Two Years Only: 1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser

The American automobile industry has produced cars with some evocative names that have stood the test of time decades after they first saw the light of day. Mustang, Stingray, Cougar, ‘Cuda. All of these badges prompt a response in enthusiasts that is as strong now as it was 50-years-ago. However, some model names were very much of their time, and the Mercury Turnpike Cruiser is a perfect example. As Americans embraced the automobile following World War II, Mercury decided to celebrate this new-found freedom by naming a model after the rapidly-developing interstate highway system. The 1957 Cruiser was built in limited numbers, and finding a good one today can be a challenge. Barn Finder Larry D spotted this one for us, so thank you so much for that, Larry. It has been in a private collection, but the time has come for it to head to a new home. Located in North Hollywood, California, you will find the Mercury listed for sale here on eBay. Bidding is sitting at $3,550, but the reserve hasn’t been met.

The Turnpike Cruiser was designed as a luxury car, and its price as it rolled off the showroom floor reflected this. At $3,850, it was only a few hundred dollars short of the average American wage at the time. It was also around 25% of the average house price cost, which did not make it a cheap buy. However, it did come well equipped, and its styling ensured that it wouldn’t be mistaken for a lesser model. This one is finished in Classic White, and it still features the distinctive gold-anodized sections in the rear tailfins. The body is generally pretty straight, although there is evidence of previous repairs on the driver’s side quarter panel, just forward of the rear wheel. This area will need to be investigated to ensure that rust hasn’t developed. The question of rust is a pertinent one because cars from this era were renowned for dissolving like a soluble aspirin. The Mercury has been in a private collection and has spent its life in sunny California. The seller says that it has managed to remain rust-free, and there is no evidence of anything beyond some surface corrosion visible in the supplied photos. Depending on the market, the Turnpike Cruiser was offered with single or dual headlights. This car features the latter, which gives the vehicle a distinctive appearance. The chrome is all present and appears to be in good condition, while the original hubcaps are free from damage.

Mercury equipped the Turnpike Cruiser with some quirky design features, and this is undoubtedly my favorite. Mercury fitted cold-air intakes at the top of the tinted windshield on either side. This fed cool air to vents located directly behind, and when coupled with the “Breezeway” retractable rear window, provided excellent flow-through ventilation. This system is complete, although the external fittings for the vents are showing some bubbling. If the car is going to be restored, these should look good following a trip to the platers.

When a buyer handed over their cash for a new 1957 Turnpike Cruiser, it came in a single mechanical configuration. What they received for their money was a 368ci V8, a 3-speed Merc-O-Matic transmission, power steering, and power brakes. This V8 was capable of producing a very respectable 290hp. However, at 4,190lbs, the Mercury was a touch on the portly side. That makes the ¼-mile ET of 16.7 seconds seem very impressive. Give this old girl enough room on a stretch of road that it has been named after, and the needle should nudge 120mph. The Mercury’s exterior might be looking tired, but the buyer might not be spending a fortune on the drivetrain. The owner says that the Cruiser runs and drives, although he doesn’t indicate whether it is roadworthy. I get the impression from the listing that the Mercury has been sitting for a while, so it would probably be a wise move to have the car thoroughly inspected before tackling the nearest Turnpike.

The Mercury’s interior is complete and serviceable, but it will need some work if the rest of the car is eventually going to be treated to a restoration. This has the potential to pose some problems because interior trim is not exactly thick on the ground. However, the soft trim material is available, so the buyer might need to find an upholsterer to recreate seat covers and door trims if replacements can’t be located. All of the hard items and plated pieces are present, and their condition ranges from excellent through to restorable. I can’t see any items that would need to be replaced.

The interior does come nicely equipped, which is in keeping with the Mercury’s luxury aspirations. The buyer will find themselves with power windows, which nicely complement the “Breezeway” rear window. There is also a cool “Seat-O-Matic” power seat. This was a feature that allowed the seat to be programmed to individual driver needs. Mercury also thought about safety and ergonomics, with the flat-topped wheel improving visibility and the padded dash providing some protection in the event of an accident. The gauge cluster even featured an interesting clock and trip odometer arrangement. This could calculate the average speed on a journey, making it a precursor to the modern trip computer.

