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History MILESTONE CUSTOM CARS: Bob Hirohata '51 Mercury

Discussion in 'Traditional Customs' started by Rikster, Aug 28, 2005.

  1. Rikster
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    Rikster Member

    Well this car really does not need much of an introductions since Everybody has seen this one in person, in new magazines of books. But since this post is about “Milestone Customs” And the Hirohata Merc is a “Milestone Custom” I feel it should get a post on here.


    In 1952 Bob Hirohata brought his ’51 Mercury to the Barris brothers to have them turn it into a full custom. One of the few modifications Bob and George discussed to do to for this custom was to turn it into a hard top and use similar side window trim as Barris had designed and built on the Nick Matranga ’40 Mercury several years before.
    George made a few sketches with some wild idears and after sitting in the shop for a while the ’52 Motorama show was coming up the Barris brothers decided it was time to start creating the - as we now know it -“Hirohata Merc”


    Below from the '53 Motor Trend magazine a sketch George made for the front end design.

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    The top was chopped 4 inches in the front and 7 in the rear. The B-pillars where removed and top of the doors cut of and welded to the top. Drip rails where removed in the process. In the back the rear window was laid foreward considerably and a large new section of the top had to be scratch built to to make it all flow nicely.

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    At the front a new cut was made just above the beltline on the A-pillar for a new door shape. The caracter ’51 Mercury dip on the side was filled and the surrounding sheet metal was reshaped to flow with the to be added ’52 Buick side trim. The rear portion of this was brought outward a bit and a new functional scoop was created around a ½ inch rod bended to shape. On each side three ’52 Chevy grille teeth where added to the scoop opening. The top of the line sits now higher at the top of the scoop which now optically flows nice into the front fenders. New fenderskirts where made to fit flush into the stock Mercury wheel openings. Round rod was used to add the lip on the bottom. Same round rod was used to create the lip on the front fenders. At the front the fenders where extended several inches and headlights where frenched using 52 Ford rings. The whole grille surround was hand formed out of sheet metal and a new large lip was added to the front of the hood, which was also extended at the bottom. The gravel pan was molded in and reshaped to match the top. A new grille was created using three ’51 Ford grilles. Two where used for the fender units which also house the parking lights behind frosted plastic lenses. And the other was used to create the grille itself. The original 51 Bullets where removed and the side pieces where moved inwards. The ribbed piece behind the chrome bar was painted dark green similar as below the Buick spear. At the rear the fenders where modified to accept ’52 Lincoln taillights. All brand new items when this car was built.

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    Accoring to the ’53 Hop Up article on the car the body was pained in ice green and transparent organic green below the Buick spear. (in one of the barris books the light color was called “Seafoam green” On the inside these two colors where also used along with green mist and chrome accents. Bob Hirohata hand made all the two tone laminated plex dash knobs and spotlight handles. These dash knobs would gain popularity soon thereafter and put into production by Cal Customs to be used on many customs, and are still available today. Caddy Sombrero’s and twin Appleton Spotlights where “standard” Kustom equipment in those days and on this custom its clear why… perfect.

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    Last edited: Apr 21, 2011
  2. Rikster
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    Rikster Member

    The interior had to be done in a rush to meet Autorama show deadline and was done partly by Gaylord who did the trunk and diamond patterned sections and the Carson Top Shop who did the rest of it in shades of green and white.

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    Most of the work on Bob Hirohata’s ’51 Mercury custom was performed by Sam and George Barris and Frank Sonzogni. At one point after the first photo’s where taken the front bumper guards where sectioned two inches to clear the beautiful grille (created by Frank Sonzogni). After a few years the car was repainted in a lime gold and dark green below the trim. Over the years the hubcaps also changed back and forth from Caddy Sombrero’s to ’53 Caddy units (and the last with and without fake Barris crests added knock offs). Jim Mc Niel has been the owner of the Hirohata Mercury since ’59-’60 and perfectly restored it a few years ago.


    Bob Hirohata behind the wheel in his '51 Mercury

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    Second paint job but with the Sombrero hubcaps. Perfect angle photo!

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    Last edited: Apr 21, 2011
    Bob K likes this.
  3. Jeff Norwell
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    Jeff Norwell Art Editor Staff Member

    Rikster/great post.....but I have a dark ?
    Was the murder of Bob Hirohata ever solved?
  4. Rikster
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    Rikster Member

    The trunk was upholstered by Gaylord.

