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|Not Found on eBay: 2003 Mercury Messenger|
|Written by Rich Truesdell|
|Tuesday, 20 July 2010 10:29|
As Mercury rolls to a halt this summer, could this concept have saved Mercury from its fate joining Pontiac, Saturn, Hummer, Oldsmobile, AMC,... and so many other automotive marques?
In the dark room that is Detroit's Cobo Hall, I sat among 6,000 other journalists watching the Mercury Messenger roll onto the stage as part of Ford's 2003 North American International Auto Show press conference. My first thought was, "Damn, this light-blue, two-door coupe was exactly the kind of car Mercury was crying for to help distinguish itself from the Fords that all its models were cloned from." In its proportions, I thought it bore more than a passing resemblance to another Ford concept: 1963's Ford Cougar II. (Coincidentally, I happened to have built that very car in 1/25th scale 38 years earlier. You know what they say, what goes around, comes around. I just didn't think it would happen right in front of my eyes, in 1/1 scale.) The car is one of 18 Ford concept vehicles available at RM Auction's annual Sports & Classics of Monterey event on 13-14 August 2010 in Pebble Beach, California. The proceeds will benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and The Children's Center.
So, am I the only automotive writer/journalist/historian who sees a striking resemblance between the Cougar II and the Messenger? It certainly seems so when you read all the reporting on the Mercury Messenger. Ford representatives billed the vehicle as embodying a new styling and marketing direction for the company's long-neglected marque: "Mercury is a brand sending a message that modern design will lead its rejuvenation. Mercury is returning to its roots as a design leader introducing the Messenger concept, a distinctive and energetic high-performance two-seat sports coupe." Indeed, invoking the image of its namesake--the Roman god of speed and agility and messenger of the heavens--Mercury mavens rolled out a sleek front-engine, rear-drive concept coupe with "new design DNA."
Good God, could any car live up to that advance billing? And yes... they mentioned design DNA. How cliché.
In the case of the 2003 Mercury Messenger, it was strictly a styling study--what is referred to by many as a "pushmobile concept car." The vehicle was literally a body shell combined with an interior that looked surprisingly production-ready, lacking many of the cutting-edge treatments so often found in factory-built concept cars.
The Ford press kit claimed the Mercury Messenger was compact and promoted efficient packaging. Yet with a 112-inch wheelbase, this two-seater would be much larger than such contemporaries as the BMW Z4, the Mercedes-Benz SLK, and the Nissan 350Z. (The largest of the three, the Nissan began appearing in showrooms in late 2002.) Had the Messenger made it into production, it would have been most comparable to the 350Z with its platform shared with the larger Infiniti G35. It's interesting to note that the Messenger concept appeared two years after the Chrysler Crossfire concept, and just before the production version arrived later in 2003. The Crossfire was compromised by its extremely tight interior packaging, a byproduct of its 94.5-inch wheelbase from the first-generation SLK that donated its chassis and mechanical package.
As is common with concept cars, the Mercury Messenger was dominated by large wheels and tires, specifically 19-inch wheels with 275-mm wide tires on the front mated with 20-inch wheels with 305-mm wide tires on the rear. The spoked wheels have a turbine theme, with vanes reflecting the Mercury "flying M" logo. (The vanes are functional, helping direct airflow over the brakes.) Large, beautifully sculpted front air scoops and outlets at the front and rear of the vehicle give it a purposeful, powerful look. Overall, the exterior package was cleanly styled, if not inspired by the Cougar II. You can see styling elements of many other sports cars, including Ford's own mid-engined GT.
If the Messenger concept had made it into production, using a projected three-year development schedule, what then-current Ford passenger car might have provided a chassis? And what would we find under the hood?
To answer the first question, I'd say most likely a de-contented version of the two-seat Ford Thunderbird chassis, which was built on the rear-wheel-drive DEW98 platform it shared with the Lincoln LS and Jaguar S-Type (part of Ford at the time). A shortened version of the SN-95 Mustang chassis, which rode on a 101.3-inch wheelbase (much shorter than the concept's 112 inches) would be another choice--especially since it could be built with a less-expensive solid rear axle. As for under the hood, the press materials hinted at Ford's 4.6-liter modular V8. If the car were Mustang-based, though, it would have been logical to offer a base model with Ford's 3.8-liter V6, possibly for less than $20,000. The press materials also suggested the Messenger would be equipped with a six-speed sequential automatic transmission, computer-active independent suspension, and four-wheel, power, anti-lock brakes with Brembo discs and high-performance calipers.
The Mercury Messenger concept will be sold without a drivetrain and is therefore offered on a bill of sale only. The pre-auction estimate for its sale is $75,000 to $100,000. It will be quite interesting to see if the new owner turns it into a runner with a Ford crate motor. If it were me, I'd opt for the new 412-horsepower, five-liter V8.