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New Marauder is a new incarnation of the muscle car

It's about time Mercury got to play in Ford Motor Company's "toy department." The 2003 Mercury Marauder, which was introduced at the Chicago Auto Show barely three months ago, met with such a strong response that it is springing to life as a 2003...

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It's about time Mercury got to play in Ford Motor Company's "toy department." The 2003 Mercury Marauder, which was introduced at the Chicago Auto Show barely three months ago, met with such a strong response that it is springing to life as a 2003 production model.
It is low, long, heavy and powerful, and it is the latest in a lengthening line of throwbacks to the muscle-car era, while also filling some interesting holes in our country's automotive history.
The all-black Marauder is big (211.9 inches long and 4,165 pounds hefty), but it's low (56.8 inches high), and it has tremendous power (302 horsepower and 310 foot-pounds of torque) from a sophisticated and free-breathing 4.6-liter V8. It handles as well as it goes, and it stops surprisingly well on its big, four-wheel disc brakes. It will cost you $34,495 to get your hands on one of 18,000 to be built for the 2003 model year, with availability starting this summer.
We think we're pretty sophisticated, here in the U.S. of A., pretending to care about global warming (those of us who are not in denial), about roadway congestion (those of us in compact-or-smaller cars), about fuel economy (those of us whose cars get more than 25 miles per gallon) and about effective traction (those of us with front-wheel-drive cars).
But realistically, the heart of American car-buyers has been a craving for high performance. Some buyers are old enough to have experienced it firsthand, in the 1960s and early '70s, while others have either heard about it, read about it or found and fixed up old cars from that era to relive it, marveling at the power -- if not the glory -- of those giant old beasts with their big, up-front V8 engines and rear-drive platforms.
It may have been hard to detect, under the large shadow of giant sport-utility vehicles and $35,000 pickup trucks, but high-performance cars have made a stirring comeback. While U.S. manufacturers' lobbyists continue to convince the government to not tighten fuel-economy or emission laws, those manufacturers then can make more powerful engines and larger vehicles, which are worth more at profit-margin time and don't require totally new research and development costs.
This being Memorial Day weekend, we can all watch the Indianapolis 500 and notice that almost all the cars are powered by a "Chevrolet" V8 with dual-overhead-camshafts and four valves per cylinder. Interestingly enough, that exact engine has been running for several years at Indy, as the Oldsmobile Aurora V8, because that's who built it.
But with Oldsmobile phasing out of production, Chevrolet simply plunked its bow-tie on that advanced V8, even though Chevrolet doesn't make an overhead-cam V8 for production.
Ford Motor Company has been ahead of the curve on all that, transferring its main power units to overhead-camshaft engine designs with the modular 4.6-liter V8 a decade ago. That engine is a workhorse in cars and trucks and can be enhanced to dual-overhead-cam, four-valve-per-cylinder status for application in such stalwarts as the Mustang Cobra.
So when Ford decides to make a retro-type hot rod for the street, it starts out with some higher technology. So the Marauder could give a giant boost to Mercury, which has spent the last couple of decades being little more than a slightly upscale escort -- you should pardon the expression -- for various Ford products. The brand has even been phased out of operation in Canada, where the only Mercury vehicles you can buy you must now buy through Ford dealers.
Building the Marauder wasn't all that much of a stretch. Mercury already had the Grand Marquis, its version of the Ford Crown Victoria, a large sedan that saw most of its service seeming to go to police departments as large cruisers. Mercury builds over 100,000 Grand Marquis sedans, and it has gotten the go-ahead to carve 18,000 annual Marauders out of that total.
The sedan is already being built, with a companion convertible still ranking as a concept vehicle. I was invited along with a number of Midwestern automotive journalists to gather in the Milwaukee area at the MGA Research Corporation proving grounds and crash-test site for a preliminary wringing out of the Marauder. Located just southwest of Burlington, Wis., the site was originally built by Nash-Kelvinator to be near its Kenosha, Wis., plant, and it now serves various functions for MGA, located within an hour of Milwaukee, Chicago and Madison.
