Mercury D-528 (6) - splash

An influx of new technologies that emerged in the 1950s, coupled with a rapidly expanding customer base for their products, led to stiff competition between manufacturers during this decade.

Across the industry, brands rolled out new and exciting models with the latest creature comforts, and striking styling befitting a new age of hope and prosperity. However, the automotive industry is always looking forward, not just considering what the customer is buying here and now, reflected in glamorous glimpses of the future at motor shows.

As a result, the 1950s saw a boom in concept cars: exuberant creations that were displayed across the country at huge events such as the General Motors Motorama, to showcase what consumers could look forward to, both in terms of technology and style. However, this week’s Wednesday One-Off was different, as this was a concept car that never saw a public exhibition. The 1955 Mercury D-528 ‘Beldone’ was Ford’s experimental rolling laboratory.

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A striking yet elegant pillarless saloon, the D-528 was created by Ford’s Mercury division in order to develop and test new ideas before they would be considered for production. Though perhaps not as extravagant as many of the other concept cars of the period, the D-528 featured the largest full cast fibreglass body that Ford had ever created, and a plexiglass front windscreen.

Its long and low body shape was dominated by soft curves, which created an aerodynamic silhouette and drew the eye along the flanks to the unusual humped rear wings. These curvaceous additions weren’t simply decorative; they opened on hinges, with the right-hand wing containing a spare wheel, and the left the fuel tank. While this design greatly expanded the D-528’s boot capacity it brought with it significant safety concerns in the event of a rear-end impact.

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To contrast the car’s sinuous overall shape, the Ford designers incorporated a distinctive sectioned front grille with bold slats, and a striking reverse-sloping rear windscreen, a feature later introduced to the public on the 1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser. The D-528 also had a subtle power bulge that ran the length of the sweeping bonnet, drawing air in through its small frontal scoop to cool the prototype ‘Y-block’ V8 engine beneath.

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The D-528’s low-slung roof line was complemented by an elegant pillarless design, though due to safety concerns an internal roll bar was later fitted. However, the roof held another intriguing design feature: it was hollow. This innovative idea was to give the car’s occupants the benefits of air conditioning without the directional drafts from conventional vents. Instead, the cold air from the evaporators flowed through the C-pillars into the roof where it exited via tiny perforations in the headlining. It was a great concept but proved impractical for standard production cars of the era.

Inside, the D-528 featured a surprisingly minimalist design, with a deeply sculpted dashboard that extended into the door cards. The driver was presented with four elegant gauge pods emerging from the curved dashboard behind a stylish two-spoke steering wheel.

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While the Mercury D-528 spent most of its life at Ford’s headquarters, it did make a public appearance in 1964, when it was used in the comedy film ‘The Patsy’. For its time on screen the D-528 was modified by the legendary George Barris so that the doors, bonnet, and boot could be operated via remote control, and he changed the nameplate from D-528 to ‘Beldone’ at the request of Paramount Pictures. The ‘Beldone’ also went on to be used in the TV series ‘The Outer Limits’.

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When the D-528 reached the end of its serviceable life with Ford, the company decided to sell the car, and it is understood to have been originally purchased by George Barris around the time that he also acquired the Lincoln Futura. While the Futura went on to further TV and movie stardom courtesy of its use as the Batmobile, the D-528 remained a lesser-known creation. It is reported that the car passed through several collectors before ending up as a restored classic, sporting its original copper finish in the Petersen Automotive Museum.

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Despite its relative lack of public exposure, the Mercury D-528 remains a stunning one-off creation, and served a more important role than many concept cars, acting as a test ‘mule’ for styling and technological developments that would influence Ford’s production cars well into the 1960s.

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