From the moment he stood upright for the first time, man harboured the desire to fly. It would take thousands of years before that dream would become a reality and, even then, with the likes of Freddie Laker, ValuJet, Ryanair, Easyjet and such still a few decades away, one reserved only for the very well-heeled. And then there was, of course, the exploration of space, an endeavour to be entrusted only to a select group of national heroes, but nevertheless food for the pride, ambitions and dreams of entire nations.
In post-war America(1), not everybody could afford to board an airplane, but a rapidly expanding section of the population was able to buy a car. Then perhaps more than nowadays, the car meant freedom and opening up new horizons. It was also a means to express one’s dreams and ambitions, even if those ambitions reached further than anywhere four wheels could take you. If you were as yet unable to Continue reading “Four Wheeled Jet Set”
The first McLaren badged road-legal car built in series production wasn’t named F1.
Mrs. Muscat had a parking problem: it was not a case of a lack of available spaces at the Ford Motor Company offices where she worked, but the company’s strict ‘no foreign vehicles’ policy meant that she was not allowed to park her car, a R107 Mercedes-Benz SL, on the premises. Having to find a parking space within a reasonable distance each day was of course an inconvenience, but she loved her SL and its al fresco option for sunny days. Thus she asked her husband, Maltese born engineer Peter Muscat, to Continue reading “No Parking”
During the early years of the 1950’s, the American auto industry was blossoming into previously unknown avenues, at times ambitious and in certain cases, downright arresting. Springtime 1954 saw head of Lincoln’s pre-production studio, John Najjar sketch five concept cars, only one making it past the papyrus stage. Known internally as Mandalay, the sketch pupated into the XM Turnpike Cruiser, “a four passenger cross country car for tomorrow.” XM denoting eXperimental Mercury.
Outré perhaps, even in the jet age, the design caught the attention of future Ford whiz-kid Francis ‘Jack’ Reith. Pushing the top brass for backing, an internal competition set the partnership of Najjar and Elwood Engel over that of Gene Bordinat and Don DeLaRossa. Both teams presented full size clay models (around 18 feet in length) knowing full well only one would be green lighted. Reith took an instant shine to the Najjar design, justifying tweaks and alterations, gaining approval that autumn. Continue reading “Najjar’s Butterfly Develops Seventy Years Late”
On my first morning, a Sunday, I crept out of my lodgings and strolled around the grid-system streets of old Savannah.
This postcard concerns what resembles an alternate-reality Ford Mondeo, the Mercury Mystique which Ford USA sold from 1995 to 2000. Why did it exist? It looks perhaps like a rejected Mondeo proposal. What it is, is evidence of increasing rationalisation of the global Ford product range. The Mondeo upon which Ford based the Mercury Mystique was intended to drag Ford’s mid-sized offering into the front-drive world where its main enemy, the GM Cavalier/Ascona, had been thriving for some time. Continue reading “Savannah Postcard (4)”
A recent short visit to Savannah, Georgia afforded a chance to peruse the roadside vehicle population of the South.
Many people visit Savannah to enjoy its urban milieu: late Georgian and early Victorian architecture situated among lines of old, large trees draped with Spanish moss. I had a look at all that but also hoped to see a reasonable sampling of faces familiar mostly from photographs. I found some surprising juxtapositions and odd vignettes. It’s a place of contrasts. If you Continue reading “Savannah Postcard (1)”
Guiding his Oldsmobile carefully up the driveway to the garage of his house in the suburbs of a typical midwestern American town, Scott Hewitt had something planned for the evening. It was 1968, a year that would prove to be pivotal in world history as well as a bloody one. Presidential candidate Robert Kennedy would not see the end of the year alive, and neither would Martin Luther King.
The war in Vietnam escalated with the fierce Tet offensive, and the awful My Lai massacre would change many people’s minds about why and if the USA should have ever been involved in it in the first place. Violence and unrest were not limited to Southeast Asia- witness student riots in Paris, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and the ignition of ‘the troubles’ in Northern Ireland. Significant if less deadly pointers to Continue reading “1968: A Question of Choice”
Apart from huge metropolises such as New York or Los Angeles, most of the United States’ land area is quite sparsely inhabited, with large areas of undeveloped land. A consequence of this abundance of space was the many salvage yards(1) where cars were simply parked at their presumed final resting place instead of being stacked on top of each other, disassembled, flattened or crushed.
