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!
Rod & Custom Feature Car
Port Arthur, Texas
The original Mercury chassis is still serving duty, though it now wears a fresh front clip from Street Rod Engineering, based on Mustang II components, all powdercoated black. A Master Power Brakes booster and master cylinder bring the Merc to a stop, coupled with Ford discs at the front and drums out back. The frame was modified in the rear with a C-notch for axle clearance and a four-link locating the 1995 Ford truck 9-inch, which contains Moser axles. Air suspension at each corner gives Ray the ride height he wants, which necessitated chassis mods at the rear, while the X-member was modified to clear the transmission, along with a new crossmember.
It may be a FoMoCo product and use Ford suspension and axles, but Ray turned to GM for a motor and transmission, settling on a crate 350 dressed with an Edelbrock carburetor and intake manifold, polished stainless Speedway Motors headers feeding into Flowmaster mufflers, Parr Automotive valve covers and a '52 Caddy air cleaner. Under the handmade shroud lives the radiator from a 1985 Dodge van. Fellow Texans, Phoenix Transmissions, supplied the heavy-duty 700-R4 and Torque Max converter.
Wheels & Tires
Nothing fancy was needed when it came to rims, Ray opting for a set of four stock 15-inch steelies from an '85 Ford, as the fronts are hidden behind 'caps and the rears are out of view behind the skirts. With each wrapped in 215/70R15 Coker whitewalls, the Merc needs nothing more.
Body & Paint
The Merc's bodywork was all tackled at home, including the roof chop which incorporates '50 back glass and slanted B-pillars, as well as the rounded hood and trunk corners, the custom hood scoops, and molded skirts. Ray removed the rear corners of the hood and welded them to the cowl and fenders, frenched the headlights using a Hagen kit, and added those neat '77 Cordoba park lights on either side of the '52 DeSoto grille. With the prep work completed, the Merc went to Gonzo's Custom Paint in Groves, Texas, for the PPG Brandywine.
Dakota Digital gauges live in a modified Ford dash, with a painted Flaming River tilt column and custom center console and door tops carrying the body color front to rear. A LeCarra steering wheel covered by Shawn Cook in the same tan Alante material as the '97 Lincoln MkVIII seats, side panels, and headliner offer a great contrast, with the Vintage Air controls occupying space in the console along with a Pioneer head unit for the JL Audio system.