the view through the windshield
1965 Mercer Cobra - Copper Concept

In 1963, well-known automobile designer Virgil Exner was asked by Esquire magazine to reimagine four classic cars as modern vehicles. He selected the Stutz Super Bearcat (with a sliding retractable roof panel), the Duesenberg Dual Cowl Sport Phaeton, the Packard Convertible Victoria, and the Mercer Raceabout.

Of the marques chosen, Mercer was probably the most obscure. Mercer was an American automobile manufacturer that produced cars from 1909 to 1925. The 1910-14 Mercer 35 Raceabout was considered one of the most admired sports cars of the decade. The Raceabout was capable of hitting a top speed of 90 mph, which at the time was quite a feat. Mercers were made in Trenton N.J.

The 1965 Mercer Cobra would never have been built had it not been for the Copper Development Association, which wanted to show the practical modern uses of copper in automobile design. But it certainly would not have looked the way it did were it not for Virgil M. Exner and his son, Virgil, Jr., who transformed the design from sketch to reality.

According to writer Michael Lamm, the Exners were approached by George M. Hartley, president of the Copper Development Association, at almost precisely the time they had finished the conceptual rendering of the modern Mercer. "The old Mercer had all that brass and copper, and so did the rendering of the modern Mercer," Hartley told Lamm. "So we said, 'All right, let's plan to build that one.'" From Carroll Shelby the Exners ordered a bare Cobra chassis, all tubes, and a Ford V-8, which were shipped to bodybuilders Sibona-Basano in Torino, Italy - a little-known and short-lived (1962-66) but highly regarded Italian coachbuilder. Sibona had broken away from Ghia, where he must have known Exner from the Chrysler-Ghia show car days, but he had been recommended specifically by designer Brooks Stevens.

I saw the Mercer Cobra in person at the 1966 New York Auto Show. After the car was delivered in late 1964, the Copper Development Association displayed the Mercer-Cobra for a decade, but most of its ideas were rendered obsolete by the development of more modern, man-made materials, encouraged by government crash-protection standards. But the Mercer-Cobra is still distinctive today - and still very much in the Exner design tradition.

RM Auctions sold it at its 2011 Monterey Auction for $600,000 plus buyer's fee to a private party. (posted 1/30/19)

Remember When: 1965
auto blogIn 1965, President Lyndon Johnson raised the stakes in Vietnam. A car bomb exploded in front of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, killing 22 and wounding 183 others. By the end of the year, 180,000 U.S. soldiers turned a series of guerrilla battles into a major war. Students protested, Congress responded by outlawing the burning of draft cards. Black activist Malcolm X is shot to death by black Muslims. President Johnson proposes his Great Society program to Congress.

Elementary schools begin to teach New Math. In March, Dr. Martin Luther King leads the famous Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march. Congress reduces the silver content of half-dollars from 90% to 40% and eliminates silver in dimes and quarters. The Houston Astrodome opened; St. Louis' Gateway Arch was completed. During the Gemini 4 mission on June 3, 1965, Ed White became the first American to conduct a spacewalk.

In August, Voting Right Act was signed into law. Race riots broke out in the Watts section of Los Angeles; 34 people died. In November, 30 million people in the Eastern U.S. and Canada lost power during The Big Blackout.

Pope Paul VI became the first Pope to visit the United States, traveling in a special Lincoln hastily prepared by the Lehmann-Peterson coachbuilding firm. The car had a detachable transparent vinyl rear roof section as well as side and back step plates for security personnel . The rear throne seat was elevated, could be adjusted in height with a crank and was illuminated at night.

In auto news, U.S. car sales hit an all-time high of 8.8 million vehicles in 1965, helped along by the new Ford Mustang, which debuted in April, 1964 as a '65 model. Later, a fastback model was added to fill out the '65 line. In 1965, Chevrolet sold over 3 million vehicles. AMC introduced the fastback Rambler Marlin. The Rambler American received top honors in the Mobilgas Fuel Economy Run. Chrysler made its last letter car, the '65 Chrysler 300H.

Already established on the East and West coasts, Datsun (Nissan) sold its first car in Chicago at the auto show. Making their world debuts that year were the AMC Marlin, Ford Thunderbird Special Landau coupe and Chevrolet Caprice. Popular concept vehicles included the Dodge Charger II, Mercury Comet Cyclone Sportster and Plymouth VIP.

American Motors premiered the new Rambler Marlin at the 1965 Chicago Auto Show. The Marlin was a two-door fastback hardtop, based on the intermediate-size Rambler Classic. The original concept car was based on the smaller Rambler American and looked better in that size.

The first Porsche 911 sports car appeared at the 1965 Chicago Auto Show, featuring an all new design which included a rear mounted six-cylinder engine. Porsche 911 in various forms remains in production today.

Ralph Nader was busy writing his book 'Unsafe at Any Speed' which was published in November 1965.

Racing driver Jim Clark won the Indianapolis 500 in a rear-engine, Ford-powered car, and later wins the Formula One world driving championship in the same year. Craig Breedlove surpassed 600 mph at Bonneville in his Spirit of America.

Private autos logged 877 million miles, accounting for 89% of U.S. intercity travel.

New products included miniskirts, Spaghetti-Os, Gatorade, the Wham-O Super Ball, Super 8 film, the dial-in-handset Trimline phone and the Toyota Corona sports sedan. New words include 'biological clock', 'degradable', 'kook', 'neocolonialism', 'skateboard', 'solar cell' and 'teach-in'.

Top 1965 songs included the Rolling Stones '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction' and 'Get Off My Cloud', 'Help!', 'Eight Days A Week' and 'Yesterday' by The Beatles, 'Mrs. Brown You've Got A Lovely Daughter' by Herman's Hermits, 'Downtown' by Petula Clark, 'My Girl' by The Temptations and 'Wooly Bully' by Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs.

1965 movies included 'The Sound of Music', 'Dr. Zhivago', 'The Loved One', 'Thunderball', 'Beach Blanket Bingo', 'Help!' and 'The Great Race'. 'My Fair Lady' won Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

New television shows included 'Get Smart', 'Green Acres', 'Hogan's Heroes', 'I Dream of Jeannie', 'Lost In Space', 'The Wild, Wild West' and the iconic soap opera, 'Days of Our Lives'.

1965 births included actor Ben Stiller, actress Sara Jessica Parker, author J.K. Rowling, actor Robert Downey, Jr., comedian Chris Rock, comic actor Kevin James, actress Elizabeth Hurley, guitarist Slash, actor Charley Sheen and Icelandic oddball performer Bjork.

Deaths included singer Nat King Cole, newsman Edward R. Murrow, British statesman Winston Churchill, playboy King Farouk, religious leader Father Divine, humanitarian Albert Schweitzer, politician Adlai Stevenson, gas mask inventor George Naismith, novelist and playwright W. Somerset Maugham, cosmetics queen Helena Rubinstein, rock and roll impresario Alan Freed, wacky bandleader Spike Jones, silent film comic Stan Laurel, and former Elvis bandmate, Bill Black.

Muhammad Ali defeated Sonny Liston in boxing's World Heavyweight Championship. In baseball, Sugar Ray Robinson retired. Sandy Koulfax pitched a perfect game against the Chicago Cubs. And the Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series over the Minnesota Twins, 4-3.

More AutoSketch car drawings can be found here.

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The facts presented on this website 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.

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. I'll dutifully report my road test impressions on this car blog.

If I have slandered any people or corporations, 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.