Tag Archives: Ford

Breeze life away

1963 Mercury Monterey 'Breezeway' sedan, spotted in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan.

1963 Mercury Monterey ‘Breezeway’ sedan, spotted in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan.

There was so much happening in the early 1960s, one can be forgiven for not noticing the roofline on a mid-range Ford Motor Company product.

The Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Space Race and the JFK assassination all competed for national attention in that era. But behind all the drama (not to mention the drinking and smoking), there was a movement afoot to set the often wayward middle child of the Ford family (Mercury… we’re talking Mercury) on a new and distinctive path.

While the Fords of the late 1950s were understated and didn’t go in for the styling excesses of the higher end GM and Chrysler models of the time, Mercury and Lincoln embraced them.

Fast-forward to the early 60s. Fords remained relatively conservative in appearance (read: safe) thanks to lessons learned from their short-lived 1960 styling experiment, while Lincoln had scrapped its former gargantuan and gaudy 1958-1960 body to create a timeless classic – the 1961 Continental.

The Mercury division was left somewhere in the middle, unsure of whether to appear as an uplevel Ford or a stripped Lincoln. In preparing for the 1963model year, Mercury seized on a styling cue originally marketed in their ’57 Turnpike Cruiser as a way of setting themselves apart from the other divisions.

It was impossible not to smoke ALL THE TIME in the Mad Men era, and this 1963 ad showed how the Breezeway could change your life.

It was impossible not to smoke ALL THE TIME in the Mad Men era, and this 1963 ad showed how the Breezeway could change your life.

The reverse-slanted, retractable rear window was just one neat-o, futuristic gimmick on a car now semi-infamous for being full of them. The Turnpike Cruiser was the ultimate Space Age dream car, but that era has now passed.

The rear window idea, however, had legs. Not only was there comfort and convenience attributes in having a back window that could open up, out of the rain, but it would make for a noticeably different roofline – something that would help set Mercury apart from both Ford and Lincoln.

For 1963, the ‘Breezeway’ roof (as it was marketed) became available on the Monterey. In addition to the distinctive roof, the ’63 Merc set itself apart from its other stablemates by way of a strong beltline and slightly concave side panels, as well as a set of triple taillights. A big 390-cubic inch V-8 came standard and provided plenty of muscle to move the large sedan around. A 427-cubic inch V-8 was optional.

Advertising at the time called attention to the new roof, depicting pleasant scenes brought about by that overhanging roofline and retractable window. One ad showed a bird taking shelter from a rainstorm under the rear lip, while others showed happy people venting their cigarette smoke out the back of the passenger cabin.

The Breezeway roof treatment set Mercury vehicles apart from their Ford siblings from 1963 to 1968.

The Breezeway roof treatment set Mercury vehicles apart from their Ford siblings from 1963 to 1968.

For 1964, Mercury resurrected the higher-end Montclair and Park Lane nameplates and applied the Breezeway roof treatment to them. In ’65, designers tried to bring the model line even more upscale by giving the Mercs a Lincoln-like front end, while reducing the number of models with Breezeway roofs.

Buyers liked the Lincoln front end (offered at a much lower price than the actual luxury division) but preferred a formal roofline for sedans. This trend carried over into the similar-styled ’66 models.

For the last two years the Breezeway roof was offered (1967 and ’68), the design changed completely in order for the car to adopt the sloping beltline with ‘shoulder’ over the rear fenders that was so popular at the time. The Breezeway roof now sloped  towards the front of the car like a conventional roof, except with a slight overhang that allowed the rear window to be rolled down a couple of inches.

While the ventilation effect could still be achieved, air conditioning was now becoming commonplace, and features like the Breezeway were no longer needed, or marketable.

Though it disappeared after just six model years, the Breezeway represented an interesting and successful attempt to get noticed in a turbulent and confusing time for the auto industry. Still distinctive after all these years, well-preserved models like the mint example I found in rural Saskatchewan really stand out.

It’s easy to see the appeal in a Breezeway.

Southern belle

1930 Ford Model A Town Sedan, spotted in Charleston, South Carolina.

1930 Ford Model A Town Sedan, spotted in Charleston, South Carolina.

Anything with Henry Ford’s name stamped on it commands respect in America, even today.

