By Brian Earnest
If Ron Nelson ever decides to part with his big, beautiful, bright yellow 1966 Mercury Park Lane, it definitely won’t be for the same reason that the previous owner let the car go. In fact, the thing that was a deal-breaker for the previous owner is one of the things Nelson likes best about his Merc.
“The guy I bought it from was from Milwaukee [Wis.], and he had been out to Idaho visiting somebody and happened to see it sitting in a front lawn,” related Nelson, a resident of Oshkosh, Wis. “He decided to buy it and he drove it home. But then he didn’t want it — he said it was too big for him … He didn’t even have the title switched over. As soon as he got it home he said it was too big for him.
“I was just fooling around on the Internet one night and I saw a picture of it and I said, ‘Holy balls, I gotta have that.’”
That was about seven years ago, and it’s been happy trails ever since for Nelson and his big hardtop coupe. The car is remarkably original, very reliable, fun to cruise in and gets lots of attention. In other words, it’s been a home run — especially for a bit of an impulse purchase.
“I’ve had a lot of previous vintage cars,” Nelson said. “I had a ’56 Olds, a ’56 Mercury … couple of ’51 and ’52 Ford trucks. I’ve had a lot of cars. I like all of them. This one, I kind of liked the way the tail end looks with the tail lights like that. It rides nice. It’s in original shape inside and outside. The guy who painted it for me said it was the straightest body he ever saw.”
A new coat of Jamaican Yellow paint was one of the few things that the Mercury needed after it matriculated to Wisconsin with about 85,000 miles on the odometer. The car’s amazing originality was one of the main reasons Nelson was so attracted to it. “Oh yeah, it’s got to be original for me to even fool around with it or buy it,” he said. "This Mercury was original all the way through. The black interior is all original. The paint was original on it. If it needs paint, that’s OK, but originality is what I’m looking for.
“I put a water pump in it because it was making a goofy water pump noise. I had to put a new belt on it because I took the air conditioning belt off. I just didn’t want the air conditioning to run … I figure, what do you need AC for when have a two-door hardtop?”
Nelson’s car was originally sold new in California, according to the previous owner, and eventually wound up in Idaho. It was one of 8,354 Park Lane six-passenger hardtop coupes assembled for the 1966 model year. The fanciest of the full-size Mercurys that year was also available as a four-door Breezeway sedan with a unique, reverse-slanting rear window; a four-door hardtop; or two-door convertible. With a base price of $3,387, the two-door hardtop was the least expensive of the Park Lanes, but it was by no means a budget-priced model.
The Park Lane nameplate was born with the 1956 model year when Ford used the moniker for its two-door, Nomad-fighting station wagon. Two years later, for 1958, the name was used for Mercury’s top-tier line, disappeared from 1961-’63, then reappeared from 1964-’68.
The Park Lane was completely restyled in 1965, but received plenty of updates and tweaks a year later to give the 1966 models their own appearance. Wraparound tail lights were new, and the clean, sharp lines of the front fenders, grille and hood were changed slightly. A wide molding stretched across the body sides and rear deck panel. Vinyl tops were optional on the hardtops — Nelson’s car was ordered with a black vinyl roof that is still intact.
The standard brake drums were beefed up and improved, and front disc brakes were offered on 1966 models. Inside were front and rear seat belts, padded dash and sun visors, and black-face gauges.
To propel the 4,000-lb.-plus Park Lanes, a 330-hp, 410-cid V-8 with a four-barrel carburetor was standard. Nelson’s car was ordered with the optional 345-hp, 428-cid power plant.A three-speed manual gearbox was standard, but Nelson’s car is equipped with the Merc-O-Matic C-6 automatic, which Ford introduced for the 1966 model year for cars that carried big-block V-8s.
Nelson has put about 3,000 miles on his Mercury in the past seven summers. The odometer now has 88,000 miles and change, and Nelson says it continues to hum like a sewing machine. “The engine rolls right along. It doesn’t burn any oil. Doesn’t smoke. It’s quieter than heck. The C-6 transmission is good. I’m definitely happy with it, put it that way,” Nelson said.
Having plenty of creature comforts and a soft, friendly ride makes the big coupe easy to enjoy on weekend joy rides and voyages to car shows. “It’s got the AM/FM radio, which was optional in those days,” Nelson added. “It’s got the six-way power seats, the windows are all power, even the wing windows. Its got the tilt steering, flashers, and the remote trunk opener [in the glove compartment]. It’s pretty well loaded.”
The fact that so few nice survivors seem to have made it this long also makes it a fun car to be seen in these days.
“I’ve only seen one other guy with one like this, but that was ratty,” Nelson said. “But that’s the only one [I’ve seen.]”
With the thirsty 428 under the hood, Nelson probably isn’t going to making any long trips back to Idaho or California in his Park Lane to trace the car’s lineage, but he insists the gas mileage in the big Merc isn’t as painful as he expected. “I was surprised. It isn’t that bad,” he said. “When I took the A/C off, it did better than I thought it would!”
Nelson likes tell the story about the time he got clocked by police in Ohio for traveling 134 mph in his 1956 Mercury when he was coming home on leave during his Air Force days. He doesn’t plan to go on any similar white-knuckle rides in his ’66 Park Lane, but the car is plenty willing. “Oh yeah, when you step on it, she goes,” he laughs. “When you pass somebody, you are around them before you know it.”
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