1956 Mercury XM Turnpike Cruiser (posted 6/26/2008)
One of Mercury’s most memorable dream cars is the XM Turnpike Cruiser. The XM foretold the styling of the '57-59 production Mercury models. Bold styling was highlighted by 12-inch V-shaped taillights flowing from matching white pearlescent, concave-sculpted, canted rear fender tips/fins. Twin transparent-tint Plexiglas roof panels tilted up when doors were opened to assist entry and exit. Other interesting design details included dual exhaust exiting from the rear fenders, chromed quad bullets in the front bumper, four bucket seats and concealed door handles. The center portion of the three-section backlight could be lowered for ventilation, a feature adapted by the production 1957 Turnpike Cruiser as well as the '58-60 Lincoln Continentals and the 'Breezeway' Mercs of the 1960s.
The XM was designed in late 1954 by the team of Elwood Engel and John Najar with help from Jack Reith and Larry Shinoda, later of Corvette Mako Shark fame. In early 1955, Jack Reith suggested that the XM's unique style become the inspiration for the revamped '57 Mercury line. Reith later became head of the Mercury Division and proposed offering a 'Turnpike Cruiser' model as the top of the '57 Mercury line, priced to compete with the Olds 98, Buick Super, DeSoto Fireflite and Chrysler New Yorker.
The Mercury XM Turnpike Cruiser Concept was "designed with fast, long driving in mind," according to press releases of the era. Why wasn't it called the Interstate? Well, when the XM was conceived, there were no interstates. (The Federal-Aid Highway Act which gave birth to the Interstate Highway System was not passed until late June 1956.) In 1955, the closest thing to a high speed cruising roadway could be found on various state turnpikes (Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New Jersey, etc.).
In order to acquaint the public with Mercury's upcoming radically new look, it was decided to build running concept car. A full-size, fully-operational model, the Mercury XM Turnpike Cruiser was constructed in 1955 by Ghia in Italy for $80,000. This one-off dream car made its public debut at the Cleveland Auto Show in January 1956. The XM was powered by a 312 cu. in. Mercury V-8 with dual four barrel carbs connected to a stock Merc-O-Matic automatic transmission. The dashboard had a tachometer and a 150 mph speedometer.
After it traveled the auto show circuit, the persimmon beauty was carted to various Lincoln-Mercury dealers throughout the U.S. in a special trailer with large transparent side glazing so that the car could easily be viewed while still in the trailer. The tractor and trailer were painted the same color as the XM and fitted with wide whitewall tires.
After its promotional life was over, the XM passed through several hands. It is now in deteriorated but restorable condition and is in the hands of a California collector.
Fifty-plus years later, the design still looks stunning. The XM Turnpike Cruiser remains one of my favorite concept cars.
Remember When: 1956
|In 1956, cultural icon-to-be Elvis Presley appeared on the national scene with several #1 selling records. Elvis used some of his earnings to buy a ‘56 Premiere coupe (wisteria with a white roof) and, later, a white Mark II.
New products included Raid insecticide, Crest toothpaste and Comet cleanser. Ford Motor Company went public, issuing stock. Midas Muffler and Burger King began franchising. The 'Dear Abby' advice column debuted.
New words for 1956 included brainstorming, brinkmanship, industrial park and tranquilizer. Ike was reelected. Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis split up. Briget Bardot mode her film debut in 'And God Created Woman.' 'In God We Trust' became the U.S. motto.
Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier of Monaco. Chrysler and Packard offered pushbutton transmissions; Packard also offered power door locks. The first Volvos (PV444 models, which reminded folks of a shrunken '47 Ford) were imported to the U.S. Ford offered seat belts and padded dashboards as options and dished steering wheels as standard equipment, touting its cars as safer. The public wasn't interested, then-sales manager Lee Iacocca developed the oft-heard axiom, "Safety doesn't sell."
Best-selling songs of 1956 were 'Hound Dog' and 'Don't Be Cruel.' Other hits included 'Singing the Blues,' 'Blueberry Hill,' 'My Prayer,' 'Blue Suede Shoes' and 'Heartbreak Hotel.'
Deaths included actor Bela Lugosi, automobile manufacturer Preston Tucker, bandleader Tommy Dorsey and comedian Fred Allen.
The Yankees won the World Series over the Brooklyn Dodgers.
illustration copyright 1989, 2008 Joseph M. Sherlock
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