Officially, Mercury's dead, but Ford's special platform prostitution diet doomed the brand from the start to a life of mediocrity. But, if we believe the 71-year-old brand ever truly lived, then here are the ten cars that killed Mercury.
Choosing just ten vehicles responsible for the demise of Mercury is a challenge because Ford trotted out so many underwhelming clones of their own products with minor luxury touches, so we've narrowed it down to ten cars notable for being copies that were notable for being poorly received, ill timed, awfully designed or a mixture of all three.
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People like to rag on the Ford Edsel, but the 1957 Turnpike Cruiser is about as close as you'll get to The Homer in a real production vehicle. With its "skylight dual curve windshield" and "seatomatic" power adjustable seats it offered numerous features, but the futuristic ornamentation was a bit too much even for 50s-era Americans dreaming of the rocket age. At $4,100 for a top-of-the-line convertible the car was way out of reach for most Americans and the brand, formerly a sales success, dropped from 328,000 units in 1956 to just 153,000 for 1958 and few of those were Turnpike Cruisers. It was the brand's first big flop and was canceled.
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The first-generation Mercury Capri was basically a re-badged German Ford. The initial car was offered underpowered with a 70 HP four-cylinder option and subsequent models would be ruined by Federal standards. They also suffered from poor reliability. Hey, at least one ended up with a Playmate.
The original Mercury Cougar offered an attractive and unique alternative to the Mustang, with performance on par with the muscle cars of the day. Unfortunately, in 1974 Mercury decided to deviate from being a copy of a Mustang to grow into Thunderbird-like proportions. This was the beginning of the end for the Cougar as the car continued to be come more bloated and awful with each successive redesign. It got so bad they even made a 1977 Mercury Cougar Station Wagon.
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Ford suspected, correctly, that buyers in the 80s would be attracted to smaller, more efficient coupes with letter-and-number combinations instead of names. Too bad what they came up with wasn't the Mercury LN7 instead of the Honda CRX. The cars look sort of awesome in retrospect, but the market didn't want a two-seat version of the Escort and Lynx that was heavier with worse performance and less usable space. The expensive coupe was shelved in 1983 after approximately 40,000 sales.
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Mercury hoped to trade on the small amount of name recognition they'd built up with owners of first-generation Capris who weren't still stranded on the side of the road with a new model, this time based on the Mustang (since the Cougar was now a Thunderbird clone). Unfortunately, the Capri was a fairly half-hearted attempt at a Ford clone. Sales were initially reasonable, but the Capri never received a visual upgrade that so benefited the Mustang and carried forward the same essential design from 1979. Sales dropped from 80,000 to just 18,500 in the final year.
The third-time was certainly not the charm for the ill-fated Mercury Capri, as the brand once again knew what the market wanted and then delivered up a disastrously mediocre product. The Mazda Miata debuted successfully around the same time as the Mercury Capri, but with a few key differences. The Miata was attractive, sporty and RWD. The Mercury looks like a cheap sci-fi 80s movie prop, was ironically based on the Mazda 323, and therefore FWD. The Australian-built car was never a hit here.
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Like sporting jean shorts and a bob haircut, the Mercury Cougar redesign was a clear sign that they'd pretty much given up on having any joy in life. It was a car for old people who wanted sporty pretensions without any confusing sporty bits like a supercharged engine or manual transmission (which they dropped). We pick on the 1992 model because it represents the 25th anniversary of the Cougar and a real low-point for a car defined by low points.
There are a lot of fans of the 1999 Mercury Cougar — arguable the best looking modern Mercury product. With the Focus dominating the bottom of the range for Ford, the Contour-based FWD Cougar made sense for Mercury and offered a potent enough V6. Sales were even reasonable to start with, so the Cougar killed Mercury for a different reason. When the Contour/Mystique platform was discontinued Ford made the decision not to continue to invest in Mercury's one real unique product and every car since the Cougar's demise is nothing more than a Ford clone.
What tastes more like water: water or water? What's the most useless modern Ford clone: the Mountaineer, Montego or Mariner? For total blasphemy and short lifespan we'll take the 2004 Mercury Monterrey. The Freestar minivan was the crappy remake of the ungainly redesign of the unreliable Windstar and the Monterrey was based on that. They sold less than 10,000 of the vans in the first year and Ford eventually dropped the model in favor of, well, nothing.
The Milan is the definition of platform prostitution. Rather than differentiate the Mercury midsize from its Fusion and Zephyr platform mates with any worthy improvement they instead pasted a goofy waterfall grille on the front — voila, the CD3 triplet afterbirth. As a replacement for both the Mystique and Sable, the Milan managed to be a disappointment to both buyers. It's also the only other Ford product of the era less attractive than a 2006 Ford Fusion.