Ki Hansen has been a car guy since he was old enough to draw one, a situation encouraged by his dad, who always had Corvettes and GTOs in the driveway while Ki was growing up. And it was during his childhood in Hollister, California, that Ki would see a certain '56 Mercury sedan driving around town, piloted by an old man with big glasses who could barely see over the steering wheel, known locally for obvious reasons as Mr. Magoo.
Fast-forward 20 years and Ki was working on an apartment building when he spied the same Merc parked in back, albeit with faded paint. Speaking with the building manager revealed that he knew the owner and the car had to be moved. Ki arranged to meet the owner out by the car, and it turned out to be the same old man with the same big glasses. Forty-eight hours later the Merc was in Ki's driveway, now with only its third owner since new.
As he tells it, "I've always planned the cars that I've built in the past, knew what I wanted, and went out and found one. This is the first car I bought on a whim. I wasn't looking for a '56 Mercury, but it was an opportunity to buy a car that had been around town a long time. The price was right and I knew it would be different." It certainly is different, being a sedan with a post rather than a hardtop. This was one of the things that drew us to the car at Paso Robles in 2007, and in the two years Ki has had the Merc finished, he's never seen another '56 sedan.
With the car in his possession, right down to the original dog-dish hubcaps, close examination revealed floors that needed repairing, as well as a rotted-out rear splash apron behind the bumper, though the latter just gave Ki an excuse to move the bumper closer to the body by 3 inches. On the plus side, every piece of trim was present and restorable, though the old Y-block was so greasy and tired, "I don't think the oil had been changed since I saw the car back in the '80s," Ki told us. On its maiden voyage to the San Francisco Custom and Rod show, the motor blew a head gasket, to be replaced within a month by a Chevy crate motor and automatic trans. "Swapping the motors was easy, requiring only small modifications to the stock motor mounts to get the Chevy in there. A new crossmember was made and a shortened driveshaft connects to the stock rearend."
The build took a year, though much time was lost by entrusting certain jobs to people who never delivered on time. The chassis and suspension are all stock, with 4-inch blocks at the rear and cut coils up front bringing down the ride height. The body has been nosed, decked, had the handles shaved and the dash smoothed. Ki mentioned, "When I first bought the car, the plan was to spray it flat black, add whitewalls and a Mexican blanket interior, and slam it." That plan lasted about 10 minutes as the uncommon body style deserved better, and after he and Dan Dornan finished the bodywork, it was covered in satin PPG copper and a white tuck 'n' roll interior added, along with rechromed bumpers with the bolts removed. The rebuild changed the car for the better, but its history lives on. As Ki reports, "One day I'm driving the Mercury downtown and pull up to a red light. This guy yells at me and says 'Hey man, that looks like Magoo's car.' I said, 'It is Magoo's car!' He yells back, 'I used to party in that car in the '60s.' The light turns green..."