So many people have their own idea of how a '39-40 Mercury "should" look; a number of them have gone so far as physically transferring those thoughts. Barris' Johnny Zaro and Nick Matranga Mercs are perfect examples. Rudy Rodriguez too has always had the image of an early Mercury in his head. Like others who preceded, it's a heavily altered car, but remarkably, it's also very stock. His idea of the perfect '40 coupe embraces its identity rather than trying to alter it, as so many have attempted in the past. The items that are commonly discarded and smoothed over are the very items Rudy believes make the car so elegant-this car would highlight the original designer's triumphs while giving some of the so-called hiccups a little well-deserved help.
When describing the Merc, Rudy becomes quite passionate about the artwork found on the original car. "People just never take the time to appreciate the Art Deco sculptures all over this car, like the door handles or the hood ornament. I don't want to remove the door handle, I want to make the car look just like it." So, as the car's design developed, moldings were added, the roof and windows took shape, and the final touches were completed. All the modifications were made to look as though they were thought out in the design room at the factory back in the '30s.
Paul Hoffman's original offering for the build was a low-mile, original California gem. The car came from a small private collection whose owner had recently died. This would be the 10th collaboration with its owner, and the two agreed that the only way to take on a project like this was to find the best car they could to start with. Within days of purchasing the near-perfect coupe, it was totally dismantled and cross braced for the impending roof surgery. To get the desired flow and profile, Rudy decided it would be easiest to save only the front portion of the roof and totally hand-make the rear. The side window frames are often cast aside and replaced with C-channel for ease of fabrication. In this case, the original pieces were kept and another complete set was added to serve as the donors for the totally reshaped side window treatment. The desired effect was to appear as if they were not altered at all. The builder's commitment to fit and finish can be seen in the final result of the side windows, which fit much nicer than the original.
The stock driveline, which includes the original Flathead V-8, three-speed transmission, and a factory two-speed Columbia rearend, was nothing short of perfect, thus kept intact. The torque-tube rear is C-notched into the frame, allowing the rear to rest neatly in a custom-made (but stock-looking) compartment in the trunk. The final ride height is accomplished by a hand-made tunnel through the floorpan for the driveshaft and an adjustable coil spring setup. There are no airbags or hydraulics; the car is low ... it rides low and stays low. Scratched rear bumper chrome is part of the deal.
The paint and body were done by Hot Rods and Hobbies in Signal Hill, California. For a black car it must have absolutely flawless bodywork and prep beneath. Painter Scott Bonowski and bodyman Dante ValVerde spent countless hours massaging the gaps and panels to perfection before spraying the car in single-stage black. The result is nothing short of perfection-the accompanying photos can testify to that.
Once the car was back at Rudy's shop (Fullerton Fabrication) the final reassembly began and the image in his mind took shape. The front bumper was completely deburred and fully massaged. The rear bumper is actually another front one, also fully reworked. The burglar guards, as he likes to call them, were relocated, the overrider was altered, and the Mercury deluxe center cap installed. The stock grille was chrome plated and the center fins were painted flat silver to provide what Rudy describes as "the perfect contrast to make the chrome really stand out". The Mercury hood emblems were removed because the letters were felt to be too "square", and the bullnose was totally hand-filed and reshaped to fit the hood without gaps.
The frontend is lowered by the use of a dropped axle and a monoleaf with original drum brakes kept in use. What really stands out are the wheel covers, which are a combination of handmade ribbed stainless discs (in the spirit of European exotics) and altered stock early Ford center caps. The Kevin Lee (The Jalopy Journal) designed outer rings are reminiscent of lakes-style covers. The whole four-piece combination was then triple-plated and a brass Mercury head installed to complete the wheel.
The front window stainless is one piece. As Rudy put it, "I hate window trim clips. They totally ruin the flow of the front of the car ... it was important to me that the window look seamless." The side window frames, jewel moldings, inside corner piece, and all the garnish moldings were made or altered by Rudy. The glass was handled by The Glass House in Pomona, California.
A true testament to fulfilling the Merc's true conception was the decision to use green leather before the project even started. "I saw the combination once in a Bugatti and I always liked it," Rudy says. "No one does it as bold or as loud as the French did back then, but it all worked so well with the overall theme of the car. I could honestly not think of anything else for this car but green leather." A vintage color sample was used from an Aston Martin and the green hides were ordered-Bill's Auto Upholstery handled all the trim work, which included square-weave German carpet and vintage Mercedes-Benz black cloth headliner.
The dash was freed of its radio but remains essentially factory stock. Since the original Bakelite had since gone stale, Rudy had the dash plastics custom-made and then a unique chroming process was used to make them appear to be made out of metal. The stock steering column was totally dismantled and chrome plated; the steering wheel is circa 1947 though-Mercury, of course-with a '46 Ford horn ring and a '51 Merc horn button. The shift knob was handmade out of aluminum in the likeness of the Fullerton Fabrication logo.
In many ways, you could say this build began when Rudy was a little boy. He collected images and ideas over time until it developed into a completed car in his mind. By starting with the best car available, he was able to focus on the overall design and flow of the project rather than wasting time hunting lost parts. The front end is completely altered, yet remarkably stock. The roof seems to begin, transition, and end as though it was pressed out of a mold at the factory. The doors and side glass all fit as though they were recently built in a modern state-of-the-art factory. The result of all the years of work is a car that is totally Mercury, totally customized, and with the '52 Porsche 356 hood handle on the trunk, totally Rudy.