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Levitating Behind the Wheel of a Mercury Marquis Brougham
August 09, 2023

Levitating Behind the Wheel of a Mercury Marquis Brougham

Here we were, conducting another tire test when we befriended Frank, and I asked: “Can I take it for a spin?” Growing up, such a car was nothing but a dream for me!

I still remember the thrill during Soviet times of spotting an American embassy car on the street – massive, stylish, so different from the prevalent Ladas and Volgas. I would be glued to the TV when Soviet movies like The Blonde Around the Corner or Mirage featured American cars in the starring roles.

By the way, this Marquis is the same age as me, 1977. I’ve lived long enough to fulfill my childhood dream, while it has simply survived all these years, unscathed. Thanks to the rarity of snow in Texas, it even dodged the usual rusting spots.

Its design is simple but noble. A standardized steering wheel, identical to those on many models of the Ford, Mercury, and Lincoln brands.

The roof is covered in vinyl that matches the body color. There’s not too much chrome decoration, but this nearly six-meter-long Marquis Brougham still looks grandiose. The third-generation Marquis, introduced in 1971, was responsible for nearly a third of Mercury’s sales in the late 70s – Americans bought around 140,000 units a year, with coupes making up 10%, station wagons a quarter, and the rest were sedans like this one. The early 70s marked the time of the oil crisis, which ended the era of traditional American “full-size” cars. By 1977, General Motors and American Motors had stopped producing full-sized sedans, and only Ford and its Lincoln and Mercury brands held out. But just for two more years.

The seats are soft and uncomfortable – the curved ‘wheel-like’ backrest doesn’t support the shoulders.
Turning the thick steering wheel is far more enjoyable than simply using a modest ignition key. The black ‘hat’, stretching downwards, serves as the emergency signal switch.

The only crisis innovation for the 1978 Marquis models was the introduction of a “small-capacity” 5.7 (145 hp) engine. With this, the dynamic qualities of the more than two-tonne vehicle fell to the level of the classic Lada: 0-100 km/h in 16.2 seconds. But my car has the “right” V8 engine with a power of 202 hp (working volume – 7.5 liters, or 460 cubic inches). Torque – a hefty 472 Nm! The 0-100 time drops to 12 and a half seconds.

Out of the three trim levels, this Brougham, costing 6600 dollars, was the mid-range model. It had front seats with separate backrests and two armrests, electric clocks, remote control for the left rear-view mirror adjustment, mudguards on the rear wheel arches. Among the options were air conditioning (580 dollars), a cassette radio with an auto-search feature (200 dollars), and even a CB radio.

A robust joystick is used for manually adjusting the left mirror.
The straightforward rectangular style of the instruments is typical for the seventies.

The trunk lock is hidden under a sliding emblem (there’s also an electric lock button in the huge glove box). The declared cargo volume is quite large – 643 liters, although I suspect this doesn’t take into account the spare tire on the “pedestal” of the fuel tank. It’s challenging to get into the backseat: the door opening at the top is narrow, and the seat is shifted back. But once you manage to slide in, stretch out on the deep velour carpet, lean back on the soft couch… To be a human feels mighty proud, especially in America!

The doors feature monumental metal lighters and ashtrays. Seat belts are inertia-reel, but only waist belts. But looking outside can be challenging: the rear pillars are just too wide.

The view from the driver’s seat is excellent. Thin pillars, a wide interior rearview mirror (although this car lacks the optional right exterior mirror). Ahead, there’s an enormous hood, measuring two by two meters, and the emblem as your “sight.”

Airflow adjustment is specific: if the window steams up, move the lever to the Defrost position.
The glove compartment is as massive and wide as the Mercury itself.

The imperial-style interior is primitive. The “wood-like” plastic on the dashboard looks very cheap, and screws are visible in the most conspicuous places. But your body relaxes on the springy couch, soft and creaky like a chair in front of the TV. Electric controls take care of everything, including height and tilt of the cushion – only the upper part of the backrest hangs in the air. The center of the backrest features two folding armrests, and if you fold them, you can seat a third passenger. However, the broad tunnel over the transmission box restricts legroom, and only a waist, non-retractable seat belt is provided.

Even for a tall person like me (187 cm), there’s enough room behind the wheel. I would have liked to tilt the steering column towards me, but the original owner of this Marquis declined the optional six-position adjustment. The steering wheel, with its touching leather cover and metal cruise control buttons, is thin, but its outer diameter is small – only 380 mm.

The speedometer numbers line up in a row, like on a “kopeck” (VAZ-2101) and to the left is the fuel gauge. There are no other instruments! Originally, there were electric clocks with flip digits to the right of the panel, but the current owner has replaced them with far more useful retro car indicators for coolant temperature and oil pressure. Otherwise, the equipment is luxurious even by today’s standards. But almost all of it, including tinted windows and cruise control, was optional. However, electric window lifters in frameless doors come as standard. They work very quickly, and the metal rocker buttons seem to be able to survive even a nuclear war.

The back is very spacious and cozy, but there’s no central armrest, and only two safety belts, both waist-level.
The front safety belts have two inertia reels each (one for each strap), and the locks resemble those found on airplanes.
Provocatively cheap ‘wood-like’ plastic sits side by side with robust metal switches.

