1956 Mercury XM Turnpike Cruiser

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A photo of the clay model that Ford sent to Italy to have the XM Turnpike Cruiser built. Some details, such as the vent windows, the front bumper ends, and the grilles were ignored or changed by Ghia. Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
When the XM Turnpike Cruiser arrived in the US, it was shaved for emblems, and Ford tried a couple of different ideas on how they wanted it presented. According to Tom Maruska, "Early photos show quite large “MERCURY” letters in the coves of the quarter panels and eventually they settled on the much smaller letters which I’ll be installing when I get that far." This iteration of the car did also have a large "XM" preceding the “Turnpike Cruiser” script on the front fenders. The “XM” was later removed leaving only the “Turnpike Cruiser” script. Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
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.
The model that Ford sent to Italy featured vertical slats in the grille. When the actual build arrived in the US, the slats had been changed to being horizontal. Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
The interior, including the headliner, was all leather. Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
If you compare this photo with the clay model, you can see how Ghia changed the appearance of the front bumper ends. Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
In this photo you can see that the "gills" in the side of the fender of the car were painted instead of being chromed as they were on the clay model. Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
A close-up shot of the hood ornament that Ray Cosh gave Tom Maruska so he could fabricate a new one for the restoration. 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 Turnpike 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.
Prior to Ray Cosh's ownership in 1983, one of the previous owners disassembled the car removing nearly everything except the suspension parts that kept the car rolling and moveable. "Even at that time it was badly rusted as was evident by the many broken off studs that held the trim parts to the car. When they tried to remove the rusted on nuts the small diameter (#6 and #8) studs simply gave out and twisted off," Maruska told Kustomrama. In January of 2019 he was busy replacing the damaged and broken studs with new ones. Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
The large pieces are steel and the ribbed trim pieces are brass. "Nearly all of the parts to be chromed are fabricated from brass as it’s much easier to work with than other harder metals. Some of the trim pieces on the XM-800 were also made from brass. The only parts that are steel are the front and rear bumpers." Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
A brass door tag identifies the car as the XM100. Maruska believes the 6T120 was the body ID number. Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
When Maruska purchased the car from Ray Cosh he got a spare rust-free chassis that Ray had rounded up at one time. "He thought it was an exact duplicate of the chassis Ford had sent to Ghia but it turned out not to be so." Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
Maruska sandblasted the surface rust from the extra chassis he got with the car and then began to remove portions for replacing rusted portions on the XMTC. Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
On the front left corner of the cross member was a brass tag that Identified the chassis as “XM-506280 FRAME ASS’Y. MONTEREY #4 269 LBS. Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
The donor frame rails welded into place. Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
New cabin floors formed and tacked into place. Notice the rear floor recess. Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
The underside of the car after all the new structure had been completed and welded into place. Before welding the bottom cover over it Tom coated the entire are with KBS Rustproofing coating. "I also coated the inside surface of the bottom sheet before I welded it into place." Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
Tom working on the body of the car. He had to rebuild the rear end from about one inch above the license plate recess down. Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
The lower part of the rear quarter panels were rusted and had to be rebuilt. In this photo, Tom has installed the newly plated exhaust outlets on the car for fitting. "There is one on each side of the car and yes, they are functional." Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
Tom verifying the fitment of the bumper pods after he had rebuilt the lower part of the front roll pan between the bumpers. Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
The driver side "B" pillar with the newly plated chrome cover in place. Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
The hood ornament was missing when Tom bought the car. He had the base for it, so he knew the size of the footprint, but the "M" was long gone. "Fortunately Ray Cosh had supplied me with a photo of the “M” on the car. There were no side views of the “M” so Ray drew me a picture of how it should look." Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
A photo of the emblem that Tom fabricated for the car. Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
The XMTC had unique gas and brake pedals made of orange rubber with chrome trim. The originals were deteriorated beyond use, so Tom made molds that he used to make new pedals out of pourable liquid urethane. Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
