Late 1940s Mercurys are tough to tell apart

DAN KRUSE CLASSICS/SPECIAL This postwar Mercury Eight is advertised as a 1946 model, although some of the styling elements, including the short chrome strip on the side of the hood and the “Mercury” badge, describe the 1947 and ‘48 models.

Last week’s photo showed the front end of a 1946 Mercury Eight. Or a 1947 Mercury. Or even a 1948 Mercury. As the week progressed, it got curiouser and curiouser.


We started the week off in certainty, because the auction website that displayed the Mercury coupe identified it as the 1946 model.

In fact, that’s what we based our clue on: “We hope it makes you think of peace and speed.” “Peace” because it was the year immediately after World War II. And “speed” because Mercury was the fleet-footed Roman god.

At least, we could tell its a postwar Mercury, although except for the duded-up grille the Mercury was basically a longer Ford body during those three years.

We believed the information that we found after receiving an email from Dan Kruse Classics, and for all we knew, the coupe was a 1946. Just after the war, model years sometimes didn’t mean much when it came to rebadging and re-registering cars for the hot baby boom market.

Faithful reader Bill Harding, of Evans, had other ideas when he saw the entire car that had been previewed in last week’s teaser shot, however:

“1946, 1947, and 1948 Mercurys looked a lot alike. I really was not even sure that the car in question was a Mercury until I looked into my stash of Collectible Automobile magazines and found photos of the 1948 in the October 2012 and December 2013 issues.

“The 1948s were different in some interior details compared to the 1947s, but mechanically all three years of the Mercury were alike, powered by a 239-cubic- inch flathead V-8, making 100 horsepower with a three-speed manual transmission.

“The biggest difference between the ’46s and the other two was that the 1946 grille surround was body-colored, and the 1947-48 grille surrounds were chromed. Also, MERCURY was spelled out in capital letters on each side of the hood on the ’47s and ’48s in addition to the script on the front of the hood.

“The chromed grille surround means that our quiz car cannot be a 1946. It has to be either a 1947 or a 1948. So, what is it? Our staff writer is demanding an answer, so I will say it’s a ’48.”

Harding’s investigation gave us pause, because the more we looked into it, the more we got confused. As I’m sure you’ll agree, though, we’d rather be right than president, so we kept comparing cars.

It wasn’t a 1945, because production was shut during the war, and it wasn’t a 1949, because those “bathtub” cars are easily distinguished from everything else on the road, except perhaps Hudsons.

Yes, our mystery car had a chromed grille, but we came across other 1946s with such grilles. However, only the 1946 had three little chrome buttons on each side of the grille, and our car did not have those.

And yes, the 1946 had a long strip of chrome along the sides of the hood, and our car had the shorter strip and the word MERCURY – giveaways that it was either 1947 or 1948.

But wait, we found other photos of the cars on the auction website showing a tag on the trunk lid reading simply, “1946.”

Harding would not settle for half-answers, and as the week wore to a close, he called the auction house and found out that the coupe was indeed a 1946 that had been partially restored. That means it could have some parts from other models on it. We hope that settles the Great Mercury Mystery of 2017.

We ended up accepting your answers for any Mercury in that range of years. Because we have no quiz for next week, we invite you to keep writing in if you other ideas about the Mercury.

Chosen from the entries last week was the name of Mike Hollister, of Evans, who guessed it to be the 1948 Mercury: “One of these was the first car I remember riding in. Brand new, owned by an uncle working for Lockheed, who had driven all the way back to Iowa from California.”

Thanks to him for his entry. Other readers identifying the vehicle were:

AIKEN: Bob Ennis wrote: “I will guess that this car is a 1946 Mercury. It could be a ’47 or ’48. They were all very much alike. Again, I will go with a popular model, the convertible coupe. It could have been a coupe, station wagon or four-door sedan.

“The clue said ‘peace.’ and this would be the after-the-war cars; ‘speed’ says Mercury, the god of commerce and transportation often depicted with winged hat and shoes. My friend had a 1941 convertible, and my brother had a 1951 two-door sedan. Both cars still had the flathead V-8 and sounded great with Smitty mufflers. They were fun cars to drive.”

John Boyette Jr. guessed the 1946-48 Mercury and said his family had one when he was a kid.

