its final full year, were 93,195.
Canadian Mercury trucks
In Canada during the 1940s, not all rural communities were served by both a Ford or a Lincoln-Mercury dealership, often having one or the other. To boost truck sales, Ford offered rebadged trucks in its Mercury dealerships. While the majority of Mercury trucks were M-Series pickups (Ford F-Series), the rebadging was also done to Ford Econoline vans, B-Series school bus chassis, medium-duty trucks, and the C-Series cabover. Aside from the badging and grilles, Ford and Mercury trucks were functionally identical; they were as similar as Chevrolet and GMC trucks. Mercury trucks were sold from 1946-1968 (the C-Series until 1972). After the discontinuation of the 1968 M-Series pickup, Mercury did not sell a light truck until the 1993 Villager minivan.
The lack of a distinct personality showed through in the cars, although there were some unique twists to 1980s Mercurys. Some examples include the roofline of the 1983 Cougar (influenced somewhat by the AMC Gremlin), the 1986 Sable (which had a lightbar in place of a conventional grille), and the 1988 Tracer (a clone of a Mazda-designed Australian Ford built in Mexico and Japan). By 1990, the lone remnants of Mercury's 1970s identity were the Grand Marquis luxury sedan and Colony Park station wagon; both had received only superficial updates since their 1979 downsizing.
The first logo of the Mercury brand was its namesake, the Roman god Mercury. The side profile of his head, complete with the signature bowl hat with wings was used during the early years.
In the 1950s, the logo became a simple "M" with horizontal bars extending outward from the bottom of its vertical elements in each direction. This was described in advertising as "The Big M" – probably most notably as the prime sponsor of The Ed Sullivan Show.
During the late 1960s and up to the mid-1980s, the Mercury used the "Sign of the Cat" ad campaign based on its popular Cougar model. Many of the cars during this time carried cat related names such as the Lynx and Bobcat. On some of the upper-tier models, such as the Marquis and Grand Marquis, Mercury used a shield or cross, sometimes surrounded by a wreath, which was shared by some de luxe Ford models as well. Some models used the Lincoln brand's logo.
During the mid 1980s, the logo changed from the Cougar to its final logo, seen in the picture to the right. This logo was introduced on the all new 1984 Mercury Topaz. Since 1999, the word "Mercury" appeared on the top part of the logo.
The revival of the Mercury Marauder in 2003 brought a brief return of the original "God's Head" logo, for that model only.
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