You've probably seen convertibles built from coupes, but Ken Wall's custom convertible literally came out of a coop. We got the whole story from Ken's friend Tom Nielson, who helped him push the right-looking ragtop out of an old chicken coop in Redmond, Washington, where it had been stored for practically 25 years.
At that time-the middle of 1992-the Merc, a little beat up but relatively straight, wore a two-tone finish of turquoise and Seattle rust. The original flathead was long gone, and the more recent '56 Mercury Y-block had been pulled from the engine compartment. Long story short, the Merc was in dire need of a rebuild. Even so, the old guy who owned the car had no intention of selling it, or any of his large assortment of old iron for that matter. Somehow, though, Ken managed to convince him to let go of the ragtop, along with a pair of '50 coupes.
The coupes were sold off, and the convertible went back into storage as Ken put together plans for a full buildup. He purchased a '77 Ford LTD station wagon, which would end up contributing its front clip and various chassis components. The Merc was eventually delivered to Street Machines Unlimited in Stanwood, Washington, where shop owner Ken Riggs began work on a complete custom job.
The rust-eaten floor was replaced and all other sheetmetal completely reworked with door handles and most of the chrome trim shaved and door corners rounded. Rear fender skirts were added to accentuate the long, low look. The top was chopped 2 1/2 inches, but the original A-pillar angle was retained, as were the modified wind wings. At the front, the grille was modified around the parking lights, and a pair of '56 Buick headlight rings were added. In back, handformed taillights are set off by tiny Mercury symbols. The rear bumper was formed from the ends of a '55 Packard and the center section from a '55 Stude. All that custom work is highlighted by several coats of PPG Medium Calypso Green paint. The white Carson top, matched by whitewalls on steelies with caps and rings, completes the package.
Ken's Merc had 700 brand-new miles on it when it won the Slick Sled award at the Goodguys Pacific Northwest Nats in Puyallup, Washington, last July. We spotted the car cruising toward the exit gate late in the day, ran over, rapped on the passenger door, and jumped in before builder Riggs could say no. We talked him into sticking around for this photo shoot, so that R&C readers could get an eyeful of this wild, out-of-the-coop custom.
Ken WallMukilteo, Washington'51 Mercury Convertible
Drivetrain: In contrast to the marque mixing and matching on the outside of the Merc, it's all Ford stuff along the drivetrain. Jim Harter at ABCO machine shop in Stanwood, Washington, built the 429 engine, fed fuel by an Edelbrock intake and single 750-cfm carb. Transmission is a Ford C6 automatic. Many of the underhood brackets and other components were built from polished stainless or painted a similar color to the body to dress up the engine compartment.
Chassis: Builder Ken Riggs at Street Machines Unlimited built up the stock '51 rails using the narrowed front clip from a '77 Ford LTD, including LTD steering, spindles, and front and rear brakes. Suspension parts include Monroe front and rear shocks, Air Ride Technologies front and rear bags, rear four-bar system, and front Sprint Car torsion bar. The Ford 9-inch houses 3.00:1 gears. A custom 29-gallon stainless gas tank was fabricated at Accurate Sheet Metal in Mukilteo, Washington. As with the engine compartment, many brackets, hangers, and other hardware were homebuilt by the owner.
Wheels & Tires: Fore and aft 15-inch painted steelies wear chrome '50 Merc caps and rings. The tires are Coker whitewall radials measuring 195R75/15 and 225R75/15.
Body & Paint: It took a bunch of metalwork to get the Merc finished to the condition you see here. All body panels were replaced or reworked. Riggs chopped 2 1/2 inches out of the top, shaved and smoothed the sheetmetal, and added rear fender skirts to achieve the sled stance these cars were meant for. Wisely, the signature sidetrim was left in place. After blocking and paint prep was completed, Riggs sprayed the PPG Ditzler Deltron Medium Calypso paint, a color selected by the owner's wife, Jan.
Interior: Stock seating was replaced by modified power front seats from a '65 Lincoln and rear seats from a '65 Thunderbird, covered in white Naugahyde rolls and pleats with green piping by Bob Jasper at Jasper Custom Auto Upholstery in Tacoma. The modified dash was filled with Dakota Digital instruments, and the owner created the one-off custom steering wheel on a late-model Ford tilt column.