When John Kroll wanted a new car that nobody could beat on the street back in 1966, he went right to the top.
Some 55 years later, the Gladstone, Mich., resident still has the fabulous unicorn Mercury that he got special ordered, and he’s gotten a lot of practice retelling the amazing story about how he got his 1966 Park Lane coupe.
“I was a little bit of a hot rod guy when I was young. And I had a 1960 Mercury that I bought brand new, a Park Lane. And I was ready to buy another one,” remembers Kroll. “The Oldsmobiles, Pontiacs and Buicks were giving me a little bit of a problem, they were beating me on the street. That hurt. Just by a little bit, but they were beating me. So when I [was looking for] a new car I wanted to make sure that this car was not gonna take second place.
“So I ordered this car through the dealership, but the owner of the dealership couldn’t order this car unless he used the name of a police department. So he used the name of a chief of police in Escanaba, to order this car. He was friends with the dealer. The order went to Detroit, and the owner came back in a week or 10 days and told me ‘cancelled!’ No reason given.”
Luckily for Kroll, he wasn’t in the mood to take no for an answer. He had been a loyal FoMoCo man in the past and at least needed an explanation why his order wasn’t going to be accepted. The dealership didn’t know why, and several weeks went by and Kroll figured he was never going to know unless he took matters into his own hands.
“So I came home from work one day and told my wife, I’m calling the Lincoln-Mercury Division in Dearborn, and see if they know why. Well, I called them and asked to talk to the boss, the superintendent or whoever was in charge. Well, a guy named Lee Iacocca got on the phone… I knew he was the father of the Mustang. I called him Mr. Iacocca [laughs]. I told him about the order being cancelled, and he said, ‘Give me a few minutes,’ so I hung on for a few minutes and he came back and said, ‘Mr. Kroll I can tell you what happened. You ordered a Park Lane, top of the line, two-door hardtop, with a Police Package. But we don’t make police cars in two-door hardtops. So that’s the reason why.’ But he said just hang on a minute I want you to talk to the manager of limited production vehicles. So a guy by the name of Frank got on the line, a three-way conversation, and he said, ‘Frank, if you can do something for this guy, go ahead and do it.’ So Frank says ‘Yes, I can do that, but I don’t know how long it’s going to take, or how much it’s going to cost.’”
It turns out it was going to take about six weeks to build and deliver Kroll’s special 428-cid Park Lane/S-55/Police Special, and the total bill was only going to be about $100 more than the original price. Kroll jumped on the deal.
And before he got off the line, Iacocca offered one last bit of advice. “He chimed in and said, ‘Mr. Kroll, if you are fortunate enough to get this car made the way you want it, never sell it. There will be many made like it, and some will look like it, but there will never be another one made like it, and someday it will be worth something.’”
Ironically, Kroll says he only wound up having one race with the car. The big 428 Q Code-powered Merc retired undefeated. “I beat an Oldsmobile 4-4-2 and nobody wanted to race with me again,” he laughs. “I had one race!” Instead, he decided turn the car over to his wife Leona, who drove it gently and only in the summer. Together, the couple have pampered the muscle Mercury to the point where it still resembles a new car, or at least a very recently restored example. The odometer shows 43,000-plus miles, and you have to look hard to find any sign or wear anyplace, inside or out. “It was my wife’s car. I had a truck. She was afraid to drive it in rain or snow, so it never got outside in bad weather,” Kroll notes. “My wife is very, very particular, and I’m particular because I know how to take car of a car. That’s why it’s like brand new, inside and out.
The carpeting is like new. The seats, the carpeting… everything is new. Tires, and battery are the only thing not original on this car. It’s even got the original windshield washer fluid! Yes, it does! Believe it or not, that’s the original washer fluid. And I’ve only bought one set of tires; the original spare is in the trunk.”