That titan of industrialization, efficiency and ingenuity continues to hover over the western world with his ephemeral presence, like a spiritual elder still capable of instilling lessons in the youngest generation.

Everything Henry touched remains steeped in glowing, historical reverence, which is why it was such a treat to come across this pristine antique Ford in the warm gaslight of Charleston, South Carolina.

A mild breeze was blowing that night, as I strolled through the polite, temperate city that started the Civil War. And there she was – parked under a streetlight, her yellow wheel hubs and spokes matching the painted limestone of a nearby home and the crushed leaves underfoot.

The 1930 Ford Model A Town Sedan was a classy model for its era, but this example didn’t have the sidemounts that would really complete the package. Still, who can complain?

History collided that night. An 84-year-old car parking in the heart of a city 260 years its elder. If the country’s history was a stage play, both the car and the city would play larger-than-average roles.

Lookin' civilized in the South.

Lookin’ civilized in the South.

The Ford Model A – Henry’s second runaway hit – is not a rare classic car. In fact, it’s one of the most common.

Between October 20, 1927 and March, 1932, Ford produced 4,849,340 Model A’s in a limitless variety of styles. So many were produced that parts are still plentiful, all these years later.

The Model A was conceived to replace the once phenomenally popular (but now rapidly aging) Model T, amid newfound competition from other automakers. The new model, like its predecessor, was designed to be durable, affordable, and easy to manufacture, but now boasted modern features and a dash of style.

The rock-solid, 201-cubic inch 4-cylinder under the Model A’s hood made 40 horsepower, and was mated to a 3-speed unsynchronized gearbox. Unlike the Model T, the Model A used the 3-pedal setup American drivers were becoming accustomed to.

Innovation was a Ford hallmark, and the new car didn’t disappoint – the Model A was the first vehicle to use windshield safety glass.

Henry Ford (1863-1947) was getting long in the tooth by the late Twenties, and didn’t feel like bothering to have a hand in the design of the car. This was likely for the best, as by that time, the Model T – which Ford still saw as adequate – was looking awfully primitive and stodgy.

Henry Ford, left, and his long-suffering only son Edsel are seen in this archive pic.

Henry Ford, left, and his long-suffering only son Edsel are seen in this archive pic.

A design team headed up by Henry’s son (and Ford Motor Company president) Edsel Ford came up with a proper style for the new vehicle. And, unlike before, they made sure buyers of a new Model A could pick from a choice of colours.

Tough, versatile, and cheap (the starting price undercut $400), Model A’s continued to fly out of showrooms even after the stock market crash and subsequent onset of the Great Depression. Good thing they were built Ford tough, as many drivers were forced to keep them a lot longer than expected (or even live in them) due to the financial conditions of the time.

Edsel Ford didn’t outlive his father (he died of stomach cancer in 1943 at age 49), but the Model A will outlive all of us.

Thousands of examples of the relatively affordable classic roam the roadways of North America each summer (never quite reaching their claimed to speed of 65 mph), and new parts for the simplistic drivetrain are as close as a visit to Google.

Hybrid theory

Some kind of Ford hybrid will be doing battle with Toyota's Prius starting in late 2018.

Some kind of Ford hybrid will be doing battle with Toyota’s Prius starting in late 2018.

War clouds are gathering, and for once they’re figurative.

If media reports are true (and when are they not?), Ford Motor Company is gearing up to wage battle with… the eco-friendly Toyota Prius.

The Prius remains the ever-popular darling of the green crowd, and is still the first name that comes to mind when the topic of hybrids is brought up. Toyota sells piles of them, and apparently Ford isn’t happy about that.

A shadowy person told Reuters last week that the automaker – which is reasonably good financial shape – plans to introduce a standalone hybrid model in late 2018. A Ford spokesperson then got all cagey when asked about it.

ShadowMan claims the model will be based on Ford’s new global C2 platform, which will underpin the future Focus and Escape. Naturally, every bit of technology (some of which probably can’t even be imagined in 2014) will be employed to wring every last bit of range out of the future ShadowVehicle.


Know thy enemy

The Prius family is a big one, having grown to include the regular Prius, a plug-in version, the compact C, and the larger, wagon-like V. All that’s missing from the lineup is a drop-top, a large SUV, and an El Camino-type ‘Ute’.