The Turnpike Cruiser appeared during the 1957 model year, and the badge was discontinued at the end of 1958. Therefore, its lifespan was short but sweet. This 1957 Turnpike Cruiser is something different, and it is also a bit of a rarity. Mercury only built 16,861 examples during that model year. The rarest of these was the Convertible Cruiser, with a total of 1,265. The 2-Door Hardtop was second, with 7,291. Like so many cars from this era, many of those cars have now succumbed to the ravages of time and rust, but this one has been spared that fate. A life spent in California has seen it remain rock-solid, making it a prime candidate for restoration. But is it worth it? If it is as good as the photos and listing suggest, then it probably is. You will battle to find an excellent example for under $28,000, while pristine cars can easily top $35,000 on a good day. Would you treat this car to the restoration that it would seem to deserve, or would you continue to drive it proudly as an original survivor?

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Comments

  1. Bakyrdhero Bakyrdhero Member

    Interesting options available in this car. I’d love to come across one of these someday and give it a closer look.

    Like 13
  2. Bob_in_TN Bob_in_TN Member

    Thorough write-up Adam, I learned some things. Specifically about some of the features on the car which I didn’t realize existed in 1957 (Seat-O-Matic, very cool). Stylish instrument panel. I hope the car gets restored.

    Like 24
    • bry593

      Must be a very late 1957, since quad headlights wasn’t legal until 1958. Hence the reason every maker had quad in ’58, but not ’57.

      What a mish-mash of styling ideas. Looks like it has everything but the kitchen sink. Although a kitchen sink would probably improve the styling and grace a smidge….

      Like 4
  3. angliagt angliagt Member

    I’ve got a Hemmings Special Interest Autos magazine
    around here somewhere with an article on this.
    I’d imagine that it was a huge deal if one of your neighbors
    brought one of these home when they were new.

    Like 19
  4. Steve Clinton

    Another attack of the patina monster!

    Like 5
  5. alphasud Member

    Just looks the face on that car! Looks like it wants to gobble up highway. To think that all of the modern features on cars today are just recycled ideas from the 50’s. The only thing missing is cruise control, A/C, and headlight sentry which were available on other makes of the time. Mopar even tried electronic fuel injection in the 50’s which was eventually sold to Bosch to develop the modern version. Pretty cool stuff! I would love to drive that car with the breezeway window down and the vents open. Comfortable cruising for sure.

    Like 14
  6. Zapp

    I don’t mind “patina” on old pickup trucks, sedan deliveries, business coupes, step vans, and other workaday vehicles that had no aspirations of being something you’d be proud to park in your driveway.

    On a high-end car like this that was intended to be a show-stopper, I think it’s shabby and completely ruins the moment.

    One has to wonder if the Turnpike Cruiser would’ve lasted a few more model years if not for the introduction of the Edsel.

    Like 12
  7. benjy58

    AAH the old Turnpike Bruiser, If 15 miles to the gallon is your dream you could do no better.

    Like 5
  8. HC

    Gosh, what a beauty! I’d treat her with a nice repaint and maybe a tune up and disc brakes. Galaxie may be best route for disc kit. Rarely see these great find!

    Like 4
  9. Howard A Member

    Neat car, a bit far-fetched, but, look at what the others were offering in the late 50’s. Ford kind of went out on a limb calling it a “Turnpike”, as the only 4 lane non-stop turnpike, was PA. completed in fall of 1956, right when this car came out. I read, a small stretch of the 1st interstate highway, near Topeka, KS. was opened in Nov. 1956, but non-stop highway travel was the thing of the future, and Ford wanted everyone to know, they had the car to do it. “Turnpike” became the catch-all word for any non-stop 4 lane, toll or not.
    One could go either way here, just because of it’s unusual styling and features, but to REALLY make an impression, it should be restored. The fact it’s in Cal. and not 5 figures, is a breath of fresh air. This is what these cars SHOULD go for. Great find.

    Like 13
    • LarryS Member

      Turnpike, in fact, was originally a term used for a toll road. “Turnpike” is pretty much synonymous with “turnstile” and was a barrier across the road that was moved when the toll was paid. Connecticut, where I grew up, had a number of roads called “XXXX Turnpike” (e.g., the Hartford Turnpike).

      This really is a beautiful car in a very ’50’s way with some really unusual features for the period. Every time I see a ’57 or ’58 with quad headlights I always assume it’s a ’58 but that may be an effect of the fact that ’57’s in I remember in CT didn’t have quad headlights.

      Like 2
      • LarryS Member

        Was looking at the brochure for the ’57 Turnpike Cruiser and it has the following note re the quad headlights. “Standard equipment except in South Dakota and Tennessee”.

        Like 1
  10. Deane

    I thought 57’s had single headlights and quad lights came out in 58. I remember our 57 family car had single headlights.