Early November of 2019 Tom had cut out and rebuilt the structure underside the roof. "Yep, it was severely rusted and needed rebuilding, " Tom told Kustomrama. "One of the bad things about it is there are no adjustments built into the system. It has to be welded perfectly so that the alignment up and down, forward and back and all the gaps are perfect. I would tack the butterfly mounts in place, then install the roof rail trim, install the butterflies and see how it looked, mark the adjustments needed, cut the tack welds off and try again. It took quite a while before I got them just right. The mounts are still just tacked in place and I won’t weld them in solid until I get the roof refinished to a point it’s ready for paint, then I’ll refit all the pieces and burn them in." Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
Chrome roof rail trim installed so Tom could mark the adjustments he needed to install the butterflies. Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
"One of the reasons I like to order all the parts I can think of that I’ll need for the restoration early is because I like to jump around and do different things to break the monotony," Tom told Kustomrama in December of 2019. By then, Tom had sandblasted, rust repaired and painted the driver's seat frame. In this photo he has rough-cut foam for the seat. Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
Tom began upholstering the panel on the back of the seat."It’s adorned with a large “L” shaped chrome piece with a handle on the top corner and a chrome finger cup under the handle. This is to pull the seat back into an upright position after accessing the back seat area." There are two different piping used on the seats. Gold piping is used between two sections of the orange leather and white piping between white and orange leather. Tom has a Consew Premier commercial sewing machine that sews through seven layers of leather that he uses. "Because it’s a double-needle machine, two needles 3/8” apart, and you can sew with either or both needles depending on what the project is, anyway they don’t make a presser foot especially for sewing with piping. I made one myself and it works perfectly. It rides on the piping and sews perfectly close to the piping for a great looking seam." Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
Tom completed the first seat in December of 2019. Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
When Tom purchased the XMTC he got a professionally built plaster mold for the windshield. According to Glen Durmisevich, there was no windshield when Ray Sabo bought it, "so he called Don DeLaRosa, who was Ford's design liaison to Ghia when the Turnpike Cruiser was built. DeLaRosa had gone to Chrysler and became VP of their design when Ray called him. He sent a couple of Chrysler modelers over to clay up a windshield and make the molds," Glen told Tom. Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
Before investing several thousand dollars in a custom one-off windshield, Tom decided to put the mold to a test and make a fiberglass windshield. To Tom's amazement and great satisfaction, the fiberglass windshield fit perfectly. Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
There wasn't much left of the door bottom on the driver's side when Tom started reconstructing it. Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
The driver's side door bottom reconstructed. Unfortunately for Tom, the passenger door will ned the same reconstruction. Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
Tom had the door on and off numerous times making sure the alignment was right before he welded everything solid. Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
Late September of 2020 the body was sandblasted and covered with epoxy primer. Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
In October of 2020 Tom got the engine back from Midwest Engine Rebuilders in Duluth. He then painted it, installed the new valve covers, exhaust manifolds, and a few other parts. Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
While sidetracking from preparing the body for paint, Tom rebuilt the dash gauges for the car. The original paint on the back of the faces was cracked and peeling, so he sanded it off before he repainted the numbers and the faces. During the rebuild, Tom also re-jeweled the aluminum trim in the center of the gauges. Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
A photo of the car taken early in February of 2021, just before two coats of high build primer went on it. "There was also a guide coat of very watered down dark colors prayed over the primer which again is sanded with 180 grit sandpaper on longboards. The idea is to sand enough to get all the guide coat off and leave a clear gray finish." Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
Two coats of sealer went over the body before Tom could wet sand it with a small block and 400-600 grit sandpaper. After a good cleaning the Turnpike Cruised was ready for paint early in March of 2021. The color is production 1956 Persimmon but it has a pearl overcoat. Photo courtesy of Tom Maruska.
According to Tom, there is unavoidable to get some dust in the finish when you paint in a shop such as his. "I’ll do 3-4 sandings on the paint starting with 800 grit, then 1000 followed by 1500 and finally 2000 grit sandings." After the sanding, 2-3 buffings are required with different grit buffing compounds. 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.


