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Projects The un-dork-ifying of a Merc

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by drdave, Mar 7, 2012.

  1. Just like Prostockjohn and HRod 50, I bought an already "finished" Merc with "issues." I thought I would start a thread on mine and undoing what had previously been done and making it "right." Some of my issues are from the original build, some are the result of time and some are from additions/changes owners before me. But, I knew all of that going in and is part of what contributed to the good deal I got on it in the first place. Everyone likes to make a car their own....what better place to start than something that has all the hard work done and just needs tweaking? :)

    I guess a little back story is in order first. Dad's first car in '59 was a '51 Merc. As a car crazy, model building kid growing up, I came across a built AMT '49 Merc in the basement one day. I asked dad about it and he told me about his '51...4dr, wrecked it the day he got it. Since he had to fix the damage anyhow, why not customize it? He put in a 53 Chevy grille and a few other odds and ends. Ultimately, he wanted to go faster and sold the Merc to buy a '51 Olds with and OHV V8. In retrospect, he wishes he had dropped an Olds motor into the Merc.

    So, I have pretty much spent my life dreaming of the day I could own a Merc...piles of Classic and Custom mags in the 80's didn't help my "problem," neither did Pat Ganahl's nearly single handed revival of Rod and Custom. Dad bought me a '64 Pontiac Catalina convertible in '84 when I graduated high school. I started turning it into a custom right away....have never finished it and still have it. But always in the back of my mind was the hunt for a Merc. Fast forward 20+ years and the time was finally right. I found the right car, for the right price at a time I happened to have a little money....I'm a Merc owner! :)

    So what did I get? Keeping my eye on eBay (and other places) for years, I see a "finished, running/driving" chopped '51. The car was built about 1995, but was worn a bit. The paint was decent, but had problems, a bit of rust was coming back through, the hood had flown open at some point and no longer fit right, but it had a rear steer Nova clip, was chopped, rust free and had a bunch of build pictures to be able to see it had been built pretty well from a solid foundation. The car didn't meet reserve a couple of times and one day was relisted for a reeeeaaaaaallll reasonable price with no reserve. I called my wife and told her I "had" to buy a Merc. She was very gracious despite my large pile of unfinished/not running projects and gave the OK. There were only like 2 days left on the auction and there were no bids. I called the owner and offered 1k over what it was listed for to end the auction and I would drive out the end of the week to check it out and bring it home. I really should have taken off work and headed right over, cuz I was pretty much useless for the next couple of days. :)


    Dad smiling after we got it loaded. A custom Merc back in the family for the first time since 1959! :) It was a long drive back from central Florida to Arkansas until I could drive it, but at least we could look behind us and see it's smiling face....although it's smile was not near as big as the one on mine....I had a driver custom Merc for under 20k on my trailer. :D
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2014
    five-oh and kidcampbell71 like this.
  2. williebill
    Joined: Mar 1, 2004
    Posts: 2,976


    Cool story. Thanks for posting. I completely understand.
  3. So, here is what I ended up with.



    A nice, solid 20 footer. Paint is ok, but far from nice any more. Ghost flames and a Chromalusion stripe down each side. The chop is done right, as is the install of the rear steer Nova clip. Sitting a little high...the previous owner lived down a reasonably long, rutted sand road, so he took the lowering blocks out and added air shocks to be able to drive it in and out of the house. Of note also are the "Buick" portholes in the bent and not fitting hood. They are actually the chrome trim inserts that go in the slots in semi truck wheels. they will have to go, along with the Hagans, but that will require some paint work. Also kinda different you will notice the stained glass "blue dot" tail light lenses. The car was originally built with 54 Chevy Lee lenses, but they got stolen at a car show so the previous owner made a set of stained glass replacements since that was one of his hobbies. I'm sure you'll also like the "Lost in the 50's II" painted on the deck lid.


    Inside we have a white and green pleated interior over mid '90's Buick front seats, a home made center console, Caddy tilt and telescopic column with flamed billet wheel and a smoothed dash using a set of round gauges and the previous owner's wife's name lettered in the center. Dice...lots and lots of dice.


    Stock back seat, some more dice and a couple of throw pillows.


