Mercury is a brand name of an automobile once produced by Ford Motor Company. It was originally concieved in the 1930s as filling a gap between Ford's popular cars and their elite Lincoln line. The first model was the 1939 Mercury. It was a mid-sized V-8 that competed directly with the mid-size models of General Motors.
The first year 150,000 of the line were sold. The war years of the 1940s caused a suspension of production in favor of military hardware. But in the post war years the economy began to boom and demand for the Mercury returned. The Mercury designers were committed to inovation and the 1954 Mercury sported the first ever sunroof.
But the Mercury still had not really taken off. In an article in Driving Today Jack Nerad said, "Mercury has wavered from being just a tarted up Ford to a near-Lincoln." So in the 1960s Ford tried to supe-up the Mercury image by turning it into a muscle car. Ford executed this maneuver by hiring on Parnelli Jones to advance the idea of Mercury as a powerful automobile. He did marvelously on the racing circuit and such famous drivers as Cale Yarborough and Bill Stroppe could be found driving Mercs. The Mercury Marauder sported a checkered flag on the fender and a big V-8 engine, but the body also remained large so the engine had more to pull. For this reason in head to head competition, it did not always do well against some of the smaller GM models. Nevertheless Ford beefed up the Mercury image and even managed to put James Dean in a customized Mercury in the cult film "Rebel Without a Cause".
In 1967 the Cougar came out, but the oil shortage and other factors caused the over-sized Mercury to lose market share in the 1970s and early 80s. To improve their image, Mercury moved their design studios to California in 1998. Mercury continues to bridge the gap between the Ford and the upscale Lincoln with the Mercury Mariner (a sport utility vehicle), the Milan (a new mid-sized sedan), the Grand Marquis, the Mountaineer and the Monterey Mini-Van.
Mercury continued to struggle with image and sales until June of 2010 when they announced that they would no longer make the brand. Yet Ford Motor made a fine automobile under the Mercury brand name. When Mercury was launched in 1939 high hopes were placed upon it. Like the Mercury space program it was seen as a bridge to somewhere else and perhaps this limited its ability to grip the imagination of car buyers, people who bought Mercs were somewhere in transition between Fords and Lincolns. It is tough to build loyalty with a population that is working hard to upgrade past the Mercury. Nevertheless, Mercury automobiles did benefit from their association with the Roman god. Mercury was and is a familiar name that ellicits notions of swiftness and quality that has caused the manufacturers of other products to adopt the name Mercury as well.