1969 Mercury Marauder, ‘an overall sports car–but with a new luxury look’?

1969 Mercury Marauder

1969 Mercury Marauder

Do you remember the 1969 Mercury Marauder? How about bell-bottoms? Floppy at the ankles and tight at the knees and floppy at the ankles, they made sense only a sailor but we wore them anyway. After all, it was the ’60s, and bell-bottoms were as much a part of that confused decade as protest marches, sit-ins and something called the personal luxury car.

The 1969 Mercury Marauder was one of those. A latecomer, it joined established players including the Buick Wildcat and Pontiac Grand Prix. Built on the new perimeter frame shared with the Ford’s big XL, it rode on a 121-inch wheelbase. According to Mercury sales literature, it was snug, three inches shorter than the Marquis. By current ethos, it was huge, stretching a tape measure to 219.1 inches from stem to stern.

Four-door hardtops were available on other models, but “personal luxury” meant two long doors only. It borrowed, unaltered, the Marquis’ front-end styling, concealed headlamps and all, but added distinctive quarter panels highlighted by dummy air extractors and a tunnelback roof. The X-100 was upgrade, and it had the distinction of a matte-black paint treatment inexplicably applied to the entire tunnelback and trunklid area.

Ford’s ubiquitous 390-cid V8 was the standard engine for the Mercury Marauder. With its two-barrel carburetor, it was rated at 265 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque. Optional was Dearborn’s new lightweight (relatively speaking) 429 that–sucking in God’s good air through a four-barrel carburetor and squeezing it with a 10.5:1 compression ratio–produced an alleged 360 hp.

Mercury sales literature called the Marauder “sport car action that everyone can get in on.” With a long hood and short deck, it aped the formula that had worked so well for the Mustang, just on a grander scale.

And why not? Lee Iacocca was group vice president since 1965, fresh from siring the Mustang. Quoted in Motor Trend at the time, he bragged that the ’69 Mercury line was something different: “Take the Marauder. It’s smaller than the Marquis. But look at it. When I see an X-100 Marauder all jazzed up, you think that it’s got the Marquis Lincoln-esque front end, but I read it as an overall sports car–but with a new luxury look.”

Lincoln-Mercury styling chief A.B. (Buzz) Grissenger hoped Marauder styling features would convey a “King of Speed” feeling.

Despite Iacocca’s enthusiasm and Grissenger’s optimism, the Marauder (reprising a name used in the early ’60s by Mercury and that went NASCAR racing under the auspices of Bill Stroppe) didn’t connect. Mercury sold almost 400,000 cars in ’69, but only 14,666 were Marauders, including a mere 5,635 X-100s.

One 1969 Mercury Marauder that missed its target demographics completely went to a 50-ish lady in rural Pennsylvania. Equipped with an AM radio, the Twin-Comfort split bench seat and few other options–not even air conditioning or power windows–the Marauder listed barely above its $3,368 base price. (An X-100 went for $4,091 without options, though it quickly soared to well over $5,000 after a/c and a long list of other additional equipment.)

This particular Mercury Marauder was purchased with a mere 70,000 miles on it about ten years ago by a Pennsylvania collector. It was in like new condition other than interior wear and tear.

The big engine fires easily and the steering wheel, thoughtfully wrapped with a lace-on cover, spins so freely it feels unattached to anything. It’s symptomatic of the Mercury Marauder’s road manners. There’s a road down below, but the Jello ride masquerades any hint of it. On narrow, winding back roads, the kind the original owner drove–bless her heart–the Marauder is scarily wide and the steering uncommunicative. Americans could indeed drive, if manipulating this leviathan was any measure. Out on the divided four-lane, the Marauder was more at home, it’s massive torque making merging easy. Mercury called it “sports car action with a luxury look.” It was more the other way around.

In 1970, sales reached only 6,043, including just 2,646 X-100s, so Mercury cut its losses and killed the Marauder. Iacocca had boasted, “We’re going to take the Marauder…and give them hell.” Wrong, Lee.

The Marauder name was later brought for performance version the Mercury Marquis, and bell-bottoms had a temporary revival as well. Neither lasted. And now, neither has Mercury.