People who have looked into the custom history know about the Nick Matranga Mercury built by Sam Barris in the late '40s. It was one of the big trendsetters and inspired many similar creations. The original car was destroyed in a bad crash fairly early, so there are not many pictures of it.
One guy who has been dreaming about the Matranga Merc for many years is Kent Vikmo. With one of the best metal shapers living just a few miles away, Kent contacted Ulf "Wolf" Christiansson, who had learned much of the old custom tricks by working with some big names in California (Gene Winfield, Steve Davis, and Boyd Coddington) before moving back to Sweden. Kent and Wolf are both "kustom historians" who have been reading everything they can get a hold of pertaining to the famous '40s and '50s customs. Both of them knew most of the details about the Barris Brothers Mercurys, even before they started planning the new clone.
Kent started the project by looking for the best '40 Mercury coupe he could find without breaking his budget. It took some time, but he found one in Florida, and after putting some money down on it, he took off to see the car in person, just to make sure. It checked out OK, so the deal was made and Kent drove it to the harbor to be shipped to Sweden. "I did not have the heart to tell the owner the plans we had for it," says Kent with a smile.
With the car in Sweden, Kent and Wolf started making plans for the modifications. Kent did a lot of the stuff himself, like dropping the chassis, removing the trim and handles, filling all the holes, and molding the fenders to the body. A 4-inch dropped front axle replaced the original, and then the rearend was dropped even more to get the right look. Kent installed airbags in the rear to make it easier to drive and get over speed bumps.
The original '40 Mercury coupe roof looks really funky and just had to be drastically chopped to make the profile look good. After a few months of thinking about it, Kent and Wolf got together in the garage to start cutting the top. First the driprails had to be eliminated for a smoother look, then the A-pillars were cut 5 inches. The B-pillars were taken out completely and the rear of the top chopped 7 1/2 inches.
The car was rolled out a few times during the process, so the boys could get the overall look and make sure that the roofline was still right. With the basic roof tack-welded to the body, Wolf could get going on the rear window, that was also chopped before it was fitted to the car. Then new roof pieces had to be shaped in an English wheel to piece it all together. Wolf used an air-driven hammer and regular sheetmetal hammers to straighten out all the seams in the roof. For the finish, Wolf and Kent used 50 pieces of lead, which were mostly filed off when all was said and done.
The car was painted and finished just in time for one of the big spring shows. The Merc was a big success at the show, and Kent even got a special award from the visiting John D'Agostino and Gene Winfield, who both were very impressed with the Matranga clone. "The car is not finished yet, so I am amazed that I won some trophies at the first show," says the happy car owner.
Kent VikmoUddevalla, Sweden1940 Mercury Coupe