By on June 9, 2020

Today’s Rare Ride comes from a time when the family wagon segment was alive and well and Ford was eager to use its brand new Fox platform on as many vehicles as possible.

Presenting the wood-clad Mercury Zephyr Villager wagon, from 1979.

The Zephyr name originated as a line of luxurious Lincoln vehicles in the Thirties and Forties, before being borrowed by Ford of Europe for a small family car in 1950. It returned for domestic use via Mercury in 1978, as Ford needed a name for the slightly more upscale sibling of its new Fairmont.

By the late Seventies, having a competitive compact car in one’s lineup was vital. Fuel economy regulations and an oil crisis put miles per gallon at the forefront of consumers’ minds. Ford took a look at its lineup circa 1974, and saw that all of its small models would need replacement around the same time. After some intense product development, Fairmont and Zephyr were ready as successors to the Maverick and Comet twins.

Given the need to appeal to a broad consumer base, Fairmont and Zephyr were offered in two-door styles as coupe and sedan, and with four doors as sedan and wagon. Thrifty customers chose an inline-four engine of 2.3 liters displacement, while the middling engine option was the Thriftpower 3.3L inline-six. Those with fatter wallets could select from the 255 or 302 Windsor V8s. Transmissions on offer through the model’s history were three- and four-speed manuals, or a three speed automatic.

In the Mercury lineup, the Zephyr was placed between the smaller Bobcat (Pinto) and the larger Monarch (Granada). Zephyr stood out from Fairmont via horizontal design tail lamps (Fairmont used vertical) and its quad-headlamp arrangement; double the number on Fairmont. Ford customers had to step up to Fairmont Futura to receive four headlamps on their Fox. Wagon variants were available without wood as a base model, or in wood-swathed Villager trim.

Successful in their time as mass-market family mobiles, the writing was on the wall for rear-drive economy cars by the early Eighties. Customers wanted even more efficiency, as well as front-drive safety, in their compacts. Thus, 1983 was the last year for the Fairmont and Zephyr; in 1984 they gave way to the new Tempo and Topaz.

Today’s 1979 Zephyr Villager is a loaded example, in black over black. High-line options include cruise control, air conditioning, and the largest 302 V8. With 75,000 miles on the odometer, it’s yours for just $2,750.

[Images: seller]

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66 Comments on “Rare Rides: The Practical and Luxurious 1979 Mercury Zephyr Villager...”


  • avatar
    JimC2

    Serious buyers only. I know what I’ve got here.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    Clark Griswold’s new wagon in National Lampoon’s Vacation.

  • avatar
    craiger

    I always liked the Fairmont/Zephyr. Handsome and honest, with decent build quality. Unlike the Chrysler K, and GM J and X.

    • 0 avatar
      deanst

      We had an omega back then – which was surprisingly reliable, but shutting a door made you worry that it was about to fall off. The Fairmont felt like a vault in comparison.

  • avatar
    WalthamDan

    Look at the height on those windows. Everyone must have been able to see out of that vehicle. Hope they offered some good window tinting otherwise that would have been a rolling greenhouse.

    • 0 avatar
      Lichtronamo

      The sloping roof line and narrow windows have, in my opinion, lots to do with the decline of the sedan. Try getting in/out of the back seat of one of those compared to a similar sized CUV.

  • avatar
    threeer

    For some reason, I always kind of liked the simplicity of the design. And the steering wheel…maybe as it reminds me of a friend’s father who drove a LTD Crown Victoria while we had an old Mercury Montego.

  • avatar
    MeJ

    I like it. look at the greenhouse on that thing!
    And a 302? This thing would be a hoot.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    From circa 2000 until just after last Christmas, I regularly saw a yellow Fairmont wagon in surprisingly good shape visiting one of our neighbours, but have not noticed it around since then.

    I enjoy/appreciate seeing this ‘run of the mill’ survivor cars. Exotics, etc are preserved in far greater numbers proportional to their sales, or it can be argued, importance. I prefer these examples of the vehicles that were common on the roads and parking lots, which nobody bought with the intent of preserving or saving as an investment.

    The Old Man replace our mother’s 3rd generation Caprice with a ‘loaded’ Ford version this wagon. That was a mistake as the Caprice was a superior vehicle. The Fairmont was later replaced by one of the final generation of Country Squires. She kept that until converting to Hondas.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    If I still had kids, I’d buy this just so I could embarrass them by using it for school-shuttle duty.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    There’s a whole lot of ordinary with this one

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    If I had the space I might buy this especially for the condition and price. This would be a conversation piece and it would get some attention at an old car show. With the V-8 and the wood trim this would be rare especially since there are few survivor Fairmonts and Zephyrs.