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    Again the trunk but this time with... very ugly antenas... what where they thinking...


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    The flow on this custom is just about perfect. The only small drawback from this angle is the vertical lines on the rear fenders where the Lincoln taillights sit in.

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    Bob Hirogata alongside his ride. Look at the bumperguars which where still stock hight at this point.

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    Last edited: Apr 21, 2011
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  5. Rikster
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    Rikster Member

    I wish I had a better quality scan of this photo... George Barris in front of the Hirohata Merc with trophy... great smile on both...

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    Some detail photo's... the front

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    The back

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    Last edited: Apr 21, 2011
  6. Rikster
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    Rikster Member

    [​IMG]

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    And the side...

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    What a sensation it must have been to see the Hirohata Merc on the road in the early 50's...

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    At shows the Merc gathers a lot of trophy's. Also not the '53 Caddy Hubcaps on the car while it was stil in its first colors.

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    Last edited: Apr 21, 2011
  7. Rikster
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    Rikster Member

    George Barris and Mamie Van Doren in front of the car at the Running Wild movie set in which the Hirohata Merc and the Barris Built Fred Rowe Merc where featured

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    Same color sceme but with '53 Caddy hubcaps

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    And another award...

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    and dragging a boat?!?!!

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    Last edited: Apr 21, 2011
  8. Rikster
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    Rikster Member

    Before Jim McNiel started on the restoration... (TRJ photo's)

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    Orriginal Carson Top interior,

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    Evident in this pictures is how the side windows worked. The chrome 5/8 inch chanel does not roll down with the window.

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    The freschly restored Merc at the Pebble Beach grass (Bob Downie photo)

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    Last edited: Apr 21, 2011
  9. Rikster
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    Rikster Member

    [​IMG]


    Beautiful headliner... Pinstiping on the dash is by Von Dutch

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    Rod & Custom showed us some excelent photo's of the restoration project which took several years to complete. Some of the most intersting photo's where the once from the unique grille

    Backside of the grille

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    top view

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    Side piece without the frosted plastic inserts

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    According to the Rodders Journal article Bob Hirohata was shot and killed excecution style on May 14, 1981. The murder was never solved.
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2011
  10. LOST ANGEL
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    LOST ANGEL
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    Thanks Rikster, this is my all time favorite! I just can't imagine having this car in my garage all those years and not touching it.-MIKE:cool:
  11. squigy
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    squigy Member

    great post!
  12. bobbleed
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    Awesome

    bobbleed Member

  13. mazdaslam
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    mazdaslam Member

    This had to hurt.:(

    Attached Files:

  14. disturber
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    disturber Member

    Gorgeous, can't beat the old customs.
  15. loogy
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    loogy Member

    VERY COOL! Thanks Rik. There's pictures that I had never seen before.


    Chris
  16. The37Kid
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    The37Kid Member

    THANKS! I've always liked this car, finally saw it in the Petersen three years ago. The fact that Jim McNiel had the car all those years and turned down offers to buy it has always impressed me, having a dream car and finally restoring is something few get to accomplish. :)
  17. J.B.
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    J.B. Member

    Rik, the only one that tops your posts is......you! :D
  18. mazdaslam
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    mazdaslam Member

    I agree! I saw the car at the 50th GNRS in San Fran in 99 .I spoke to Jim and thanked him for finally bringing this great car back for all to enjoy.
  19. CG
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    CG
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    one of my all time fav cars. great post. ive never understood how any old custom or hotrod can fall into such a state of disrepair. you would think each owner bought the car because they loved it so much and they would have taken super care of them.
  20. mazdaslam
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    This one really wasnt in a "state of disrepair" but it was in long term storage.I read that Jim McNeil bought this car when he was 17 or 18 years old for around $1000.He used it as his daily transportation during high school and for some time after.Then the same old story,gets married,buys house,has kids,etc...But instead of selling the car like so many people do ,he keeps it,stores it fairly well,then as time and money allowed, restored the car.
  21. kustom72
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    kustom72 Member

    One of the greats! Thanks for the pictures!
  22. skullcracker
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    Rikster- Your comprehensive knowledge of this thing we call a hobby/lifestyle/obsession and its beginnings is a national treasure-oops-for the Dutch. For all of us anglocentric folks it is so valuable to learn from someone across the pond about our history.
    Keep posting, keep teaching, and as they say in Amsterdam....Dank U
  23. mikes51
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    mikes51 Member

    Great post, thanks. Here's a scene from the movie.
  24. ALLISON
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    ALLISON Member

    Hey, i just wanted to add in how much i liked your site. i didn't go through the whole thing yet but will. So far the thing that seems to be sticking in my head is a really messed up looking van with a Montego grill in it...Like to see that thing on the road. I posted about a car i have called the Astra coupe ( look at my posts), i'm wondering if you have any photos of it by chance?
  25. The37Kid
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    The37Kid Member


    WOW! That is really neat I never bothered to look at Rikster's address until now, thank you for posting all that information. :)
  26. Peter Pan of Chicago
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    Peter Pan of Chicago Member

    This why I love the HAMB!