    • Doug

      I had a 57 and there was only single head light that changed in 58 with Raul headlights

    • Chuck Dickinson

      57 Mercs, DeSotos, Chryslers and Imperials offered dual h/ls as an option (where legal). Most/many were so equipped.

      Like 3
  11. glenn hilpert

    A factory Tachometer, interesting. Bidding went to 4K already and I asked owner what ballpark figure $ he/she was looking at but no response. As described, car will most likely need a restoration along with the rotted floors and what else may arise.

  12. Al

    can remember when they where new sat in one on showroom floor great car just needs a set of cruising skirts which came out about the same time how many people remember cruising skirts

    Like 4
    • Jetfire88

      This is the car that introduced Cruiser Skirts. They were frequently stolen from Mercs and modified to fit whatever the acquirer need them for.
      The aftermarket (Foxcraft) caught on and made universal fit models for most late 50’s cars.
      They are still popular and bring significant $$ on popular auction sites.

      Like 1
  13. JukeOfEarl

    My mother had one of these and once when my grandfather was driving and my mother was sitting in the back seat, with the rear window down, her hat flew off and was caught by the “hood ornament” just aft of the rear window.

    Like 5
  14. its1969ok

    The pieces added to adapt the quad headlights on the outer side of the fenders look really awkward.

    • Bill McCoskey

      ALMOST as bad as the 1958 quad headlights on Studebakers & Packards. I had a 1958 Packard sedan, loaded with all options including A/C, I always wanted to change it back to single headlights per fender.

      Like 1
  15. John Williamson

    My father in law was a car salesman and he gave me one of these in all black, probably because he couldn’t sell it. It was such a Disco Ball I was ashamed to drive it in public. I did because it ran great and was all I had to drive. After a few months he let me trade it back on a beautiful 56 Buick 2 dr hardtop, also black. The Merc was very ugly then and they still are unless you are from Star Wars. JW

    Like 2
  16. John Williamson

    My father in law a car salesman gave me one of these, probably cause he couldn’t sell it, I was ashamed to drive a Disco Ball so as soon as i could I got him to swap it for a beautiful black 56 Buick 2 dr hardtop. Ugly then and now unless you are a Star Trecky.

  17. Arden

    Found one in a salvage yard in Alva, OK in 1964. Bought the “Turnpike Cruiser” valve cover badges and put them on my ’55 Ford. Cool.

    Like 2
  18. glenn hilpert

    Price up to 5K

  19. IKE Member

    I remember cruising skirts. I’m 78.
    They were UGLY! No matter what you
    put them on.

  20. Al

    lol i remember that it was rt behind the window

  21. Johnmloghry Johnmloghry Member

    Quad headlights were optional in 57 and standard in 58. My first mil had a 57 with single headlights. I seem to remember the transmission on these cars was a weak link. I would paint it back to factory colors. Polish or rechrome where needed, make this baby shine. It’s not likely you’re going to see another one at most shows. I wish I could go inspect it in person, but I can’t.
    God bless America

  22. Leigh Kirkwood

    I believe the Merc only came in dual headlights. There was a competion model with single headlights, it was called a Monarch. It was made in Canada and only 254 were made. I had the convertible model and have kicked my ass ever since for selling it. A restored model sold a few years ago for $85K.

    Like 1
  23. Al

    1957 linclon also had dual headlights they whefe one above the other not side ny side

    Like 1
  24. Glenn C. Schwass Member

    Were these unibody like the Lincoln’s? This is pretty neat even if I’m not an old Ford guy, it’s great to see the rare ones. I’m just glade I do need to find parts for it.

  25. Slim

    literally just a 59 edsel ranger with different trim and grill

    Like 1
  26. Al

    im 75 and i agree i never liked cruising skirts looked like they where pasted on out side of car liked reg skirts that fitted flush with the body

    Like 1
  27. Jay Santos

    Those little protrusions exiting the cold-air intakes at the top of the “Skylight Dual-Curve” windshield were actually antennas for the radio.

  28. DON

    Fewer Turnpike cruisers had single headlights than duals. The front ends ones that do really resemble 57 Fords .

    • LarryS Member

      I think maybe all of the Turnpike Cruisers were quad headlights. I saw a brochure for the ’57 Mercurys that showed all of the models with a single headlight on each side except for the Turnpike Cruiser. Other brochures I have seen show all of the models with quad headlights. But in 2 brochures I have seen it says quad headlights were not available in South Dakota and Tennessee – presumably because they weren’t allowed in those states. So it’s possible that a Turnpike Cruiser with only one headlight per side was sold in those states.

