1956 Mercury XM Turnpike Cruiser

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A brochure that was made to present the futuristic Mercury.
A promo photo of the Turnpike Cruiser concepr car from Tom Maruska's collection. Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
Taken in California, these are the last known photos of the XM Turnpike Cruiser. Photo courtesy of Mercury Club of Norway.
Photo courtesy of Mercury Club of Norway.
A photo of the XM Turnoike Cruiser taken in August of 2017, when Tom Maruska went to California to check it out for the first time. Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
Tom took delivery of the car in July, and he plans to begin the restoration in October of 2018. Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.

The 1956 Mercury XM Turnpike Cruiser is a concept car by Ford Motor Company. "XM" stands for eXperimental Mercury.

The Mandalay

In April of 1954 John Najjar, who was in charge of the Lincoln-Mercury Pre Production Studio, made a proposal to build five concepts for a new four-passenger show car.[1] These five concepts were given the names Malibu, Monte Carlo, Mystair, Mandalay, and Montauk. Each proposal was drawn in full-scale renderings and shared almost identical dimensions of 212 inches long, 49-51 inches wide, and a 119-inch wheelbase. The Mandalay formed the basis for what ultimately became the XM Turnpike Cruise. Elwood Engel, who was working under George Walker at the time, is credited with changing the name from Mandalay to XM Turnpike Cruiser.[2]


Najjar/Engel

It was normal back then that two competing teams were assigned to a concept car. Elwood Engel and John Najjar became the head of one of the two design teams. The competing team was headed by Gene Bordinat and Don DeLaRossa. Team members included Francis Reith and Larry Shinoda. The XM Turnpike Cruiser was the first major assignment that Shinoda worked on. The two team completed one clay model each, and the one handled by the Najjar/Engel team was selected to become the XM Turnpike Cruiser.[2]


Features

The design of the XM Turnpike Cruiser featured sculptured grille-work with twin jet pods on each side that were set in chrome-plated nacelles. The headlights were hooded and recessed for a forward-thrusting look. Being a driving and foglight combination, the headlights featured delay-action, making them remain on 30 to 40 seconds after being switched off. Deeply fluted side channels flowed smoothly back from the doors into V-shaped taillights. The side channel design is credited to Larry Shinoda, and it is considered his most significant contribution to the design of the car. Horizontally ribbed chrome extended from fender to fender underneath the overhang of the deck lid. Chromed, dual exhaust stacks were placed in each rear fender. Design features included a T-top design with a wrapped backlight surmounted by overhanging sections at the C-pillars. Twin plastic "butterfly" roof panels, hinged from the T, flipped up when the doors opened to facilitate entry. The center portion of the three-section backlight could be lowered for ventilation.


Built by Ghia

Near the end of 1954 Ford Motor Company decided to build the XM Turnpike Cruiser into a full-scale car. Ghia in Turin, Italy was selected to fabricate the car in metal at a cost of $80,000. A scale plaster model, numerous full-scale drawings, chassis and drivetrain were sent to Ghia. Ghia made several changes to the design during the construction. These were supposedly done without seeking Ford's approval.[2]


1956 Cleveland Auto Show Debut

The Turnpike Cruiser concept car was publicly showed for the first time at the 1956 Cleveland Auto Show where it was touted as a "Preview of the Future."[2] After the show, the futuristic car was sent around the country in a semitrailer with big picture windows on each side.[3] The semitrailer was painted to match the car.[2]


Production

A total of 16,681 Mercury Turnpike Cruisers were produced for 1957. Tom McCahill of Mechanix Illustrated wrote that the car was a "Space Age design for earth travel."[2] Due to lack of sales and ongoing technical problems, only 6,407 Turnpike Cruisers were produced in 1958.


Sold to Jim White

After the failure of the Turnpike Cruiser, Jack Reith was removed as head of the Mercury Division, and the Mercury Division was combined with Edsel and Lincoln. The XM Turnpike Cruiser became a symbol of failure for those at Mercury, and it sat outside in a parking lot behind the Lincoln-Mercury Division offices. Tired of seeing the car, Joe Bain and Benson Ford decided to sell the car to Jim White in 1958. Jim was the Vice President of Dearborn Tube and Steel, one of the contractors Ford used to build pre-production vehicles. White, who paid $300 for the car, stored the car outside for more than a decade, and under his possession, it deteriorated and was vandalized.[2]


Sold to Baker

In 1971 White sold the car to a body shop owner named Baker. The price had now increased to $500. At the time, a number of parts were missing and damaged.[2]


Sold to Ray Sabos

Baker sold the car to Ray Sabos for $3,000 in 1979. In 1982 Sabos sold the car to a calloector for $10,000. The collector had intentions of restoring it.[2]


Sold to Tom Maruska

In 2018 Tom Maruska of Duluth, Minnesota bought the old concept car with intensions of restoring it. Prior to buying the XM Turnpike Cruiser, Tom has owned and restored the 1963 Ford Thunderbird Italien concept car and the 1954 Mercury XM-800 concept car. In April of 2018, Tom told Sondre Kvipt of Kustomrama that when he was restoring the XM-800 the owner of the XM Turnpike Cruiser heard about it and got in touch with him. "He didn't want to sell at that time and we kept in contact over the years. Out of the blue last August, I asked if he was ready to sell yet and he said he was, so I flew to California to meet him and see the car, and we eventually cut a deal." Tom took delivery of the car in July, and he plans to begin the restoration in October of 2018.[1]


Follow The Restoration

Tom has started the website www.tommaruskacars.us that will be dedicated to chronicling the restoration as it progresses. Click here to check it out.


References



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