1954 Mercury Monterey XM-800
Above Images ©Lincoln-Mercury News Bureau
This experimental Mercury (XM) was developed to showcase a new design direction for the firm. In their press release, the Lincoln-Mercury News Bureau said it was "The most advanced design in a car capable of going into volume production." Unfortunately, this never happened, but the XM-800's radical details were included on later models like the Lincoln Premier.
The body was designed by John Najjar and he included some daring elements like a forward sloping front end, square rear grill and bespoke bumpers. The press release described the car: "A four-passenger hardtop coupe, the car is lower than any other American hardtop now being produced, with an overall height of only 55.6 inches. It maintains passenger comfort by means of a new frame construction and lowered rear floor, while it's low center of gravity gives better stability on the road. While the prototype display car had a fiberglass body, production units probably would be of steel."
Alongside the new Thunderbird, this XM-800 debuted at the 1954 Detroit Auto Show in pearlescent white with a copper-colored roof. It was advertised as a highlight of the show and picked up by almost every magazine covering the event. For the first time, the public saw a Ford with rear tail fins and a dramatic coupe body that was full of new design details. At the front were forward-canted headlamps, concave front grill, 'Dagmar' front bumpers and a 'functional' air scoop.
The XM-800 was crafted over a 1954 Mercury frame and used a body made entirely out of fiberglass. This material was extended to the front and rear bumpers which were chrome-plated fiberglass. This was Ford's first foray into fiberglass and lowered the weight of the car substantially. The fabrication was handled by Creative Industries of Detroit and it was first shown at the 1954 Detroit Auto Show
Inside, the XM-800 was well appointed including bucket seats, power windows, power seats, power brakes, power steering and a dash-mounted tachometer. Both the front and rear windows were curved Plexiglas. Unfortunately, the XM-800 was built only for static display so the only moving parts of the car were its electric-operated features like the motorized trunk and front hood. An experimental version of the new overhead valve Y-block V8 was installed but it wasn't functional
In recent times, Tom Maruska found the surviving XM-800 in dilapidated, but complete condition on Ebay. He bought it off 'Mr. Concept Car' Joe Bortz of Chicago and decided to restore the car himself. A major consideration was getting the car ready to drive which it had never done before.
The major challenge of the restoration was fitting in the electrical system which was non-existent. Furthermore, all the 143 chrome pieces had to be refurbished and a few pieces fabricated from scratch like the 10-piece front grill. Fortunately, John Najjar was able to assist with some of the blueprints and Tom was no stranger to concept car restoration, after completing the Thunderbird Italian concept seen at Barrett-Jackson.
During the build Tom made some great observations, calling it the "first Ford product with the forward sloping windshield pillars and wrap around windshield. A feature seen on nearly every car by 1957." He also noted the dimensions: "11.5" shorter than any other American Hardtop, nearly a full foot! The XM-800 is also 5" wider and 5" longer than any other Ford product in 1954." All of Tom's work is currently documented in this extensive 15 page article on tbirdsquare.com.
When finished, Tom Maruska drove the XM-800 for the very first time under its own power in 2009. The results of Tom's excellent work was first seen at the 2009 Meadow Brook Concours d'Elegance where Joe Bortz and Dan Brooks (earlier private owners of XM-800) were on hand to celebrate the occasion.
In 2009 RM Auctions sold the XM-800 at their Automobiles of Arizona for $429,000 USD. It was described as a "one-of-a-kind hardtop of tremendous historical importance."
Many thanks are due to Tom Maruska for his assistance both in and out of this fabulous concept.
Story by Richard Owen