Still, the Prius clan isn’t immune to market forces – among them, cheaper gasoline and diesel vehicles that return increasingly impressive fuel economy (not to mention competing hybrids). The devilishly handsome folks at goodcarbadcar.net report an 11.2% drop in Prius family sales between July of 2013 and July of this year in the U.S. Year to date, the Prius family is down 11% in U.S. sales.

In Canada, the Prius situation is worse, with July sales showing a 21.4% drop over the previous year, and year-to-date sales down 14.3%.

While these numbers are discouraging, they’re not dire. Over 86,000 Prius models have still found their way into American driveways so far this year.

"Don't you want me, baby?"

“Don’t you want me, baby?”

As for Ford, which is currently pushing the hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions of its popular Fusion sedan (and offering the hybrid drivetrain as a no-cost option on their Lincoln MKZ), a certain vehicle seems to have been abandoned in a basket at the neighbour’s front door.

The Ford C-Max went on sale in North America in September, 2012, following years of sales in Europe. The upright, Kia Rondo-ish hatch runs solely on hybrid power (normal or plug-in), but if the goal was to challenge Prius for the hybrid crown, that ball missed the basket by a nautical mile.

Nearly invisible in the marketplace, and tainted by fudged mileage figures that left drivers expecting more, the C-Max saw its total U.S. sales fall by 40.1% year-to-date.

Cracking the 3,000 vehicle mark seems a near impossible task for the C-Max this year. Contrast that with the Prius’ numbers, and you can clearly see a need for a Plan ‘B’.

What this new vehicle will look like when it debuts four long years from now is anyone’s guess, but if it’s designed to beat the Prius at its own game, expect similar body styles and every scrap of technology Ford can lay its hands on.





Shooting star

1965 Meteor Montcalm and 1966 Rambler American (Hull Sector, Gatineau, Quebec).

1965 Meteor Montcalm and 1966 Rambler American (Hull Sector, Gatineau, Quebec).

Isn’t this picture a perfect, quintessential Quebec winter scene?

If you’re not sure, probably because you’ve never been there, just know that yes – yes, it is.

Grey, leaden skies, drab streetscapes, and crater-filled roads encrusted with a white rhime of road salt. Oh yes,  and a frigid, icy wind that cuts through you like a knife from early November onward.

Come one, come all.

Against this ultra-Canadian backdrop – worthy of a depressing film nominated for multiple awards – we find a distinctly Canadian classic car cuddling up to a (literal) American classic, possibly for warmth.

A rare encounter at the best of times, the frozen stars aligned enough to bring this 1965 Meteor Montcalm within door denting distance from a 1966 Rambler American. Amazingly, both vehicles appeared in great shape, though the Rambler was the only one to escape present-day modifications (though I suppose rims and window tinting is benign enough).

The complicated history of Rambler was covered by moi not long ago on this very page (scroll down! scroll down!), so the Meteor gets the spotlight in this post.

Now, an American viewing this photo would insist we were looking at a ’65 Mercury, but they would be wrong. The devil is in the details.

Meteor, a Canada-only product of the Ford Motor Company introduced in 1949, did what the much-maligned Edsel failed to do a decade later – it fit comfortably into the Ford-Lincoln-Mercury stable as a standalone make.

Not factory rims.

Not factory rims.

Slotted between Ford and Mercury at the lower end of the ladder, the Meteor was essentially a Ford with more brightwork and niceties, but at a lower price than Mercury.

Canadians took to the Meteor instantly, and the make soared through the ’50s, enjoying lofty sales as the Greatest Generation was busy cranking out the Boomers while staring into a glorious, limitless future.

Coincidentally, it was the success of Rambler in the late 1950s (spurred by the sharp ’58 recession) that led to the first death of Meteor following the 1961 model year. The popularity of Rambler’s cosy, fuel-efficient compacts prompted the Big 3 automakers to enter the compact field in 1960, spreading the big car field too thin at Ford of Canada.

Something had to give, and Meteor was canned – but not for long.

Like most fads, the compact craze proved short-lived as the economy returned to normal and a thirst for big cars returned to the car-buying public. Meteor was back for 1964, this time based on a Mercury.

Mercurys of that era – especially the ’65 – had an upscale appearance thanks to their Lincolnesque, slab-sided bodies, something that gave the Meteor an injection of class.