    Under the hood is a SBC with 700r4. Vintage Air heat and air system, although the heat part had been disconnected since the previous owner didn't like where the heater hoses went and he didn't need heat in Florida. Flamed billet. Yummy.
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2014
    dana barlow and kidcampbell71 like this.
  4. flamedabone
    Joined: Aug 3, 2001
    Posts: 5,090


    Oh yea. You can definately fix that. Most of the ugly is bolt on, (except for the headlights and the ride height) and the chop looks pretty good.

    What is needed most was someone new to own it and it's got that now, so I think she'll be alright.

    Good luck and keep us posted. -Abone.
    kidcampbell71 likes this.

  5. propwash
    Joined: Jul 25, 2005
    Posts: 3,858

    from Las Vegas

    I like it...needs your personal touch (unless your wife doesn't mind seeing MrsOP on the console every time you take her out for spin around town. Certainly sits well and it appears that most of the bodywork was done correctly. Personally, I think flames on v/c, a/c, and steering wheels is overkill - just as bad as spider webs, skulls and/or dice. I think you did better than expected for under $20k, and you can drive it right away.

  6. The car drove good and I was behind the wheel. I got out a cd of car songs, plunked it in the cd player and started to drive me a chopped Merc. headed to work with it Monday morning and Mercury Blues came through the speakers. I'll tell ya boys...I teared up pretty good. After 30+ years of dreaming, here I am driving my own chopped Merc looking though that short windshield listening to Mercury was no longer "...tell ya what I'd do...", I was finally "cruisin' up and down the road."

    Over all, the car drove and handled well. My 6'2" frame fit surprisingly well under the lowered lit with head room to spare and I was surprised how well I could see out of it having never driven a chopped car before. Pretty quickly I was able to take care of a few things to get headed the right direction. A good bath helped a lot. Got some EasyOff and removed the lettering and character from the decklid and the lettering off the dash. Got some finned valve covers and air cleaner and ditched the flamed billet. Pulled out all the dice knobs and replaced them with laminated tear drop knobs. I also put the lowering blocks back in and got it sitting right. Rechromed the front bumper and put some Lee lenses back in to replace the stained glass tail lights. The warped fiberglass 51 style fender skirts had scarred the paint a good bit, so I bought a set of fiberglass bubble skirts to cover the offending area. I also bought a set of wide wides and swapped a set of Lancer caps for the 57 Caddy's that were on it...not cuz I didn't like them, I just wanted Lancers for something different.

    Here's how it looked while I drove it nearly daily to work, the Round Up once and a few other shows.



    The biggest issues I kept having with it were the trans not shifting like it should, the brakes were iffy making me real nervous and the wiring was just plain yucky. I started collecting parts to fix other things: a stock front seat, a nice stock dash, a set of real Appletons, front fender caps to get rid of the Hagans, another hood and some know...stuff you GOTTA have. :) I dropped the car off at a friend's shop to have them sort out the brakes and change the rear gears from 2.73's to 3.73's to get the trans to shift in the right ranges. They replaced the booster, master cylinder and bled everything back down. The trans worked mucho better-o with the new gears, and the brakes were better, but still not right. In the mean time, Mick (Straykatkustoms) had some fun photoshopping and gave me some Hirohata side windows, Buick trim and sombreros....


    I already have a set of Buick trim I've had for 10 years waiting on a Merc and a set of sombreros hanging on the wall.... :)
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2014
  7. No_Respect
    Joined: Jul 27, 2005
    Posts: 1,172

    from So-Cal

    Awesome Keep us posted on the save!! Show the front and the misaligned hood.
    jimmy bruns likes this.
  8. Yay a build thread from Dave! I thought that was you in the early pic, and as I graduated HS in 1985 I was thinking I've aged better. :)

    Are you planning to keep the current roof lines?
  9. RAVENS29
    Joined: Nov 2, 2011
    Posts: 110

    from n/a

    Yeah, looks good to me also...... Does that mean i'm old?
  10. Congrats man , awesome car !
  11. All that brings us to where I am now. The brakes never sorted out. Building the office (you've seen it by now right? Search Hot Rod Orthodontic office if you haven't....I'll wait), I really didn't have time or space to tear it apart and redo the brake system from scratch. I limped it along 3 years pumping and praying. Finally scared myself bad enough fall of 2010 and I parked it. I eased it over the office once or twice for a photo shoot, but mostly it just sat until I finished a few things around the house I had neglected while building the office.

