The brainchild of Henry Ford’s only child Edsel Ford, Mercury was introduced as a much needed mid-priced line to fill the gap between price-leader Ford and luxury class Lincoln.
Unlike many car makes which began as an independent and later was purchased by a parent company such as GM, Ford or Chrysler, Mercury was a brand new car line, a product of Ford Motor Company from the git-go.
Tagged just a skoche above Pontiac and a smidgen below Oldsmobile, Mercury was just what FoMoCo needed to compete with the other two players in ‘the big three’.
Mercury began life with a modified version of Ford’s legendary flat-head (and later L-head) V-8. Slightly over bored compared to its sister line, the Mercury version produced 95 horsepower through 1941 and in subsequent years began an uphill power campaign which started at 100 and crept up to 110 the 112 and eventually 125 by model year 1952. A well-tuned Merc nearly always beat out a V-8 Ford and the brand soon earned a reputation for speed, consistently achieving a top end speed of 100 MPH. I’m guessin’ Edsel had that in mind when he named the new car after the winged messenger god of Greek mythology. The all-new, overhead valve V-8 introduced in 1954, took a giant leap in power, producing 161 BHP… a thirty percent increase over the 1953 model.
The bright red hue, shown on our feature car, did not appear on the color chip chart for Mercury in 1954, but was a color borrowed from the Lincoln palette. Lincoln and Mercury had a habit of crossing the line on colors during ‘the day’, regularly borrowing hues from one another. Royal Red may have been borrowed from Lincoln, but it sure looked good on the Monterey ‘hardtop coupe’.
Other 1954 Merc colors (besides Royal Red and Arctic White) were:
- Atlantic Blue (a deep blue metallic);
- Granby Gray (slate gray with a trace of blue);
- Bloomfield Green (deep forest metallic);
- Lakeland Blue (bright sky blue);
- Columbia Blue (a lighter shade of Lakeland Blue);
- Cadet Gray (charcoal gray metallic with a bluish tinge);
- Glenoaks Green (metallic, medium green with definite blue cast);
- Parklane Green (a sea foam green);
- Country Club Tan (more of a gray-tan hue);
- India Black (well, what can I say? It was ‘black’.)
Mercury stylists took a sabbatical for the year, as the ‘54s were basically a face lift from the ‘53 model year.
One noticeable improvement were the totally restyled, wrap-around taillights… a safety feature which is common (and taken for granted) on today’s automobiles. The large lenses, trimmed out with a stack of extruded horizontal chevrons, fit in very nicely with the cascading shape of the trailing fender edges.
Up front, this would be the third and final year for the broad, chrome-capped fake hood scoop introduced on the 1952 models… and last but not least, the previous year’s ‘dagmars’ would grow in size, becoming more prominent.
Don’t know what the term ‘dagmar’ means? Well, Wikipedia describes the term as, “slang for the artillery shell shaped styling elements found on the front bumper/grille assemblies on several makes of cars produced in the 1950s”. Back when my friends and I were in our teens, we saw something else in those large, pointed, chrome ornaments, and it wasn’t artillery shells!
Only two Mercury series were offered for 1954. The entry level ‘Custom’ series started at just $2,194.00 for a standard 2-door sedan. Customs were available in just three body styles– 2 and 4-door sedans and a 2-door (pillarless) hardtop coupe.
Far and away the more popular of the two ‘hardtop coupes’, the upscale Monterey handily outsold the Custom ‘Sport’ hardtop coupe by a four-to-one margin, despite being priced $258.00 higher. That may not sound like much, but that number equals $2,084.00 in ‘2010 bucks.
A unique Monterey coupe was also offered in 1954. Called the ‘Sun Valley’, it had a front roof panel made of green tinted plexiglass and was, amazingly, priced at only $90.00 over the standard Monterey coupe. Much larger than today’s familiar ‘sun roofs’, Sun Valley’s skylight went from the windshield header in the front, to just behind the front seat… and full width from side to side, offering a spectacular view of the sky above.
The same roof treatment was available to Ford buyers in the form of the ‘Fairlane Victoria Skyliner’ (later Crown Victoria Skyliner).
Interior temps were a definite ‘issue’, making for some very hot August afternoon commutes… and air-conditioning was not yet on the options list for Ford or Mercury automobiles. A snap-on vinyl liner was made available, but offered little help in keeping interior temperatures in the comfort range.
Not surprisingly, consumers were wary of the ‘hothouse’ effect and only 9,761 Sun Valley coupes found buyers, compared to 79,553 Monterey coupes. That number puts our featured car of the week in the number one spot in terms of overall models, even outselling the generally first place four door sedan by nearly 15,00 units.
Seven thousand, two hundred and ninety-three 1954 Mercury buyers who wanted to cruise in top down fashion, chose the Monterey convertible with a base price of $2,610.00.
The priciest of all body styles, however, was the 4-door, 6-passenger Monterey station wagon which started at $2,776.00 before options, shipping and dealer add-ons.
And, speaking of ‘add-ons’, factory options were few in 1954, limited basically to:
- power steering;
- power brakes;
- four-way power seat;
- whitewall tires
- Solex (tinted) glass.
Fender skirts and chrome rocker panel trim was standard on Monterey, optional on Custom. Dealer add-ons were beginning to grow as agency owners realized the profit potential of the aftermarket. Until then, large aftermarket catalog companies like Warshawsky and J.C. Whitney in Chicago had pretty much been answering the call for dress up items as well as replacement parts.
Remember the clear plastic seat covers your mom and dad (or grandma and grandpa) put on their new car to protect the fabric from wear? They were sold under the brand name of ‘Fingerhut’. Early examples were made of a heavy, clear plastic which was quite uncomfortable, particularly in warmer months when you were wearing shorts and tried to scoot in across the seat. Ouch! An improved version eventually was intoduced with waffle-like embossing which greatly improved the comfort factor.
To harness the power produced by that all-new, 256 cubic inch V-8, Mercury engineers offered overdrive (for the three-speed manual transmission) and the ‘Merc-O-Matic’… a worry-free automatic shifter which was definitely my aunt Dorothy’s preference.
Custom and Monterey models shared the same chassis, riding a wheelbase of 118 inches and stretching 206.2 inches from front to back. Narrow tires were still the rule and the Mercury’s for ‘54 rode on 7.1 x 15 donuts, except for wagons and convertibles which were shoed in 7.60 x 15 size.
Despite the all-new V-8, sales took a better than 10% drop for model year 1954. A happier year was ahead for Mercury, however, as 1955, a generally good year across the board, saw sales tick up by a solid twenty-seven percent.
The coming year would also see a total restyling for Mercury, although the resemblance to 1954 models was unmistakeable. The primary changes in styling were adaptation of the industry-wide trend to lower, longer and wider bodies, plus introduction of the wrap-around windshield and hooded headlight housings.
MERCURY promotional material,
Here’s a classy ad from 1954 that makes a simple statement.
Check out this vintage 1954 Mercury ad.
Here’s a sample of the color chart of 1954 Mercury exterior colors. Note, some of the available colors were found on the color chart for Lincoln.