My Car Quest

August 5, 2020

Concepts That Are Best Not Revived: 1956 Mercury XM Turnpike Cruiser

by Wallace Wyss –

Mercury was a brand that’s gone now, it was sort of a ranking-wise, little brother to the Lincoln. In the Fifties they were thought of as a brand that was slightly daring and more upmarket than Ford.

1956 Mercury XM Turnpike Cruiser

Remember the XM Turnpike Cruiser? The name for a show car came from the then new surperhighways that made coast to coast traveling easier (I crossed the US in ’53 before most of the superhighways were built–whole lotta traffic lights…)

1956 Mercury XM Turnpike Cruiser

Some of the features that were good were fins that were more like a shallow tray running half of the car’s length culminating in a taillight. And then a retractable rear window, I am not sure about why you want a retractable rear window but that feature reached production.

1956 Mercury XM Turnpike Cruiser

The phony exhaust vent on the side didn’t make it to production but ironically I see similar fake exhaust vents at car accessory stores today, some 70 years later. The original press release mentioned pods that resemble JATO assist rockets used on prop military planes to get them off the ground when heavily loaded but they were a feature dropped before the clay model got built into a metal car. Probably a good thing, as someone pointed out when Hemmings did a story on the car, because think of what would happen if a motorcyclist were passing and you lit off the JATO?

But its biggest contribution to styling was the little half gullwing doors (not extending down into the doors so maybe they are better called “rooflets”?) They enable you to exit the car easier. Mercury called them butterfly doors because they didn’t want to use the name “gullwing” as Mercedes already had the 300SL with gullwings in production.

1956 Mercury XM Turnpike Cruiser

I say those were significant because it gave someone the idea that glass panes could be cut into the roof of cars and removed temporarily and that became the T-top. I don’t know why this didn’t light up a light bulb in my head, but it did in someone’s head (I think Gordon Buehrig, a designer had patented this idea during the war, actually).

One amazing fact to me is that the body was crafted by Ghia Carrozzeria in Italy which also did the Lincoln Futura which became the Batcar, after George Barris bought it for a dollar and converted it for the TV series. It’s amazing because Ghia had great taste in car design but Ford didn’t use any of it. Merely used Ghia to build it without any Italian design influence. It’s like hiring a gourmet chef and asking him to cook up a Sloppy Joe.

1956 Mercury XM Turnpike Cruiser

After its short show career, this car was also foisted off on an executive at Dearborn Steel Tubing, a shop that built prototypes (and even limited edition race cars like the Thunderbolts) for Ford but he sold it for $500 and it languished in a field for years until it was bought again.

It is presently being restored. Back then there was no law against selling prototypes though most automakers destroyed them if they were not put in a museum.

In sum, this is a design that should not be brought back. It’s got so much chrome it’s almost like a Wurlitzer jukebox of the time. Mercury’s production Turnpike Cruisers didn’t do well and the Ford executive who championed the Turnpike Cruiser committed suicide only a few years after this prototype was spawned. Mercury, originally trying to be a Division, was folded under Lincoln.

Sometimes on the road to “Tomorrowland” (is that a GM or Disney phrase?) the road is not always smooth…

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

 
 
THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is packaging an anthology of fiction short stories set in the world of collector cars, including some prototypes.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

1956 Mercury XM Turnpike Cruiser

1956 Mercury XM Turnpike Cruiser

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Summary
Concepts That Are Best Not Revived: 1956 Mercury XM Turnpike Cruiser
Article Name
Concepts That Are Best Not Revived: 1956 Mercury XM Turnpike Cruiser
Description
The 1956 Mercury XM Turnpike Cruiser is better off left in the dust bin of history.
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Comments

  1. Glen Durmisevich says

    I agree the XM Turnpike Cruiser shouldn’t be brought back, but you missed the importance of this concept. Look at it compared to any early to mid 1950’s rounded blobby family car and you will see the revolutionary design statement Of the then new mid-century modern rectalinear form. One that still exist to this day.

  2. The rear power glass was very useful. My firiend’s parents had a Merc with that feature and when we went to the drive-in theatre we would sit on the trunk with our legs dangling inside the opened window against the back seat and our arms resting on the roof. Very confortable, as I recall, with an unobstructed view.

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