Imagine you’re charged with selling the American public in the 1960s on the merits of copper and brass. Why bore audiences with the same tired ad campaigns or infomercials when you can dazzle them with a wild sports car concept? That seemed to be the idea that birthed the 1965 Mercer-Cobra concept, which will cross the block at RM Auctions’ Monterey event later this summer.
Although the car was completed in 1965, the idea behind it actually dates back to 1963, when ex-Chrysler design chief Virgil Exner was commissioned by Esquire magazine to pen so-called “revival cars,” each interpreting vintage brands and their signature cues into a then-modern design.
The Mercer was one of four originally drafted, but the only one selected by the American Copper Development Association to serve as a showcase for its wares. As a result, it hired Exner and essentially provided bankroll for the design to become reality -- provided, of course, it was chock full of brass and copper.
“Our overall aim,” Exner told Automobile Quarterly in 1964, “was to create an interesting and stimulating design rather than one which simply follows the ‘formula’ of a flat, low snout with a horizontal air scoop and a squared-off bobtailed rear.” Perhaps, but it does also tend to abide by some of the formula used when Exner created the XNR show car for Plymouth back in 1959.
As the name suggests, the Mercer is essentially a heavily re-skinned Shelby Cobra 289 -- VIN CSX 2451, in fact. In order to accommodate the proportions of Exner’s design, the car’s was stretched, bringing the wheelbase to 108 inches and overall length to 118.
Although Ghia had been a longtime partner of Exner (and actually helped build a number of his other revival car ideas), the Italian design firm was experiencing financial difficulties during the Mercer project. As such, Exner contracted construction to Turin coachbuilder Sibona-Basano, who finalized its construction.
While the bodywork isn’t crafted from copper or brass, the vast majority of interior and exterior trim certainly is. Copper is used from everything from the radiator shell, exhaust guards, wheels, inner door panel trim, and so on. Interestingly, even the disc brakes were crafted from copper, as the ACDA believed the material’s “superior thermal conductivity” helped reduce fading.
Exner told AQ that the Cobra was built as a one-off car, but hinted “with some minor changes, it would lend itself quite readily to semi-custom building for a very limited number of individual owners.” While that proved to be the case with his Stutz revival design, the Mercer went nowhere. The car was sold in the early 1970s, and has since passed through several collectors’ hands.
Want to own it? Although it cost the ACDA close to $35,000 back in ’64 to construct the car, expect to pony up significantly more when it goes up for auction sometime between August 19-20.
Source: RM Auctions