Back in the 1930s, Ford designers began work on a vehicle that would have more features and styling than was offered on any other Ford product. As the vehicle neared completion in 1938, Edsel Ford and Ford Sales Manager Jack Davis decided to launch a new brand for the premium range to set it apart from the mainstream Ford blue oval products and Lincoln luxury cars. And, with that, Mercury was born.
Edsel Ford chose the name Mercury, the winged messenger of the Roman gods. Mercury, the god of commerce, symbolizes dependability, speed, skill and eloquence. Ford’s vision for Mercury included improved ride, handling, stopping distance, internal noise and added styling. The vehicles from Mercury would compete with mid-level offerings from GM, Dodge and DeSoto, but would fall below the Cadillac lineup.
“Mercury was actually born because there was a niche between the deluxe Ford V-8 and the Lincoln Zephyr V-12,” according to Bob Kreipke, the Ford corporate historian.
The first model, the 1939 Mercury 8, sold for $916 and had a 95-horsepower V-8 engine. More than 65,000 were built the first year. The offerings included a two- and four-door sedan, a sports convertible and a town sedan. But just two short years after Mercury debuted, America entered the war and production was halted. When the war ended in 1945, Mercury was coupled with Lincoln, and the Lincoln-Mercury Division was born.
In 1949, the first new design from Mercury since the war was the 1949 Mercury, a favorite of the hot-rod generation. Movie buffs saw James Dean’s customized version of the '49 Mercury Series 9CM when he drove a de-chromed version of the car in the 1955 movie classic “Rebel Without a Cause.”
The 1950s featured innovations such as the industry-first sunroof on the 1954 Mercury, and later high-style large "dream" cars beginning in 1957, dubbed "The Big M." The 1960s brought performance and speed with vehicles such as the S-55, Marauder and the Mercury Cougar, which debuted in 1967. The 1970s introduced the Grand Marquis, Mercury’s best-selling nameplate. The Mercury Sable sedan and wagon debuted in 1985. In the 1990s, the Mercury Villager minivan and Mercury Mountaineer hit the market. By 2004, Mercury got its own version of the Ford Windstar called the Monterey, and then a new sedan in '05 dubbed the Montego (Mercury's version of the Ford 500) and later the 2005 Mercury Mariner, a new compact SUV.
The Mercury nameplate was dropped in Canada in 1999, although the Grand Marquis was still marketed there wearing a Mercury badge through 2007. Ford phased out the entire Mercury brand during 2011, as the company refocused its marketing and engineering efforts on the Ford and Lincoln brands. Production of all Mercury vehicles was halted during the fourth quarter of 2010, with the final Mercury badged automobile, a Grand Marquis, rolling off the assembly line on January 4, 2011.