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      Car History: Car History Year 1951
    Posted on Monday, September 27 @ 00:02:24 UTC by Cars
      Cars The war in Korea was dragging on, although the US Army was on the offensive and had recaptured Seoul, and it came as something of a shock when president Harry S. Truman sacked General Douglas MacArthur for defying the civil authority in April. Further shocks were felt when an atomic bomb was tested in Nevada, just 45 miles from Las Vegas, and the first hydrogen bomb was detonated on an atoll in the Marshall Islands, in the Pacific Ocean. But probably the biggest explosion in America was the increasing television audience which had risen to 9 of all homes and continued to escalate at an ever faster rate.

    Truce finally came to Korea in November, and things became easier for some drivers who chose to buy a Chrysler with the auto industry's first viable power steering system, called "Hydraguide." At the lower end of the market, three-speed automatic transmissions could now be had on Ford and Mercury cars - the Ford-O-Matic and Merc-O-Matic units, built in conjunction with Warner Gear - but it was something of an exaggeration for Mercury to advertise its '51 models using the slogan "Nothing like it on the road!" The Mercury nameplate suffered from something of an identity crisis - it was usually looked upon as a fancy Ford rather than a junior Lincoln. The 1951 models (the last of a three year phase starting with the '49 designs) were more Lincoln in appearance, although beneath the bodywork there were mostly Ford mechanical parts. In an attempt to give Mercury automobiles a more upmarket image, the Lincoln-Mercury division was formed in October 1945. This also gave Lincoln an independent dealership network whereas its cars had previously been sold in selected Ford showrooms. As we know from the story behind the creation of the 1949 Ford models, it was Ernest Breech who decided that Bob Gregorie's initial design should be used for the Mercury range. But the development of the shape that was to become inextricably linked with the Fifties wasn't quite as straight-forward as simply changing the name on the hood. In fact, the evolution of the 1951 Mercury involved three generations of the mighty Ford dynasty and, in some ways, encapsulated the end of the old autocratic regime that had grown up under the ailing Henry Ford and the new beginnings heralded with the arrival of his grandson. Henry Ford II. Gregorie first started work on the design when Edsel Ford was in charge of styling and, although the two shared many ideas, they were by no means in total agreement. Edsei Ford tended to favor a lighter touch, especially on details like bumpers and grille, whereas Gregorie was more inclined to use broader brush strokes. The death of Edsel Ford on May 26 1943 was a turning point. Grief-stricken at the loss, Octogenarian Henry took even less interest in the cars bearing his name, and left important decisions to others - mainly Harry Bennett and Charlie Sorensen - as the battle waged for control of the Ford empire. Vice-president, "Cast Iron Charlie" Sorensen saw the Gregorie proposals and encouraged the stylist to make the cars even bigger and more rounded, equating size and luxury to the voluptuous curves of "those big Italian gals." But Sorensen was part of the old guard and on his way out, eventually to be deposed early in 1944. However, the internal power struggle wouldn't be fully resolved until some time after Henry Ford II became company president in September 1945. Young Henry hired new management to replace Bennett and his cronies and, in one of his most crucial appointments, was to take on a group of ten young ex-USAAF officers headed by Charles "Tex" Thornton, who quickly became known as "The Whizz Kids" throughout Ford. Ernest Breech was then persuaded to join the company and things really started to happen. One effect was a rationalization of the Ford, Mercury and Lincoln models. It was decided that Mercurys would now use a 118 inch wheelbase chassis (which was required for the larger body shell shared with Lincoln) of similar dimensions to pre-war designs although completely new in concept, while Fords would sit on a four inch shorter platform. Meantime, Lincoln used two slightly longer configurations - 121 and 125 inches - as befitted their status as the luxury marque. Although Bob Gregorie had left Ford in 1946, his design for the 1949 Mercury went into production with very little modification. Subsequent face-lifts in '50 and '51 improved the overall look, adding extended rear fenders and vertical tail lights. The bodywork may have altered little, but a brand new feature on the 1951 was of more significance to the buyer - the Merc-O-Matic automatic transmission. Coupled to an outmoded Flathead V8, the automatic put the Mercury's performance into the "leisurely" bracket or, as Mechanix Illustrated tester Tom McCahill put it: "...the winged Mercury parked his track shoes outside the door and joined the ladies over a comforting pot of tea". Mercury adverts highlighted economy, promising to "Squeeze the last mile out of a gallon", and stressed that it wasn't expensive either, saying they gave customers "more car per dollar", The hot rodders' favorite had been turned into something different, something more comforting to Mr and Mrs Joe Average - for it was they who were buying new automobiles. The difference appealed and, with sales over 310,000, raised Mercury to number six in the charts. But if the '51 Mercury was a success with the older generation when new, it would gain a far more long-lasting image as a Fifties icon from a most unlikely source -the death of a film star. Had he lived, it is impossible to predict what would have become of James Dean, but one thing is certain - he would never have driven a Mercury except in a movie. The fact that his second starring role in "A Rebel Without A Cause" (released in 1955 shortly after his fatal car crash) featured him as a super cool teenager fighting the establishment and driving a mildly customized Mercury was to endow the car with a presence that endures today. The association with James Dean fixed the "bathtub" Mercury as an automobile with attitude - performance didn't matter, it was all about looking cool as you cruised to the drive-in. Over the years, Hollywood has periodically reinforced this image, notably in the 1970s blockbuster movie American Graffiti in which the customized Mercury was used by a delinquent gang of youngsters. From comfortable family transport for the suburban dweller to an everlasting symbol of teenage rebellion, surely no other car has made such a remarkable transition as the Mercury? Specification MERCURY ECONOMY/ CLUB COUPE Engine V8 - Cast iron block Displacement 255.4 cu. ins Bore and stroke 3.19x4 ins. Horsepower 110 Body styles 2 door coupe No. of seats 2-5 Weight (lbs) 3,345 lbs/3,430 Ibs Price $1,875-$1,980 Produced 151,000 (all models)     Specification PACKARD 300 SERIES Engine Cast iron - 8 cylinders in line Displacement 327 cu. ins Bore and stroke 3.5 x 4.25 ins. Horsepower 150 Body styles 4 door sedan No. of seats 2-5 Weight (lbs) 3,875 Ibs Price $3,034 Produced 15,309     Specification CHRYSLER IMPERIAL NEWPORT Engine Cast iron - 4 cylinders in line Displacement 331.1 cu. ins Bore and stroke 3.81 x 3.63 ins. Horsepower 180 Body styles Hard top coupe No. of seats 4/5 Weight (lbs) 4,380 lbs Price $4,042 Produced 750     Specification NASH AMBASSADOR Engine Cast iron - 6 cylinders in line Displacement 234.8 cu. ins Bore and stroke 3.38 x 4.38 ins. Horsepower 115 Body styles Club coupe; 2 door sedan; 4 door sedan; Custom coupe & sedans No. of seats 4-6 Weight (lbs) 3,370 Ibs-3,445 Ibs Price $2,304 - $2,501 Produced 205,000 (all models)  
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