Not even TWO Milan Voga concepts could save doomed Mercury


Mid-level luxury brands, be it Brooks Brothers clothes or Mercury automobiles, can be a tough nut to crack. While the former recently emerged from bankruptcy, the latter couldn’t weather the storms ushered by The Way Forward of its parent company. Mercury fought the good fight under the stewardship of Elena Ford starting in 2002. The Brand Manager and Great-great granddaughter to Henry Ford garnered much needed exposure for her operation in 2005, when Mercury hired Jill Wagner as spokesperson. The esteemed actress and TV personality did a soft sell to women, which was a big change relative to male-focused Mercury ad campaigns of the past.

If the advertisement above didn’t make it clear, Lincoln-Mercury communications manager Tom Grill told Reuters that Mercury’s “sweet spot is (women) from 35 to 50 years old.”

Now, about those other advertisements from the past. As in, more than 50 years ago in the past.

Back then, Mercury was confident that “a gal is about decor.” The company went all in with a “Man’s Car” theme to hawk its premium wares. Terrible by today’s standards, for sure, but even when Mercury marketing boffins tried scaling back the macho approach, it fell flat.

It’s for men and women … but mostly for men. Ford

Not that misguided marketing strategies from the 1960s had any tangible impact on Mercury’s woes by the mid-2000s. There’s an argument that the company’s marketing to women who where otherwise unattached to another brand was effective, even autobloggers of the era were known to recite Wagner’s “You gotta put Mercury on your List” schtick. The brand had some real potential at this point in time, but it needed a crown of sorts.

Enter the top-of-the-line Voga trim level, available for most Mercury products. Venturing into Voga-land added chrome-plated grilles outside, piano black plastic inserts inside, white leather seat backs and floor mats with Voga stitched into them, and a set of chrome wheels. It was the Eddie Bauer playbook, albeit recycled for a smaller market. Mercury initially pushed Vogas to Latin women with fashion-forward tastes (voga meaning “vogue” in Italian).

2006 Mercury Milan Premier V6 Mercury

Mercury’s Hail Mary to stay in the game was the Fusion-based Milan. This was a new mid-size sedan (not so strange in those days) named after the center of Italian fashion in Lombardy. The female-friendly marketing plan was an extension of the theme, but it wasn’t all window dressing. The 2006 Milan was competent, reliable, and looked a touch more elegant than the alternatives from Ford, GM, Toyota, and perhaps even Honda.

The Voga needed a release party, a debutante ball of sorts, to get the word out. Miami Fashion Week was the solution, an event regarded as a bridge between Latin American fashion and its audience in South Florida. No doubt this was a big deal for Mercury, which recruited actress/musician Roselyn Sanchez and Camilo Pardo (Ford designer) to spearhead the Voga marketing blitz. Sanchez made sense here, but Pardo’s is less obvious. It has to do with the fact that the very first Voga was a concept car with expensive bits that never made production. Two concept cars, actually—and we’ve got the line on both of them!

To clarify, Mercury built two examples of the 2006 Milan Voga concept. It was significantly more impressive than the production version that hit the streets. There’s the brilliant stainless steel roof, 20-inch HRE wheels, lowered stance, chrome blue paint, white leather, and chrome grilles. (Okay maybe the stance is a show-car joke, but that roof would truly sell the metal.) The first of these recently resurfaced for sale at a Mecum auction, which we wrote about on July 18.

Before we delve into the second Milan Voga concept, we should first share a word about its owner. You may not know Rick Schmidt, but odds are you know National Parts Depot, the company he runs with his father. Rick and his father have amassed an enviable collection of specialty vehicles, including museum-quality versions of the obscure and under-appreciated variety. Simply put, Rick read our aforementioned coverage of the Milan Voga and was motivated to contact me. This, in turn, caused me to bounce around my office out of sheer joy for a few hours before replying back. Rick’s collection is a holy grail for a Ford nerd like me, and I don’t care who knows it.

Roselyn Sanchez lending a hand with key delivery. Ford

Turns out, Rick had a story to tell me concerning his Milan Voga concept, and it starts well before he took delivery. My internet sleuthing suggested his Milan Voga concept was sold, by FoMoCo, via eBay auction in June 2006. Rick confirmed this and clarified that the process also involved a third-party company, Kompolt, which vetted potential buyers and provided the authorization to bid.

Here’s where things get goofy. First contact came to Rick’s father, via a postcard from Lincoln-Mercury. Yes, a postcard resembling one of those awful flyers from dealerships clogging up your mailbox with offers for cheap oil changes and wheel alignments. It’s also where Camilo Pardo’s role comes into focus.

