Over 60 years ago, when Sam Barris artfully chopped the top of his nearly new 1949 Mercury, he initiated a restyling trend that shows no signs of stopping today. Almost overnight, as several more hammered coupes emerged, Barris’ radically chopped and lowered Mercury became the poster child for the burgeoning custom-car movement.
For 1951, Ford Motor Company stylists extended the rear fenders on the basic ’49 to ’50 Mercury body shell, endowing the newer model with a longer and more distinctive profile. Customizers immediately gravitated to this updated canvas, and the famous Barris-built 1951 Mercury, constructed for Bob Hirohata and copied many times over, set a new standard as the definitive early ’51 Mercury custom. This distinctive 1951 Mercury combines the best elements of 1950s-era customizing, the inspired vision of its owner, and the remarkable skill displayed by Phoenix, Arizona’s Hot Rods by Dean. At the 2007 Sacramento Autorama, the second-oldest custom and hot rod show in the world and certainly one of the most well-known and respected events of its kind, the Mercury was judged the “World’s Most Beautiful Custom.” In addition, this car was the subject of a Custom Rodder magazine feature.
Classically inspired body modifications include a top chopped by two inches in the front and three in the rear, plus an additional inch at the crown. Other work includes a pair of angled B-pillars and a circa-1950 rear window. Frenched headlights are surrounded by ’54 Merc rings, the molded-in grille opening carries bright ’53 DeSoto teeth, the front and rear hood corners were rounded, and a reshaped ’53 DeSoto front bumper was added. The doors were smoothed, leaving beautiful and graceful fade-away fender lines. Other details include rounded door corners, molded quarter-panels, and flush-fitting rear fender skirts.
At the rear, Frenched ’54 Merc taillights were installed, and a custom bumper was created from two ’53 DeSoto units. Brightwork was plated by Finishing Touch in Chicago, and when Dean’s completed the stunning bodywork, Doug Jerger at Squeeg’s Kustoms applied the custom-mixed PPG bone white and candy red paint finish. Sweeping ’53 Buick side trim was adapted to the Merc, complete with small rocker-panel lights within hand-made housings, perfectly separating the eye-catching color scheme.
Portland, Oregon’s Earl Floyd Engines overhauled the 276-cubic inch Mercury “Flathead” V-8 with new bearings and piston rings. A pair of period-perfect Offenhauser cylinder heads was added, along with finned aluminum goodies, Fenton exhaust headers, and an Offy intake with three Stromberg 97 carbs. Earl’s also rebuilt the original three-speed manual transmission, which is equipped with overdrive for relaxed highway cruising.
For improved safety, drivability and comfort, suspension updates included a Jamco ball-joint conversion kit, disc brakes, a sway bar, and custom upper control arms up front. The original frame was C-notched, and de-arched leaf springs and a Jamco anti-sway bar were fitted at the rear. Custom Tru Design front wheels mount 1950s-vintage Cadillac hubcaps, and Diamondback Classic whitewall radial tires were used all around. The interior was trimmed by master upholsterer Lance Troupe in cream-colored leather hides, with the treatment continuing to the inside of the firewall and the trunk. An American Autowire harness provides wiring.
The build of this stunning custom required just 18 months. A top-level, show-winning custom, this ’51 Mercury perfectly represents a skillful blend of time-honored customizing traditions and period restyling cues, with modern drivability and impeccable build quality.
This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in January of 2011 at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, Phoenix, Arizona.
276 cu. in. “Flathead” Mercury V-8 engine with Offenhauser cylinder heads and triple Stromberg 97 two-barrel carburetors, three-speed manual transmission with overdrive, independent ball-joint front suspension with custom upper control arms and anti-sway bar, live rear axle with de-arched leaf springs and anti-sway bar, and four-wheel hydraulic disc brakes. Wheelbase: 118"
Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Joe Johnson