VINTAGE CARS: When Grand Marquis took on GM’s “big boys”

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In 1978, the Detroit-based automotive world was in the midst of a huge transition, but the full impact had not been fully expressed. As companies built cars like the Ford Pinto and Chevrolet Chevette — as well as Chrysler’s all-new Omni and Horizon — a few automotive dinosaurs continued to roam the landscape. Among them was the new Mercury Grand Marquis.


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Perhaps it’s unfair to call the Grand Marquis a dinosaur. It was a large, family-sized sedan that was handsome in appearance, big in size, and offered the kind of luxury that promised to cradle the driver and passengers comfortably. But in 1978, these attributes were no longer enough. The US government was forcing Detroit companies to build more fuel-efficient automobiles, and 45 years ago that meant smaller cars with smaller engines and fewer bells and whistles. Industry was primarily responding to this call, as were most consumers. But not everyone was on board yet.

The Grand Marquis (and the Ford LTD) were among the last big cars built by the Ford Motor Company and, by extension, Detroit. The huge Lincoln Town Car would continue to be built for the 1979 model year, but full-size sedans for Ford and Mercury would undergo a makeover. For 1979 they would be shorter and lighter but so well designed and engineered that their base platform (the popular Panther platform) would continue to be used until 2010.

Of course, plans for the new Panther-based LTD and Grand Marquis were in full swing in 1977 and 1978. Production of the new cars was launched on July 30, 1978.

But the old-school LTDs and Grand Marquis were hardly ready to be put out to pasture. They enjoyed a type of notoriety and respect usually accorded to old warriors. They had many customers and their sales were surprisingly resilient.


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Indeed, the Mercury Division was enjoying its best sales year up to that time – recording sales of 579,498 vehicles for the 1978 model year. And many of those sales were the Grand Marquis. But why would it be so?

This sales force might have something to do with General Motors’ all-new full-size cars that were introduced for the 1977 model year. They were shorter and lighter than their 1976 counterparts, but received near praise. universal for their design, engineering and improved economy.

But not everyone was impressed with GM’s downsizing program. There were more than a few new car buyers who compared GM’s new but smaller luxury sedans with the 1978 Grand Marquis, and they were surprised. The Grand Marquis rode on a 121-inch wheelbase, measured 229 inches in overall length, and could be had with a 460-cubic-inch V8. Yet the new 1978 Buick Electra, for example, rode on a 118.9-inch wheelbase, was 222.1 inches in length, and the largest engine then available was from Oldsmobile—a 403-cubic-inch V8.

For some people, the Grand Marquis was the best car. And those folks might not have cared that the big Mercury used more gas than the more efficient Electra.

The Ford Motor Company fully fueled any dissatisfaction that may have existed with the new, but smaller, GM cars. In one of its many television commercials for the 1978 Grand Marquis, Mercury posed the question, “Would a Cadillac owner ever choose a Mercury over a Cadillac?” The announcement said 50 Cadillac owners in Los Angeles had been invited to review the new Grand Marquis. According to Mercury marketing executives, 37 of those Cadillac owners rated the big Mercury better than the DeVille on 32 different measures, including space, style, and horsepower.


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Among the many marketing gimmicks then used for Grand Marquis was something called “Ride-Engineered”. A three-and-a-half-inch plaque reading “Ride-Engineered by Lincoln-Mercury” was affixed to the dash. The plaque supported the idea that Mercury’s ride was incredibly comfortable and that such comfort was possible through purposeful engineering on the part of Ford Motor Company.

The “Ride-Engineered” program would continue for many years and become so deeply identified with the Mercury brand that it became the subject of a parody of Saturday Night Live. In 1973, Mercury promoted its smooth ride by showing, in a television commercial, a Cartier diamond cutter successfully slicing a diamond in the back seat of a Grand Marquis as the car was traveling on a bumpy road. Five years later, SNL spoofed the ad showing a rabbi performing a circumcision in the back seat of a smooth-driving automobile.

Despite the comedy, the big Mercury had its last model year for 1978.

Marquis was a relatively new name for the Mercury stable. It was introduced for the 1967 model year as a two-door hardtop to support Mercury’s Park Lane series. Marquis was to Park Lane what the all-new LTD was to the Ford Galaxy. All 1967 Marquis models came with a standard vinyl roof and featured a more luxurious interior with optional leather seats. Additionally, the front seats were designed as “Twin Comfort Lounge” seats, which were essentially a split bench seat. But those seats offered individually adjustable legroom, and that was an intriguing feature 55 years ago.


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The 410 cubic inch Marauder V8 that was standard in every Marquis was also intriguing. It produced 330 horsepower and elevated the all-new Marquis to almost hot rod status. Oddly, the automatic transmission was not standard equipment, but a four-speed manual transmission was. Optional for 1967 (and 1968) was the 428 cubic inch Super Marauder V8, rated at 345 horsepower.

Marquis continued much the same for 1968, but was significantly expanded for 1969 to include a full line of body styles. It also became Mercury’s top nameplate. As had been the case for much of the decade, full-size Mercurys were slightly longer than their Ford counterparts, despite the two cars sharing the same chassis.

By the late 1960s, the difference between the full-size Ford and full-size Mercury became more apparent as the Mercury became more Lincolnesque in appearance and price. Marquis went ultra-luxurious and featured what some observers called “Continental Styling.” The big Mercury had hidden headlights like the big Lincoln, cornering lights like the big Lincoln, and a profile that looked a lot like the big Lincoln.

Throughout these years, Marquis was available as a two-door sedan, four-door sedan or four-door station wagon, and featured a standard 351 cubic inch V8. The 400 cubic inch, 429 cubic inch or 460 cubic inch V8 was available.

The Grand Marquis nameplate made its first appearance in 1974. It was introduced as an interior trim package for the upscale Marquis Brougham. For 1975, the Grand Marquis became the most expensive Mercury, although the Brougham was still offered.


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Mercury was trying to fill the gap with the much more expensive Lincoln, while appealing to potential buyers of Buick Electra and Oldsmobile 98, as well as the Chrysler New Yorker Brougham. The Grand Marquis had some success against big Buicks and Oldsmobiles, but never made a big splash in sales.

As already described, LTD and Grand Marquis were scaled down for the 1979 model year and were successful for over a decade before a major redesign took place for the 1992 model year. This design was later continued for nearly 20 years.

Ford announced in 2010 that it would end its Mercury division.

The last Mercury was built at Ford’s Talbotville plant near St. Thomas on January 4, 2011. It was a Grand Marquis.

1978 was the last year for the full-size Mercury Grand Marquis.  The car, along with the Ford LTD, will adopt the smaller Panther platform for 1979. Peter Epp/Chatham this week
1978 was the last year for the full-size Mercury Grand Marquis. The car, along with the Ford LTD, will adopt the smaller Panther platform for 1979. Peter Epp/Chatham this week



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