Mercury rising, at least it seemed1997 Mercury MC4 concept

Some predict the world’s mercury will rise dramatically in our near future. Seeing this concept in 1997 may have led to similar conclusions for the like-named auto brand.

Unfortunately, the mythological Roman messenger’s final trip to the gods would occur less than 15 years hence.

Roman god Mercury

The annuls of history are filled with things awesome and mysterious, concept cars attest to that. Indeed, Mercury’s MC4 was both when a reference to it caught me off guard.

To explore this beauty, Ford Motor Company provided information and pictures. So, if you find yourself short on memories of the MC4, this refresher might be worth your time.

1996 Mercury SableMost designs coming from Ford’s divisions by the mid-1990s appeared guided by a militant opposition to perpendicular lines. Straight equaled passé; curvilinear, nouveau.

Relative to Ford models, however, the mild-mannered Mercury brand was a tad more restrained. For example, the Mystique, introduced for 1995, looks carved… albeit from unbaked bread dough but it has deliberately linear features. However, the 1996 Sable (above right) can only be described as unapologetically bulbous. Cougar’s grooming that same year imparted pudge and gave it a sour face. The next year was Tracer’s remolding, designed with all the intricacies a soft gel tablet. (In fairness, the pendulum of auto design had shifted, heading back from rigid to rounded shapes, and most of the industry had done or was doing the same.)

By 1997, few Mercury models were unaffected by the Stay Puft look. But, around that same time, Ford had been tinkering with a contrasting design philosophy. It was called New Edge.1997 Mercury MC4 concept

MC4: New Edge’s next step
Given time, about a decade, Cadillac’s designers have evolved the enduring Art & Science theme from starched collar to emotional math. So too Ford’s New Edge — only that metamorphosis commenced last century.1996 Lincoln Sentinel concept

In 1996 Ford and Lincoln had issued three concepts featuring origami-crisp elements but reportedly received mixed reactions (Lincoln Sentinel, left). Mark Adams, former chief designer for Ford Advanced Design Studio, referred to those forbearers as “experimentation” and “deliberately extreme,” whereas the MC4 was described as “the next step in New Edge’s refinement.”

Adams’ statements, which coincided with the MC4’s introduction, continued, “With it, our goal was a blending of organic shapes, like the bulged wheel arches, and precisely machined or tailored shapes. Obviously, we were not going for a traditional luxury look.”1997 Mercury MC4 concept

With regards to the so-called extreme trio of concepts released the year prior, Jack Telnack, Ford’s then vice president of design, explained, “We made New Edge more believable in MC4. We took some of the flatness and surface complexity, of the early vehicles, out. It’s part of this learning curve that we’re on. The MC4 body sections are fuller and simpler.” But Telnack went on to clarify that New Edge was yet a work in progress, describing it “like clay we are still shaping and molding.”

2001 Mercury CougarThe cat with just eight lives
With New Edge approaching production readiness and Thunderbird-based Cougars nearing trail’s end, a front-wheel-drive, thoroughly more modern replacement was in line for 1999 (which, incidentally, Motor Trend reported started as a third-gen Ford Probe).

Going into this my presumption was that the radically-new eighth and final generation Cougar (2001 shown above left) was the production-reality of the MC4 concept. That presumption was pretty much wrong — more on that in a second.
1996 Ford Thunderbird LX

To my surprise the MC4 is rear-wheel-drive and actually built off the bits of a 1996 Ford Thunderbird LX (like the one shown right, although it was reportedly black).

That means the MC4 benefited from what many believe to be Ford’s most advanced platform of the time, the MN12; a unibody structure riding on two rubber-isolated front and rear subframes, short- and long-arm front suspension, and fully independent H-arm rear suspension. The only major mechanical changes made for the MC4 were to the brakes, upgraded to four-piston Brembo calipers, and 15-inch-diameter vented and slotted rotors. The sacrificial ‘Bird also provided propulsion, an unmodified 4.6-liter SOHC V8 and four-speed automatic transmission.

So, back to the final generation Cougar. Operating under my aforementioned false presumption, I deemed it ironic but typical that a 1990s, rear-drive, V8 concept would translate into a front-drive, V6 production car.

But Mercury actually properly foretold what to expect of the Cougar with another concept for 1997. You read that right.

Mercury introduced two concepts that year: the subject MC4 and…

1997 Mercury MC4 and mystery concept

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