Peel away the decades of show car shellac that has transformed custom cars into sanitized imitations of the sleds that rolled on the streets in the 1950s, and you'll find the kind of customs that got us so twitchy about the whole trend back in the beginning.
There are a few guys left who are still driving that type of traditional custom-the type their dads or granddads drove back when the only car on the street with 19-inch wheels was Granny's bone-stock Model A. Billy Monroe is one of those guys. This suede and flamed '54 Mercury Monterey is his ride.
Billy's dad bought a new black-with-red-interior '54, and although Billy is too young to remember it, old photos of the car left a lasting influence on his taste. About five years ago, he spotted the '54 that would become his at the Goodguys East Coast Nats in Rhinebeck, New York. It was the coolest kustom at the show, he claims, and he spent the whole day hanging around the car, which was owned by Mark Cole at the time.
Mark had discovered the car in stock condition in Los Angeles, brought it to Syracuse, New York, and turned it into a combination custom car/street racer. He chopped the top 4 inches, shaved the sheetmetal, and replaced the stock suspension with ladder bars and a Detroit locker rear. A rebuilt 292 Y-block was later replaced with a built-up 312, which turned out to be a rare Holman Moody race engine, originally built in 1957 by John Holman and Pete DePaulo as a National Stock Car qualifying engine for Daytona.
When Mark got interested in building Thunderbolts, he sold the Merc to Billy. Before he did, he reinstalled the stock suspension and rearend, and eventually a C4 automatic. The Holman Moody Y-block-retuned for the street-went with the car to New Jersey.
In the years he's owned the Merc, Billy has kept it on the streets, and taken it to shows from Brooklyn to Bakersfield. The custom got Gene Winfield's attention at a recent KKOA event, and got ours in Rhinebeck, where Billy and his wife Jodi were cruising with other members of the Beatniks car club. We gave the car a Top Ten award before we even knew the whole story of this true traditional custom.
Elmwood Park, New Jersey
'54 Mercury Monterey
Finding a Y-block under the hood was a surprise. Learning that it was originally built in 1957 by John Holman and Pete DePaulo was flabbergasting (the Holman Moody valve covers on the ported heads weren't even a hint). The 312 cylinders were bored out to 335 ci and plugged with 10.25:1 JE pistons. Mark Cole's Thunderbolt-inspired air cleaner runs from a cold air vent system below the front bumper into a single Holley 650 double pumper on a Blue Thunder intake manifold. Behind the pedigreed engine is a '72 C4 with a 10-inch, 2,800-stall converter. At the rear, the stock third member runs 3.54:1 gears.
Virtually no severe modifications were made to the stock 'rails. Mustang shocks and some cut coils in the front add a little attitude to the profile. The rearend followed with the addition of 5-inch lowering blocks and the subtraction of three leaves from the factory springs.
Wheels & Tires
Save the 20s for the tuner crowd. Billy keeps this custom rolling in traditional style on stock 15-inchers with sombrero caps ('54 covers with bullets added by Mark Cole). The wide white tires are Firestones in the front and Denmans in the rear.
Body & Paint
Practically all of the bodywork-including the chop-was performed in a one-car garage by Mark Cole and Bill Mathers. The chop is the most remarkable part of it all, considering the difficulty of cutting the windshield, side vent windows, and C-pillar trim. The rear quarter-window frames had to be reconstructed from five separate pieces just to get the contour right. Other work includes the shaved, nosed, and decked panels. The hood scoop was opened up and sectioned, and a custom rear pan was fabricated. The rear bumper was replaced with one from a '55 Pontiac. The Merc was taken to Gary Grieshaber for the Sikkens black suede and orange flames underneath matte clear.
Things stayed basically stock on the inside, where the split bench seat and door panels were freshened up with some Sunset Red Naugahyde upholstery, courtesy of Kim's Upholstery in Syracuse. All that red is broken up with some white along the lower dash, decorated with 'striping and graphics from Peter Gunn. The Gennie Shifter is visible from outer space.