Now that’s a fancy roof! Rick Schmidt

You probably remember that around this time, Ford was riding high on the marketing gold of Pardo’s retro Ford GT design. Lincoln-Mercury, smelling opportunity in the backdrop of Ford’s 100th Anniversary, played up its connection to the superstar designer vis-à-vis his work on—drum roll please!—the 2006 Milan Voga. Rick puts it into perspective like so:

“[Lincoln-Mercury] mailed promotional postcards to EVERY 2005–2006 Ford GT owner. The postcard played heavily upon Pardo’s design of the Ford GT, and the Milan Voga, and I’m sure they assumed that a flock of deep-pocketed Pardo-crazy Ford GT owners were going to bid up this Milan, and they’d really hit a home run for MANA, the chosen beneficiary for the [Voga] charity auction.

“My father walked into my office with the postcard he’d received in the mail, laid it on my desk, and said ‘Do what you need to do to get registered and guaranteed for this auction.’ (My dad hates computers.)”

The eBay auction was a five-day affair with a $35,000 minimum bid. That’s not much more than the sticker price of a fully-loaded Milan Premier with a V-6 and a moonroof at the time, and likely just enough to cover the cost of the car and the added fees tacked on by Kompolt/eBay to make the auction a reality. There was more to it, however, according to Rick. The winner also received a first-class, round-trip ticket to Detroit, a formal wine reception at Pardo’s downtown loft, presentation by actress Roselyn Sanchez, and even free transport of the car. All of that makes the whole affair sound like a bit of a bargain, right? Rick placed the first bid … and waited.

Rick Schmidt

About an hour later, someone raised the stakes to $36,100. Rick knew the value of this car to NPD’s collection and immediately upped the bid to $37,100. He waited patiently for someone to beat him. Nothing. And nothing surfaced the next day, either. Or the following day. There were literally no other bids on the Milan Voga, and just three offers in total made for what Rick called “the deadest auction I’ve ever participated in.”

Upon winning the 2006 Milan Voga, Rick was contacted immediately by a Lincoln-Mercury representative who collected payment, signed documents, and booked airfare and 5-star accommodations in Detroit. Rick was fortunate enough to be able to invite some local friends to the gala/delivery ceremony. He said it was suitably upscale, if not a little awkward; wine flowed and hors d’oeuvres were enjoyed in the presence of leaders within FoMoCo.

That said, Rick did get to meet Pardo again (they connected previously at another gathering of Ford enthusiasts) and was given a VIP tour of all the custom features the designer added to the Milan Voga concept. A representative from the corporate mothership introduced themselves, made small talk, and candidly concluded with, “Whelp, I hope you’ve enjoyed this, young man … because there’s no way in hell we’re ever doing anything like this again!”


Rick still laughs when recalling this admission. All that for three bids and smidge over $37K? Hopefully nobody told Roselyn Sanchez.

Looking at how mediocre the Milan’s sales performance was over time (somehow, offering a manual transmission version didn’t help), perhaps it was a foregone conclusion that even a unique promotional item such as the Voga concept wasn’t gonna fly. Mercury was dead in the water, it just hadn’t yet sunk.

When the glitter of fashion shows and flashbulbs from media types fizzled away, Lincoln-Mercury had to admit that only its most loyal buyers were interested in the Milan, or really Mercury in general. The moment Rick’s bid was finalized was probably a wake-up call to that effect.

Speaking of Milan moments, what happened to that first Voga concept we covered back in July? We found it at Monterey Car Week! And so we basked in the concept’s glory right before it crossed the auction block for $18,700. Back in 2008, it sold for $27,000. After 14 years, it’s not exactly, uh, en Voga.

Considering what Rick paid for his Voga concept and the subsequent hammer prices of the other example, this has to be the most depreciation-averse modern Mercury since the demise of the 2004 Marauder. Which is damning with faint praise, but our feverish mission to breathlessly cover All things Milan, All the Time requires some faith. And judging by the condition of those formerly-white seats and the missing front spoiler, me thinks Rick is sitting on the nicest example.

Rick’s minty-fresh example shows the potential of the Milan, Mercury, and the Voga trim level. The other one? Not so much. It’s likely epitomizing the slow cash burn, and the imminent failure of saving Mercury during dark times in Ford’s history. While we hope the other Milan Voga concept has an upward trajectory with its new owner (good luck finding that front spoiler, if the seller didn’t leave it in the trunk), it’s amazing to see them “together” for this story. Too bad about the ultimate fall from grace for the brand that birthed them.

Check out the Hagerty Media homepage so you don’t miss a single story, or better yet, bookmark us.

Click below for more about
Read next Up next: Driving Prodrive’s $47,000 simulator makes you feel like a maestro

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *