Buck Wilson grew up during the golden era of rodding and customizing. As a kid in Northern California in the ’50s, he fondly recalls the chopped ’51 Mercury belonging to his older sister’s boyfriend. After his family moved to Colorado, Buck spent a portion of his teen years hanging out with a young employee from his father’s body shop who built a potent little Model A roadster pickup (among other cars) with a 265 Chevy V-8. Buck’s first set of wheels was a ’32 Ford coupe with a ’48 Mercury flathead V-8.
Considering these early influences, it’s no surprise that Buck has been a lifelong hot rodder. Since settling down in McAlester, Oklahoma, and opening his own body shop in the late ’60s, Buck has built dozens of cars—rods, customs, trucks, you name it. Yet despite all these fine rides, one dream machine—a custom inspired by his early surroundings and influences—continually eluded him. “I always wanted a chopped ’40 Merc,” Buck says, “but could never find one or afford to build one.”
Given the scarcity of ’40 Mercurys in general—and nice ones in particular—Buck had concluded that his dreams of a sleek, chopped custom might remain just that—dreams. His outlook changed when his son bought a ’40 Mercury convertible project several years ago. As it turns out, the drop-top came with a companion coupe. “It was supposed to have been a parts car,” Buck says. “It was basically an old field car. It was pretty rough.” Of course, Buck didn’t see a parts car. He saw the realization of a lifelong chopped custom dream.
The battered coupe was an old drag car and hot rod from the Oklahoma City area. Back in the ’60s it had been outfitted with an Olds engine, louvered hood, radiused rear wheel openings, and shag carpet. Eventually, the old Merc was unceremoniously put out to pasture, where that once-hip rug on the floor soaked up moisture like a sponge. The resulting rust not only rotted away the floors, but the tops of the framerails, too.
A third-generation bodyman, Buck knew the metalwork would be daunting. “I didn’t have a frame, I didn’t have floors, I only had pieces of rear fenders,” Buck says. On top of that, the decklid was pushed in and the quarter-panels were warped. Yet despite the grim condition, Buck seized on the opportunity to finally build his own chopped, tail-dragging custom Merc.
Buck is what you might call a resourceful rodder. Rather than assemble the Merc from a grocery list of catalog-ordered components, he opted to scour swap meets, salvage yards, and classified ads for many of the necessary parts, starting with the frame. An ’80s-era extended-cab Chevy S-10 frame turned out to have the correct wheelbase for the coupe; Buck simply built the floors to fit it. “When I set the body down, I just positioned it where I wanted it, and then built some crossmembers to tie into the rocker panels,” he says.
Building the floors in this manner allowed Buck to establish ride height where he wanted it without altering the S-10 front suspension. The body was channeled 3 inches lower in the rear than in front, with a combination of lowering blocks and air springs dropping the tail down where it looked right, while allowing Buck to raise it for road duty. With four-wheel disc brakes, front and rear sway bars, plus a positraction rearend, the stage was set for comfy highway cruising.
Once the body was firmly established on the frame, Buck could concentrate on the profile-enhancing sheetmetal alterations, most noticeably the top chop. He cut the top 3 1/2 inches in front and 7 inches in the rear. Taking a cue from several classic custom ’40 Mercs, Buck removed the B-pillar; unlike many of those early efforts, however, he went to extra lengths to retain roll-down quarter windows, using the regulators and cut-down glass from a ’62 Chevy hardtop. Eliminating the wing windows enhanced the new roofline’s clean, flowing appearance.