  • avatar

    https://longisland.craigslist.org/cto/d/patchogue-1979-mercury-zephyr-station/7135029255.html

    Link to ad. I can’t add it at the moment!

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      The ad made me smile for two reasons:

      I didn’t see a warning sticker that the transmission could pop itself out of park and into reverse at any moment.

      The seller is caps lock-challenged, he (or she) has a weird habit of putting a space before commas instead of after, and the apostrophe key on his keyboard is apparently broken.

      Never mind that, it brings a big smile to my face to see someone putting this much care into old machinery, especially everyday cars like this. I think I have the same sentiment for it as @Arthur Dailey expressed in his post.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I gave it a NP this morning on Jalopnik. It’s clean sleeper wagon and has a 302 that can be easily modified.
    These were never offered with a third seat. Ford probably didn’t want to bother or wanted you to move up to a midsized LTDII/Cougar or the full sized Panther wagon.

    • 0 avatar

      In no way is my Twitter being monitored for other articles.

    • 0 avatar
      bobbysirhan

      It won’t be a sleeper until you double or triple the power output and do something about the rear axle ratio. In stock trim, nobody in a common car or pickup would even know you were trying.

      What does easily modified mean when you’re talking about at least a cam, lifters, valve springs, pistons, an induction system, a new ignition system and exhaust to break 200 horsepower without nitrous?

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        “Easily modified”
        That would depend on one’s skill level and familiarity with interchanging Ford components.

        The 302/5.0 a very common motor so a swap should be easy. Any small block Ford should fit with minimal issues. I’m not sure what rear end is in it. It probably wouldn’t be all that much work to drop a 9 inch rear into it.

        A boxy thing like that with all of that room in the rear would probably accept wheel tubs with minimal body work.

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          It’s a fox body…you can put pretty much any Ford Small block in with factory parts. Additionally their are k members that make something exotic like an Ecoboost a bolt in affair (assuming you work out the electronics or run a Ford racing ecu).

          It is the fact that this car is a fox platform car that opens the cornucopia of mods everywhere…the small block being common is gravy.

          A stock 5.0 HO with a T5 would make this a riot on the cheap with OEM reliability. You certay wouldn’t be blazing any trails there. Junkyard Explorer 5.0 would be fun too but just a 5.0 from a fox mustang would be as easy as they come.

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            “fox platform car that opens the cornucopia of mods everywhere”

            I was really hoping you would say plethora.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        Explorer heads and yes common and cheap as dirt Ford 302 hop-up parts (cam, headers), grab the 8.8 out of the same Explorer you raided the heads for, throw some nitrous at it. That sounds like a hilarious weekend family cruiser.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          The normal Fox 7.5 axle is fine for a ratio swap. My ’79 5.0 Mustang had the same basic layout and with stock 2.42 gears (auto), it could barely chirp a tire on dry pavement.

          After swapping in 3.73 gears/posi, it would lay rubber half way through 2nd gear. It unleashed a complete monster, no need for power mods.

          The stock 200+ lbs/ft of torque was plenty for early Foxes, although the rated 140 HP was wrongly blamed for “stock” 10 secondish 0-60 mph.

          When I took a job 40 miles away, and since no overdrive, I switched to a 3.45 ratio and it was still a kick in the pants.

  • avatar
    Lichtronamo

    The Fox sedan and wagon continued on in 1984-1986 as the LTD/Marquis replacing the Fairmont/Zepher as mid-size offerings. There was also the Ford Granada and Mercury Cougar for 1981 and 1982.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Yeah it is funny how they sanded the corners off the “compact” Farimont and somehow that made it into the “midsize” LTD.

      • 0 avatar
        bobbysirhan

        There was quite a bit of that going around at the time. i.e.: The intermediate Plymouth Belvedere became the full-sized Plymouth Fury. Then the compact Plymouth Volare became the full-sized Plymouth Gran Fury.

        • 0 avatar
          thornmark

          >>The intermediate Plymouth Belvedere became the full-sized Plymouth Fury.<<

          Back to the Future

          remember though that before that the 1962-1964 full size Fury became the 1965 Belvedere intermediate, it was actually full size interior-wise from the start and larger than the other “intermediates”

          so the Fury was more than a decade sooner w/ the exterior downsizing

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    This would probably be a good beater.

