the view through the windshield
1957 Mercury - Turnpike To Oblivion (posted 5/31/13)

There's an old joke about the fact that "women always complain because you don't pay attention to them. So, you do and, the next thing you know, she takes out a restraining order."

For years, the public complained that a Mercury was nothing more than fancified Ford and the company wasn't paying enough attention to its mid-priced brand. Francis 'Jack' Reith, one of the Ford Whiz Kids, decided to change all that. In 1955, Reith proposed separating Mercury from the Lincoln Division for the 1957 model year and using the soon-to-be Edsel to create an entirely new division to launch in late 1957. Jack Reith became the new Mercury Division's general manager in 1955.

There was, at the time, a concept car under development - the Mercury XM Turnpike Cruiser, which made its public debut at the Cleveland Auto Show in January 1956.

The XM looked nothing like Mercs of the past nor any other Ford Motor Company product, for that matter.

Reith gave the 1957 Mercury line many of the styling cues from the XM show car. Radio and television ads of the period included the catchphrase 'Dream Car Design'. The top-of-the line '57 Mercury was a new, gadget-laden, near-luxury model named the Turnpike Cruiser, which featured a wrapover compound-curve front windshield, a retractable, reverse-slant rear window and a 49-position driver's seat.

Mercury was moved upscale to make room for Edsel Ranger and Pacer at the lower end of the medium price field. The Merc was now was priced to compete with the Olds 98, Buick Super, DeSoto Fireflite and Chrysler New Yorker. In order to promote the brand, Reith negotiated with the Indianapolis 500 racing officials to have a '57 Turnpike Cruiser convertible be the official pace car for that year's race.

The 1957 Mercury shared little with its lesser Ford brother. Mercury was further distanced from its Ford brethren through a completely new and separate line of bodies. Mercuries were larger and rode on longer wheelbases than Fords. Mercury offered a pushbutton transmission selector known as Keyboard Control. All '57 Mercury wagon models featured a pillarless hardtop design.

The car opened to rave reviews by the automotive press. Tom McCahill road tested a Turnpike Cruiser model and was impressed with its quad headlamps and dual exhausts. Calling it a "Space age design for Earth travel," he reported that the vehicle "had all the roadability of a rubber-soled gazelle and could handle drifts and slides with the sureness of a competition sports car." Motor Trend magazine described its pair of 1957 Mercs as "two of the smoothest and quietest riding cars we ever tested."

Despite the promotion and the favorable press, the 'Dream Car Design' Mercury bombed in the marketplace. Sales of '57 Mercs plunged almost 13% in a market that was up sharply overall. The 1957 models, '58s and even the heavily-restyled 1959 models tanked. Mercury never gained back its historical share of market until the Turnpike Cruiser styling was junked. Examine the data:

Ford Sales
(units)
Mercury Sales
(units)
Mercury
as a % of Ford
1954
1,162,742
259,305
22.3%
1955
1,451,157
329,808
22.7%
1956
1,408,478
327,943
23.3%
1957
1,676,449
286,163
17.1%
1958
987,945
133,271
13.5%
1959
1,450,953
150,000
10.3%
1960
1,439,370
271,331
18.9%
1961
1,338,790
317,351
23.7%
1962
1,476,031
341,366
23.1%

Even with the addition of the new 1958 Edsel line, FoMoCo had suffered significant sales losses in the mid-price market segment. The public had spoken ... and taken out a restraining order against Mercury.

Mercury was folded back into Lincoln, reforming the L-M Division. The 1960 Mercury offered indistinctive but inoffensive styling. Edsel was discontinued after a short run of 1960 models. The Ford/Mercury sales ratio returned to historical norms. Jack Reith left Ford Motor Co. to run the Crosley Division of Avco, which made Crosley televisions and Shelvador refrigerators. Reith committed suicide a few years later.

I have several 1957 Mercury scale models including a very nice 1:43 Turnpike Cruiser made by the British firm, MiniMarque.