To the left of the wheel is the light switch. Pull it all the way out to the second position, and the vacuum actuator will open the cast aluminum headlight covers with a quiet hiss. Turn it all the way, and the dome light and front footwell lighting (also an option) will turn on.

Just below is the heavy metal wiper lever. The left wiper is equipped with a parallelogram mechanism that ‘carries’ the brush to the windshield pillar. And in the parking position, the brushes slowly crawl out of sight under the hood. Advanced solution!

The turn… no, not the key, but the massive ignition lock’s knob, into which the key is inserted. The first thing to wake up is the oil pressure warning buzzer. If the engine is cold, you need to pull the ‘choke’ to the right of the steering wheel – do you still remember what the carburetor air throttle is?

The Marquis’ engine purrs with a throaty, rumbling sound, reminiscent of a mature, well-fed ZIL-130 truck. The exhaust pipes extend to either side under the rear wings, and standing behind the vehicle, one can hear the alternate firing of the robust V8’s cylinders. Bang to the left, bang to the right; it’s rhythmic, measured, and each beat sends a delightful resonance pulsing through your chest.

I pull the automatic shifter toward me and down, aligning the little indicator on the dashboard with the letter ‘D’. We take off smoothly, and by the time we hit 20 km/h, it feels as if we’re either gliding or floating above the road.

Stepping on the gas initially just amplifies the engine’s growl – only after a brief pause, the three-stage Select-Shift automatic transmission channels the torque to the wheels. Gear shifts are minimal: they’re so ‘long’ that the first revs up almost to 100 km/h, and the second beyond 160 km/h. The smoothness is simply extraordinary, and the way the hood rises during acceleration is something to behold!

The coupe was $100 cheaper than the sedan, but today it’s valued one and a half times higher.
The Marquis Station Wagon was only offered in the simplest configuration, but for an extra cost, you could get it with ‘wooden’ side paneling.

The road is flat, yet the Marquis sways softly in all directions: initially unsettling, but soon, there’s a unique thrill to be found in it. American style indeed! The suspension is incredibly soft – pressing down on the fender easily ‘sinks’ the car by a few inches. For the Marquis, potholes simply do not exist, and the high-profile tires on mere 15-inch wheels ‘devour’ all joints and cracks.

Lock to lock, the steering wheel takes 4.2 turns, just like on the Volga GAZ-24, but the response is far ‘duller’. In a 90-degree turn, you almost have to rotate it a full round. Steering effort? Absent at all! The wheel turns so lightly and lifelessly as if the steering shaft is not connected to anything.

The trunk is senseless: it’s deep but short, and the loading height is massive.
The cover opens when low or high beam is turned on; the lamps – headlights have a symmetric light distribution.
The left wiper lever has a parallelogram mechanism, and the washer fluid is supplied directly to the brush!

Flipping on the air conditioner with the lever on the right, a powerful blast of cold air hits your face and disconnects you from reality. You are completely detached from the car – any control input gets lost somewhere inside it and emerges a second or two later. Soon, it feels as if there’s no car at all – you’re simply flying, carried by some magical force. Levitation!

Only turns bring you back to earth. The soft, ‘over-assisted’ brake pedal must be pressed well in advance before a curve. The couch-like seats don’t hold your body well, and even at modest speeds, you find yourself leaning to the side. The tires squeal in protest, and the body rolls dramatically…

But then again, how many sharp turns are there in the US? This is the land of interstates, and now I understand why their lanes are so wide.

Just as one should drink local wine in each country, in America, one should drive its cars. The ‘United Automotive States’ have changed little since the seventies. They still need vehicles that won’t tire your hands and legs with excessive effort, and suspensions that will swallow the roughly jointed ridged concrete on the highways, and only slightly sway after the yellow ‘Rough Road’ sign. On such a ‘full-size’ ride, there’s an undeniable urge to traverse America from coast to coast, stopping at single-story ‘cardboard’ motels, dining on burgers and cola, and spending the evenings in drive-in theaters.

However, riding alone or with a companion in a six-meter car is the pinnacle of egotism. It’s no wonder that as early as 1979, this Marquis was replaced by an entirely new, more compact and economical model. And today, one of these dreadnoughts from the 60s-70s can be bought for a mere. Remember how Danila Bagrov in “Brother 2” got a Cadillac De Ville on the go for $500? That’s realistic! Cars in average condition will set you back a thousand or two, and a Marquis in pristine condition will cost around six to seven thousand dollars.

The V8 7.5 engine has plenty of room under the hood.
The cruise control has a mechanical vacuum actuator that pulls the throttle linkage by a chain.

Ah, if only it weren’t for our import duties. I wonder if the levitation effect, the sensation of floating above the road, would remain if it were not in Texas, but under Moscow’s sky?

The advertisements boasted of superior aerodynamics – supposedly, the wipers are tucked under the hood, and the rear wheels are covered by shields. But in reality, the coefficient of aerodynamic drag (Cd) is as high as 0.53!

Photo by Nikita Gudkov

This is a translation. You can read an original article here: Никита Гудков поездил за рулем Mercury Marquis Brougham 1977 года выпуска

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