1965 Meteor Montcalm: more than a Mercury?

1965 Meteor Montcalm: more than a Mercury?

To keep the price in line with its place in the company’s lineup, the Mercury-bodied Meteor was outfitted with the seats, dashboard, base engine, and roofline of a Ford.

Flashy on the outside and restrained on the inside, the ’65 Meteor came in the same body styles offered by its stablemates, in either the Rideau, Rideau 500 or top-line Montcalm trim level. From a vinyl bench and a 240 c.i.d. six-cylinder to plush buckets and a 390 V-8, if you had the cash (or didn’t), there was a Meteor with your name on it.

Meteor soldiered on in the Canadian market well into the 1970s, as before, based on the Mercury line of vehicles.

Towards the end, the line between the two makes grew increasingly blurred, as Mercury badging could be found on a Meteor, in addition to Rideau 500 and Montcalm model designations.

1976 proved to be the last year for the standalone Meteor brand. However, in keeping with the make’s original intent, the name survived until 1981 on a low-priced base model of the Mercury Marquis offered exclusively in Canada.

The Meteor’s rise in the Canadian automotive scene was truly meteoric, but its fall back to earth was much more gradual. Kind of like a golden Muskoka sunset fading to dusk, slipping into twilight, and then… nothing.

1978 Mercury Marquis Meteor - a low cost Mercury full-sizer offered only in Canada (note fake vinyl roof crease).

1978 Mercury Marquis Meteor – a low cost Mercury full-sizer offered only in Canada (note fake vinyl roof crease).

Big… juicy… VAN… !

"Interesting trades considered."

“Interesting trades considered.”

I’m not one of ‘those guys’, but I know a bitchin’ van when I see one.

And this particular van in Val-des-Bois, Quebec HAD IT ALL!

Sure, this 1980s-vintage Econoline dates to after the ‘Van Culture’ phase that America went through in the always-entertaining ’70s ( an era that terrified parents but made it easy to move stuff around). However, the owner clearly knew where to draw the line.

Driving right up to the edge of cheesiness before making a panic stop, this van has all the trappings of a performance car PLUS all the add-ons that drive Van People wild.

Sun visor (for the harsh glare of the open road), TWO bubble sunroofs (for ambiance as well as smoke venting), side pipes, mag wheels, white-letter tires and glorious chrome aplenty – truly, a van that covers the bases while doing everything right. And let’s not forget the tasteful pinstripe depiction of a lady on the side panel.

I didn’t get close enough to this rolling sideburn to take a peek inside, but I would hope that it ditched the stereotypical shag carpeting/velour interior for something classy – like vinyl (and wood grain veneer).


If this beast ever finds its way onto the market, I’ll be sure to put in an offer they can’t refuse.

“Is this thing bent?”



Lincoln’s identity crisis

Kissin' cousins...

Kissin’ cousins…

Automotive columnist John Phillips has an interesting piece in the July edition of Car and Driver.

In it, Phillips describes the Lincoln Motor Company as being devoid of direction and purpose – an automaker undecided as to what it wants to be in the automotive landscape. Lincoln’s badge-engineered lineup (essentially, luxury re-treads of Ford vehicles), are a “distracting abstraction,” Phillips argues, existing solely as a second sales stream for Ford.

This kind of speculation is nothing new, as Lincoln has been drifting like a ship without a rudder for some time, but it’s still worthwhile. Lincoln is a storied nameplate that has become almost invisible, and deserves to return to prominence.

While traditional rival Cadillac now boasts an appealing lineup of aggressively styled vehicles that knows who their competition is, Lincoln’s offerings lack an overall design philosophy.

Judged on their own merits, each vehicle in Lincoln’s lineup has things to like about it, but there’s no denying they’re simply ‘Fords…with luxury’. Luxury, and an odd grille.

I know the retro waterfall thing is supposed to emulate the face of the classic 1940 Continental, but it always looked like a beached whale to me. The MKS is nice but forgettable, the MKT is a bizarre land boat that’s rarer than a Toronto Conservative, the MKX seems to be a top trim level for the Ford Edge, and the MKZ – the most visible new Lincoln – boasts a no-cost Ford Fusion hybrid drivetrain as its centrepiece along with ‘different’ styling.

