1962 S-55 Mercury Monterey Road Test

(Motor Trend/October 1962, by Wayne Thomas)



Mercury has been touting their sporty mid-year S-55 as a cross between a tiger and a purring kitten depending upon how the car is driven. While the simile sounds like an ad man's fantasy, it isn't so far from the fact when one get down to cases. The S-55 with the optional high-performance 405-hp V-8 aboard can be driven in kitten-smooth fashion at low and traffic speeds; when the road clears and the three two-barrel carburetors are punched open, you've got a tiger by the tail. Fortunately, it's a well-trained tiger with no unpleasant vices. And you don't really have to be an animal lover to appreciate the S-55 all you must have is a fondness for a smooth-operating performance/handling package.


Top boot is handsomely stitched and covers all mechanism, but was extremely difficult to attach, had poorly designed snaps.

 

Front seat folds flush, can be used for stretching out. Normal application is for easier entrance to surprisingly comfortable rear seat.

 

Roomy cockpit features semi-bucket seats, which are close to floor but extremely comfortable. The floor shift is a long reach when the driver's seat is back.

 

Design of the back rest stops failed to consider seat belts. Sharp peg punched holes in fabric belt and weakened it badly.

 

Console compartment provides best cockpit storage area in car, is much larger than the glove box, It may also be locked.

 


Our test S-55, which is part of the Monterey series, was a convertible (it is also available as a two-door hardtop) with the hottest engine Mercury offers, a four-speed, floor-mounted stick shift, the high-performance suspension and brake package, and bucket seats the fast and the fancy in one.

First Question: Does it go? Answer: YES, in every respect.
One performance gauge, our quarter-mile time, while impressive, was not truly indicative of the car's competition capabilities. We ran with two persons aboard, mufflers and no attempt to speed tune. It was in honest street trim, and just a little extra tinkering would have raised the speed past the century mark and lowered elapsed time substantially. Even so, we had no complaints. We found that there was a best technique in achieving our fastest quarter-mile times We eased off the line at about 2500 rpm, avoiding wheelspin as much as possible, and pressed the accelerator to the floor, not instantly, but just fast enough to avoid loading the engine at the low end. After trying various shift points, we settled on 5800 rpm, the horsepower peak. With open headers, the factory recommends shifting at 6200. Oddly enough, the S-55 did not have a tachometer, one instrument the car really needed to avoid over-revving. We used our portable tach for the tests.

Where we found the Merc to be magnificently strong was in the mid- and upper-speed ranges. Cruising at 70, for example, and hitting the go-pedal, made the car jump as though it had been shifted into a lower gear. The same thing happened from practically any speed we chose in any gear right up to the top end. There is a good reason. The big engine has three carburetors on a progressive linkage. Normally only the center carb operates. It will take the car up to about 75 mph. The driver can feel in the accelerator the point at which the other two carbs go to work, and when they are turned on they go with a satisfying roar while gulping air to be mixed with fairly large quantities of premium fuel.

This 405-hp, 406-cubic-inch engine is an amazing piece of machinery. It develops it's 448 lbs.-ft. of torque at 3500 rpm. It is, of course, the same engine that Ford offers in their high-performance cars, and all reports are that it is a reliable work-horse as well as a top performer. Cost is nominal - $379.90. Anyone who wants to get serious about making the engine go has only to look at the detailed specifications. The factory had the drag and track racer in mind when listed optional cam-ground forged aluminum pistons. And they have made it easy to match the cubic centimeter capacities of combustion chambers a necessity in racing by listing the cc's for a series of deck clearances (which are distances from the top of block to top of pistons). Added is the volume of the space the head gasket occupies, plus a range for cylinder head combustion chamber volumes.


Unusual lighting system in doors includes a red saftey beam slanted to the rear and a white light to illuminate the interior of the car. It is automatic when door opens.

 

The trunk is long and shallow, has spare tire and jack secured far forward. To remove the spare, first remove luggage, then climb into trunk and struggle with wheel.

 

Mercury's S-55 convertible has same exterior as monterey series, carries small amount of identifying trim, special interior.

 


The old theory about a factory hot rod being sensitive and hard to manage in traffic can be tossed right out the S-55's window. We accelerated from as low as 12 mph in fourth gear. Cracking all three carbs hard open at that speed caused some stumble but no permanent stalling. Using the accelerator with a bit less verve made the car pull away smoothly. It has so much torque that it is virtually a two-gear automobile. We found ourselves regularly by-passing either second or third or both most of the time with no ill effects. It's as easy to drive as any stick shift.

But make no mistake this big-muscled brute is a man's car, if for no other reason that the fact that power steering is not available. At speed it is fine, but parking gets to be a chore. It takes 5¼ turns, lock-to-lock, and it requires work to twist while stopped. A quicker ratio is optional, but it is for track racing, and would be even more difficult at low speeds. Other feminine niceties you can't get with the high-performance S-55 include power brakes, air-conditioning and automatic transmission. The theory is that the fan belt-driven accessories will not stand up under the high revs of which this engine is capable. Besides, they all rob horsepower, the primary reason for buying this package.

