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How Mercury Cars Work

Mercury Small Cars of the 1980s

The 1981 Mercury Lynx was Mercury's answer to the call for small cars.

Lynx was Mercury's entry in the increasingly tough small-car market of the early 1980s, and it sold respectably, racking up over 100,000 units in its first two seasons and about 85,000 a year thereafter. Like its sibling the Ford Escort, it started life with a three-door hatchback sedan and a neat five-door wagon in trim levels from plain to fancy. These were bolstered for 1982 by five-door sedans, a sporty three-door RS, and a posh five-door LTS (for Luxury Touring Sedan).

Through mid-'85, Lynx was powered by the Escort's 1.6-liter "CVH" four, also offered in H.O. and turbocharged guises. In mid-'85, both of the latter were dropped and a normal-tune 1.9-liter enlargement took over. A 2.0-liter diesel four supplied by Mazda in Japan was also offered beginning with the '84s, though it attracted few buyers as gas prices fell in an improving national economy. Appearance was cleaned up for "19851/2" with a smoother nose and flush headlamps in line with Dear­born's strong turn to aerodynamic styling. An even ­sportier three-door, called XR3, bowed the following year.


But here, too, Ford planners would conclude that one clone was one too many, though a falling dollar and lower offshore production costs also figured in the decision to drop Lynx during 1987. Taking over was the Mexican-built Tracer, a badge-engineered version of Mazda's similarly sized 323. Yet despite generating less than half of Escort's volume in most years, the Lynx can be judged a success, as it rung up crucial business for L-M ­dealers during some very difficult times.

The same holds for Mercury's compacts and intermediates of this decade. For 1981-82 these comprised the familiar (and largely unchanged) Zephyr line and a new upmarket Cougar sedan series, both built on the proven rear-drive vintage-'78 "Fox" platform. Weighing some 350-400 pounds less than the Monarchs they replaced, these Cougars were twins to Ford's redesigned '81 Granadas. Styling was similarly squared up and more formal than Zephyr's, appropriate for the higher prices. Though the origins of these models were obvious, there was evidently some magic left in the Cougar name. Between them, Cougar and Zephyr netted well over 80,000 annual sales for 1981-82, not bad considering the sorry state of the market.

Mercury did somewhat better by replacing the Fox-platform Cougars with a midsize Marquis for 1983. This was yet ­another Fairmont/Zephyr variation, but its cleaner styling was a big improvement, even if it looked rather too much like the downsized 1983 LTD that took over for Granada at Ford. Still, the name link with a full-size Merc didn't hurt, and Marquis sales by 1984 totaled some 108,000, half again as much as the previous Cougar series.

To avoid confusion, the biggest Mercurys were renamed Grand Marquis after 1982, one of their few important changes during the entire decade. Not that many changes were needed. Roomy, quiet, and comfortable, they remained traditional V-8 American family cruisers whose sales rebounded strongly once the economy began to recover and an oil glut pushed gas prices down to more-reasonable levels. Chrysler Corporation and the Buick, Olds, and Pontiac divisions of GM lent a helping hand by canceling most of their old rear-drive biggies by '85, leaving the Grand Marquis all but alone in the medium-price full-size field.

Grand Marquis thus journeyed through the '80s with only the barest of updates. Two-door coupes were dropped after 1985, the mainstay four-door sedan and wagon gained smoother noses and tails for 1988, and fuel injection replaced carburetors on the 302-cid V-8, but that was about it.

Once their original '79 tooling was amortized, the big Mercurys (and Fords) became the darlings of corporate accountants and dealers alike, earning more profit per unit than any other model in the line. Con­su­mers kept on buying despite the lack of change. Grand Marquis sales totaled nearly 96,000 for '83, over 148,000 for '84, then 110,000-160,000 each year all the way through 1989. Obviously, the "Big M" still offered what a lot of folks wanted.

For more information on Mercury models, see:

  • Mercury New Car Reviews and Prices
  • Mercury Used Car Reviews and Prices