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New Details and Photos: 1940 Mercury Economy Test Car – Pope-Hartford Portola Roadster

While putting the 1940 Mercury Economy Test Run Promotes Good Fuel Mileage post together this photo turned up via that is courtesy of the Nebraska Historical Society. Researcher Ace Zenek spent the time to find the answers to the remaining questions about the car pictured in Peekskill, New York, at City Hall and the other Test Cars that Mercury had put together to travel around the country. The following is what he found:

The Big Piney Examiner, Big Piney, Wyoming, March 21, 1940, had the following story with a similar photo: “Fact-Finding Mercury Tours Region. Arriving here during March is this 1940 Mercury Eight official test car in the Intermountain Region division of the national Mercury Economy Run. It will engage in local demonstrations and prominent officials will sign the log book, notarizing results in gasoline consumption. The car is shown at a recent stop on its route, being greeted by press and well-wishers. The inset shows the visible gasoline test meter mounted on the hood. Official observers can watch the mileage being recorded as fuel goes through the meter.”

“Local motorists were invited to ride in the official car, it was stated by the dealer, and watch the recording of high gasoline mileages. Those tests were made by driving a local demonstration route of several miles, after the test meter bowl had been filled with one-tenth of a gallon of gasoline. The “trip” reading on the speedometer of the one-tenth of a gallon of fuel, multiplied by ten, determines the mileage made with a gallon of gasoline. The gasoline meter, built to U.S. Bureau of Standards specifications, is accurate to within one-third of one percent.

The test was to continue until March 25, 1940, ” . . . when the record of its log book will be compiled and tabulated with the records received in other parts of the nation to ascertain the overall performance of the Mercury in all types of weather, under guidance of all kinds of drivers, and against the obstacles of all manner of road conditions.”

  • One of the Mercury test cars at the O’Shea-Rogers Motor Company located in Lincoln Nebraska at 1345 M Street.

One article mentioned that the Mercury 8’s most economical speed was 45 miles per hour, while another stated that $10 was being given to the person who could drive the Mercury the farthest on 1/10 of a gallon of gas (everyone drove the same route). All of the test cars were cream colored. Although not explicitly stated anywhere in the articles, it seems that some cars traveled in pairs. At least one dealer was giving away banks in the shape of a 1940 Mercury 8 Town Sedan (coin slot in front of the windshield).

When final results were announced at the beginning of June 1940, the average mileage was 20.83 mpg. One 1939 Mercury ad touted an average of 18.4 mpg, so the 1940 model showed about a 13.25% fuel mileage improvement over the 1939 model. Total distance traveled for all cars was 112,206 miles.

The number of cars in the test is unclear. One article stated that 50 cars were to take place, but the details at the end of the test state that only 34 cars took part. Possibly this was one car from each of 34 branches of the Ford Motor Company with the car traveling exclusively in that branches’ region. Also, instead of 4,000 towns and cities being visited, the total only came to 2,456. Maybe the 16 other cars were demonstrators, and they were not part of the official test.

The Lawrence, Kansas Daily Journal-World on April 17, 1940, printed the results of the tests to date. An average of 21.124 mpg over 34,777 miles for the test which was conducted in 506 towns and cities in 19 states. Low mileage was 20.15, and a high of 22.2. The test was scheduled to continue until every state had been visited (4,000 cities).

Recently we featured photos of this Pope-Hartford Portola Roadster Before and After Being Customized and amazingly reader and early car enthusiast Colin Feichtmeir sent in this pair of images from his collection of the same car taken at different times.

The image above apparently shows the owner Thomas C. Perkins behind the wheel and possibly his wife at his side. This shot was taken after the gas and oil tanks had been added and it was equipped with two side-mounted spares. At this time the rear vertical rear-mounted spare tires and the wire wheels had not been added, and the cowl had not been restyled.

In a later photo below taken in Hartford, Connecticut, the transformation appears to be complete, and the wire wheels are added to the Portola Roadster. The car is parked in front of a Standard Oil Company filling station apparently with Fred Wright, Perkins’ driver behind the wheel along his chauffeur buddies sitting on the car; note the large limousine behind the Pope. The Hotel Bond Annex and garage, the scene of one of the earlier photos is in the background.


5 responses to “New Details and Photos: 1940 Mercury Economy Test Car – Pope-Hartford Portola Roadster

  1. Thomas Perkins was obviously not a young man if that is him at the wheel of the roadster. Seems unusual that someone of advanced years would be interested in ‘hot rodding’ a car. I wonder what Mrs Perkins thought of it all.

  2. That’s too beautiful a radiator on the Pope to hide it behind a radiator screen. A stock 1911 Pope Hartford Model Y
    Roadster with 4 passengers, 134 inch wheelbase and 471, six cylinder, over-head valve cubic inches, would inspire full attention wherever it goes. At low luxury price territory ($4,000), few were built.

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