Obscurity of Mercury Marauder quite surprising

With the exception of the script in chrome on the left lower corner of the hood, there was little to show the lineage of the 1964 Mercury. In its 25-year history, the chassis had been stretched from a 116-inch wheelbase to 120 inches; the length had gone from 195.9 inches to 215.5. The lowly flat head V8 had given way to a behemoth 427 cubic inch diameter that cranked out an impressive 410 horsepower.

In the introductory year of the Mercury, 1939, there were but five models available in one series. For 1964, there were 18 models in three series.

Sales were relatively brisk, and the cars were well built. As a result, many are still on the road today.

However, in light of the meteoritic rise in muscle cars, there is one model's relative obscurity that seems quite surprising ­ the Marauder. In this it is not alone. How many today remember the Rambler Rebel, the Rambler Rogue, the '57 Chevrolet "Black Widow" or J2 optioned Oldsmobile Rocket 88?

The Marauder made its initial debut on the show-car circuit in January of 1963 as a convertible, a model that never made it into production. Upon arrival on dealer floors, it was promoted in the Monterrey series and was available in two-door, fast-back configuration only. It was these, not the four-door version introduced for the 1964 model year, which came to symbolize the Marauder muscle.

As with most senior-line Mercury products, the Marauder was available with numerous engine options as well as several transmissions including the standard 250 horsepower, 390 c.i.d. and another version of the same engine rated at 260 horsepower. For those who wanted a little more performance from a car that tipped the scales at 4,500 pounds, there was the Marauder Super 390 rated at 300 horsepower or the Marauder Interceptor 390 rated at 330 horsepower.

However, if this was not enough zip for those who wanted to experience earthbound flight, there was a 427 c.i.d., V8 rated at 410 horsepower. This brute featured numerous high-performance upgrades including a four-barrel carburetor, main bearing cap reinforcement, specially designed and constructed exhaust manifolds, an oil cooler, aluminum intake manifold, special-to-this-engine head gaskets, rod bearings and connecting rods. Even the fan belt was heavy duty.

This was the engine that legendary racecar builder Bill Stroppe chose when Ford assigned to him the task of organizing a Mercury racing team. Stroppe had become famous with his work on Ford products, most notably Lincoln, during the heady days of the unbridled Mexican road races of the early 1950s.

The first order of business for Stroppe when the Marauders arrived at his shop was tearing the engine completely down, magnafluxing it, and then all moving parts were balanced. Once reassembled, each engine was dynamically balanced and inspected.

Next frame and suspension components were reinforced, heavier Lincoln drums were substituted for standard Mercury components and steel firewalls were added between the new 22-gallon tank and rear seat. The final touches were a brilliant red, white and blue paint job and then track-testing.

However, on the track even a car as formidable as the Stroppe-modified Marauder was only as good as its driver. At the debut race in January of 1963 at the Riverside 500, a perfect counterpart in Parnelli Jones was found to get the most from these asphalt-eating monsters.

Time and again the Stoppe and Jones teams proved themselves the one to beat for 1963 and 1964. In 1964 alone, they won eight major stock car races, beat the record they had established the previous year at Pikes Peak and claimed the USAC Championship.

These stellar accomplishments made Parnelli Jones and Mercury Marauder household names, especially among racing enthusiasts and those who hung on every announcement from Detroit that a new high-performance street machine was about to be unleashed. With Mercury in the spotlight, sales for 1963 and 1964 kept dealers quite content. For 1963, just over 120,000 big Mercs were sold, the best sales numbers since 1960. The next year's sales were still respectable in spite of a 9-percent drop.

The Marauder nameplate would continue through the 1960s. However, it was the first generation from 1963 and 1964 that stole the show. These were the Mercurys that garnered near cult status.

Stock car racing as new and used cars, demolition derbies and age have taken their toll. The Mercury Marauder of 1963 and 1964 is today relatively rare. Perhaps it is this scarcity rather than their illustrious history that has relegated the Marauder to muscle-car footnote rather than front-page story.

James Hinckley writes a weekly column about classic automobiles and regional travel for the Miner.