Today I’m introducing a new feature to Clunkerture. As you have realized after reading the title, it’s called “Adventures in Special Editions.” It entails me finding the peculiar tie-ups that automakers have engaged in, and then promptly telling you about why the marketing departments got their strategy wrong. So let’s talk about the Mercury Villager Nautica, because I couldn’t think of anything better to write about today.
First, let’s discuss the Mercury part of the name. By the late 1980s and 1990s, Mercurys had become little more than somewhat higher-end versions of regular Fords. There was the Sable, intended to be an “upscale” take on the Taurus, the Grand Marquis, a plusher alternative to the Crown Victoria, but in no way as luxurious as a Lincoln Town Car, the Topaz, a swank variant of the Tempo, and the Tracer, essentially a “deluxe” form of the Escort.
The Villager was perhaps a step to change all that (even though you’ve seen almost exactly the same design on the Nissan Quest). It was the result of a joint Ford-Nissan project to build a car-like minivan, probably because the Aerostar was based on the same platform as the Econoline, which I can say from experience handles terribly. Something had to be accomplished to compete with the Chrysler minivans based on the K-car platform. However, Ford already had the Windstar under development, so Mercury got a vehicle that didn’t have a Ford counterpart for a change.
Thirdly, there’s Nautica, a company which sent out numerous catalogs throughout the 1980s and 1990s depicting people enjoying themselves on sailboats, even though the brand was founded in 1983 and sailing was nowhere in its history. Nautica actually makes good clothes (in fact, I still buy their shirts from time to time), but I don’t think anyone today would buy a Nautica edition of something.
The Villager Nautica was intended to be luxury trim of the Villager, perhaps similar to the Eddie Bauer (another company known for its clothing catalogs) version of the Ford Explorer. However, the Nautica was only available in a white and blue paint scheme (at least until the 1996 refresh, when you could finally get normal colors), with the body and the wheels painted white, and the cladding painted blue. According to the Wikipedia article on the Villager, the dealer also gave a Nautica carrying bag if you bought one, which probably made the customers feel special as they took delivery of one, while the people was presumably happy about the extra commission from selling a “high-end” minivan.
Now, I wanted to see how the Villager Nautica has been doing since the last 20 years they were on sale. None of the ones I came across for sale on Cars.com, Autotrader, and Craigslist had a price above $5,000, which is roughly in line with actual Villagers made from 1993-1998. Most of them had between 100,000 to 150,000 miles on them. They were actually difficult to find, since I don’t think families in the 1990s believed in a luxurious family vehicle. So the extra amount of money paid for the Nautica had absolutely no effect on the resale value.
So is the Villager Nautica truly special? No way. When the Villager was redesigned for the 1999 model year, the Nautica edition was gone, unlike the Eddie Bauer trim of the Ford Explorer which existed until it became a crossover. Instead, the marketing people conjured up the “Premier” trim level.
Then again, people weren’t that sad to see the Mercury brand go away ten years later, which by that time had a minivan called the Monterey with a corresponding Ford model. (Nautica is still around though, selling both swimwear and normal clothes.) And thus ended any possibility of something named “Mercury Villager Nautica” ever again.