Let me ask you a question. When you think of a kustom, does the image of a '49-51 Mercury immediately pop into your head? The majority would probably say yes, such is the status of the legendary Merc. And for good reason. You can thank Sam and George Barris for creating some of the most iconic kustoms from Mercury's all-new offering which debuted in 1949, not to mention the model's appearance on celluloid over the years establishing it as the customizer's favorite.
Down in Port Arthur, Texas, Ray Richard had a different reason for imagining a Merc kustom; he'd already owned one and had an itch for another. Of course, he must have had a reason for wanting that first one, and I'm willing to bet it's similar to the reasons above! But after half a century, Mercurys are getting hard to find, especially good ones and even more especially two-door examples. More so if you're looking for one that hasn't been cut or abused, but that's exactly what Ray found, or to be precise, what a friend of his found. Seems this friend was dating a girl whose father had a '51 Merc in his barn and let Ray know about it. Two months of begging paid dividends and a price of $3,500 was agreed. Pretty sweet for a two-door Merc that just needed new rockers, some minor floor rust repairs, and a few dings tapped out!
When Ray went to collect his find, the guy told him he'd seen a Merc the previous week that had been butchered, and that it was a shame it'd been chopped and had a DeSoto grille fitted. He obviously knew his cars, so Ray and his friend never mentioned their intentions for the '51! Further conversation revealed that the custom the old man had seen was actually Ray's first Merc!
With the barn find hauled home, Ray, son James, and friend Steve Flores began the rebuild, settling on a complete MustangII-based front clip, antiroll bar, rear four-link, and shock absorbers from Street Rod Engineering, which manufactures front clips specifically for these Mercurys. This was all tackled at home, as was C-notching the chassis at the rear to clear the 9-inch axle. With a crate 350 Chevy and Phoenix Transmissions-built 700-R4 under the hood, attention turned to the bodywork. Once again at home, Ray and James tackled the roof chop (which he listed modestly on his tech sheet under body mods simply as "chopped," with no further explanation) as well as slanting the B-pillars, molding the skirts but still allowing them to be removable, adding custom scoops to the hood, and modifying the rear of the hood where it meets the cowl and fenders, amongst other mods. Team Richard even got the body prep up to the point of final color and clearcoat. In fact, the only chores they didn't handle were the final paint, wiring, glass, A/C hoses, and exhaust fabrication. James was even responsible for the outstanding upholstery, except for the modified '97 Lincoln MkVIII seats.
Ray cited the fact that, as he'd built a Merc previously, he knew in which direction he was going with this one, but found motivation hard to come by once he'd got off the project for a while during the six-year build. Of course, a couple of hurricanes and a house move can see your attention drift from car building for a while, and we're just glad Ray saw the Merc project through to its conclusion!