As explained by Jim and Cheryl Farrell in Ford Design Department Concept & Show Cars 1932-1961, Najjar’s Mandalay concept was to be “A four-passenger cross-country turnpike cruiser with exhaust ports exiting behind the front wheels. An air-conditioning saddle covered the upper area of the body, and tailfins held aircraft-type taillights. Chromed rear tubes on each side of the car carried pint-sized JATO (jet-assisted take off) bottles for extra power in case of emergency.”
Najjar was partnered with Elwood Engel, and the pair was tasked with producing a full-size clay model of the concept. Upping the stakes, the team was in competition with a second group (Gene Bordinat and Don DeLaRossa), also assigned to create a full-scale clay model. Ultimately, only one model would be given the green light for production.
The clay sculpted by Najjar and Engel was selected to proceed, and Italy’s Ghia was chosen to build the concept. Supplied with a 1954 Mercury convertible chassis and a 312-cu.in. Mercury V-8 driveline, Ghia’s staff worked from a plaster model cast from the 3/8 scale clay. As was often the case, Ghia’s interpretations were not necessarily what Ford’s designers had in mind, and the XM Turnpike Cruiser delivered sported a significantly revised windshield and no specified vent windows. As a result, future projects assigned to Ghia received much tighter scrutiny from Ford employees.
Described by Mercury as “a full-scale, fully operative automotive styling laboratory,” the Cruiser concept wore fluted channels that sported twin fins on each side, a “bookend” design that originated with Shinoda. Up front, the parking lights and turn signals were housed in chromed “jet pods,” while at the rear the exhaust exited though chrome surrounds in each quarter panel.
The Mercury XM Turnpike Cruiser, hauled in a dedicated see-through trailer, debuted at the January 1956 Cleveland Auto Show. By that time, Reith had risen to the position of general manager for the Mercury division, and with the promotion came certain expectations of sales volume increases. Reith had championed the Turnpike Cruiser nearly from its inception, and one of his first acts as head of Mercury was to green-light the car for production.
The Turnpike Cruiser was discontinued as a separate model for 1958, when it became part of the Montclair lineup. The XM Turnpike Cruiser concept and its custom one-off trailer reportedly languished in a Ford parking lot until 1958, when the car was sold to Jim White, vice president of Dearborn Tube and Steel, for the sum of $300.
In the fall of 1982, after passing through a few more owners, the Cruiser concept was sold through the pages of Hemmings Motor News. As of 1999, the most recent information we could dig up, the car was still under private ownership, awaiting restoration.
Article courtesy of Hemmings Daily, written by Kurt Ernst.