By now, we are all familiar with the story of how the Talladega showed up at the 1969 Daytona 500 and kicked some butt. We also know that within a few months the Mercury gang had the Spoiler II on the track with the Boss 429 engine under the hood. Of course, we also know that David Pearson won both the 1968 and 1969 NASCAR driver Championships in his Ford. However, it did not start out looking like a Ford driver was going to take home the Championship in 1968. It was the Mercury gang that was on fire.
It was February of 1968 at the Daytona 500 and Cale Yarborough won the race and Ford team mate Lee Roy Yarbrough (no relation) took second. Both were driving the new for 68 Mercury Cyclone fastback. Its new aerodynamic roof line greatly increased its top speed on the high banked Superspeedway. If you were Mercury how would you have celebrated? How about a special sales promotion and a special model to commemorate the feat? The Atlanta 500 Driveaway Program was born.
That is just what Mercury did with the 1968 Mercury Cyclone GT 500. We have previously provided bits and pieces of information on this rare car as we have uncovered it but recently, with the assistance of Wes Eisenschenk firstname.lastname@example.org, we learned more. Cartech publishing has a book out on Taska Ford but is working on two possible titles dealing with Kar Kraft and the Cobra Jet cars. Although we had a pretty complete account of what the promotion was all about, Wes provided an article from the April 15, 1968 Automotive News that filled in a lot of the blanks.
The special sales promotion was limited to the Southeast, the Atlanta sales region to be specific which included parts of 5 states. Those dealers offered a 1968 Mercury Cyclone GT 500 in either Wimbledon White or Calypso Coral with special badges. (The article only specifies the two colors of GT 500s were built. However, we have seen at least one Color Code out of the Atlanta area sporting the 500 emblem! Remember though, the color code is a 1969 model and no 1968 model Color Codes are known to exist.) It does not have the flag.) If you purchased one of these specials you received two tickets to the Atlanta 500 on March 31, 1968. The selling dealer drove the lucky buyers to the track where they would take delivery of their new car.
There were 160 GT 500s delivered that day! When race fans began to arrive at the track and take their seats they were welcomed by all of these brand new Cyclones sitting on the track. The first cars arrived around 6 AM and sat there for five hours! Once at the track the new owners were treated to breakfast under a big tent. Photo opps with Cale, Lee Roy and Tiny Lund were provided. To look the part, each owner was given a Mercury race jacket and hat. The new owners took delivery on the track in front of the 80,000 race fans and then took two laps around the Atlanta race track with Cale Yarborough leading them! By the way, Cale went on to win this race in his Cyclone!
All of these rare GT 500s were built at the Loraine Ohio factory where they were also dealer prepped prior to being shipped to the Speedway. Before the race track delivery each of the 160 Cyclones had to be washed of their transporter road grime for their appearance before the new owners. As reported, Mercury executives and dealer salesmen were all busy washing the cars early that morning. Due to lack of wash bays at the track the use of a large water tank truck and lots of man power accomplished the task.
The success of this promotional program could, arguably, be the very basis for the 1969 Mercury Cyclone Color Code/Pre-Spoiler cars as well as ultimately the Cale Yarborough and Dan Gurney Spoilers. The sales promotions them selves may have been repeated at other tracks and sales districts but we have never been able to come up with specifics. If you have any additional information we would greatly appreciate hearing from you. Please contact me at email@example.com.