2011 & 2013 AACA National Award
This spectacular “Big M” Montclair started life in Los Angles California on January 5th 1956. It was the 188th car off the assembly line that day becoming one of the 7,762 Montclair Convertibles produced that year. Delivered to a dealership in Oklahoma, the car found its way to Texas where it was stored outside and exposed to the elements for a number of years. The car was in deplorable condition when it was acquired in 2006 by Bill McCauley of Carriage House Automobile Restorations in New Lenox, IL. Complete with the original engine and drivetrain intact and otherwise unmolested Bill began the arduous full concours level restoration process in 2007. Recognized throughout the Midwest for their impeccable accuracy and attention to detail, a Carriage House concours level frame-off restoration ensures that every nut, bolt, bracket and fixture is restored using the finest finishes consistent with factory specifications. In 2011, the completed car emerged in “show room” condition and was added to the Ken Nagel Collection in 2014.
Of the few remaining Montclair Convertibles, the authenticity and workmanship of this example is unsurpassed. The numerous awards (see below) accumulated by this car are testament to the quality of the finished product.
At $2,898 this Montclair was an expensive luxury but the power, ride, handling, technical advances, quality and style were equal to the most prestigious offerings of the day making it the hands down value leader.
New for ’56 the “Safety Surge V8” Y block V8 engine supplied more than enough smooth power and performance. The blue valve covers and air cleaner immediately identify it as the 312 Cu In version with 8.4:1 compression and a 4-barrel carburetor producing 225 HP when bolted to the optional Merc-O-Matic transmission.
The ’56 Montclair convertible on display in the Ken Nagel collection is a beautifully done matching numbers example of these scarce and graceful cars. Tastefully finished in the flawless, and rarely seen, “Flow Town” Tuxedo Black over Carousel Red color combination, separated by the fashionable “lazy Z” chrome accent spear; it is the pinnacle of perfection. Featuring impressive matching Red and White Vinyl interior upholstery accented with a black convertible top, Ken’s car is both colorfully sporty and luxuriously elegant. The contrasting Red color panel design feature that runs beneath the side windows on the upper doorsills was exclusive to the Montclair and showcased some of Mercury’s best features including the Flow Tone paint combination and the additional chrome trim. Top down motoring on enchanted summer evenings just didn’t get any better than this.
Mercury offered no less than 32 exterior Two-Tone and Flow Tone paint combinations and matching interiors for the Montclair. The extensive yet subtle “tropically” pastel pallet complimented the Mercury marque and enhanced its style. With colors like Persimmon, Heath Green, Niagara Blue, Glamour Tan, and Carousel Red among the selections available, Mercury met the growing demand for more vibrant color choices that evoked sporty top down luxury cruising without being audacious.
While the ’56 “Big M” certainly is sleek and smart with distinctive lines making for visually stunning appeal, the beauty goes well beyond skin deep and is matched, if not exceeded, by the extraordinary engineering that lies beneath the stylishly smooth sheet metal and gleaming two-tone finish. Stir all these features together and you have a car with alluring beauty, exceptional ride, responsive handling and spirited performance.
Leading the extensive list of technical advances incorporated in Ken’s car is the innovative ball joint suspension and the “Multi-Luber” power lubrication system. An automotive first and exclusive with Mercury, the system automatically lubricates all front suspension and steering points. Promoted as “Dashboard Lubrication”, the car’s owner simply pushed a button once a day or every 50 miles of highway driving to lubricate every joint, except the universals. The new chassis was skillfully engineered to provide better handling and road stability. The extra strength frame, long leaf rear springs that adjusted automatically to load tension and double acting shock absorbers all contributed to a solid comfortably luxurious ride. A high ratio rear axle increased fuel economy.
1956 marked the last year of conservative design for U.S automakers. Styles became progressively more extravagant until the trend reversed sometime around 1963. And so it was that the 1956 Mercury’s were the last evolution of the elegant and tastefully styled models that had their beginning in 1949 and are still regarded as the high water mark of Mercury style and technical achievement of the era. Their soft alluring curves stood in contrast to the sharp features and fins that were emerging in the market place. A beautiful array sporty tropical colors were Mercury’s only concession made to the future flamboyance of the ’50’s.
Total Mercury production for 1956 stood at 327,943 vehicles, 91,434 were Montclair models of which only 7,762 were convertibles. Because the sleek, aerodynamic shapes were a favorite of hot rodders and customizers of the era, it is exceedingly difficult to find one of these cars in restorable condition. This is especially true of convertible examples that suffered low survivability rates because they were more vulnerable to the ravages of the elements, making them even more prized by collectors.
The Montclair model was the top of the top of the line Merc in the mid-Fifties. No one seems to know the origin of the “Montclair” name. The consensus is that it’s taken from the upper-class community of Montclair, New Jersey. Montclair presented bright new styling, higher grade trim and more standard equipment in 1956. The 1956 Mercury Montclair convertible displayed in Ken’s collection illustrates those features perfectly.
There were relatively few options offered to the buyer since many popular items were included as standard on the Montclair. 1956 was the year that Ford introduced its Lifeguard safety program, and the Mercury Montclair came standard with a deep-dish steering wheel, safety door locks, a breakaway rear view mirror, optional seat belts and padded door panels & dashboard covering a redesigned three-tier instrument panel. A Travel Tuner radio, tissue dispenser and clock finish off the look of the dash.
Even though the options list was relatively short because many popular items came standard, Ken’s luxurious example boasts some of the rarest and most stylish available. Expensively appealing appointments include the very rare power seats, windows, top, steering and fender skirts. Adding some chrome glitz are the dual side mounted rearview mirrors.
For those old enough to remember those bygone days of dazzling automobile colors, shapes and performance and to lament the passing of that era, perhaps never to be seen again, and for those seeing these cars for the first time dressed in all their former glory, be assured that there are those who resolve to value and preserve these survivors of a time when unrestricted imagination in design and engineering lifted the automobile to an art form appreciated by the owners and onlookers they were meant to dazzle.
Mercury was an automobile marque of the Ford Motor Company launched in 1938 by Edsel Ford, son of Henry Ford, to market entry-level luxury cars in between Ford and Lincoln-branded luxury vehicles. A casualty of the economic downturn at the beginning of the 21st century, production of Mercury vehicles ceased in the fourth quarter of 2010 with final Mercury rolling off the assembly line on January 4, 2011.
This example is fitted with the following optional equipment: