The 1945-1946 Mercury was painstakingly developed over time, even
though the War Department forbade any work that was not related to the
The 1946 Mercury Sportsman was Mercury's
answer to Ford's convertible, also called Sportsman.
According to the original plan, entirely new Ford and Mercury bodies were slated for 1943. Just before he became ill, Edsel had worked closely with Bob Gregorie and his styling crew, who were developing the 1943 models. That all came to a screeching halt, of course, when the government stopped production.
By this time, the 1944s had gone as far as the clay mock-up stage. During 1943 and 1944, work progressed even further, although strictly speaking it was forbidden by the War Department. The most significant design thinking to come out of that period was the 1949 Mercury, which originated as a painting of a coupe done by Ross Cousins in 1943. At first, it had been intended to be the 1949 Ford. Other work, probably done primarily by Cousins, had a lot of influence on the 1946 Mercury facelift.
Mercury production resumed on November 1, 1945. Just ten days earlier, on October 22, Lincoln-Mercury had finally become a separate division. As with all other makes, the 1946 Mercury was a facelifted version of the 1942. The new "high-style" grille was a busy though pleasant affair with the upper diecast portion sporting closely spaced vertical bars grouped into eight sections, separated at the center by E-I-G-H-T in vertically arranged block letters.
This ensemble was encased in a body-color frame, highlighted by three mini chrome strips on each side. A lower painted catwalk section housed twin stainless steel, flattened oval grilles, each divided by a pair of horizontal bars. That bottom section, incidentally, was an integral part of the front fenders.
The 1946 Mercury wagon featured birch or
mahogany panels framed in maple.
The business coupe disappeared from the 1946 lineup, but not from Ford's. A new and very limited edition, the Sportsman, was Mercury's version of Ford's wood-bodied convertible, also called Sportsman. Due to its later introduction, this model wasn't shown in the Mercury brochure, perhaps part of the reason that only 205 were built for 1946 (compared to 3,025 Ford versions for 1946-1948).
It was the first Mercury to feature power windows (they were standard), and like the regular convertible, the Sportsman came equipped with an "automatic Hydraulic-Lift Top." Reportedly, only one survives. Seats in the convertible and wagon were upholstered in "tan, red or gray genuine leather."
Prices started at $1,448 for the Sedan (Mercury's name for the two-door sedan), rose to $1,729 for the woody wagon (maple framing with birch or mahogany panels), and topped out at a towering $2,209 for the Sportsman. The most popular model, the Town Sedan (Mercury lingo for four-door sedan), listed at $1,509.
Prices averaged $188 more model-for-model than for a Super DeLuxe Ford V-8. Despite early postwar materials shortages and widespread industry strikes, 86,608 Mercurys were produced for the 1946 model year.
Don't be deceived by 1946-1948 Ford and Mercury trim differences -- the cars were alike as peas in a pod underneath, despite Mercury's four-inch-longer wheelbase. What buyers got for the extra $188 in a Mercury was a little more exterior trim, such as twin chrome strips on the fenders. They also looked at a fancier instrument panel "smartly finished in metallic lacquer...and decorated with softly glittering chromium and plastic," complemented by a "beautiful plastic steering wheel and full horn ring [possessing] a jewel-like beauty..."
And passengers sat on better upholstery: "Gray-Green or Rust, seat cushions are smartly styled in rich broadcloth or cord cloth, and trimmed in genuine leather; side walls combine colored fabric with handsome simulated leather and plastic." The hopeful buyer also got on a waiting list that wasn't nearly as long as for a Ford because Lincoln-Mercury dealers generally weren't afraid to pad their prices high enough to always have good availability.
The 1946 Ford and Mercury engines were identical, developing 100 bhp at 3SOO rpm. Improvements included four-ring, cam-ground aluminum pistons; new tri-alloy bearings; and a high-pressure radiator cap that increased coolant pressure for higher-temperature operation.
Other advances included "Self-Centering Brakes" with increased lining area, a rear stabilizer bar, and reduced-frequency transverse springs. The last, called "Slow-Motion" springs by Mercury, promised a "Full-Cushioned Ride." They rode outside the wheelbase, providing a 129.38-inch "spring base," thus resulting in what Mercury hyped as a "luxury ride."
The 1946 Mercury Club convertible came with an
automatic Hydraulic-Lift Top.
The first two cars that Tom McCahill ever tested for Mechanix Illustrated were the 1946 Ford and Buick for the February 1946 issue. He loved the Ford, hated the Buick. In July 1946, he wrung out a Mercury, commenting that "I drove one of these new engines from coast to coast and purposely abused it whenever the going got tough. With a fully loaded car I never once took it out of high while crossing some of the toughest passes in the Rockies and later the High Sierras."
He continued, "At times my speed had been reduced from 70 to as little as 15 mph, but it was still in high and kept going without a buck. Across Texas and through Arizona I had driven this new engine as much as 650 miles in a day, several times covering as much as 70 miles in a single hour, so I can say with assurance that if there is an engine around that will top the Mercury for high speed cruising, and I mean an engine that does it without strain or heating up, then I don't know about it."
In California, McCahill tried to find out if the rest of the car was as good as the engine. Taking a new Mercury from the Long Beach plant, he approached the Hollywood Hills at 10 mph in high gear, then gave it full throttle, and found he did not have to shift on any grade he took. He was impressed by the Mercury's high-speed cornering, claiming it couldn't be surpassed or even equaled by the most expensive cars at the time.
This was a really interesting aspect of the Fords and Mercurys of the Forties: While their horse-and-buggy suspension was widely criticized in its day, it provided for such superior handling that today's Corvette uses a transverse rear spring.
On the straightaways, McCahill slowed down to a creep and found seat-pinning performance when accelerating up to highway speed. In less than a mile, he was doing better than 80 mph. (McCahill had yet to invent his famous 0-60 test.)
On the next page, learn about the changes made to the 1947-1949 Mercury.
For more information about cars, see: