The Mercury Eight was the first model of the Ford Motor Company's Mercury marque and was produced from the 1939 through the 1951 model years. It was the only model offered by Mercury until the marque starting producing multiple series in the 1952 model year, at which point it was dropped as a model designation.
The car that truly dares to ask 'Why?'," some ads said and although the question referred to dealt with why a big car couldn't be an economical car too, another question might have been why the Ford Motor Company hadn't introduced the Mercury sooner. The answer to that one undoubtably was that it had taken that long for Edsel Ford to convince his father to build it. The Mercury was priced in the thousand dollar range, several hundred dollars more than the Ford V-8, several hundred less than the Lincoln-Zephyr and about the same as the upper range Oldsmobile and Dodges and the lower-range Buicks and Chryslers, sales from all of which, it was hoped, the new Mercury would usurp. Its engine was a 95 hp version of the Ford flathead V8 engine, its styling was inspired by the Zephyr, and it had hydraulic brakes from the beginning With a wheelbase of 116.0 in (2,946 mm) and an overall length of 196.0 in (4,978 mm), it was a good sized car, which the Ford company advertised extensively, together with its up-to-20 mpg performance-"few cars of any size can equal such economy."Double sun visors became standard in 1940. Braking was via 12 inch drums.
Although "Eight" script would not appear on the front of the hood until the 1941 model year, sales literature prominently referred to the car as the "Mercury Eight" from the very beginning. This is no doubt because the actual series names, 99A in 1939 and 09A in 1940, were somewhat less enticing.
By the end of 1940 Mercury could headline "It's made 150,000 owners change cars!"
The 1941 Mercury Eight got all-new styling and some engineering improvements. The Mercury now shared its bodyshell with Ford, probably to lower Mercury production costs. Mercury's wheelbase was expanded by 2.0 in (51 mm) to 118.0 in (2,997 mm).There were many chassis refinements, including improved spring lengths, rates, and deflections, plus changes in shackling, shocks, and an improved stabilizer bar, but the old fashioned transverse springs were still used. The new body featured door bottoms that flared out over the running boards, allowing for wider seats and interiors. The car had 2.0 in (51 mm) more headroom, two-piece front fenders (three-piece at first), and more glass area. The front pillars were made slimmer and the windshield was widened, deepened, and angled more steeply. Parking lights were separate and set atop the fenders for greater visibility. Headlight bezels were redesigned. In all closed Mercurys the rear-quarter windows opened out. Front vent wings were now crank-operated, and in closed cars the ventilation wing support bars rolled down with the windows. The 4-door convertible, offered in 1940, was gone, but a station wagon was added. The woodie wagon's body behind the engine cowl was identical to Ford's, and produced at the company's Iron Mountain plant in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The "Eight" script was moved to the rear of the hood. 90,556 Mercury Eights were sold in the 1941 model year.
In 1942 the Mercury Eight's slender bullet parking lights were replaced with rectangular units placed high on the fenders inboard of the headlights. Running boards were now completely concealed under flared door bottoms. The instrument panel now features two identical circles for speedometer and clock with gauges to the left of the speedometer, a glove compartment to the right of the clock, and a large radio speaker cover in the center. The grille looked more like that of the Lincoln-Zephyr and Continental. The "Eight" script was gone but an "8" appeared at the top of the grille center. Horsepower was increased to 100. Mercury's biggest engineering news for 1942 was "Liquamatic," Ford's first first semiautomatic transmission. It wasn't much of a success and Mercury wouldn't have another automatic transmission until Merc-O-Matic appeared in 1951, which was of course a true automatic. Mercury production for the short 1942 model year totaled only 1,902. Output was halted in February 1942 as American auto plants were converted to the exclusive production of war material.
Although Mercury's prewar history was short, the Mercury Eight had already earned for itself the image of being a fine performer in mph as well as mpg, this "hot car" image quite in keeping with its name, chosen by Edsel Ford, that of the fleet-footed messenger of the gods of Roman mythology. The Mercury Eight was strongly identified as an upmarket Ford during this period. In 1945 the Lincoln Mercury division would be established to change that.
A new grille was the most noticeable difference between the 1942 and 1946 Mercurys. It had thin vertical bars surrounded by a trim piece painted the same color as the car. An "Eight" script now appeared down its center. The Liquimatic automatic transmission option was eliminated. The most distinctive new Mercury was the Sportsman convertible. It featured wood body panels. Only 205 examples of it were produced and it was discontinued the following model year. Mercury Eight sales totaled 86,603.
Styling changes were slight in 1947. The Mercury name was placed on the side of the hood. Different hubcaps were used. The border around the grille was chrome plated. The "Eight" script still ran down its center. There was also new trunk trim. More chrome was used on the interior and the dash dial faces were redesigned. The convertible and station wagon came with leather upholstery. The other body styles used fabric. The wood paneled Sportsman convertible was gone. 86,363 Mercury Eights were sold.
For all practical purposes the 1948 Mercury Eights were identical to the 1947s. The major changes consisted of different dial faces and no steering column lock. 50,268 Mercury Eights were sold.
The first Post War Mercury design was introduced in the 1949 model year. The engine was a Flathead V8 that produced slightly more power than the then also newly-designed 1949 Ford. A new overdrive system was optional, and was activated by a handle under the dash.The styling of the Mercury Eight, when it was released in 1949, was successful in both ending the monotony of warmed-over pre-war style, and differentiating Mercury from its comparable Ford cousin, a trick that spelled sales success. Sales figures for both Ford and Mercury broke records in 1949. The new approach to styling was also evident on the completely redesigned Lincoln and the all new Lincoln Cosmopolitan. The Mercury Eight used full instrumentation. An 8 tube radio as an option. The 4-door station wagon was replaced with a 2-door model.Although the wagon now featured an all-metal roof, its sides still consisted of wood panels.
Within its era and beyond, the Mercury Eight was popular with customizers. In 1949, Sam Barris built the first lead sled from a 1949 Mercury Eight; the Eight became a definitive lead sled, much like the Ford V-8 was becoming the definitive hot rod. The Eights were among the first models to receive an aftermarket OHV engine swap, since Oldsmobile and Cadillac had developed the first high-compression OHV V8 engines in 1949, whereas Ford was still using their sidevalve engine.
Fiberglass replicas of the 49 Mercury, inspired by Sam Barris's car, are still in production and are popular with custom car and hot rod enthusiasts.
In 1950 a high-end two-door Monterey coupe was introduced in the same vein as the Ford Crestliner, the Lincoln Lido coupe and the Lincoln Cosmopolitan Capri coupe in order to compete with the hardtop coupes General Motors had introduced the previous model year. In 1952 the Monterey would become its own series.
In 1990, Mattel Hot Wheels created a model of 1949 Mercury with a chopped roof. It is called "Purple Passion". Purple Passion is one of most wanted and priciest Hot Wheels to ever be cast.
The car makes notable appearances in three films: Rebel Without a Cause (1955), Badlands (1973),and Cobra (film) (1986).