While not necessarily the most environmentally-friendly storage method, salvage yards do provide an invaluable source of spare-parts for those restoring a piece of classic Detroit iron. For those with an interest in classic cars in general and who, like your author, appreciate the peculiar air of nostalgia and romance one feels while walking amongst discarded vehicles in varying stages of decay, these yards are also irresistible. In truth, I should probably use the past tense these days as the vast majority of these salvage yards have now disappeared due to ever more stringent environmental laws and policies that started to take effect, especially since the turn of the millennium. Continue reading “Ashes to Ashes (Part One)”
Dearborn 1967: product segmentation was strictly for the birds.
The 1958 Thunderbird would prove to be a pivotal product for the Blue Oval. Not only did the Square Bird transform the fortunes of the model line, the ’58 T-Bird popularised the concept of the personal luxury car amongst the American car buying public, creating an entire sector it would subsequently bestride. Not only that, the second-generation Thunderbird illustrated to Dearborn management that it was possible to Continue reading “Cats Will Fly”
Concluding the story of the original Ford Mondeo and how it confounded the expectations of those who drove it.
The launch of a new Ford was always big news in the UK, so it fell to BBC Top Gear motoring journalist Jeremy Clarkson to pronounce upon the Mondeo. Clarkson tested the car in 1.8 litre manual four-door saloon form shortly after its launch in March 1993. He was underwhelmed by the car’s appearance but impressed by both the interior design and quality of finish.
DTW marks the last of the traditional American body-on-frame sedans.
The Ford Crown Victoria and its Mercury and Lincoln siblings were the last in a long line of traditional body-on-frame full-size rear-wheel-drive sedans that were for decades a defining feature of the American automotive landscape. They were simply engineered, but tough and reliable cars that were perfectly suited to the wide variety of private, commercial and institutional roles in which they served.
But it’s not. The next car to bear the name won’t be a Puma, but a vehicle called Puma. Supposedly, the reason for re-using the name, in part, rests on the fact the new car is based on the Fiesta just like the old, and frankly much-missed little pocket rocket (1997-2002). And every one liked the Puma so it’s a name with some emotional weight.
This makes a change from cars seen around my neighbourhood. It’s a 1995 Mercury Grand Marquis LS, sighted in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Much to my surprise, some of Sweden’s older city centres have a rather American feel, specifically that part of the US in the north east such as Upstate New York. Gothenburg, where this car was seen, has stone and brick houses on streets lined up in grids. That immediately suggests an American way of town planning which is supposedly rational but disrespects topography and leads to stupidly steep roads among other ill-effects. The major roads of the mid-20th century in Sweden are styled after American freeways and have a similar brutal character: ugly to look at and confusing to drive on.
The Ford Granada/Mercury Monarch pair are not known to be among Ford’s finest cars. Recently I had a closer look at a 1980 Mercury Monarch to see what it was really like.
Given that reputation, it may come as a surprise to some (it surprised me) that Ford marketed it as a rival to Mercedes’ W-123 in its 280E guise. Ah, that car again. The car shown here is a 2-door Monarch with the Windsor 4.9 V8. Ford also made 3.3 and 4.1 straight sixes available along with a 5.8 V8. The Ford version was almost the same barring cosmetic details at the front and back.
DTW is in the middle of preparing a consideration of the 1980 Mercury Monarch which was all but identical to the 1980 Ford Granada (the US version).
It is a legendarily mediocre car, even with a 5.0 litre Windsor V-8. More on that soon. In the meantime, I thought I would fillet some of my findings and present this amuse-gueule or Häppchen: the driver’s ashtray.
I wondered what the very large panel next to the glove compartment was and it turned out to be the aperture for a substantial ashtray and a cigar-lighter. Alas I was not able to gauge the dimensions of the ash receptacle: 100 ml would be an estimate based on my many years of valuable research on this neglected topic. Continue reading “Ashtrays: the 1980 Mercury Monarch”