    Awesome post, Rikster.

    J :eek: el
  27. T McG
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    T McG Member

    Great post. After droo;ing over this car for many years, I never new the window frames didn't go down with the windows, and I also never noticed the teeth on the grille!
  28. Mojo
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    Mojo Member

    One of my all time favorite mercs, I really like it. It walked the fine line between timeless beauty and 50's trendy. As beautiful as it is, I never got over the use of a 51 rear window. I've never, ever seen a chopped merc that looked good with that rear window. Those side corners always stick out like a sore thumb, it just doesn't work for me.
  29. Mai Ki-Ki
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    Mai Ki-Ki Member

    Ruler..

    God I love it...even the rear window which shouldn't work...doesnt ruin it.

    Cheers

    MKK
  30. TheFrenZ
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    TheFrenZ Member

    I always look forward to these posts and this one is as great as the other ones.Thanks Rik !

    Well,the Hirohata Merc might be the best known Custom from the classic Custom Car era from 1945 to 1955.It was a first timer in many ways.It was the first chopped '51 Mercury and also the first hardtopped '49-'51 Mercury.The Barrises gave it the same treatment like they did to the Matranga Merc some time before.The color,a pale pastel ice green tone,was very different than the other rich metallic paintjobs the Barris Bros applied usually.All this did set it apart from other cars and so it left quite an impact back in the day when the car was shown for the very first time at the show circuit.

    So the Hirohata Merc was very different than other Barris and Ayala Customs as the body was heavily reworked in almost every area.All this was done it just 97 days and once the car was finished in 1952,it started to win trophies everywhere.If my info is correct it won 184 of them.The totally reworked and restyled body,the two-tone paintjob seperated by the Buick side trim,side scoops with teeth and Barris badge gave an impression of things to come.The Hirohata Merc is the turning point from "simple" appearing cars to the overdressed Full Customs from the mid to late 50's which had modifications to mainly win show points and not to improve the look of the car in any way at all.

    The car was in almost in every magazine then and that's a good thing.Rikster has many of them and so we can enjoy the Hirohata Merc as it made the scene in the early 50's.It received further attention when Bob Hirohata drove the car to the Indianapolis car show where it won the big first-place trophy.The trip was covered in the October 1953 issue of Rod & Custom Magazine and was titled "Kross Kountry in a Kustom".

    Thanks to Jim Mc Neil and his neverending love for this car,it's still alive and doing well after he restored the whole Merc by himself.Well done ! He bought the car at a used car lot for $500 in 1959.He was 16 years old at that time and did some repairs to it and drove the car to high school and everywhere else.He "parked" the car in 1964 when he was married but didn't part with it.He knew about the car's fame and had plans to restore it someday and I'm glad he kept it and eventually restored it so we can enjoy the Hirohata Merc in all its glory today...

    It's really hard to add some "new" pics to this post as Rik seems to have almost every pic of the car.His photo collection is truly impressive and an enrichment for every Custom Car aficionado around the globe and simply shows his love for these cars. Nonetheless,I found two other pics of the Raplh Poole photo shooting for Rod & Custom Magazine...

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    Von Dutch striping called " The is the City" is still there and that's good.I think this might be the most valuable glove box door ever...I really like the custom-made bullet steering wheel center which somehow mimics a spinning propeller.The whole steering wheel reminds me of a World War II fighter plane viewed from the front.Way cool...The laminated teardrop knobs Hirohata made himself are still the rage more than 50 years later...

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    My favorite pic of the Hirohata Mercury...

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    I believe seeing the car in person must be really impressive.Actually I prefer simpler cars and darker colors but I know the difference from seeing a car on a pic and in real life can be dramatic.I guess this one just might be overwhelming...

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    Check out the Rodder's Journal number 8 for more interesting facts and pics.

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