In this overview, we examine Mercury's history as a maker of luxury cars, minivans and SUVs.
Mercury was a division of Ford Motor Company marketed as being somewhat more upscale than Ford. Throughout the latter part of its 71-year history, Mercury's vehicles were essentially Fords with unique styling details and special features meant to enhance their desirability relative to similar Ford products.
It all started in the 1930s, when Edsel Ford, Henry Ford's son, saw an opportunity to create an additional brand within the Ford hierarchy, one that would exist between the everyman Ford Deluxes and premium Lincoln Zephyrs. To achieve this, Edsel felt the vehicles of this new brand should offer distinctive styling along with innovative features and better capabilities. He named the new division "Mercury," after the Roman mythological god. The 1939 Mercury Eight was the division's first car. It distinguished itself from similar Ford products via a 95-horsepower engine that offered 10 more horses than the Ford V8.
The Eight proved to be a hit, with more than 155,000 sold by the early 1940s. Production stopped during World War II; after the war, the brand was realigned more closely with Lincoln. The company grew from strength to strength in the '50s, establishing itself as a maker of vehicles offering style, performance and cutting-edge technology. A dash of glamour was added to the automaker's image when James Dean appeared onscreen in a Mercury in the film Rebel Without a Cause.
The 1960s saw the introduction of Mercury's Comet and Meteor vehicles. The Comet featured diminutive dimensions and luxury accoutrements, while the Meteor was a midsize family car that followed the trend toward more reasonably sized cars. Racetrack wins boosted awareness of the Comet and helped the model make a big splash in terms of sales. By the end of the decade, the iconic Mercury Cougar, a variation of the Mustang, had been rolled out, its Eliminator version taking its place in the pantheon of legendary early muscle cars.
Hit hard by that decade's oil crisis, consumers during the 1970s were hungry for smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles. Mercury responded with a new, smaller Comet and the Bobcat, the former a fancier version of the Ford Maverick, the latter a fancier version of the Ford Pinto. The brand's sales grew during a decade that was filled with turbulence and uncertainty for many competing marques. Mercury further expanded its lineup in the '80s, this time including the small, Ford Escort-based Lynx. Mercury enjoyed success with the 1986 launch of the Sable, a fraternal twin to the Ford Taurus whose sleek, aerodynamic lines and futuristic "light bar" front end styling set it apart from the Ford.
Mercury's sales hit an all-time high during the 1990s that would never again be matched. Minivans and SUVs were a big reason for that as Mercury introduced its Villager minivan and Mountaineer SUV. Late that decade it introduced a new Cougar, which differed from its predecessors by being a front-drive sport compact that also holds the distinction of being the last Mercury that wasn't a rebadged Ford.
The years following the new millennium were challenging for the brand, as changing consumer tastes and a lack of differentiation between Mercury and Ford vehicles hurt sales. Pundits often proclaimed the end of Mercury was near, but Ford kept stating it would keep Mercury around despite offering no hope for any unique future vehicles from the brand. Finally in 2010, Ford pulled the plug on Mercury, putting an end to more than 70 years of car-making heritage.