    January 2011 I ordered a new hanging pedal assembly, booster and master from ECI after describing to them what I was working with. Seems the 80's Ford Mustang booster, master and whatever pedal was in it when I got it was not pushing enough fluid for the Nova calipers and Camaro drums on the rear. My intention was to jump in and swap out the pedal/master assembly and get it back on the road. I say intention..... You know how you start one thing and it leads to another and then you roll in the "as long as I am this far, I may as well...?"

    I get under the dash to remove the existing pedal assembly and find it is not mounted so as to attach to the dash at the column mount as it should. Not to mention all the wires running THROUGH to pedal assembly. I start tracing wires so I can figure out what to cut where and I start to get frustrated. The wiring is already a mess and had been giving me multiple fits. I had bought a new Ron Francis kit a year previous but hadn't had time to put it in. Now was as good as time as any and I got to hackin' so I could get the pedal assembly out. I started to fit the new one from ECI and figurin' how to make the mount to attach at the dash at the column mount. I find the existing column is mounted by some 1 inch strap on each side and spaced down with long bolts and loose fitting nuts slipped on....all through not factory holes in the smoothed off dash. Not happy with the Caddy column and flamed steering wheel and planning eventually to replace the smoothed dash with a stock one...and if I'm already rewiring it anyhow...better to do it once to a new column and the stock dash, right? So, what started as a quick pedal assembly replacement quickly snowballed in a matter of a couple of hours into a car with no steering, brakes, wiring or dash. :D

    On with the show....
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2014
  12. 40StudeDude
    Joined: Sep 19, 2002
    Posts: 9,486


    The wide whites definitely helped...and the portholes & dice should go away...and I like the bubble skirts...'course, I like almost any kind of skirts...

    It's lookin' good, keep at it...!!!

    kiwijeff likes this.
  13. Mr48chev
    Joined: Dec 28, 2007
    Posts: 31,313


    I'm liking the way you are headed with this one. Keep us posted on the progress.

    The 51 coupe that I bought in High school and owned for 32 years before selling it during one of 'those moments" Was almost that same color in lacquer when I bought it.
  14. Atwater Mike
    Joined: May 31, 2002
    Posts: 10,929

    Atwater Mike

    Mick's touch has just the right flair!
    Now, look at it again, and picture it without the trident kickstands...
  15. It sounded simple on the front end despite the rapid snowball downhill into more than I initially planned to fix at the time...remove the bad, stuff in the good. Who knew how bad the bad was gonna get....

    Here's the wiring. I can't understand why it would give me any troubles... :rolleyes:


    I start to tear into the "smoothed" firewall because the new pedal assembly mounts higher up than the old one due to a longer pedal. Did I mention that when I decided to ax the steering column I had discovered it was not mounted in any way to the firewall? There was only a hole were the column shaft went through to the box. Did I also mention that the steering shaft itself was only slipped into the box style coupler at the steering box without any cotter key? Made me feel good knowing had the dash/column flexed any with the poorly fabricated column "drop", the shaft would have come out of the box and I would have had no steering. Niiiiice.... So, I also needed to strip the firewall so I could make a flat surface to put a column mount in. I start stripping and I get this....


    What you really can't see here beyond the 1/2 inch thick in places bondo is that there are at least 3 layers of patched steel all over the place. All this mess has to go. Didn't I say remove all the bad and stuff in the good? This is what I was left with of the original firewall....


    What was there, however, was still a mess. I would like to eventually put the factory fresh air vents back in and that section is pretty yuck-ola, so i cut it out, too. I had to trim the upper pinch weld to clear the new booster, so got that started and then took advantage of all the open space and worked out the best place to mount the pedal assembly and booster and drilled my holes.


    I wasn't happy with the metal that was left around the pedal mount, and intended to replace it, but I kept that section there to be able to easily transfer the hole locations to the new metal. I had a 4dr parts car and scavenged a patch from it's firewall.



    I also used the factory steering column access panels and opening from the parts car to fabricate a spot for the new column mount. I got a Flaming River tilt column and floor mount. I flipped the factory panels and cut/pasted/reshaped them along with the flange of the opening to fit the new mount and maintain a "factory" look.