Remember When: 1957
auto blogIn 1957, the U.S. established the Eisenhower Doctrine and extended the Truman Doctrine to protect the Middle East.

'57 American cars were longer, lower and wider. Every Big Three offering was either all-new or extensively restyled but Chrysler's second-generation Forward Look was the most dramatic and outrageous with soaring fins on all models. Chrysler Corp. offered torsion-bar suspension throughout its model lines; Chevy and Pontiac had fuel-injection on their hottest engines and Oldsmobile offered a three-carb J-2 performance option. The '57 Ford Skyliner became the first U.S. production automobile featuring a metal retractable hardtop.

In the Arctic, the Distant Early Warning System began operation. Three USAF B-52s completed the first nonstop jet circuit of the world in just over 45 hours.

New U.S. products included Sta-Puf fabric softener, pink plastic flamingo lawn ornaments and electric can openers.

'West Side Story' and 'The Music Man' debuted on Broadway. New words included 'baby-sitter', 'scuba' and 'moonlighting'.

Top 1957 record hits included 'All Shook Up', 'Teddy Bear', 'Too Much' and 'Jailhouse Rock' by Elvis Presley, 'You Send Me' - Sam Cooke, 'Chances Are' by Johnny Mathis, 'Whole Lotta Shakin' by Jerry Lee Lewis, 'Bye-Bye Love', 'Wake Up, Little Suzie' by the Everly Brothers and 'Honeycomb' by Jimmie Rodgers. 'Wake Up, Little Suzie' was banned in Boston as too suggestive. In '57, many radio stations throughout the U.S. switched to a Top 40 format.

The postwar American baby boom crested with a one-year record of 4,308,000 1957 births. For the first time, margarine outsold butter. Wham-O introduced the Pluto Platter - soon to be rechristened as the Frisbee. The new $55,000 IBM 610 - described as "the size of a spinet piano" - could solve a six-hour calculator computation in a mere 20 minutes.

Memorable 1957 movies included 'Peyton Place', 'Jailhouse Rock', '12 Angry Men', 'A Face In The Crowd', 'Funny Face' and 'The Bridge on the River Kwai'. A poll found that 50% of American teenagers went to the movies at least once every week.

New '57 television shows included 'Have Gun, Will Travel', 'Leave It To Beaver', 'Perry Mason' and 'The Price Is Right'. A long-time Philadelphia favorite, 'American Bandstand', went national in August.

Kermit the Frog made his television debut on Steve Allen's 'Tonight Show'.

Significant new books debuted in 1957, including James Agee's 'A Death in the Family', Vance Packard's 'The Hidden Persuaders' and Jack Kerouac's 'On The Road'.

Deaths included Humphrey Bogart, Oliver Hardy, Louis B. Mayer, Jimmy Dorsey, Christian Dior, Joe McCarthy, Bugsy Moran and Elliot Ness.

In California, Don Bowden became the first American to break the four-minute mile. And, the Milwaukee Braves won the World Series, beating the NY Yankees 4-3.

Read more about 1957 America here.


More AutoSketch car drawings can be found here.

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copyright 2013 - Joseph M. Sherlock - All applicable rights reserved.


Disclaimer

The facts presented in this blog are based on my best guesses and my substantially faulty geezer memory. The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and are protected by the U.S. Constitution. Probably.

Spelling, punctuation and syntax errors are cheerfully repaired when I find them; grudgingly fixed when you do.

If I have slandered any brands of automobiles, either expressly or inadvertently, they're most likely crap cars and deserve it. Automobile manufacturers should be aware that they always have the option of trying to change my mind by providing me with vehicles to test drive.

If I have slandered any people or corporations in this blog, either expressly or inadvertently, they should buy me strong drinks (and an expensive meal) and try to prove to me that they're not the jerks I've portrayed them to be. If you're buying, I'm willing to listen.

Don't be shy - try a bribe. It might help.


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