The Park Lane 2.0
The Park Lane was midway through its second run atop the Mercury lineup by the time the 1966 models rolled out. The nameplate debuted for the 1958 model year and lasted through 1960 as Mercury’s fancy answer to some of GM’s top models, such as the Buick Invicta. It had a three-season run and receive a generally good reception among buyers and critics before the Park Lane was temporarily retired and Mercury focused more on marketing its Montclair line. Mercury was ready again in 1964 to roll out some new models and at the top of the heap was the Park Lane, this time with a calling card backward-slanting, retracting rear window. For 1965, the Mercs were redesigned and given a more traditional look with, full-length trim, crisp lines and quad headlights.
Power came from an impressive list of engines, from a Marauder 390-cid V-8 rated at 265 hp all the way up to the 345-horse Super Marauder 428. New to the lineup with a Marauder 410 V-8 with a four-barrel rated at 330 hp. The 410 became standard on the Park Lane, where it was paired with a new Multi-Drive Merc-O-Matic transmission.
The sportier S-55 package also made a return for 1966 after having been off the menu for ’64 and ’65. It was marketed as the hottest version of he Mercury Monterey. It offered a different interior than the other models — probably sportier, in most people’s opinions. The S-55s were also powered by the Marauder' 428 paired to a 4-speed manual transmission or 3-speed automatic transmission.
Thanks to his dealer connections, Kroll was also able to order his Mercury as a “Police Special.” This meant he got heavy-duty shocks, springs and swaybars; wider wheels with speed-rated 130-mph tires; a 3.50 axle ratio; beefed-up cooling system; free-flow exhaust; a heavier-duty drive shaft and better metallic-lined brakes.
Kroll’s car also came off the Limited Production line with a black vinyl roof covering and Polar White paint. Suffice to say, it is the only one of its kind.
“It’s made up of three models,” Kroll notes. “The Park Lane was the top-of-the-line model; the S-55 was because of the interior. The bucket seats, console, tachometer on the console — that’s all S-55 material. Then the motor, transmission, that’s all Police Special. Springs, shocks, sway bars, cooling system, exhaust system … that’s all Police Special.”
55 years and counting…
Aside from some routine maintenance and a new set of bias-ply tires — “They are Goodyear Eagles; what was on there originally was US Royal, I believe” — the only work Kroll has done to the Mercury is some minor paint touch-ups out of view inside the wheel wells. The paint and top look almost as good as new. The interior could pass freshly restored. Recently, the engine was hesitating a bit, so he did some work on the accelerator pump. It’s one of the rare times he’s had to break out his tools.
“I took care of the stone nicks inside all four wheels. That’s it,” Kroll says. “The top, I just keep it clean and use Armorall.”
Kroll grins when he recalls the time in the car’s early days when he wound it up to 133 mph. Most of the time, though, he has treated it as his baby.
“I’ve brought it to shows since 1974. I drive it three or four times a year, just a few miles. You have to drive them for lubrication,” he says. “My plan was my boy was gonna get it when he was 16. His name is Johnny. But sad to say, when he turned 16 I remembered what I was like at 16 and I said, ‘No, that’s too much car.’ So he got a Cougar instead of this, that we restored."
“I just stored this one then. I never drove it after that.”
Kroll still takes the car to the occasional show these days. This past summer he had it on display at the Iola Car Show in Wisconsin. It’s a car that’s easy to walk by and dismiss as not very exciting at first glance. But if you read the sign that tells some of the history of the car and start listening to the owner, it’s clear the big white coupe is not an ordinary 1960s Park Lane, because of the way it was ordered and the condition that it has remained in.
“I never really promoted the car. Most people don’t know anything about the car, they just think it’s a Mercury,” Kroll says. “I always had it in my mind: Some day there is going to be a car out there that some guy bought brand new and never ran it very much. He’s going to be in his 80s, and that’s the car I want to buy. That was always in my mind [laughs]."
“And of course I wanted something I was going to be proud of and nobody was going to say they beat me. That’s why I bought it.”
SHOW US YOUR WHEELS!
If you’ve got an old car you love, we want to hear about it. Email us at email@example.com
If you like stories like these and other classic car features, check out Old Cars magazine. CLICK HERE to subscribe.
Want a taste of Old Cars magazine first? Sign up for our weekly e-newsletter and get a FREE complimentary digital issue download of our print magazine.
*As an Amazon Associate, Old Cars earns from qualifying purchases