    I attached the "new" access panels to the Flaming River mount and hung the donor firewall so I could get everything where it needed to be as well as to transfer the pedal mount hole locations to the new metal. You'll note I also slid the factory wire harness hole off to the side so it would clear the new booster....I measured poorly and didn't move it over enough and had to cut it back out later and move it some more. Measure twice and cut once I'm not real good at. LOL


    Tacked it all in and filled the remaining gap with another chunk from the parts car's firewall.


    I scrambled through all of that hoping to have the car back together for the Stray Kat 500 last May and got as far as you see right there. I didn't make it. :( My next goal was to have it back together by mid August when school started cuz my 16 year old would be taking over my daily driver and I planned to be driving the Merc every day. I ended up with an unexpected opportunity to build a shop addition, so the Merc got set aside again as I emptied out the shop and built an addition. Once again, I didn't make my deadline. Deadline missed, I stepped back and took care of a few more things around the house over the winter that needed done. As of this week, those projects are done and it is once again Merc Season. My goal is once again to have it back together in time for the Stray Kat 500 first weekend in May. Will I make it? Let's we go. Progress posted as I make it.... :D
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2014
  16. When its all done you'll be Glad you started to
    take care of the Little problems that the Car Had
    and will be Crusing the Hyways
    and Loving your Merc

    just my 3.5 cents
  17. enfieldjoe
    Joined: Jun 5, 2009
    Posts: 839

    from Eustis, FL

    Good luck with your Merc project. Electrical wiring looks downright hazardous...perhaps a fire just waiting to happen? I am sure your plan is to remove all of it and start from scratch? You won't regret the investment in new wiring and time to install it.
  18. Thank you for un-ruining this car!
  19. ttarver
    Joined: Oct 8, 2007
    Posts: 406

    from austin

    Nice! I can't wait to see where you take this thing.
  20. bob t!
    Joined: Aug 23, 2011
    Posts: 209

    bob t!

    Love your dental office but even more how your dealing with the problems of this Merc. Keep posting. B.T.W. I like some sort of side trim & the stock 51 skirts.
  21. hvychvy
    Joined: Jul 21, 2005
    Posts: 1,874


    Looking great Dave,keep the progress reports coming!!
  22. I lack your skill, so I needed to start with something that was already together. :)

    Well, yes and no...eventually. I'm not a fan of where the back window is specifically. I prefer them mostly laid down and the 1/4 window left a bit longer rather than sliding the rear window forward and shortening the 1/4 window. I saved the window surround from the parts car if I ever need it for the day out there in the future when I cut the back of the roof apart and tweak it to my liking. That will probably be when I change it over to a hard top chop with Hirohata window frames.

    Thanks for the vote in favor of the bubbles. I have gathered a nice set of factory skirts and will eventually make them flush mount. But, I have always liked bubble skirts so I thought I would run them during this "intermediate" phase for fun. Dice...gone. Portholes....leaving one of these days. I'll probably replace the whole hood since it is bent from being blown open once upon a time.

    Mick has a gift...that pic is currently my desktop for inspiration. :) So far as the lakers, you gotta know...I grew up in the 70's and 80's just as customs came back. Lake pipes were on everything and I don't hate 'em. LOL. Actually, I use 'em for curb feelers. LOL. Seriously, though, I kinda dig them at least for now. The set that's on there is rusty and some of the outlets are bent, so I picked up a new set of single outlet pipes with finned caps and will be putting them on before it hits the road again. Will they stay forever...naw, but I'm going through a phase.... LOL
  23. Oh yeah, there is currently not one inch of wire in the car. The first spring I had it, we had a family trip planned the weekend of the Stray Kat, so I couldn't go. But, my friend Duncan was going (Arkiehotrods) and I offered him the Merc to drive since his Nomad wasn't up for the trip. Gave him the keys and he took it home and parked in the garage. He was taking it out for a spin and noticed smoke coming out of it, so he turned it off and left it until I got home and made the Stray Kat in their daily. Turns out the license light wire shorted out on the hole in the trunk floor. I cut the wire and capped it just to bypass that little problem. Lots of wiring gremlins all along, though. Precious few grommets through metal, tons of splices (I pulled out one 18 inch section that had 4 splices....can you believe that?) and just plain yuckiness. I don't think it was necessarily wired poorly when built, just a steady progression downhill all along.
  24. Thanks! Your car is actually one of the ones I have taken a bunch of pictures of last year in Dewey for reference of where stuff goes on the firewall and where some of the holes "should" be. :)
    DenK likes this.
  25. Grumpyj
    Joined: Aug 15, 2011
    Posts: 14

