Minnesota man sells one-of-a-kind 1956 Mercury concept car to Florida museum

After a painstaking restoration, a one-of-a-kind concept vehicle failed to draw an acceptable price at auction, forcing its temporary return to Minnesota.

A car sitting in a driveway.
Tom Maruska’s 1956 Mercury XM-Turnpike Cruiser is a one-of-its-kind concept car, built to gauge consumer interest at car shows.
Steve Kuchera / 2022 file / Duluth News Tribune

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Minn. — Suffice it to say the results of a Jan. 14 auction in Kissimmee, Florida, were not in keeping with Tom Maruska’s expectations.

He had invested thousands of hours and a considerable sum of money to restore a one-of-a-kind 1956 Mercury XM-Turnpike Cruiser concept car that had drawn large crowds of admirers across the nation on the auto show circuit in its day. In the years that followed, however, the car fell into neglect. The show car was a rusty mess by the time Maruska got his hands on it and began the laborious process of bringing it back to life .

As Maruska, who lives in St. Louis County, prepared to take the reinvigorated chrome-laden vehicle to a nationally known classic car auction, he speculated that the one-off concept car could fetch $1 million or more.

Man standing beside a car.
Tom Maruska talks Sept. 29 about the 1956 Mercury XM-Turnpike Cruiser he spent three years restoring.
Steve Kuchera / 2022 file / Duluth News Tribune

But that was not to be.

The bidding began at a proposed $1 million and ceased at $350,000, well below the obligated reserve price for the vehicle.


At the conclusion, the auctioneer commented: “We’re a long way from the house there, boys.”

The experience confirmed misgivings Maruska had going into the auction.

“They promised me a good spot and promotional support. But they did absolutely nothing for the car,” he said. “They put it on their website as though it was a Corvette or a Mustang or something that was built in the tens of thousands. It was placed between everyday cars.”

“And the same thing on-site down there at the auction. They had it next to a used Porsche and a custom Charger,” he said.

Car sitting in a driveway.
The 1956 Mercury XM-Turnpike Cruiser featured tailfins, chrome exhaust pipes coming through the quarter panel, and brake lights at the back of it roof as well as on the tailfins.
Steve Kuchera / 2022 file / Duluth News Tribune

As for the actual auction, Maruska said the tumbling price spoke for itself.

“When my car went up on the block, I don’t know they even had a real bid on it, because the house has the right to bid up to the reserve amount, and they never even got close to the reserve amount,” he said.

A couple weeks later, Maruska had the car shipped back to his home shop in Lakewood Township.

In retrospect, Maruska said, “It was the wrong auction to have that car at.”


Maruska said his first choice would have been to take the vehicle to an auction run by RM Sotheby’s in Phoenix. But when they offered to take the concept car at a reserve price of no more than $300,000, he felt that sum was simply too low.

For Maruska, the story has a happy ending nevertheless.

Car interior.
The interior of Tom Maruska’s 1956 Mercury. Note the unique butterfly roof windows that automatically open and close with the doors to provide increased head clearance entering or exiting the vehicle.
Steve Kuchera / 2022 file / Duluth News Tribune

Four different parties contacted him, expressing interest in the Mercury concept car after the unsuccessful auction, and two made what he believed were acceptable offers.

Maruska didn’t want to go into details, saying the vehicle sold for “an undisclosed amount” to the American Muscle Car Museum in Melbourne, Florida.

Man opening a car hood.
Tom Maruska opens the hood of his 1956 Mercury on Sept. 29 to show its 292-cubic-inch engine.
Steve Kuchera / 2022 file / Duluth News Tribune

When asked if the sale broke the $1 million mark, he said: “It didn’t make $1 million, but it got close enough that I was happy with it.”

Maruska also expressed his pleasure that the car went to a museum, where it will be on public display, rather than sitting mostly out of sight in a private collection.

Another plus is that a private sale not involving an auction house will save both the buyer and seller 10% commission fees, even as the vehicle makes a return trip to Florida in an enclosed trailer.

Maruska has now completed 22 car restorations. But the 72-year-old acknowledged the latest was his most ambitious.


He has no plans to slow down and is currently working on a 1964 Amphicar, as well as a 1965 Corvette.

“I’ve got to keep going. Otherwise, I’d just be sitting around, doing nothing. And I like to stay active,” Maruska said.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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