FORD steps ahead ’ F O RD M E RCURY E I GHT S E DAN

New Zealand Classic Car - - Feature - Photos:

The first cars had looked like horse-drawn carts, and the next gen­er­a­tion had fol­lowed fairly aus­tere lines, but now it was time for some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent.

As the 1940s mor­phed into the 1950s, Harry S. Tru­man was pre­sid­ing over a post–world War II US. The Amer­i­can econ­omy was re­cov­er­ing and steady. Mean­while, over in Eng­land, Win­ston Churchill was back in charge of the Bri­tish Par­lia­ment. Here in New Zealand, Syd­ney Hol­land was prime min­is­ter of a new Na­tional gov­ern­ment. This was the brave new world, and de­mand for things new and mod­ern was build­ing.

Across the de­vel­oped world, sol­diers had re­turned from war to work in fac­to­ries and of­fices. In the US, par­tic­u­larly, the fac­to­ries that had ploughed so much ef­fort into the wartime pro­duc­tion of air­craft, air­craft parts, ar­ma­ments, ve­hi­cles, ships, and more, were now back to a peace­time econ­omy and com­pet­ing with each other for those work­ers’ dol­lars. This was es­pe­cially the case for the auto in­dus­try.

In the UK, where so many of New Zealand’s cars came from at that time, the body shapes of Ford and Gen­eral Mo­tors prod­ucts still looked very stuffy. This meant that most of the cars be­ing sold were the pre-war ‘square’ shape, al­though some of the corners had by now been rounded off a bit. In the US, though, ve­hi­cle de­sign­ers and the com­pa­nies they worked for had re­al­ized that de­sign was now an im­por­tant catch­word and mar­ket­ing tool. Their cars were not only far grander, but they had also be­gun to look as if they be­longed in this brave new world rather than in the old one.

New ap­proach

It wasn’t just the look of the cars that was chang­ing. The mar­keters had also re­al­ized that sell­ing these new cars needed a fresh ap­proach. Ear­lier, Henry Ford had said, “I will build a mo­tor car for the great mul­ti­tude”, and “it will be so low in price that no man mak­ing a good salary will be un­able to own one”. Cars were sell­ing again in record num­bers, and Ford mar­keters re­al­ized that, while it was all well and good to put ve­hi­cle own­er­ship within the reach of the work­ing man, the profit mar­gin would be far greater if they could also sell more ex­pen­sive ve­hi­cles to the work­ing man’s boss.

To cash in on this prin­ci­ple, Ford had been mar­ket­ing Lin­coln as a lux­ury brand since 1922, then, in 1938, it had cre­ated Mer­cury as an en­try-level pre­mium brand. In 1935, the two di­vi­sions were amal­ga­mated as Lin­coln-mer­cury. From the be­gin­ning of this brand, Mer­cury’s cars had been re­worked and more heav­ily op­tioned Fords, but, by 1949, it was ready to launch its first all-new post-war model. When Mer­cury launched its new car, the only re­main­ing parts from the pre­vi­ous model were the name and badge, the ‘Mer­cury Eight’. Orig­i­nally, this car was to have been a new Ford, but, when man­age­ment saw the de­sign, it was pro­moted to the Lin­coln-mer­cury di­vi­sion and used as the ba­sis for the new Mer­cury and Lin­coln mod­els.

Curvy and volup­tuous

Amer­i­cans of this era ap­par­ently liked their cars like their women — curvy and volup­tuous. This new Mer­cury did not dis­ap­point. Record sales were the re­ward for the new model, and buy­ers flocked to be seen driv­ing it.

Ford France ob­vi­ously also saw some of this ‘ooh-lala’ fac­tor and pro­duced a Gal­lic ver­sion for a few years, a sort of down­sized-but-sim­i­lar-look­ing car that sold as the ‘Ford Vedette’. It was the only French car of its era with a V8 mo­tor. A few of these found their way to New Zealand badged as ‘Simca Vedettes’ (Simca had ear­lier taken over Ford France.)

The new Mer­cury sported enough chrome to sink a ship, and the by-now-well-proven side-valve V8 had been up­rated a lit­tle in power. It had ben­e­fited from some work to fur­ther smooth out what was an al­ready quiet and rel­a­tively vi­bra­tion-free mo­tor. In this model,

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