    from Neenah, WI

    I still can't believe you finally got your Merc. We've come a long way from the sketches, drawings, and dreams from Mrs. Parker's English class. If you do this, the way you do other things in life, this car will one day be one of the standards to which others are built. Way to go Toad!!!!
  26. Just read the whole thread. Off to a great start. Can't wait to see the finished product!
  27. Just to keep the ball rolling a bit to where I am at the moment, here is the new dash I'll be putting in. I found a real nice original dash with good chrome. I guess it was a take out from a nice original car getting a street rod interior. ;) I filled a couple of holes that were drilled in it and repainted it white. I also painted the fins on the chrome the same green as the exterior. Not visible in the picture really is that I sent the gauges to Classic Instruments to be redone/updated. Wish I'd checked to see if they were an Alliance vendor first....I think I missed a discount there, cuz they are. :(


    Just to go ahead and get this out in the open and accept my flaming now....I intend to eventually make the car a pretty decent Hirohata clone. Say what you want about clones, love 'em, hate 'em, it's a cheater's way out....whatever. I love the car, could never afford it if it were to ever be for sale (which we all know it never will be....heck, I'd never sell it) or any of the other clones or near clones. It's mine, it's what I wanna build and have been collecting parts to build one years before I ever got a Merc, so there. LOL I do intend to take some liberty along the way. Dad always wished he'd put an Olds motor in his Merc. I happen to have a couple of '56 Olds motors here and will plop one in the hole someday. I might paint it in pearl instead of solid...saw a two tone pearl green 55 Chevy Larry Watson painted in Rikster's thread and fell in love. There will be other changes along the way I'm sure.

    But to get back on track to the the vain of a Hirohata clone, I had hall of famer Ron Myers duplicate the Von Dutch striping on the Hirohata dash on mine. He did a fantastic job and I hope I don't wreck the car when I get it back on the road staring at the striping. With Rik Hoving's help, we were able to determine that Dutch painted a small gnome in the center of the dash originally. My wife suggested Ron incorporate the smile logo from the office, so Ron kept the original gnome's hat, but painted on my smile logo for the face instead. Too kool! As a side note, Ron even came over last fall and spent 12 hours one Saturday striping everything in the office that stayed still long enough (search Hot Rod Ortho office gets striped for pics). Great guy, great striper....YOU should have him stripe something if you ever get a chance.




    Last edited: Aug 21, 2014
  28. Panel Pete
    Joined: Feb 8, 2007
    Posts: 146

    Panel Pete

    After reading up on you office (very amazing by the way, wish I had you as an ortho for the 3 years I had an unwanted relationship with mouth metal) I see this car getting something it's never truly had - vindication from the previous owners hackery and and a dose of dignity. Looking forward to seeing the progress.
  29. I forgot about Mrs Parker's English class. Only class I ever got moved to the front of the room so the teacher could keep an eye on me....naturally it was because I was sitting next to you. She didn't do herself any favors moving us both to the front still next to each other. :D I still have all those drawings by the funny to scan some and post them here.

    Setting the standard, however, you are being way kind. Do I owe you any money or something? LOL What will be coming a long way will be getting the Merc and your Chevelle together...who woulda ever thunk? :)
  30. Grumpyj
    Joined: Aug 15, 2011
    Posts: 14

    from Neenah, WI

    Yeah, it's been a loooooonnnnng time. One of these days one of us is gonna have to make the 1000mile trip and get these things together. I love the look of the front of your car. If you're ok with the back of mine, life is good!! Heck, bring Arkie along, and we can cover all the bases. A flathead, an awesome Merc, and then there's mine. As far as the truck goes, well that's turning into a project of Mercury proportions!! Great job on the car, buddy! Let me know how that Ron Francis kit works out for you, and If you want me to pick up some of that braided loom for you, I'll be making a run to Fond du Lac in a couple of weeks, hopefully. Other wise if you know how much you need I got a box of it down inn the shop. I can hack you off a chunk and send 'er!!

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