Ed Tuffield still remembers the day he grenaded the Flathead engine in his ’51 Merc. It was the mid-’60s. The ’51 was his first car, a $150 stocker with a white re-paintjob, given to him by his father when he turned 16 the year before. The scene was a two-lane country road. Ed had his foot in it and the speed is probably better left unreported. Then something about a loud noise and parts flying everywhere. Before long, Ed has another Flattie in the Merc and was driving it again. The best part of the whole story is that he’s still driving it.
Like many longtime car ownership stories, this one has a long middle section where the car is stored and ignored. In this case it was a stint in the Navy, followed by family duties, a lack of money, and a lack of a specific plan.
By 2007, Ed had the time, the money, the plan, and the ’51, which involves virtually unchanged since the ’60s. He also had a builder named Pat Ward who, along with his son Joel, was able to turn the dusty, outdated Merc into a cool custom. Pat Ward told us that Gene Lind contributed to practically every part of the project.
At first glance, you might suspect the sheetmetal was modified in ways it wasn’t, and you might overlook mods that were made to clean up the lines. For example, the car was not chopped and not sectioned. Instead, every piece of decorative brightwork—emblems, ornaments, and trim—was eliminated. Door handles were shaved, both bumpers were reshaped, and windshield and rear window trim was replaced with rubber. The ’51 grille was swapped for a ’50, modified with a custom centerpiece. The Hagan headlights were frenched. The stock taillights were replaced with the lenses from a ’54, with the bezels removed and the lenses frenched in to the quarters—the look is a whole lot cleaner and the taillights become almost invisible. When Joel’s bodywork was finished, the car headed to Hank’s Auto Body in Arvada, Colorado, where Carl Vecchiarelli and Randy Chavez shot the paint. The custom maroon was mixed by Frank Faliano at Denver Car Color; Faliano contributed custom colors to several of Boyd Coddington’s cars in years past.
A custom firewall was built...
A custom firewall was built and relocated 4 inches rearward to make room for the 460 Ford that replaces the Flathead that previously powered the car.
There’s no Flathead in the car anymore, although the show car quality engine compartment (what hasn’t been polished has been chromed and vice versa) still houses a Blue Oval powerplant. Ed scavenged a ’76 Lincoln Town Coupe for its drivetrain, and used everything from the 460ci big-block and C6 transmission to the 9-inch rearend.
The big Ford engine went to Carquest in Arvada, Colorado, for machining, where the cylinders were bored 0.030 over from stock 4.36 to 4.39. Pat Ward assembled the engine, loading the chambers with 10.5:1 Speed Pro pistons. Stock rods and crank maintain the 3.85 stroke. Pat estimates horsepower in the 400-425 range. A Holley 750-cfm four-barrel carb on an Edelbrock intake manifold provides plenty of induction, lit by an MSD ignition system. A Lokar air cleaner cover and Ford Racing valve covers add to the visual impact underhood. The engine stays cool, thanks to a Walker brass radiator. Exhaust is routed through a custom exhaust setup. The C6 was kept stock, but the floorboard had to be extensively modified to make it fit. At the end of the Rocky Mountain Driveline Specialties driveshaft, the stock 2.75:1 gears turn in the 9-inch limited-slip rearend.
According to Ed, the C6 transmission,...
According to Ed, the C6 transmission, “which is about four times the size of the three-speed that was in the car,” required some major modifications to the floorboard. The resulting hump is covered by a custom console, which also provides a place for locating a set of VDO gauges, plus the controls for the Vintage Air A/C system and the iPod-compatible Alpine stereo. Ed didn’t want to eliminate the stock dash, so Pat Ward calibrated the gauges for the big-block. The leather-wrapped Lecarra wheel is a Mark 9 double-slot four-spoke.
Joel Ward built up the chassis, starting with a Fatman Fabrications front frame stub with Mustang II–style stainless control arms. Crossmembers had to be modified to fit the 460. Fatman also provided the steering box. RideTech ShockWave air suspension was added in the front and rear, and a RideTech triangulated four-link was also added in back. The Lincoln 9-inch was narrowed, along with the ’rails, to accommodate the fat tires. The rear wheel housings were stretched an additional 4 inches to fit the Dunlop 295/40ZR20 rear meats. Equally stout 295/40ZR18s pack the front fenders. The rims are 20x10 and 18x8 Shadow models from Boyds. The Merc is equipped with power steering and power brakes, featuring four-corner Wilwood 11-inch discs with a GM master cylinder.
Inside the car, the dash and the rear seats are original; everything in between is custom. Actually, the factory rear bench was rebuilt by Jesse Lee in Denver to fit the widened rear wheelwells. Pat and Joel Ward replaced the front seats with a pair of Eagle Talon buckets and built the custom console. Lee upholstered the seats and custom door panels with maroon and black leather. In the dash, the original instruments were adapted for the 460 engine. Pat handled the wiring using a Painless harness. The Lecarra wheel is mounted on a Flaming River tilt column. The pedals are from Lokar and the Gennie shifter is topped with a beer tap handle.
Since his Merc’s been finished, Ed’s been having a blast showing it, driving it, and making up for lost time. Memories of past adventures are great, but the anticipation of future adventures is what it’s all about.