Mercury Custom Bob Hope Special
After the end of World War II, it seemed the whole of America was car crazy and with the great innovations, inventions and technologies developed during that conflict, a new craze was sweeping across the nation, the era of the Sport Custom Automobile had born. Hundreds of returning G.I.s who had returned from Europe had been introduced to a new breed of automobile, the two-seater sports car. This fueled the charge of many backyard mechanics ranging in skills from aircraft engineers to shade-tree mechanics, to produce dozens of custom-built automobiles. While a great many of these cars might illicit a response such as “what were they thinking”, a few really stood out as works of art such as the Templeton Saturn, one of the most famous sport customs ever produced.
Produced by Lloyd Templeton with the help of his sons, this was a car that was a bit out of this world and would run rings around the competition, which might be the reason that the name Saturn was selected. Starting with a 1948 Mercury chassis, the original “flathead” V8 engine was retained and modified with performance enhancing touches including a set of Speedway high-performance heads, performance cam, and a custom intake manifold fitted with a pair of Stromberg carburetors backed up by a rock-solid three-speed manual transmission feeding the power to a Columbia two-speed rear axle. When completed in the early 1950s, Templeton professed to have reached speeds of 105 miles per hour on country roads and rated the output of this engine at 200 horsepower, far more than any factory advertising had ever claimed! Today the car starts, stops and handles unbelievably with an exhaust note that is melodic mechanical symphony.
Featuring a hood and front cowl over seven and a half feet from front to back, it can give you the impression this car is over a block long, especially with the cockpit pushed back to just ahead of the rear axle. However, despite its exaggerated appearance the Saturn measures out at just 17.5 feet long, easy to park in any standard garage or parking space.
Sitting behind the steering wheel and looking over that long hood brings up visions of peering through the windscreen of an early Jaguar XK120. Spacious, functional and according to the consignor, invigorating to operate, this one-of-a-kind roadster is really quite comfortable for those who are lucky enough to have traveled into this 1950s “car of the future”. A number of donor vehicles provided parts that when combined gives it a very unique look. Bumpers are from a 1946 Pontiac while the hood was crafted from a 1936 Chrysler. One of the most stylish features is the vee windshield, which Mr. Templeton was said to have taken from an early Ford V8 roadster and re-worked to his exacting standards. The rear fins are most unique in that they have been fashioned from a quartet of 1949 Chevrolet fenders, while the rear deck started life as the hood for a 1936 Ford. For the chromed headlight doors, a 1946 Studebaker was utilized, while the front grille is that of a 1946 Dodge.
One of the Saturn’s first exhibitions was the 1951 Minneapolis Motorama where the Saturn was presented the trophy for “Best All Around Car”. After returning home, Templeton continued to improve upon his creation and a year later returned to the Twin Cities show where he again won the same award.
Afterwards the Saturn was in demand, appearing on television shows in the early 1950s, and touring to special exhibitions. According to Templeton, at one such appearance where he had a three-minute segment promoting the car at a local TV station in Iowa, he finished by announcing that the car would be on display near the broadcast studio, where people could view it up close for just 25 cents. He claimed that in this relatively small town, 17,000 people lined up and paid their quarters to see this amazing car. It was also quite popular at Chicago area shows and was used well into the 1970s for political parades in which many then-current officials used it as a platform to wave to the crowds.
Several different automotive-related companies approached Mr. Templeton about using the car in their advertising campaigns. As the Saturn continued to gain fame, it eventually found its way into the pages of the March 1954 edition of Ford Times featured in their Custom Conversions column, reportedly brought to the attention of the company by none other than Ed Sullivan, whose television show was sponsored by the Lincoln-Mercury Division of Ford Motor Company.
Thus starts tales of a long line of celebrities associated with the Saturn. In 1953, the car was invited to Hollywood, California, where it was the featured car at the National Car Show at the Pan-Pacific Auditorium. Entertainer and automotive enthusiast Herb Shriner invited the car to the New York Auto Show, where it was prominently displayed. It was also used in a number of promotional campaigns related to the Miss America Pageant.
According the recollections of Templeton’s widow, the car was shipped out to Hollywood where it was supposed to have been used in a film with Bob Hope. Unfortunately, the film project was scrubbed, but, according to the family lore, Hope was quite taken with the car and was photographed with it. Again, the family recalls that Hope asked to drive the car and was allowed to use it as he wished as the car remained in California for quite some time.
This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in January of 2009 at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, Phoenix, Arizona.
200bhp, 239.4 cu. in., L head V8 engine, three-speed manual transmission, coil spring independent front suspension, live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 116"
Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Phil Greatorex