The year was 1958 and the times, they were changing. America finally got its first satellite, Explorer 1, into orbit as the space race heated up, Elvis Presley was inducted into the Army, Old Glory was about to get two extra stars and the post-war Baby Boom was drawing to an end.
Cars were getting bigger, with more powerful V-8 engines and Detroit was releasing new chrome-laden designs every fall.
And Mercury was scrambling to stay in the top 10 among U.S. auto manufacturers with its own new lineup, including the Monterey 2-door hardtop, featuring its own line of engines and new quad headlight design.
"It actually was their middle- to lower-end car that year. The Turnpike Cruiser and the Parklane were above it," said Jerry Redinger of rural Halstead, who owns a nicely preserved Monterey that attracts attention wherever it goes.
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"So many people call it an Edsel … in fact, we had it at a parade in Newton and the announcer said, ‘Here comes an Edsel,’ ” Redinger recalled. But the only thing the Mercury Monterey shared with the first-year ’58 Edsel was the roof, he said.
The rest of the body was unique to the Mercury lineup, he said. Under the hood, a 383 cubic inch V-8 had replaced the Y-block engines shared with Ford in earlier years. Equipped with a 4-barrel carburetor, it produced an impressive 312 horsepower and 405 foot-pounds of torque.
That powerplant is mated to a 3-speed Cruise-O-Matic transmission controlled by a shiny Dual Range push-button shifter pod mounted under the left side of the ornate dashboard. One button is for performance, starting the car in low gear, the other for cruising, which uses only the top two gears, Redinger explained.
"The power train is all original. It’s never been out of the car, never been overhauled," he said. "It has a little over 99,000 miles showing on it now. The car doesn’t smoke, doesn’t use a drop of oil."
Redinger was actually looking for an earlier model Mercury when he found this one about two years ago. "I had a new ’56 Montclair 2-door hardtop, red and white. Oh, how I loved that car," he said.
But when he saw the ’58 Monterey listed on eBay, he confessed, "I liked the looks and the price sounded pretty reasonable." Trouble was, the Monterey was way out in the Seattle area.
"The guy sounded like he didn’t want to get rid of it very bad … but he needed the money to go back to school," Redinger said. "There was one stipulation … that he has first chance to buy it back if I ever decide to sell it."
When the transport truck delivered the Mercury to their farm, Redinger and his wife, Darlene, were pleased to see the car was everything it had been advertised to be. The front and rear bumpers had been rechromed, a fresh interior installed and the car was wearing a fresh coat of Jamaican Blue paint, accented by a bright white top and rear fender coves.
"This color has really grown on me. It really shows off the lines of the car," Redinger said.
The seller had also replaced the hood ornament on the big Mercury. "He said, `Don’t break that, it’s the last one in captivity,’ ” Redinger grinned.
He has done only minor, mostly mechanical work on the car since taking possession of it. The original 4-barrel carburetor had been replaced with a 2-barrel by a mechanic who owned the car during the early gas crises. Redinger rebuilt that carburetor and replaced the unusual front-mounted fuel pump. He also installed an expensive new trunk interior in the car.
The dashboard is a fascinating glimpse back in time, featuring a horizontal "rolling" style speedometer. "It works really smooth. It doesn’t jump and flutter at all," Redinger said. A center-mounted glove box is tucked under padded vinyl dash cover and electric window controls are mounted near the shift pod, as is the power seat control.
The Monterey has a forward-tilting hood, with a big "M" emblem mounted between massive bumper/grille elements. The emblem swings out of the way as the hood is raised. At the rear of the car, a set of chrome-ribbed tail lights are set artfully into the fender coves, which flow into the rear panel at a sharply canted angle.
"At the Starbird show we had people taking pictures of those tail lights … they said they looked like something off a space ship," Redinger said.
Other styling touches that set the blue and white Mercury apart include the indented roof panel, which adds strength to the long, wide top, and a pair of long, flowing fender skirts fitted with stainless steel gravel guards at the front. "I’ve had people tell me those are worth about a thousand dollars each," Redinger said.
When health problems forced him to retire from farming, Redinger said, "I couldn’t just stop and sit around watching TV. I’ve alway been interested in old cars. I grew up in the ’50s, when cars all had personalities and you could tell from a mile away what was coming at you."
His collection has grown to include more than a half-dozen other vintage vehicles, but he says, "This is the nicest one of the bunch. It’s one of the more unique ones."
Just don’t confuse it with an Edsel, please.