The 1959 Mercurys, such as this Montclair Cruiser, were bigger than the 1958s with a four-inch longer wheelbase.

1958, 1959 Mercury Cars

A minor facelift yielded slightly quieter styling for 1958 Mercury models, but production plunged to 153,000 in a disastrous industry year. The Convertible Cruiser was abandoned (after only 1265 of the '57s) and the two closed Cruisers became Montclair submodels. Lower prices failed to perk up sales (barely 6400 between them). The cheap Medalist returned for a brief encore with two- and four-door sedans, but again proved disappointing: Only 18,732 were sold.

Topping the line was the new Park Lane series of two hardtops and a convertible (also available as Montclairs and Montereys). These were ostensibly Cruiser replacements with less hoke and a giant 360-bhp 430-cid V-8 shared with that year's Lincolns.

A new auto­matic transmission called Multi-Drive debuted (basically Ford Division's Cruise-O-Matic), as did a 383-cid V-8 -- the same size as one of Chrysler's new '58 wedgehead engines but with more-oversquare dimensions. The 383 was standard for all '58 Mercs, save Medalists (which came with a 235-bhp 312) and Park Lane, and delivered 312 or 330 bhp depending on model. Although the bottom dropped out of the medium-price market in '58, Mercury remained eighth despite building only 40 percent of its 1957 volume. But significantly, Rambler passed the Big M in sales and was fast gaining on Pontiac, Olds, and Buick. Mercury would join the rush to compacts and inter­mediates soon enough. In the meantime, it could only offer more of the same.

More the '59 Mercurys definitely had, with even bigger bodies on a four-inch longer wheelbase. Styling was still square but more sculpted, marked by a mile-wide grille, huge bumpers at each end, enormous windshields and rear windows, and a more sharply creased version of the odd 1957-58 rear-fender scallops. The Medalist and Turnpike Cruiser models were forgotten, and Montclair and wagons each slimmed from six models to four.

Engines were detuned in a faint nod to a newly economy-conscious public. The '59 slate listed a 210-bhp 312 for Monterey, a 345-bhp 430 for Park Lane, and 280- and 322-bhp 383s for others. Despite the retrenchment, model-year volume failed to top 150,000 units -- hardly the hoped-for recovery.

Looking back, Mercury sales stumbled after 1956 at least in part because the fleet, good-looking cars of earlier years were abandoned for shiny, begadgeted behemoths that couldn't hope to sell well in a down economy. But the make would return to "hot cars" in the '60s and, with them, achieve new success.

Indeed, volume went up substantially for 1960 -- to over 271,000 -- though that was owed mainly to the new compact Comet. The four-series big-car line (which might have been Edsels had things gone better there) remained two-ton heavyweights with huge compound-curve windshields, but a handsome facelift removed a little chrome while adding a tidy concave grille and more-discreet "gullwing" rear fenders.

Model choices were mostly as before: Cruiser two- and four-door hardtops in each series, four-door Monterey/Montclair sedans, Monterey two-door sedan, Park Lane convertible and, still a distinct series, four-door Commuter and wood-sided Colony Park hardtop wagons.

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