  • avatar
    MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

    This was the first brand new car my Dad bought when I was a wee lad (the 2-door Volvo he had when I was born he had bought before I existed).

  • avatar
    spookiness

    Not rare. Please don’t mimic or duplicate content from other websites, on the same day at least. Not a good look.

    • 0 avatar

      “Not rare.”

      Cool, find five more in this or better condition for sale, right now. I’ll wait.

      “… mimic or duplicate…”

      Factually, this was written on Sunday, and I tweeted about it on 6/5. The Jalop author follows me on Twitter. TTAC chose to post this today.

      Also it’s the internet, so you’ll have to get over an expectation of content from a single source.

      But your complaints about it definitely aren’t a good look.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      lol jackass

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      What have you contributed @spookineas, you fnck!ng cheesed!ck

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    Man, if I had room, I’d take it. These were everywhere as a kid and with the Fox platform being easily and fairly cheaply modified , you could make it as mild or wild as you want. Yeah, they weren’t the best, I wouldn’t daily it. But for $2500. NP

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Great find. It’s a ‘rare ride’ because so few of these survived 20 years, let alone 41 years, plus the Mercury badge meant fewer examples to start with.

    Claimed fuel economy numbers from those days were absurdly high, thanks to generous EPA test protocols, choked engines, and mfr gaming. The situation today is somewhat better on every front. This car (302/A3 wagon) was rated at 16 MPG city; the 4-cyl was rated at 20 MPG.

  • avatar
    pathfinderdoorhandle

    Some time in the late seventies while my BMW 2002 was in the shop I rented a Fairmont/Zephyr to drive from Boston to NYC to visit friends. I’m not sure if I chose the car or if it was the luck of the draw but not having driven an American car for years I was shocked by how well the car drove! It was light and agile and quick enough to stay ahead of traffic on I95, with accurate steering, good brakes and with the large windows I enjoyed in my 2002. Turns out the Fox platform was developed in conjunction with Ford of Europe and featured unibody construction, front strut suspension and rack-and-pinion steering. No wonder it drove nothing like a ’69 Galaxie!

    Not too many years later a neighbor was selling his metallic green (no fake wood) ’78 6-cylinder Fairmont wagon for $500. I snapped it up and enjoyed driving it for many years. On a cost/enjoyment basis it’s still one of my favorite cars. This Mercury with a 302 would definitely be a hoot!

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    A 347 and Tremec away from being a legend. May want more tire on the rear as we, but keep those wheel covers for sure or some like them.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    Ford didn’t really consider the Monarch (Granada) a larger vehicle than the Fairmont. The Granada was supposed to replace the Maverick, there was a big jump in Maverick sales due to the energy crisis, with a significant number of buyers selecting the LDO option. So it was decided to make the Granada the Luxury compact and to soldier on the Maverick along side it for the traditional compact buyer.

    Since the Granada did so well they did the same thing when it came time for the new compact. So the Granada soldiered on for a couple of years before moving to the Fox platform, where it continued its role as the luxury offering before morphing into the LTD and being considered a midsize, still using this basic shell in wagon form.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Is Ford selling the new 7.3 gasser pushrod truck V8 as a crate motor?
    This car screams for an LS but lets keep it all Ford.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    I always preferred Ford’s separate steering wheel button set-up for their cruise control to the set-ups used by the other domestic manufacturers in the 70’s. However if this has the horrendous ‘push in the turn signal indicator’ or ‘squeeze the back of the steering wheel’ horn activator systems that Ford used, then that would be a deal breaker.

    That set-up nearly killed me on Dufferin Road north of Steeles nearly opposite the old Dufferin Drive-In when some yahoo trying to bypass the lineup by passing about 20 cars going north in the southbound lane, on what was then a 2 lane road at a ‘Bandit’ rate of speed, did not even notice me approaching him while I drove south. I pressed on that steering wheel for all of my life before realizing that there was no activator there. I managed to swerve, without going into the drainage ditch, while he kept on driving impervious to what he had done. I managed to make a 3 point turn and give chase but he then blew through the traffic light at Highway 7, making an illegal left hand turn through a red light, causing eastbound vehicles to have to veer out of his way. By the time I made the turn, he was gone.

