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