1950 Mercury Coupe - Makeover Merc
Hot Rods & Hobbies' Completely Reworked '50 Merc
From the February, 2010 issue of Street Rodder
By Tim Bernsau
Photography by Randy Lorentzen
It's not the way these things usually happen, but when this incredible '50 Merc was delivered to Scott Bonowski's shop, it was a brand-new finished car. All the owner wanted from Scott and his crew at Hot Rods & Hobbies (HR&H) was some body-color paint on the white doorjambs. As it turned out, the job got a little bigger than originally planned, and when it was finally finished, there was virtually nothing on the Merc that had not been redone. Completely.
The Merc that originally showed up at the shop was a suede cruiser, built in a somewhat conventional custom style with flat black suede paint and silver ghost flames, wide whites, a big-block engine, and suspension of unknown pedigree. The red leather interior by Ed Brescia at Fast Ed's Interiors had just been installed.
Hot Rods & Hobbies was commissioned to paint the doorjambs to match the body, but the owner returned within a matter of days. He wasn't happy with the way the car drove and the way it stopped. After evaluating the poor quality of the work on the car, Scott recommended replacing the chassis. The owner's response was something of a surprise, "Go ahead and change the chassis . . .and, oh yeah, chop it too!"
Pretty soon, the simple paintjob that turned into a chassis rebuild was quickly becoming a full rebuild. The next step was to bring in automotive designer and illustrator Steve Stanford to create a whole new vision for a very unconventional car-with the body of a custom and the soul of a hot rod.
But before any of those design elements could be accomplished, there was the matter of the chassis. Art Morrison provided a complete rolling chassis, with independent suspension, including Strange coilovers and antiroll bars at both ends, plus a power rack-and-pinion steering setup in front and a triangulated four-link in the rear. The Ford 9-inch runs 3.73:1 gears with a posi. Whatever stopping problems existed before were eliminated by some huge Wilwood disc brakes; fronts are 12 inches with six pistons and the rears are 11 inches with four pistons. Hot Rods & Hobbies cut out the floor of the car to drop the body over the 'rails, fabricating body mounts, motor and transmission mounts, and an X-member.
Stanford's concept drawing featured many of the elements that ended up on the reworked Merc, including the custom frenched headlights, handmade one-off taillights, modified stock grille with parking lights eliminated, shaved handles and emblems, custom side trim, exhaust exits cut into the rear quarter-panels, modified rear wheel arches, filled cowl and seams, rounded hood and decklid corners, custom bumpers (nickel-plated at Vern's Plating), and one-piece windows with modified trim and moldings. And of course the top, which was chopped 3 1/2 inches.
The sheetmetal was massaged for hours before going into the HR&H paint booth, where it was shot in black. Scott Baldwin stepped in to shoot the Green Pearl ghost flames, followed by lots of clear. The chassis was painted with a custom Green Pearl to tie in with the flames, accented with nickel plating, stainless, and black anodized hardware. The same green is found on the engine, transmission, and rearend.
The right or wrong rolling stock can make or break a custom. In this case, these Salt Flat-style kidney bean rims-they're Santa Fe models from Billet Specialties' Vintage series-are a great choice for a custom built to combine style and performance. Scott mounted 18x10s in the rear with 18x8s in front. The Toyo Proxes high-performance tires measure 295/45R18 and 245/40R18.
Headers were created by Doug...
Headers were created by Doug Holmberg at DAH Works in Redondo Beach, CA, who used to build pipes for Shelby Cobras. Mufflers are glass packs.
Of course, hi-po rubber would be wasted on a car that couldn't deliver the goods. Pretty as it is, this Merc was also built with some muscle. The GM 502 big-block runs with stock internals, but gets fed by an electronic fuel injection system from Imagine Injection, which, one look will tell you, is designed to resemble retro mechanical stacks. Bob Ream at Imagine Injection helped set up the EFI on the 502. Paired with a FAST (Fuel Air Spark Technology) computer, the Imagine system delivers more than nostalgia. Scott took the engine to Westech Performance Group in Mira Loma, California, for tuning on the dyno-and rates horsepower at 500 and torque at 500 lb-ft. Torrance Transmission built the Turbo 400 automatic for the Merc, operated by a handbuilt shifter with a line-lock.
Ed Brescia at Fast Ed's Interiors got another chance to build an interior for the car, replacing his still-fresh red leather upholstery with top-shelf bullhide wrapped around a pair of cut-down Toyota buckets and a custom-built rear bench. A little leather was saved for the custom door panels and transmission hump, and the trunk.
The dash, evocative of a '51 Ford, was fabricated to wrap around the door panels. Scott liked the idea of pods for the custom instruments, and decided to put them in the center instead of directly above the steering wheel. Controls are hidden behind the modified glovebox door in the center of the dash, and the master cylinder and Vintage Air A/C are mounted underneath the dash. An iPod, along with Hertz amp and speakers, provides the sound track.
The Merc's first public appearance at the '09 Grand National Roadster Show was a big success, and earned the custom a First in Class prize and the Overall Outstanding Custom award, in addition to the Triple Gun Award of Excellence, presented by Zane Cullen, Darryl Hollenbeck, and Charley Hutton. Best of all, perhaps, was the admiration it got from the general public. A few weeks later at the Sacramento Autorama, the car was selected for the show's big prize: World's Most Beautiful Custom.
