An Ode To My Mercury


Technical Editor Jacob Joseph fondly remembers his first car.

I'm aware of the fact that writing about my first car is not an original thing to do. Every automotive journalist waxes nostalgic about their first car at some point, and I've mentioned mine in another editorial. I like stories about first cars though, as those are true automotive love stories. You always overlook the flaws in your first car, as you're just so happy to finally have wheels that no matter what form they take, you love them.

For me, my first car was a 1978 Mercury Marquis in silver. The car was available as a two-door, a four-door or a station wagon, and with a variety of engines. Mine was a four-door beast of a thing with Ford's 351M power plant, a weird hodge-podge of an engine that used the block and heads from the 400 Cleveland and the crank from the 351 Windsor. For those not fluent in the language of cubic inches, that's a 5.8-liter V8. It was not what you would call powerful, but thanks to a pair of Cherry Bomb mufflers installed by the previous owner (my friend Joe), what it lacked in power it more than made up for in decibels.

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I bought the car for $800 and I would say that was the exact amount it was worth. The carbureted engine was always running rich, and the car never didn't smell at least faintly of gasoline. There was a hole in the floor behind the driver's seat which used to terrify backseat passengers, but I never once admitted out loud that the hole actually existed in the two years I owned the car. This was a luxury car, so the stereo featured a cassette, rather than 8-track, tape player. It didn't work, of course, but still. Air conditioning? Please, be serious.

To Ford's credit, the vacuum-operated headlight covers never had a single problem, not even in the dead of winter. I only had a problem with overheating once, on a road trip to Traverse City, Michigan in mid-summer. I was in that perpetual state of being 100 miles from anything at all that travelers in northern Michigan exist in when the Merc suddenly wouldn't go above 50mph. I had had no warning of this, as there was no temperature gauge, but I'm happy to say I did eventually make it to Traverse City and my Marquis never overheated again, at least while I owned it.

The car was absurd in every measureable way, and it was flat-out impossible to do anything resembling spirited driving in it, but I am still grateful to the Marquis. All of the hours I spent in the Marquis (that Traverse City trip was 8 hours each way, for example) with no stereo and that loud V8 not only taught me to appreciate the sounds that engines make, but it also taught me how to be alone with my own thoughts. Ever since those days, I've never found anything nearly as therapeutic as a long drive with nothing to keep me company but my car.

I sold the Marquis after two years of ownership to my friend Mark for $50, and he took it to the demolition derby. I'm told it performed admirably until the radiator cracked and it overheated. I can't say I miss having to drive a beater, but at least part of the enthusiast I am today owes its existence to the Merc.

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