May 2012

1951 Mercury Custom Convertible

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Chassis number: 51LA39108M

The 1949–51 Mercury is considered by many enthusiasts to be the defi nitive custom car. Its somewhat bulbous stock shape and semi-slab sides were the perfect canvas for a legion of talented California customizers, led by Sam and George Barris, and joined by Gil and Al Ayala, Gene Winfi eld and countless others.

Designer Harry Bradley, writing in the January 1991 issue of Rod & Custom, noted that the original ’49 Mercury design “was a tentative combination of old and new that was not as fresh as its sister cars from Ford or Lincoln, or its competition from General Motors.” He cited the Mercury’s long roof, “short, slumping deck,” two-piece windshield, “thick lower body proportions and old-style fadeaway fenders.”

“Ironically,” Harry Bradley opined, “the styling fl aws that made Mercury less than new in the showroom were exactly what made the car so appealing to customizers. Virtually every line and shape was familiar to the Los Angeles custom shops that had been working with the 1940–48 Fords and Mercs for nearly a decade... When chopped,” Bradley noted, “the [Mercury’s] small windows and thick pillars had the familiar, sinister custom look. The long, fl owing Mercury roof could be given the same fl owing sweep into the rounded deck as the earlier cars had... To the customizer,” Bradley concluded, “the ’49 Merc was the perfect car, just waiting for the torch.”

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Ken Gross

Ken Gross has been an auto writer for 40 years, and his work has appeared in Playboy for decades (so you can tell your wife it’s OK to read). He writes for AutoWeek, msnautos.com,The Rodder’s Journal, Street Rodder and Motor Trend Classic. He wrote the award-winning TV series, “Behind The Headlights.” His books include Hot Rods and Custom Cars, Los Angeles and the Dry Lakes, Art of the Hot Rod, Rockin' Garages (with Tom Cotter), and The Allure of the Automobile. Ken has created critically-acclaimed exhibits of fine cars for the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, the Portland (OR) Art Museum, LeMay: America’s Car Museum, Tacoma, the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts (Nashville). the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (Salt Lake City) and the Indianapolis Museum of Art.