The Lincoln MKS: a whale of a sedan.

The Lincoln MKS: a whale of a sedan.

Phillips argues that Lincoln needs to do something completely new – something that’s distinctly a product of Lincoln, and not Ford – in order to emerge from automotive purgatory.

I don’t see why this isn’t possible. Ford is making money, and I’m sure it would like to make Lincolns that generate large sales (and buzz). In the 60s and 70s, Lincoln was a powerhouse, selling luxury coupes and massive formal sedans like they were going out of style (and they were).

In the 1980s, Lincoln held its own over Cadillac precisely because they hadn’t gone on the badge-engineering ride that GM had entered Cadillac into.

(See clip for evidence that Lincoln played up this angle, advertising its “uncompromised individuality.”)

Things started to fall apart in the 1990s after the Mk VIII was put out to pasture and the front-drive Continental started withering on the vine, leaving the Town Car as the remaining ‘classic’ Lincoln.

The rear-drive Lincoln LS (2000-2006) that followed earned some impressive accolades, but is now as remembered as the Cadillac Catera of the same era – ie, not at all. Badge engineering began in earnest in the LS’s wake, with the introduction of the Fusion-based Zephyr in 2006.

The Zephyr thudded into the marketplace with lacklustre sales, forcing the Ford Motor Company to almost immediately rebrand it as the MKZ (while also giving it an engine upgrade and grille redesign).

The rest is history.

I’m sure Lincoln will one day find the direction it needs, but what direction that will be escapes me. I know many car enthusiasts still wish for a modern, rear-drive incarnation of the Continental (with suicide doors, no less!), but Cadillac’s newfound hotness didn’t come from re-hashing the deVilles and Fleetwoods of years past.

On its own, the new MKC small crossover is fairly attractive, with a duo of interesting turbo fours. However – call me a traditionalist – Lincoln needs to be primarily about sedans. We will watch.

Leaving a Mark

1969-71 Lincoln Continental Mk. III, spotted near Leamington, Ontario.

1969-71 Lincoln Continental Mk. III, spotted near Leamington, Ontario.

Perhaps the most quintessential American ‘personal luxury’ coupe ever, the 1969-1971 Lincoln Continental Mk. III was a rolling statement that you’d arrived.

Arrived at a high income, that is.

With this model, the Ford Motor Company seized upon a growing marketplace niche and cut a big chunk out for itself. A competitor to Cadillac’s Eldorado (and to a lesser extent, the cheaper Olds Toronado and Buick Riviera), the Mk. III was a high point in Lincoln’s history.

Like many other standouts in the automotive world, we have Lee Iacocca to thank for this iconic model. Then serving as president of Ford, Iacocca had the new Lincoln built on the existing frame of the four-door Ford Thunderbird, which, while not a sales success, provided a solid platform on which to rest a higher-end vehicle.

And there was a lot of resting.

Tipping the scales (or crushing them) at 4,866 pounds, the Mk. III fitted Lincoln’s new 460 cubic inch (7.5-litre) V-8 under its mile-long hood. With cheap Middle East oil flowing unchecked across the Atlantic and little concern for emissions controls, the Continental could be as big and thirsty as the car-buying public wanted.

Inside the imposing beast, optional leather upholstery and multiple electronic conveniences awaited the lucky motorist. Air conditioning was a must-have, and anti-lock front disc brakes was an option worth bragging about in advertisements.

The Mk. III turned into a huge money-maker for Ford and Iacocca, not just because of strong sales, but also because of the reduced manufacturing costs made possible by utilizing existing parts. The styling also set the tone for Lincoln in the 1970s – a style the Thunderbird quickly adopted after shedding its rear doors in the early 70s.

Car buffs and movie aficionados alike will remember the Mk. III as being the ride of choice for the bad guy in  The French Connection (1971), with the Lincoln serving as a very classy container for piles of smuggled heroin.

Just as the earlier 1961-64 Continentals had defined American luxury in the early 60s, the Mk. III brought that same feel and presence into the 70s.

For sure, the sheer size and thirst of this vehicle would be hard to comprehend (or afford) for modern-day motorists long accustomed to stratospheric gas prices and tiny parking spaces, but that doesn’t mean the allure has faded.

If anything, the desire for this car – and the nostalgia for the era it came from – is only getting bigger.