AUGUSTA: Lowell Fritsche said: “Well, for sure is is a Mercury from 1943 to 1948. I saw a 1943 that had the same chrome grille as the 1948. Most of the sedans didn’t seem to have the chrome grille. Their grille tops were painted the color of the car.

“I am going to say it is a coupe, maybe a 1947-48. There is a bit of chrome in the bottom right of the picture. That will be a tip that was added to the bumper on a lot of the ’47s. But I also saw one on a 46. Actually, I think the 1946-48s were the same car.

“I was familiar with the Mercury grille. There was a farm kid out home who drove a 1946 Mercury coupe to school. It was wine-colored and really sharp.

“He came to town during Halloween to help us tip over all the toilets, put a cow in the schoolhouse and take the merry-go-round down to main street. There were farm implements around, and we would try to block streets with them. Someone yelled ‘Here comes Hi’ (the name of the town gendarme). This kid jumped in his car and roared around a corner and hit an implement he had just helped us put in the street. It didn’t do that nice grille any good. The next day Hi was at the school with grille pieces. Well, you know the rest of the story.

“A few years later, Hi deputized me to help him. That was the most fun I ever had at Halloween.”

Walker Mobley Jr. wrote: “This week’s puzzle is a photo of a 1947 or ’48 Mercury. I had a ’47 so I’ll vote for that year. There was very little change among the ’46, ’47 and ’48 year cars other than maybe the early ’46. I had heard that some of the early ’46 Fords had painted bumpers instead of plated units because of war shortages in plating material. Could be an old wives tale; I don’t know.

“I had a lot of fun with my Mercury even though it was 24 years old when I bought

the car. As always keep these coming.”

CANTON, Ga.: David Anderson wrote: “Sometimes I am my own worst enemy with these. I am sure that all the Mercury fans immediately hit on this one as a post-war Mercury Eight. However, I went much smaller and farther away and leapt across the Atlantic to try to identify it as one of those ‘Swedish 1948 Fords,’ the Volvo PV544. Built from the late 1950s until 1966, the PV544 maintained the appearance of a two-thirds to three-fourths scale 1948 Ford for its entire run.

“This week’s What Is It?, however, is not that car. It took a couple of hours of searching before that fleet-footed messenger of the Roman gods, Mercury, provided me with the mental dope slap to return to the USA and identify it as a 1947-48 Mercury Eight.

“It was that Roman mythology that Edsel Ford had in mind in 1939 when he chose Mercury for the name of the new “upscale Ford” to bridge the gap between Ford and Lincoln. Edsel envisioned a big car that was quick, nimble and fuel efficient, with the only engine choice being a 95-horsepower venerable flathead V-8. It was also hoped that Mercury would hold on to some of those buyers who were defecting over to the more upscale brands of Buick, Oldsmobile, DeSoto and Dodge.

“Mercury production was halted by World War II after a partial 1942 sales year, and that same basic 1942 design with a new grille was offered when production restarted in 1946. The new grille is what is seen in the teaser shot; however in 1946, the trim around it was painted. The chrome grille surround seen in the teaser shot identifies this as either a 1947 or ’48 Mercury Eight.

“These are basically the same car with the only way to tell them apart being the dial faces on the instrument panel and the absence of a steering column lock on the 1948 models. 1948 was the last year for the prewar carry-over design, because the new, low and sleek restyled Mercurys debuted for 1949. These and the early-’50s Mecurys would go on to become some of the most favored cars to customize and hot rod.”

EVANS: Jeff Keevil guessed a 1947 Mercury convertible, although we didn’t ask for body style because all the teaser photo showed was the grille area: “I didn’t get your reference to peace and speed, but those two things seem to match in a convertible running down the road. The ’47 and ’48 were essentially identical.”

Larry Heath guessed the 1946 Mercury: “These cars were essentially the same as a Ford of this era with only trim differences. The design was based on the 1942 model because production ceased during World War II. An all-new car did not come along until 1949.

“The V-8 engine used during this time period was the ‘flathead’ design as opposed to the later OHV design Ford began using in 1954. In 1976, I pulled a 1948 Ford two-door sedan out of a field with a tractor. I got it cranked and drove it 50 miles to Augusta.

