If you read your magazines back to front (and if you're flicking through this in the grocery store, go buy it!) you'll already have come across Wayne Poe's first '54 Merc in "Yesterday's Young Guns". He never got over his love for this particular model, and some 53 years later, found a great example in Michigan via a certain Internet auction site. Now, as he told us, "I could do all the things I couldn't afford to do to my first one: '56 Packard taillights, rolled and pleated interior, wire wheels, custom paint, and a finished engine compartment.
"I had been looking for the right '54 Merc for many years, and found this one about two years ago. It had been customized in the '60s and though it wasn't exactly what I wanted, it was a good base to build on. The car didn't reach the reserve but I followed up with the seller and came to a deal. I sent him the money and made arrangements to have it shipped. When it arrived of course it wasn't quite as nice as I had hoped, but it was still a good place to start.
"My plan was always to keep it an old-school custom, as opposed to resto-rodding and updating it with new updated running gear. Although at a quick view you may not notice a vast difference between the car I purchased and the way it is today, I have modified virtually every panel, part, and piece. The car remains the same color as before but has been almost completely repainted. A lot of the custom bodywork had to be redone due to age and other factors. There was some difficultly in matching the unknown color of undetermined age and origin, but you cannot tell where the old paint stops and the new paint starts.
"The entire running gear was redone using period parts; no airbags or subframes, no power steering or windows, no air conditioning. The car was an East Coast tail dragger when I got it and I have converted it to carry a slight 'California rake' using shortened coils and lowering blocks. During the build I removed the continental kit, fake side pipes, and the flamethrower exhausts. The front wheels are now '55 Thunderbird wires. I sent the original non-functioning radio to Tayman Electrical in Sarasota for repair and upgraded to an AM/FM stereo, which runs through a single speaker housing that hides two stereo speakers.
"A big part of bringing the Merc back was finding all the non-reproduced pieces, like steering wheel centers, chrome, and plastic exterior emblems. EBay was a huge help with this effort. The wiring looked just like you'd expect in a car this old, with too many modifications, too much electrical tape, and too many people having messed with it. Jim Benitez at Coastal Auto in San Clemente, California, did wonders with this by re-wiring everything under the dash. I drive this car every week and expect everything to function as it should. Benitez also relocated any non-factory switches so they looked built in and were well located for the driver.
"The crowning piece is the engine and engine compartment. Benitez pulled the motor and hid new wiring behind the inner fenders. The 30-50 holes that the factory and subsequent owners had drilled had to be welded shut and the entire engine compartment was filled and sanded to perfection in preparation for the extreme high-gloss black paint that looks like it was powdercoated.
"I had given up on the original Offenhauser valve covers that looked like they were on their last legs. However, Benitez wanted to save them and spent considerable time restoring and polishing them to like-new. In fact, they came out so good that we used them as the theme for the whole compartment, adding a matching finned and painted valley cover and air cleaner."
Wayne chose Coastal Auto to undertake the work on his Merc as he liked Benitez's ideas and his history of building award-winning cars. A recent Third Place win at a prestigious Concours d'Elegance, not to mention First in the Semi Hardtop Class at this year's GNRS, justifies his choice, Wayne quoting driving across the stage with his wife at that Concours d'Elegance as one of his most memorable experiences with the Merc so far. We're pretty confident in saying that he wouldn't have been doing that in his first Merc!
Rod & Custom Feature Car
San Clemente, California
1954 Mercury Monterey
Apart from shortened coil springs, and lowering blocks and air shocks in the rear, the chassis and suspension remains stock as the day it rolled off the production line. A power booster now assists the braking though.
The engine, auto trans, and rearend are all stock '54 Merc, though the motor is dressed with the Offenhauser valve covers that came with the car, albeit restored and now matched with a finned DMC air cleaner and valley cover. A polished brass four-core radiator ensures it stays cool.
Wheel & Tire
It has '55 Thunderbird wire wheels fitted up front, with steelies behind the fender skirts, all wearing 215/75R15 Coker wide whitewall radials.
Body & Paint
The major body mods and paint—the '56 Packard taillights, custom hood scoop, frenched headlights and antennas, custom bubble skirts—were all handled back in the day by Doug Hamilton in Buffalo, NY, who also nosed, decked, and shaved the car. The rear bumper was shaved and modified to accept an AMG quad exhaust. Jim Benitez (at Coastal Auto) and Marc Greeley tackled the more recent remedial paintwork, perfectly matching the Garnet Red metallic each time.
The rolled and pleated red and white leather interior that was installed in the '60s by McDonells Interiors had held up very well with just minor freshening required. Try as he might, Wayne hasn't been able to come up with any information on the company apart from their emblem on the dashboard. Benitez relocated some switches on the dash, painted it, and rewired it completely.