We had a blast with the Marauders. The name was resurrected from the 1963 performance models of the same name, built on the large Montclair/Monterey models. Parnelli Jones won the Pikes Peak Hillclimb in a 1963 Marauder. After a year, it went away, to come back in 1969 and 1970, the absolute peak of high-performance cars.
The new one is impressive. Painted all black, with a blacked-out grille, the Marauder's true beauty starts at ground level, with flashy 18-inch chromed wheels shod with new and specifically tested BF Goodrich G-force T/A high-performance tires. The car rides on all-new suspension on an enhanced frame, with strengthened hyrdroformed steel front rails for safety up front, a second cast-aluminum cross-member, which serves as the location for engine mount, suspension control arms and the "rack" part of the new steering rack-and-pinion, and a steel cross-member designed to resist torsion and bending while helping transfer side-impact crash forces across the frame structure to the opposite rail.
In real-world terms, all of that stiffens the frame's torsional rigidity 24 percent, and its resistance to vertical bending by 20 percent. That helps limit the noise, vibration and harshness -- the good-ol' NVH that engineers fight with every vehicle. It also allows the chassis dynamics guys to play with the suspension parts to enhance precise handling, instead of using shocks and springs to counteract flexing before thinking about handling. Coil-over-shock springs and Tokico tunable monotube dampers bolster the independent front suspension, renewed with steel upper and aluminum lower control arms. A 28 mm stabilizer bar takes the stiffness to another step, still without ever feeling harsh.
In the rear, the live-axle suspension has load-leveling air springs to help maintain ride height even when the trunk is fully loaded, which means 21.6 cubic feet of cavernous space, and a 21-mm stabilizer bar further improves the firm stance in cornering. All of that, and the new rack-and-pinion steering, make the Marauder surprisingly nimble, even around the special slalom course the Ford folks had set up at the MGA facility.
Yes, the body leaned a bit when you truly pushed it, but the steering and cornering ability remained precise.
While Ford has adapted the 4.6 engine in various ways, from the basic cast-iron, two-valve, everyday engine to the hand-built, all-aluminum, DOHC Cobra version, the Marauder engine is a bit of a combination. It takes the 4.6 and makes it all aluminum, with the DOHC and four-valve technology. A low-restriction air intake and aluminum upper and lower intake manifolds plunge premium fuel through dual-bore 57 mm fuel injectors.
The 302 horsepower peak at 5,750 RPMs, and the 310 torque peak is achieved at 4,250 RPMs. And those numbers were also utilized by the engineers, who borrowed from their drag-racing history to come up with a reinforced 11.25-inch high-stall-speed torque converter on the four-speed automatic transmission. The high stall speed allows engine revs to build up before torque is sent to the rear wheels. When you hammer the throttle on takeoff, the automatic upshifts from first to second at 6,000 revs, and from second to third at 6,200 -- just under the 6,250 redline. That's fun, because most engines would shift at lower revs, maybe even below the power peaks, unless you could hand-shift them.
Steve Babcock, the project engineer on the Marauder, said great attention to detail also was paid to the wheels and tires, with the 235/50 front and 245/55 rears on those 10-spoke wheels.
"We wanted all muscle-car parts, so we started off with the Goodrich Comp T/A HR4, but they didn't have quite the right rear tire. They developed this 'W' rated tire, which means its good for 168 miles per hour, and it's great for traction in the dry, and very good in rain, while also being a 40,000-mile tire. We also went after a KDWS -- which stands for Key: Dry, Wet, Snow -- and they came up with a design that we found was 98 percent as good in snow as our all-season tires."
Such attention to detail is impressive, and it gives the Marauder its final stick-to-the-road ability to complement getting all that power down. When you've got to deal with snow, ice and hills for a good part of the year, a front-engine, rear-drive muscle car might seem a little out of your realm. But returning to the realm of muscle cars, with modern technology complementing a retro look, who can argue with the Marauder's potential?

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