“At that time parts, were difficult to find, as was any local mechanic familiar with this vintage of auto. A positive-ground six-volt electrical system was rather unusual, to say the least. Because of other projects, I lost interest in the car and sold it to someone who was ready for a challenge. Not my favorite car ever, but good memories.”

Wayne Wilke wrote: “The What Is It? car is a 1947 Mercury, and I think it is a woodie station wagon. The ’47 Mercury that comes to my mind is not a shiny woodie model but a beat-up red convertible that my Uncle Bill had bought for $150 in 1956. That summer he ‘moved in’ with us to ‘get back on his feet’ financially. He stayed for two months.

“I was 10 years old. Uncle Bill was a bartender who worked nights. Like clockwork, he would appear at 4 p.m. in tux pants and a starched white shirt, ready to fire up the Merc for its journey to take him to work. At least a couple of times per week, it would fail to start. He would summon the neighborhood kids playing in the street by yelling: “Kids, give me a push.’ We would push, and the Merc would sputter to life as Uncle Bill popped the clutch and got away in a cloud of smoke.

He would reward his helpers by tossing a handful of nickels and dimes out the window. A bartender who made most of his money in tips, he always had lots of ‘silver.’ It got so that as 4 p.m. approached, more and more neighborhood kids would find there way close to the Merc. On Wednesdays, his day off, Uncle Bill would come out and shout, ‘Who wants an ice cream cone?’ and a halfdozen or so of kids would pile into the Merc to go get ice cream. Nice summer, pretty beat-up Merc ragtop, great Uncle Bill.”

Jerry Paul said: “My guess this week is the 1947-48 Mercury club convertible.”

GROVETOWN: Charles Jenkins said: “One headlight, lots of chrome, round fenders – 1946 Merc. I think all body versions looked the same. I didn’t pick up on the peace reference until after confirming the car. It’s better-looking than the basic Ford. (Note: Ford show at Grovetown Exhibition Center on May 20.)”

HEPHZIBAH: Theo Hammontree said it was a 1946 Mercury Sportsman woodie: “The parking light had really messed me up until I saw a picture of the 1946.”

JOHNSTON, S.C.: J. Lee Williams said: “I had a case of fat fingers last week. I meant to type 1968 (Ford Cusom). I had a head-slapper moment when I read 1978 in the paper.”

KEYSVILLE, Ga.: Glenn Widner said: “The year and make is a 1947 Mercury; the model is a little harder to identify. The models for 1947 were two-door coupe, 2-door convertible, four-door sedan, four-door station wagon and two-door Sportsman convertible.

“A 239-cubic-inch flat-head was the old reliable engine. 1946-48 were relatively peaceful years after the terrible carnage of World War II. But Korea and Vietnam were just over the horizon, and now it seems like the never-ending conflict in the Middle East keeps us in a perpetual state of war. Will we never learn?”

MARTINEZ: Joe Bert said: “This week’s hint has my wheels spinning as usual. The ‘speed’ part part would be the Mercury automobile, which, I think, your photo could be from 1943 to 1946 span since production was halted on cars for the war effort. Production numbers in 1943 were small on the convertibles of about 200 . The coupes, two-door and four-door sedans, I do not have the exact numbers.”

Reese Lewellan said it was the 1946 Mercury based on the parking lights, which were in the same location as the 1946 Ford: “The grille is very distinct from the Ford, however. Those were good years for Ford and Mercury with those body styles.”

PERRY, Fla.: Larry Anderson guessed the 1946 Mercury, which had Ford’s speedy flathead V-8.

TIGNALL, Ga.: Gene Wilson said that because of the parking lights, he was sure it was a 1946 Mercury.


After such a grueling week, What Is It? is taking a week off for some R&R. It will be back next Friday.

In the meantime, give yourself a quick test by answering these easy questions. Remember, these are to show you the breadth of your automotive your knowledge, so we don’t need your entry. Just know that you proved yourself a car enthusiast:

1. What three Edsel model names were later used by other makes, and what were those makes?

2. What automobile was sold as its own brand in 1960 and a different make the next?

3. What fastback “pony car” was released just two weeks before the market-making Ford Mustang?

4. Which automaker got rich early as a plumber by developing a process for bonding porcelain enamel to cast-iron bathtubs?

5. Who built the first successful American car and first offered a production model for sale to the public?

See you in a week! Thanks.