Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Mercury Eight


(click image for a larger view)

I had noticed this hulking, denim blue car a ways out in a field not far from my place several months ago, looking like it had lost all compression on the rise up to the tree line.

I made a note to myself to return when the light was more interesting. I rolled up yesterday, in a soft, but miserably cold March rain.


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From the road, with it's silhouette compromised by its shorn rear fenders, I wasn't sure what this car was. As I approached, I could tell by the windows and the wing-like front fenders that it was pre-war.

It's a 1941 Mercury. Its signature V-8 engine, prized for the generation of copious torque, had been shut down, leaving the big Merc silently resting here, looking like it had been humbled by this gentle grassy slope.

The rain really seemed to bring the old Mercury to life, adding a bit of long-lost sheen to its elegant lines and worn paint. This was quite a glamorous car, when mass-produced cars were beginning to be marketed in segments - a Mercury being a serious step up from an ordinary Ford.

A car like this Mercury was ripe with implications cultivated by great advertising - mainly that the driver's life was much more interesting, and worthy of notice by others. This was the time when the perceived value of certain car brands rose well above their usefulness as mere transportation, and became for their drivers a suit of prosperity, technology and glamor. Detroit would continue to market cars by luring eager buyers up the chain of luxury and power for decades, and many Americans still value a fine car so much more than a perfectly good one.


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Peering through the rain-streaked windows into the interior of the Mercury, with its painted dash and huge, upright steering wheel, I was reminded of rainy film noir scenes with these great, hulking cars on narrow wheels, with small, rounded windows piercing their inflated-looking skin. Glamorous characters looking out of the corners of their eyes trying to make out figures through those soft, wet windows under a glaring streetlight.


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The shapes of the cars of this era reflect their designers' intuition about aerodynamics, but also their great optimism for the America's future, the country's need to put the Depression well behind us.

This car was driven by someone who was looking confidently down the road through its split-windshield and over the long, prominent hood.

I wonder if they were aware that the forces were already moving in Europe that would turn the auto factories to building tanks and airplanes, and that the nuclear age was straight ahead.


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All words and images except the Mercury ad copyright 2009 Jeff Blackwell

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