It should be self-evident that economy and performance are incompatible, so before someone writes us complaining of poor mileage, let us tell him what to expect from the big engine. Our average for all conditions was 10.1 mpg. Not including maximum acceleration runs. Trying for economy on the highway, that is cruising at 65-70 mph, attempting to stay on the center carburetor, gave us 10.6. Normal cruising through Los Angeles traffic, with occasional blasts away from stop lights just to listen to the engine's roar, bought us 9.6. The only point worth making is that if you are the type who carefully logs gas mileage with an eye to keeping it high, you probably shouldn't buy the car with this engine. It was designed to go and it does; it also enjoys large quantities if the best-grade fuel available.

We were pleasantly surprised with the way in which the S-55 is designed to stop. Our 30- and 60- mph stopping distances were quite short, considering the car's weight. There seems to be plenty of break area, pedal pressure is not excessive, and tendency to fade was minimal all the result of the bigger than-normal brakes that Mercury wisely includes with their high-performance package.

The four-speed, all-synchro transmission was as good as we have found, and it has an unusual feature when purchased on the S-55, it involves a credit of $24.50. The linkage was solid and we like the lock-out device to prevent accidental reverse engagement. Ratios are suited for performance work: 2.36, 1.78, 1.41 and 1.1 Balance of the drive train was sturdy; we found nothing but healthy bite in the semi-centrifugal clutch. Mercury offers 15 different ratios from 3.00 to 8.83:1, plus a limited-slip option, which our test car did not have but could have used to advantage during acceleration runs.


Special 406 engine, above and at left, carries a trio of two-throat Holly carburetors and one-piece paper element air-cleaner. Designed for high-performance driving, the S-55 is remarkably tractable in city traffic as well.

Ride and handling have been taken into account as an integral part of the performance package. The S-55 cornered flat and felt extremely controllable. The price for a slightly stiffer suspension is a firmer ride not harsh or unpleasant, but firm. We liked it. Adding to the sensation are the semi-bucket seats, comfortable and not overpadded. They are low, only 8½ inches of the floor in front, placing driver and passenger in a legs-out position. Rake is adjustable within narrow limits with set screws.

The few items we didn't like were in the detail category. The rear window is very difficult to zip back into the closed position. The top boot has snaps that slide in slots to compensate for variations in body snap position. The only trouble is that the snaps in the boot tend to pull out and stay attached to the body. The general feeling was that interior trim was gaudier than necessary. These are tiny details, but annoying.

Our S-55 was solid, well finished, a largely pleasing automobile. Specifications for the 1963 models indicate that there will be very little mechanical change. Unless a hotter engine is announced during the model year, our conclusions for the '62 should hold true for the new cars. We can only add that in the Detroit competition to capture performance fans, Mercury's S-55 with the ever-willing 406 engine is a stimulating car that puts a lot of sport back into driving.


Stopping distance, above, proved to be shorter than expected for a heavy convertible. Acceleration times, as per fifth wheel, were among best of all production cars.

Mercury Monterey S-55
2-door, 4-5 passenger convertible
Options on car tested: 406, 2-carburator engine, 4-speed transmission,
radio, power windows, electric wipers
and washer, seat belts, 70-amp battery,
padded dash and visors, courtesy lamp
group, 7.10 x 15 tires, outside mirror
Basic Price $3738
Price as Tested $4624.65
Odometer Reading at Start of Test 2556 miles
Recommended Engine Red Line 6000 rpm
Performance
Acceleration (2 aboard)  
      0-30 mph   3.2 secs.
      0-45 mph   5.0 secs.
      0-60 mph   7.65 secs.
Standing start ¼-mile 16.5 secs, and 94 mph
Speeds in gears @ 6000  
    1st 50 mph     3rd 85 mph
    2nd 68 mph     4th 120 mph
Specifications from Manufacturer
Engine:
    Ohv V8
    Bore: 4.13 ins.
    Stroke: 3.78 ins.
    Displacement: 406 cubic inches
    Compression ratio: 10.9:1
    Horsepower: 405 @ 5800 rpm
    Torque: 448 lbs.-ft. @3500 rpm
    Horsepower per cubic inch: 0.99
    Ignition: 12-volt coil
Suspension
    Front: Independent, ball joints,
        coil springs, tubular shocks,
        stabilizer bar
    Rear: Non-independent, semi-elliptic
        leaf springs, tubular shocks
Wheels and Tires
    Stamped steel disk, 15 x 5.5
    7.10 x 15 nylon tubeless 4-ply tires
Gearbox
    4-speed manual, all-synchro; floor-
        mounted lever
Brakes
    Hydraulic, drum; self adjusting,
        duo-servo
    Front: 11-in. dia. x 3 in. wide
    Rear: 11-in. dia. x 2.5 in. wide
    Effective lining area: 198 sq. ins.
Driveshaft
    One-Piece; open
Differential
    Hypoid -semi-floating
    Standard ration: 3.50:1
Body and Frame
    Convertible body on ladder-type
        frame with full-length boxed
        side rails and 5 crossmembers
    Wheelbase: 119 ins.
    Track: front, 61 ins.; rear, 60 ins.
    Overall length;215.5 ins.
    Curb weight: 4208 lbs.
Steering
    Recirculating ball and nut
    Turning diameter: 41.6 ft.
    Turns: 5.25 lock-to-lock


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