I have been a custom guy since I first customized my '53 Chevy in 1958, followed by a '63 Ford Galaxie in 1964, but my dream had always been to customize a '49-51 Mercury in the classic early-'50s Barris style. Back in 1973, when I bought my '51 Mercury and was towing it home with my 13-year-old son, little did I know that 30 years later, he would be the one to take my stalled dream and turn it into a reality.
When I first found the Merc, it was sitting on a used car lot with a heavily damaged frontend. Upon initial arrival at home, I stripped it of three layers of paint and put it in primer. Since I had no garage, the car sat outside for two years, which didn't help matters. I finally built a garage in 1976 and began working on the car again, but after very little progress, the work again stopped.
In 1998, the custom car bug bit my son Rick hard when he found and purchased a '56 Mercury. He customized and painted the car over a three-year period. We attended the Sled Scene East in Gettysburg with his custom and then out of the blue on the way home he said, "If you let me do your Merc, you'll be driving it next year to Sled Scene East." It took three months of talking to let the Merc out of my grip, but once my son and his friend Carl got going, the car really started to take shape.
All the modifications I had dreamed of for nearly 50 years were made to my specifications, and a '55 DeSoto grille was scheduled for the front. That was until I went to a local swap meet and found some lower grille pieces for a '47 Olds. I put them together and thought they would make a neat grille. Once the grille area was almost complete, I decided to put the dummy spots on the ends.
With Rick working daily, and with Carl and myself joining in on the weekends, we could see a light at the end of the tunnel. While in Carl's shop, the doors each received new bottoms from the center of the door down. Once they were repaired, we reinstalled the doors and rounded the corners. Next we moved on to the frontend. We used '50 Mercury front sheetmetal to replace the long-gone original damaged pieces. The headlights were frenched with '53 Merc rings and the grille opening was modified using pieces of 4-inch exhaust tubing elbows. After making up a new lower front pan, we welded the entire frontend solid to remove all the seams. The custom work continued at my place with final fitment of the fender skirts, side trim, antennas, and taillights. The side trim is a combination of '53 and '54 Mercury pieces.
Selecting a color had been a long dilemma, but we finally decided on Rock Moss Green. Rick painted the car a piece at a time, and as each panel was added with new rubber and freshly polished trim, we got more and more excited. As the exterior was nearing completion, Rick finished up the wiring, which was quickly followed by the new period-correct tuck 'n' roll interior. For the first time since 1973, the Mercury was finally a complete car once again.
Just as Rick had promised, I finally cruised in my Merc. Without all of his hard work, the car would still just be a "someday" project. So thank you, from a father to a son, for helping me realize my ultimate dream.
Bethel Park, Pennsylvania
After machine work by Bill Hewitt (Taylortown, Pennsylvania), Richard assembled his 350ci Chevy small-block and Turbo 350 automatic trans himself to stock specifications. It's cruiser through and through, and a stock two-barrel carb feeds the mild mill,which breathes out a pair of factory exhaust manifolds. A floor-mounted Lokar 16-inch shifter handles the gear selection.
ChassisThe stance was dialed in with a pair of modified front spindles that put the nose 2 1/2 inches lower than stock. The rest of the front suspension remains stock, other than a full rebuild with pieces from Kanter. Dearched springs and lowering blocks (5-inch drop total) connect a 2.41:1 geared Camaro rearend to the original '51 Mercury chassis.
Wheels & TiresOriginal Mercury 15-inch wheels wrapped in Firestone 205/75R15s are capped with a set of early '70s Mopar hubcaps with bullets added to the center.
Body & PaintThe long list of custom mods begins with a highly modified '50 Mercury front clip that has been welded together to remove the seams. The hood was nosed, '53 Merc headlight rings were frenched in, a rounded grille opening was fitted with a custom grille made from '47 Olds grille pieces, and '53 Mercury front side trim was added. After the doors were repaired, all the corners were rounded and more '53 Merc trim added. The custom work continues on the rear half of the car with '54 Merc side trim, '51 Buick taillights, and a '54 Kaiser overrider added to the stock rear bumper. Once all the custom work was complete, Rick sprayed on the PPG Rock Moss Green paint.
InteriorKeeping with the early '50s theme, a mostly stock interior was treated to a fresh set of Evergreen and Oyster-colored Naugahyde threads by Margie Winters (Castle Shannon, Pennsylvania). Stewart Warner gauges keep track of the vitals in a modified original '51 dash.