  • avatar
    randyinrocklin

    I used to own a 1976 Zephyr 4 door. I ordered the vent trim in the C pillar to replace the ugly window. I wanted power windows but I had to have the silly front window vent so I went with the crank window. I think it came with a 200 CID six banger. All in all not a bad family car.

  • avatar
    sgeffe

    I’d keep this one as-is! There’s got to still be examples of these that are floating around junkyards which can be modded-up to Saleen levels of bada$$ery!

  • avatar

    Mary Barra has been all over the map with electric cars. Like most American CEOs she thinks in the short term, and is not the strategic long-term thinker GM needs. GM currently has one electric car the Bolt, which finds only 15,000 customers a year.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    These came out for 1978, and my parents bought the Fairmont to replace their T-boned Vega. The Ford came with a six cylinder and a mighty 89 hp at 2900 rpm. That was after it had been warmed up for 20 minutes so it wouldn’t stall the momemt it was put in R or D. “They’re all like that!” quoth the dealer. Malaise era tuning all right.

    So one day, I decided to give it a back road honk and push it a bit. It steered fine, but the back end jumped sideways on pavement crosscuts at quite low cornering g’s. And after a quarter of an hour of breathless 3,000 rpm motoring, it started to smell strongly of hot oil. No match for my 1974 Audi 100LS, laughingly so.

    After that, I never bothered to drive it again. It lasted as well as stinky Danish blue cheese kept in a refrigerator can if you try hard like Dad — years. My parents decided 55 mph (90 klicks) was their new max speed and held everyone up wherever they went.

    Out in British Columbia on vacation to visit my brother, the same car outfitted with Mustang sheet metal and with some 2.3l disaster of a four introduced me to the sound of constant engine pinging or rattle, and on a trip to Vancouver crested some of the mountains at barely 20 mph. It had the four speed manual. Whadda car!

    Yup, just super wowee fantastic cars I remember with deep and abiding fondness. Anyone from today who drove them with either of those two engines would be amazed how bloody awful they were. The 302 made all the difference, though. Asssisting a nurse to buy a new car, I put off driving a Fairmont to replace her small block Nova which was a rusted hulk by then, till there wasn’t another choice. Holy cow, so now I knew the car was sort of OK except for the hopping rear axle, and it was those two smaller engines that were the complete junk.

    Dad came to his senses in 1987 and traded in the Fairmont for a Mazda 929, which was on another planet in any way you’d care to mention. He was delighted with it, and rightfully so. Unfortunately he died a year later.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Years ago I worked for an oil company that bought a new 1978 Fairmont with a straight 6, auto, and air. The car shook and rattled and had no acceleration. With a V-8 this wagon would be much better and if I had it I would not modify this car because it is a pristine survivor which are rare. If you want to modify a car do it with one from a junkyard or that is not running. It would be criminal to mod this car.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      There’s Foxes that probably should be in a (car) museum, Leno’s Garage, etc. This isn’t one of them.

      Lots of meaningful, high impact “mods” wouldn’t be visible, or much noticeable. And or easily changed back to “stock”.

      Like performance (rear axle) control arms, subframe connectors, shock tower braces, Koni Shocks, sway bars, coils/struts (stock ride height), bigger/performance brakes, trans shift-kit, and many others.

      15″ classic “10 slot” (mid-80’s GT, later LX) Mustang alloy wheels would be a tasteful mod, as would Recaro seats, on the visual (impact) side. Maybe some headers and high flow exhaust. A subtle roll bar?

  • avatar
    Erikstrawn

    One of the best Lemons cars ever.
    https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/super-piston-slap-the-life-and-death-of-a-proper-lemons-car/

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    Ye gads, these were awful. There was a guy who ran a super-cut-rate car rental joint in my town with a mostly-Fairmont fleet. As the owner of a succession of terrible imported cars that I got to visit in the shop now and then, I had the pleasure of driving every one of his Fairmonts over the years, from a black-on-whorehouse-red V8 (not fast) to a baby-blue-on-blue I6 (very slow) to a white-on-poop I4 (glacial). No steering effort, feel, or self-centering. Every body panel flimsy enough you could see it moving as you drove. Terrifying “brakes.” And awful MPG: I’m sure whatever I was saving in daily rates was being made up at the pump. But at least they still did interior colors in those days: seats, carpets, door cards, and dash were all color-matched to a wide variety of available colors. That one old-car novelty was my small consolation in driving these dogs.

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