One of the best compliments a custom can get is when you look at it and although you know it's been modified you're not quite sure which parts are stock and which ones aren't. Mixing several parts from different manufacturers was very common 50-plus years ago when many of these cars were first being customized. In those days it was pretty easy to go to a wrecking yard and find a mid-'50s Pontiac or Kaiser to liberate headlights or bumpers from. These days it takes real dedication to build one this way.
Thankfully, Marvin Coley has this type of dedication. He's been building this Mercury for a long time. It all started when he was 7 years old and he first noticed his neighbor's root beer brown '50 Mercury with a white tuck 'n' roll interior. He told his mother right then and there that he was going to buy a Mercury some day.
That day came more than 20 years later in May 1988 when Marvin answered an ad in Hemmings Motor News for an incomplete '50 Mercury. The Mercury was just that-missing the engine/trans, seats, moldings, bumpers, headlights, grille, and just about everything but the shell. But the price was right at $500, so Marvin dragged the Mercury home.
As Marvin was trying to decide which direction to take the Merc, he received the latest R&C in the mail and found an article detailing how Dick Dean was swapping later-model GM chassis under Mercurys. Marvin immediately called his buddy, Steve Barellie, who owned a wrecking yard, and put in his order. Luckily Steve had a '72 Pontiac Grand Prix that would meet Marvin's needs.
Marvin stripped the Pontiac down to its bare chassis and floorpan in record time, and then started measuring the Merc. The article said to channel the body 5 1/2 inches over the chassis, so Marvin set it up with those measurements. When a buddy came over to check on his progress and questioned him on what the Merc was going to do once all the weight of the gas tank, interior, engine, etc. was added, Marvin could see that the rockers were going to be on the ground. Marvin then tracked down Dick and asked him about the problem. Dick told him there was a mistake in the article and that in the next installment they had to raise the car 3 inches. Armed with this new info, Marvin cut the body off the frame and started over.
Over the next several years Marvin worked on the Mercury as his time would allow between juggling a growing family and business. He collected many vintage parts that would help fulfill his vision for the perfect custom, with his search mostly done back before the days of the Internet. We're not sure if it was easier then as stuff was still not so obsolete but you had to scour swap meets and Hemmings or now as it can be found at your fingertips. Marvin's Mercury is a testament to the tasteful blending of parts that were never meant to work together and the restraint of customizing for customizing's sake.
Rod & Custom Feature Car
Open the hood and you might be surprised by the detailed '66 Buick Nailhead staring back at you. Marvin sent the engine over to Rod Phillips at Auto Dynamic Balancing in Baldwin Park, California, to get machined, and then had most of the stock rotating assembly put back together by Chuck Johnson with the addition of Federal Mogul 10.0:1 pistons and an American Kustom cam. A PerTronix ignition fires the fuel supplied by the Holley carb and stock intake. The shiny stuff includes a finned valley cover, Offenhauser valve covers, Sanderson headers, and a Bitchin Products air cleaner. A '54 Ford F-100 six-core radiator keeps it cool. The '66 Buick Turbo 400 trans was rebuilt and put back in service.
A '72 Pontiac Grand Prix gave up its entire chassis to give the Merc a better foundation. No 'bags here, just the stock Pontiac suspension components accented with QA1 shocks at each corner. Although you can't see any of them, Marvin disassembled everything and sent it over to Dennis Smith at Auto Works in Fontana, California, to be rebuilt. All the parts and pieces were then powdercoated and carefully reassembled before the Merc body was dropped on.
Wheels & Tires
The unusual centers of the chrome Appliance 15x7 smoothies are a NOS set of Shannon Cones, introduced by Ed Esajiam in 1953. Marvin picked them up from Gene Winfield several years ago in their original box. Coker wide whites wrap up the perfect complement to the understated custom.
Body & Paint
Due to other financial obligations (family, business, etc.) and the fact that he didn't really trust anyone else to work on his Merc much, Marvin did the body mods and paint himself with some help from his son, Dallas. The Mercury wasn't much more than a shell when he started, so figuring he couldn't hurt it much more he jumped right in and channeled the body 2 1/2 inches over the Pontiac chassis. Once the body was firmly mounted he chopped the top (3 1/2 inches in front and 4 1/2 in the rear), lengthened the quarter windows 4 inches, shaved the trim and door handles, and raised the front fender openings. Up front, Marvin added '55 Olds headlights, '54 Chevy gravel pan and bumper (with modified Kaiser license plate guard), and '56 Chevy pickup turn signals, and made a grille from some Mustang bumpers. The shaved hood received some radical rounded corners. Marvin kept the stock '50 Merc rear bumper but cleaned it up by shaving the bumper bolts and adding a Kaiser license plate guard with '57 Chevy backup lights. The taillights are from a '49 Ford. The mirrors are from a Shelby Cobra. The Glass House in San Dimas, California, cut the glass to Marvin's patterns. The paint is a PPG Jade Green.
The interior is as much of a mixture of parts as the exterior and they all work together just as well. The '50 Lincoln dash has had the glove box, ash tray, clock, and radio holes filled and a Classic Instruments speedo and quad gauge set installed. The '79 Chevy Van tilt column was shortened 2 inches, smoothed and topped with a restored '54 Chevy wheel. The '54 Pontiac rear speaker grilles and the '55 Chevy Bel Air interior lights were accented with small Mercury emblems. Stock '50 Mercury seats were located and covered along with custom door panels in dark green and white pearl Marine vinyl by Glendora Auto Trim. A Vintage Air A/C system keeps Marvin cruising cool.