The nineteen fifties were an exuberant decade. Wildly optimistic one-of-a-kind dream cars graced car show stages, magazine spreads, and movies. Audiences would “oo” and “ah” over Detroit’s futuristic dreams, then spend their money on more pedestrian Bel Air and Fairlane sedans. Cadillac introduced their 1957 Eldorado Brougham, a special hand built dreamboat that cost more than most people made in a year, but affordable dream cars didn’t exist, not until Mercury introduced the fabulous Turnpike Cruiser. It was preceded by a concept car with the same name that was introduced at the 1956 Detroit Auto Show.
The Turnpike Cruiser stood out, even in an era of wildly over-styled, chrome bedecked, finned fantasies. Its windshield was topped by working ventilation pods, each of which sported its own radio antenna. The car’s back window rolled down at the push of a button, creating flow-through ventilation from the front pods. It boasted a powerful V8 engine, power seats with memory function (all but unheard of then), and a push button automatic transmission. Other special features included a padded dashboard, a tachometer, and a special steering wheel with a flat top for a better view of the road. They were really trying, but the public wasn’t buying.
Available in sedan, coupe, and convertible versions, sales for 1957 topped out at a mere 16,861 units. The auto industry suffered a slump in the recession year of 1958 and just 6,407 Turnpike Cruisers were produced. For its 1959 model roll out, Mercury pulled the plug on its daring experiment, creating what is now a sought after collectable. The Turnpike Cruiser’s extreme features and space age style ensure its place in the pantheon of space age car design.
Sadly, few Turnpike Cruisers have survived, though rare survivors sometimes appear at classic car shows.