June 23, 2009

Mercury Turnpike Cruiser

A little history

In America, some prestigious nameplates have had a very long history. Since how many decades is the name “Continental” used by Lincoln? How long was the name “De Ville” used by Cadillac? Could it really be almost sixty years since the “Corvette” was first built by Chevrolet? Or how long the “Turnpike Cruiser” has been offered by Mercury? Oops… So some names actually don’t stick…

So, Turnpike Cruiser was a fleeting name for a Mercury model that appeared during the late Fifties. These were probably the most extravagant times in American automobile history, and the new car, launched for the 1957 model year, is a perfect reflection of this era of excesses. Styling was incredible, incorporating slanted rear fins with a gold-plated finish, a reversed-angle rear window that could retract for better ventilation of the passenger compartment, and (ahead of most of its competitors) standard quad headlights in states where they weren’t still forbidden. Topping the Mercury range, the Turnpike Cruiser came standard with power-everything, a wide array of gadgets and a powerful 290 bhp V8 displacing 6.0 litres. Initially sold only as two-door and four-door hardtops, in January 1957 the Turnpike Cruiser range welcomed a convertible coupe version fitted with a standard continental kit, in order to commemorate the model’s being chosen as the Indianapolis 500’s pace car.

The introduction of the 1958 Mercury range was quite disappointing for those who appreciated the original Turnpike Cruiser, as its second incarnation was much tamer. A recession that hit sales hard and the new Edsel’s utter failure drove Ford to re-think its whole line-up. Despite engines of up to 400 bhp – the battle for ever-increasing power was ragging more than ever – the new Turnpike Cruise was mostly a fancier, flashier version of the mainstream Mercury Montclair. It had been pushed down from its spot as the most expensive Mercury model by the Park Lane, which offered less, and sold for less… but in much bigger volumes. The Turnpike Cruiser quietly disappeared at the end of the season. Even when, much later, Detroit looked over its shoulder in search for its roots, the name would prove too excessive for the modern customers’ tastes, so the grave was never reopened.

About the model

Model: Mercury Turnpike Cruiser
Year: 1957
Maker: Yat Ming
Scale: 1/43
Distributed by: Road Signature
Acquired: second hand as a gift from a friend, in March 2006, in Manila, Philippines

It’s a baffling mystery to see that classic American cars are so popular among vintage automobiles aficionados, but neglected by 1/43 die-casts makers. This scale’s lack of popularity on the U.S. market, where 1/25 is favoured, is certainly a partial explanation, but there are certainly enough chrome and big fins lovers in the rest of the world to justify the production of more American cars, shrank forty-three times. Collectors who insist on getting 1/43 versions of their beloved Detroit monsters don’t have much choice. Expensive models from Brooklyn or now-defunct Western Models will empty their wallets much faster than they'll fill their shelves. And for the hefty price asked, Brooklyn doesn’t even care fitting its models with the necessary chromes – what’s a Fifties Cadillac, Mercury or De Soto without them?

An alternative is provided by Yat Ming through its Road Signature range. Though its models are far from the being the most refined, and its range is much more limited than Brooklyn’s, Yat Ming sells its 1/43 for a tiny fraction of its competitors’ price. Some of the details of its Turnpike Cruiser are relatively thick, but overall the model is correct, and furthermore is painted in a shade close enough from the original “Sun Glitter” – the only colour available with the convertible’s version. Only problem: Yat Ming didn't embarass itself by reproducing the continental kit, though a standard equipment on this model as said above. I’d still give 11/20 to this die-cast.





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