My car: Mercury Marquis circa 1996
Shoaib Saleem was still at school when his dad came home in the white and grey Grand Mercury Marquis LS, which he had just bought from the dealer in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where Saleem was born. It was this or a cherry red one with beige inside, but the white and grey, with pretend wood trim and individual front seats, was the rarer of the beasts almost 30 years ago. It cost 96,000 Saudi Riyals (Dh94,000), and, along with its sibling the Ford Crown Victoria, was the most popular large passenger car in the Kingdom.
“I remember being bundled into the back of the huge bench seat,” says Saleem, “with my sister and a load of other kids, for the school run. There must have been eight of us in there at times.
“My dad used it for work, which often took him half way across the country and back in a single day. He thought nothing of driving for six hours to attend a meeting and heading home that same day. He says it’s still the most comfortable car he has ever owned, which is why it’s a keeper in our family. I’m lucky to have it.”
Despite being pretty long in the tooth now, and with about 425,000 kilometres on it, Saleem’s Marquis is wearing rather well. Surprisingly for a Saudi car, it has never been in a major shunt despite travelling to and from the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain on several occasions: the front and rear bumpers have both been replaced a couple of times as a result of the “keep going until you touch something” parking approach but, structurally, the car is sound.
“The interior is getting a bit tired,” its keeper admits, “and I really need to find someone who can freshen it up properly and replace the driver’s door trim, which is showing its age, but the carpets, the seats and the roof lining are all original and the electrics still work. It really is an amazing car.”
Driving the Mercury Marquis is certainly an experience. The three-speed column change gearbox is a blast from the past and the 4.6L V8, with its big old fuel injection unit, hidden under an air cleaner the size of a pizza, still motors along smoothly. By comparison with more modern fayre, it could best be described as leisurely on the move, though it can still muster 160kph when conditions allow, but the suspension is so soft you hardly notice anything anyway.
“I have to watch it on the speed bumps,” says Saleem. “It is not so much the take off as the landing that needs to be controlled – it can get a bit bouncy for quite a long time.”
Saleem is studying to be a doctor in Ajman and only needs the car to get across town to the clinics and hospitals where he is training. Parking can be an issue, he says, but is usually resolved by taking a taxi if there are plans that indicate a tight spot. “It’s easy enough to drive and see from, but it is just so much bigger than most modern stuff that I really need to look for truck-size spaces. The good thing though, is that at its age, it is pretty solidly build: not many moderns would come off better in a parking scrape,” he laughs.
The big Mercury Marquis is from an age when things were simpler – look under the bonnet and there is equipment you can actually fix by yourself. It is easy to drive, cheap enough to maintain, mechanically unburstable and is a lot of car for not very much money. There’s loads of space in it and it will cruise all day, so it will do Saleem nicely until it goes back to his dad.
Published: December 18, 2014 04:00 AM