Leather interior

The interior, including the headliner, was all leather.[1]


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.[2]


Extended chassis

The XM Turnpike Cruiser is a bit longer than other Mercurys from the mid-fifties, and during construction, Ghia added approximately eighteen inches to the chassis that Ford had sent over.[1]


Changed by Ghia

Ghia made several changes to the design during the construction. These were supposedly done without seeking Ford's approval.[2] The model that was sent abroad shows vent windows that were notched into the windshield. These never made it into the car, and Ghia decided to continue the windshield down the A-pillars instead. Other changes included the "gills" in the side of the fenders. These were chromed on the model and painted on the real car. The front bumper was also altered, along with the grille. While the model has vertical slats, the actual car has horizontal slats.[1]


According to Jim Farrel, author of the book "Ford Design Department Concept & Showcars," Ford Styling Center Administrator V.Z. Brink wrote a report regarding the unauthorized changes Ghia made stating that "when future cars were built at Ghia, two and possibly three visits be made to make sure what Ghia was building was being done the way the Styling Center wanted."[1]


1956 Cleveland Auto Show Debut

When the XM Turnpike Cruiser arrived in the US, it was shaved for emblems, and Ford tried a couple different ideas on how they wanted it presented. According to Tom Maruska, "Early photos show quite large “MERCURY” letters in the coves of the quarter panels and eventually they settled on the much smaller letters which I’ll be installing when I get that far." 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.[2] In 1983 Sabos sold the car to Ray Cosh for $10,000. Cosh had intentions of restoring it, and prior to his ownership, somebody had disassembled the car removing nearly everything except the suspension parts that kept the car rolling and moveable.[1]


Sold to Tom Maruska

In 2018 Tom Maruska of Duluth, Minnesota bought the old concept car with intentions 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 of 2018.[1]


The restoration

The car was badly rusted when Maruska bought it, and many of the studs that held the trim part to the car were broken off. In January of 2019 Maruska was busy replacing all of the damaged and broken studs with new ones; "One thing to note that I found interesting but after thinking about it is perfectly logical is that the nuts and bolts that hold the car together are all metric. You may recall that Ford had Carrozeria Ghia in Turin Italy build the body. The bolts on the chassis are all SAE as Ford sent the chassis and running gear along with body hardware (hinges and latches) to Ghia to use as a platform for the XMTC."[1]


Brass parts

Nearly all of the parts to be chromed are fabricated from brass as it’s much easier to work with than other harder metals. "Some of the trim pieces on the XM-800 were also made from brass," Maruska told Kustomrama. The only parts that are steel are the front and rear bumpers. Thomas Guilbault did some work on the front bumpers for Ray Sabo back in the 1980s. In February of 2019 Maruska delivered 193 pieces to AIH Chrome Plating in Dubuque, Iowa for new plating. Common in mid 1950s Mercurys was a satin finish on some of the chrome trim, and former owner of the XMTC, Ray Cosh, helped Maruska identify which pieces were to get the satin (matte) finish.[1]


"One reason I wanted to get the chrome done early is that it can change size slightly during the plating process, usually growing slightly and since some of the parts are fit snugly against painted surfaces I want to have the finished trim in hand when I’m doing the finishing work on the body for fitting the chrome pieces to it. Another reason was to get all those parts out of my way, as you can imagine they take up a lot of room when they’re not attached to the car."[1]


Built from the chassis up

The XMTC was built from the chassis up, so the body is not removable from the chassis as it is all welded together. "Ghia modified the chassis to suit the needs of the build and then welded floors onto the chassis, rockers to the floors and fenders and quarters to the rockers and on up to the roof."[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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