  29. JukeOfEarl

    When my mother had one of these, the dealer had all kinds of 57 Mercury postcards.

    I still have one.

    https://www.ebay.com/itm/164597954039

  30. Bill McCoskey

    Buyer be warned: This has the automatic suspension and steering joint lubrication system. These were very trouble-prone, and ALL the steering and suspension lube points need to be checked for excess play. It appears the system is still in place and hooked up.

    Many L-M new car salesmen, having been informed the system was automatic, told new owners this was a totally automatic lubrication system that required no attention by the owner/driver. This was incorrect. It automatically sent out a light weight chassis lube oil to all the steering and suspension points, BUT ONLY IF YOU REMEMBER TO PUSH THE BUTTON. Many owners rarely [or never] pushed the button, and the suspension/steering pieces quickly wore out.

    Plus, if any contaminates got into the lube system, it could cause one or more lube points to stop working. This needs to be checked over, with every lube line and fitting cleaned out, then filled with the proper lube oil.

    The unit is located in the space between the left inner fender and the Bendix Treadlevac power brake unit.

    And speaking of the Bendix Treadlevac unit, these were used on Packards 1952-56, Some mid 1950s Cadillac [and Olds?], and FoMoCo cars in the 1957-60 L-E-M lines, as found on this car.

    These do not have a typical hydraulic master cylinder, with a rubber cup that slides along the cylinder wall. these have a positive displacement piston, and use a poppet valve to pressurize the brake fluid when the pedal is pressed. When old DOT3 brake fluid starts to crystalize from age/heat, the crystals can [and will eventually] cause the poppet valve not to close completely.

    This will allow the brake fluid to simply go back thru the valve into the reservoir, and the brake pedal will go all the way to the floor!

    If this happens [as you begin to panic], let off on the brake pedal fully, and then as fast & hard as you can, stomp on the pedal again. This will usually clear the valve & seat surfaces and the valve will now seat fully, and you will once again have brakes. [And hopefully everyone in the car is wearing a seat belt.]

    I know of multiple cases of this happening to cars equipped with the Treadlevac, and the similar Delco-Moraine power brake units used on GM cars in the mid 1950s. In 1970 My best friend’s 1955 Packard Patrician was wrecked & a total loss, because of an accident caused by this situation.

    Like 4
  31. HC

    Some of you gius are overly obsessed with quad or single headlights! Who cares? makes it either a 57 or 58. Big deal. This baby is a beauty and would be more interested in rebuilding its engine and updating at least to front disc brakes and rebuilding drums in the rear.

    • LarryS Member

      Because old car trivia is fun and one of the reasons many of us are members if this site.

      Like 2
  32. HC

    Some of you guys are overly obsessed with quad or single headlights! Who cares? makes it either a 57 or 58. Big deal. This baby is a beauty and would be more interested in rebuilding its engine and updating at least to front disc brakes and rebuilding drums in the rear.

  33. HC

    Yes and as someone commented Id be more worried about this baby’s Treadlevac power brake system than I would be about quad or single headlights which you cant change anyway. 56-57 Cadillacs and Buicks had early power boosters that involved Treadlevac units that could be a real bugger to rebuild.

    • Bill McCoskey

      HC,

      Yep Treadle vacs can be tricky to rebuild until you’ve done a few. The 3 biggest challenges on these was the big return spring’s pressure, getting the big leather vacuum seal in place without creasing it, and the importance of glass beading the crud out of all the crevices in the reservoir.

      Like 1
  34. HC

    Almost like having to redesign the old power brake tradlevac and updating to a more modern booster and Master cylinder. Even if it meant drilling holes in the firewall to attach a new system wud be much easier than finding anyone to help rebuild the early treadlevac booster assist unit. Most older guys I knew who could are now gone.

  35. Bill McCoskey

    There are at least a half-dozen places that advertise online, offering a rebuilding service for the Treadle Vac units.

    The one booster that can be difficult to rebuild is the version built by GM’s Delco-Moraine Division. On the early versions [about 1955-56], the displacement piston that moved up and down around the central shaft leather seal, was made of chrome plated steel. On the units that sat for years, the brake fluid attacked the chrome plating, causing surface pitting on the steel shaft. This requires some major machining work after welding up the pits, then re-plating. [This is based on my knowledge level 20 years ago, perhaps the rebuild kits offered today have a piston made of stainless steel.]

    Like 1

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