The 1949 Mercury Eight is a bona fide movie star, having appeared in several classic films including Rebel Without a Cause, American Graffiti, and Grease. The animated character “Sheriff” in the Pixar movie Cars is also a 1949 Mercury Eight. There’s even a popular Hot Wheels version of the Mercury Eight, known as “Purple Passion.”
The first model made under Ford’s Mercury marque, the Eight was produced from 1939 through 1951. Mercury ads called it “The car that truly dares to ask ‘Why?’” – implying that it was possible for this car to be both large and economical (driving up to 20 miles per gallon). The “Eight” name referred to the car’s Ford Flathead V8 engine. Priced between $1,950 and $2,500, the Eight was meant to be the entry level luxury vehicle of the Ford marques — pricier than a Ford, but quite a bit less expensive than a Lincoln. The design is a good example of the “bathtub” style, so named because of the car’s buffed-out, bulbous curves.
Mercury Eights became a popular choice for low-riding “lead sled” hot rod customizations, so named because molten lead was used as a body filler and because the cars were lowered and their roofs chopped.
Maybe it’s the curves, maybe it’s the appeal of the lead sled, or maybe it’s that James Dean mystique – but the Eight remains a coveted piece of 1940s automotive history.
Photo by Alden Jewell