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This or That: 1969 Chevrolet Impala SS 427 versus 1969 Mercury Marauder X-100

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1969 Chevrolet Impala Custom SS 427 (top); 1969 Mercury Marauder X-100 (bottom). Images by the author.

Editor’s note: This or That is not a comparison report between two vehicles, but rather a feature that enables us, in an idyllic world, to add a collectible vehicle into our dream garage on a weekly basis, but with a catch: We can only pick one vehicle from this pairing and it has to be for enjoyment purposes rather than as an investment.

This episode of This or That features a pair of Detroit’s full-size supercars: a 1969 Chevrolet Impala Custom SS 427 versus a 1969 Mercury Marauder X-100. Both are furnished with big-block powerplants, as well as subtle and obvious luxury appointments, and were former Hemmings Muscle Machines feature cars.

Once upon a time, full-size cars led a double life both as a luxury leviathan and a boulevard bruiser. Think Chrysler’s 300 letter series, Chevrolet’s fuel-injected “Black Widows” and Ford’s F-code Custom Sedans, and even Dodge’s long- and short-ram equipped Lancers; all released during the late Fifties. As a new decade dawned, the onslaught continued: tri-powered 390/406 Galaxies; 409 Impalas; and 421-cubed Super Duty Catalinas to name a few. These were the same cars that, in the hands of Mr. and Mrs. General Populace, probably had more sedate mills hidden under the hood – the kind perfect for economy and commuting. And then the second wave of factory performance hit when manufactures, led by Pontiac, revisited the big engine/mid-size car concept. What followed was an epic shift; demand for full-size muscle quickly waned after 1965. Despite this, the brawny big boys of the boulevard were still available in 1969.

At volume-leader Chevrolet, this meant that a portion of Impala line could still have been equipped with a performance option package. Called SS 427 in factory literature, it cost buyers an extra $422, providing a list of goodies that started with the stout Mark IV big-block. In base form, the L36-code 427 featured a 10.25:1 compression ratio, hydraulic lifters, a cast-iron intake outfitted with a Rochester Quadrajet, cylinder heads containing 2.06/1.72-inch intake/exhaust valves, and a dual exhaust system. As such, the engine carried an official rating of 390 horsepower at 5,400 RPM and 460 pound-feet of torque at 3,600 RPM. What few casual shoppers realized was that missing from dealer literature was the optional L72 version of the 427, which boasted an 11.0:1 compression ratio, solid lifters and forged crankshaft, an aluminum intake capped by a 780CFM Holley four-barrel, square-port cylinder heads containing larger 2.19-inch intake valves, and 425 horsepower with a redline in the area of 6,000 RPM. Transferring power fell to a heavy-duty column-shifted three-speed manual, which far more often than not was swapped for an optional column- or floor-shifted Turbo Hydra-Matic 400 automatic, or a floor-shifted four-speed (either the wide-ratio M-20, close-ratio M-21 or heavy-duty close-ratio M-22).

Along with an 8 7/8-inch heavy-duty 12-bolt differential, the heavy-duty F40 coil-spring suspension system, power front disc brakes, and 15 x 6-inch steel wheels (or 15 x 7-inch Rally wheels), the engine/trans combo was secured to a boxed perimeter frame with a measurement of 119 inches between the front and rear wheel hub centers. Covering the mechanicals was a redesigned 216-inch long body that, in SS guise, featured a more sinister blacked-out grille and appropriate badging on the fenders, grille and decklid. Offered only as a Custom Coupe, Sport Coupe and convertible, interiors received bench seats – buckets and center console were now optional – covered in a combination of patterned cloth with vinyl on fixed-roof models, while convertibles received more weather-resistant vinyl. A solitary SS badge adorned the steering wheel.

It was an impressive list of muscular DNA; however an indication of what was to unfold became apparent when just 2,455 Impala SS models found willing buyers. As to its performance, Motor Trend tested a 390hp 427 Impala for their November 1968 issue. Also fitted with a four-speed and 3.31:1 rear gearset, the big Chevy was pushed from 0-60 MPH in 7.7 seconds while recording a quarter-mile time of 15.7 seconds at 93 MPH.

Mercury didn’t exclude itself from the full-size performance market, either, when the Marauder name was borrowed from a V-8 powerplant and adopted to a sporty fastback trim level for 1963. It existed as such for just two more model years, making a name for itself on the NASCAR circuit during that three-year span with the likes of Joe Weatherly, Darel Dieringer, Johnny Rutherford, Billy Wade and Rex White. Although the Marauder name vanished from Mercury’s vernacular, the division’s focus on performance remained within their compact and intermediate lines as their full-size lineup continued to bridge the gap between entry-level Ford and ultimate-luxury Lincoln. That attitude change, somewhat, in 1969, which we chronicled in the June 2008 of Hemmings Muscle Machines:

As the 1969 models were about to be introduced, Mercury decided that there was still a chunk of the buying public that yearned for sporty luxury – sophisticated types who didn’t want to squeeze into a small pony car to go fast. Lee Iacocca, by now the group vice president of Lincoln-Mercury, was quoted in a September 1968 issue of Motor Trend as saying, “We’re trying to create a luxurious identity for the car line. We want a plush feel. Take the Marauder… when I see an X-100 Marauder all jazzed up, you think that it’s got the Marquis Lincoln-type front end, but I read it as an overall sporty car but with a luxury look.”

As it had been in its first incarnation, the new Marauder (and X-100 variant) was constructed as a two-door hardtop only. Riding on a 121-inch wheelbase, each of the 5,635 X-100s that were built in 1969 contained a monstrous engine that made 360 horsepower and a neck-snapping 480 pound-feet of torque – there were no other engine options. The engine, a member of the 385 series that was replacing the FE family, achieved these numbers with the aid of a 4.36 x 3.59-inch bore and stroke, 10.5:1 compression ratio, aluminum pistons, forged rods, hydraulic lifters and a four-barrel carburetor.

Equipped with the famed Ford 9-inch rear housing a 2.80:1 standard ratio, Mercury installed the three-speed Select-Shift automatic, while the C-6 Cruise-O-Matic was optional. The lone let-down would have to be the lack of a four-speed, but then again, this wasn’t a car that college-bound Johnny was going to purchase. An independent ball joint suspension up front was balanced by a three-link coil-spring setup at the opposite end.

Completing the Marauder X-100 package, beyond the very Lincoln-like front fascia, were faux vents on the leading edge of the quarter panels, 15 x 6-inch styled cast aluminum wheels (fender skirts hid most of the back pair), a discreet X-100 badge on each front fender, and chrome-tipped dual exhaust pipes that poke out from below the rear bumper. The subtle fastback design is tunneled, and factory literature showed that X-100s had a standard two-tone finish, with a contrasting matte color stretching from the base of the rear window all the way to the rear fascia; a standard feature that could have been deleted.

Its performance was par for the full-size course. The April 1969 issue of Car Life featured a road test of a ’69 Mercury Marauder X-100 that concluded with a 0-60 MPH time of 7.8 seconds, conquering the quarter-mile in 15.13 seconds at 92.3 MPH.

Faced with adding full-size fun to your fantasy garage, which of these two would you choose and why?