The best way to determine if you've been successful in creating a "phantom" custom is to have observers ask, "How many of these did they make?"

Any way you want to measure it, Dave Dolman has succeeded in his mission to create an all-steel 1949 Mercury station wagon that looks like something that could have come off the Dearborn assembly line-well, except for the chopped top, shaved hood, frenched headlights, and other custom touches that have become almost standard on a '49-'51 Merc.

Mercury and Ford were transitioning from the woodie to an all-steel station wagon with the 1949-'51 series, with wood frame and paneling applied over an all-steel structure. In the next styling cycle, 1952-'54, the wagons would be all steel with wood trim eventually giving way to woodgrain fiberglass on Mercurys and the top line Ford Country Squire.

A few other projects, consisting of a trio of Mercurys and another station wagon, contributed to Dolman's brainstorm to build Mercury's first steel station wagon. Between acquiring the sad hulk that started it in 1995 and driving out the finished product in 2007, he custom built 1949 and 1950 Mercury coupes, as well as a '59 Mercury wagon and a '55 Pontiac two-door wagon.

The wagon's raw material came to Dave's small shop in Verdon, Nebraska, in trade for some metalwork he had done. The '49 Mercury coupe had been hit in the side and had a tree fall on the roof. He worked on it off and on between other projects over the next 12 years, until the concept had jelled and he grew anxious to see it done. Over that time he had accumulated all the necessary parts-a '57 Ford wagon roof from which he removed about 4 inches of the crown; '56 Ford Ranch Wagon side windows, chopped 4 1/2 inches, and the B-pillars slanted to match the rear pillars; '56 Ranch Wagon liftgate, chopped 4 inches, and a narrowed tailgate. The front of the Merc top was chopped 3 1/2 inches to set the roof height. Dave hand-built the upper rear quarters to mate with the new wagon configuration and capped them with 1952-'53 Merc taillights.

Turning a coupe into a station wagon required lots of additional fabrication, such as the inside quarter panel and floor structure, trim panels, cutting and fitting Ford garnish moldings, and cutting down the top bows to match the lower crown. A '56 Ford wagon rear seat backs up the '65 Buick power front seat. The seats and interior were upholstered with a tuck 'n' roll pattern in keeping with what Mercury put into its 1950s models.

With the extensive fabricating and reshaping done, the rest of the project was more or less customizing routine-building front and rear rolled pans, shortening and fitting '55 Pontiac rear bumpers and '51 Kaiser front bumper bridge, and installing remote door openers and ditching the handles. A '79 Monte Carlo front frame clip provided modern front suspension and power steering and a cradle for the modified GM 350 crate engine and 700-R4 automatic. Dropped spindles and airbags settle the phantom Merc over 14-inch chrome reverse wheels with whitewalls and '50 Merc caps.

So how many steel two-door station wagons did they make? "They" didn't make any, and Dave Dolman built only one!