You may be happy to learn that, since then, the Merc's owner has been driving the car the way he planned to way back when it was a suede cruiser. "It's been getting dirty and buggy," Scott promised us. And it will be driven, not trailered, when it heads off to a couple of the first Goodguys shows this spring. You can see it for yourself at the All-American Get-Together in Pleasanton, California, in March, and at the Del Mar Nationals near San Diego in April.
The firewall, inner fenders,...
The firewall, inner fenders, and radiator cover were completely smoothed and reshaped. The 502 Chevy big-block with Imagine Injection EFI is capable of respectable power and wears some impressive dress-up components. All casting marks were smoothed from the engine, and extra holes were filled.
Brian Stone and Clay Cook...
Brian Stone and Clay Cook built the full-custom wraparound dash, which was modified to extend out toward the repositioned seats (the driver's a tall guy). The brass and steel mesh in the dash insert is also found on the horn button, doorsills, interior lights, and under the hood on the custom valve covers. The center glovebox door was widened; the start button, A/C controls, trunk release, iPod stereo controls, and toggles for lights and power windows are inside. The modified Cadillac wheel is mounted on an ididit tilt column.
This Mercury head shift knob...
This Mercury head shift knob was hand carved from sterling silver by Derrick Obatake of Steel Flames in Torrance, CA. The shifter handle is hollow and houses the wire for the functional line-lock-essential for occasional burnouts.
Ed Brescia at Fast Ed's upholstery...
Ed Brescia at Fast Ed's upholstery covered the interior in red leather before the car ever went to HR&H, and recovered it in green bullhide with black leather inserts.
The front buckets are from...
The front buckets are from a Toyota Solara.
A trio of instrument pods...
A trio of instrument pods was built into the dash and filled with one-off gauges provided by Classic Instruments.
The swinging brake and accelerator...
The swinging brake and accelerator pedals feature more of the mesh seen all over the Merc. Carpet is nice, but the rubber flooring sure looks cool.
The trunk is fully finished...
The trunk is fully finished in the style of the interior. Notice the "M" emblem on the back of the rear seat. This is more of Derric Obatake's sterling silver work. The same emblem decorates each inside door panel.
The Merc that came in for...
The Merc that came in for some doorjamb paint rolled out a completely rebuilt custom on an Art Morrison chassis with an X-member, mounts, and core support built by HR&H, with an injected 502 big-block and TH400 automatic.
The nickel finish on the custom...
The nickel finish on the custom bumpers is carried over on chassis components and under the hood. The taillights are handmade, one-of-a-kind pieces and are similar in oval shape to the exhaust exits in the lower rear-quarters.
Facts & Figures
Hot Rods & Hobbies
Signal Hill, California
1950 Mercury coupe
|Frame / Manufacturer
||Art Morrison Enterprises (Fife, WA)
||Body mounts, engine and transmission mounts, X-member sore support, fender supports, HR&H
|Rearend / Ratio
||Ford 9-inch / 3.73:1
||Strange Engineering axles and coilovers (Morton Grove, IL)
||Wilwood Engineering (Camarillo, CA), 11-inch discs
||Art Morrison IFS, Strange coilovers
||Wilwood Engineering, 12-inch discs
|Front wheel make, size
||Billet Specialties (La Grange, IL) Santa Fe wheels, 18x8
|Rear wheel make, size
||Billet Specialties Santa Fe wheels, 18x10
|Front tire make, size
||Toyo Proxes T1R, P245/40R18
|Rear tire make, size
||Toyo Proxes ST, P295/45R18
||15-gallon Fuel Safe racing cells (Redmond, OR)
||Mattson's (Stanton, CA)
|Manifold / Induction
||Imagine Injection (Phoenix, AZ) EFI, FAST (Memphis, TN) electronics
|Ignition / Wires
||Imagine Injection, distributorless
||DAH Works (Redondo Beach, CA)
|Exhaust / Mufflers
|Other engine facts
||Billet Specialties serpentine pulley system
||Chevrolet TH400, built by Torrance Transmission (Torrance, CA)
||Custom with line-lock
|Body style / Material
||'50 Mercury coupe
||Custom front pan, shaved turn signals, rounded hood and deck corners, custom side trim, 3 1/2-inch chop
|Paint type / Color
||Scott Bonowski and HR&H crew
||Scott Baldwin (Torrance, CA)
|Headlights / Taillights
||stock frenched / custom by HR&H
||custom by HR&H
|Other body items
||glass from the Glass House (San Dimas, CA)
||custom by HR&H
||Classic Instruments (Boyne City, MI)
|Stereo / Speakers
||iPod, Hertz amplifier, and speakers
||Vintage Air (San Antonio, TX)
||Tim Phillips / HR&H
||ididit (Tecumseh, MI)
||Toyota Solara front seats, custom rear
||Ed Brescia, Fast Ed's Interiors (Gardena, CA)
|Material / Color
||bullhide / green and black