by Jack Stewart
The popular 1989 John Hughes film Uncle Buck has inspired its second TV spinoff this season on ABC. (There was a little remembered TV spinoff in 1990.) Proving the universal appeal of Uncle Buck, there was also a Bollywood movie version titled Uncle Bun.
The basic plot of Uncle Buck is simple enough: A family emergency forces an upper-middle-class suburban couple to leave their three children in the care of the kids’ irresponsible Uncle Buck (played by John Candy). Uncle Buck is an oafish-yet-likeable slacker who is unmarried and has no steady job; the producers found the perfect car for him in a clapped-out 1977 Mercury Marquis Brougham.
Uncle Buck was a large man, and the big Merc had plenty of room for him. The full-sized Buicks and Oldsmobiles were downsized for 1977, but the Marquis was as big as ever, riding on a 124-inch wheelbase and weighing in at around 4500 pounds. There was a 22.7-cubic-foot trunk with ample room for Buck’s golf clubs (or his niece’s jerk of a boyfriend). Of course, big cars need big engines—the base Marquis had a 400-cid V8, but Uncle Buck’s car was a Brougham with a standard 197-horsepower 460-cid V8. According to the specs in Consumer Guide: Auto ’77, the 460 Mercury engine was one of the five most powerful American cars in 1977. Like beer-loving Uncle Buck, the Mercury was also thirsty—the EPA rated the 460 V8 at 11 mpg in city driving, 16 mpg on the highway, and 13 mpg overall. Per Auto ’77,“The only thing keeping these fuel-hungry cars out of the bottom position is the Dodge Royal Monaco, which averaged only 11 mpg in the EPA tests.”
Plus, Uncle Buck’s car seemed to burn as much oil as gas, and left a thick smoke screen in its wake. Driving the Merc couldn’t have been cheap. No wonder Uncle Buck left the car sitting long enough to collect an “Abandoned Auto” tag that’s seen on top of the dash, right next to the empty Superdawg (a Chicago dining institution) Drive-In box.
Uncle Buck’s Merc was 12 years old when the story took place, and it looked like those had been hard years. Many years of Chicago street parking had taken their toll, and Uncle Buck was perhaps too busy with bowling, golf, and horse races to devote much time to the Mercury’s upkeep. The once-proud near-luxury car looked down on its heels, with multiple dents, missing trim, and rusted fenders.
Check out this video of Buck’s car in action, and ignore the erroneous model year
Uncle Buck’s girlfriend worked in a tire and service shop. Buck told her that he loved her only once during eight years of dating—while angling to get new shock absorbers. It didn’t work–and it showed. Going down the road, the Marquis porpoised up and down like a ship in rough seas. Another comic effect of the Mercury was a loud backfire every time the car was shut off. Buck’s sullen teenage niece, Tia (played by Jean Louisa Kelly), was self-conscious about being seen with her uncle, and the fact that the Merc’s shotgun-like backfire made her Chicago North Shore suburban schoolmates hit the deck didn’t help matters.
In the end, Tia and her family come to appreciate the resourceful and good-hearted Uncle Buck… just as many of us can appreciate a big old beater like a 1977 Mercury Marquis Brougham.
Special thanks to Jerry Robbin of the International Mercury Owners Association for help in identifying the 1977 Mercury Marquis Brougham.