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History What was the FIRST chopped 1949-50 MERCURY

Discussion in 'Traditional Customs' started by Rikster, May 10, 2011.

  1. Rikster
    Joined: Dec 10, 2004
    Posts: 5,781


    This question has been popping up on several Hamb threads over the last couple of years.
    And even before that this has been a question that a lot of Custom car enthusiast tried to figure out.

    Some Hamb threads have had pretty strong discussions on this subject matter,
    so I figured it was time to start a new thread about the subjects and get all the facts about this in one place.
    Perhaps we can figure it out... perhaps not.

    To me personal its not really a big issue which 1949-50 Mercury was chopped first.
    But its fun to do the detective work, and usually other new Custom Car related facts will come from it.

    For long it was thought that Sam Barris chopped his own 1949 Mercury and finished it as first.
    But we now know (thanks to Curtis Leipold aka Cleatus) that the photos taken by Marcia Campbell
    of Sam chopping the top on a 1949 Mercury are not of his own Mercury, but rather Jerry Quesnel's Mercury.
    When a fantastic photo album showing the chop process on this Mercury was shown
    at the Sacramento Autorama Mercury Gathering, the discussion was opened up again.
    When this photo album was shown by Sam's Son John, even John thought his father was chopping his
    own Mercury in all the photos. But it soon became clear Sam was chopping Jerry's Mercury.
    Ever since this event there have been many discussions about why Marcia Campbell took photos
    of Sam chopping Jerry's 1949 Mercury, and not of his own car.
    A recent HAMB thread about the 1951 Oakland roadster show showed Sam's Mercury at this February 1951 Show,
    and again the discussion was heated up about which 1949-50 Mercury was done as a chopped Custom first.
    Sam Barris 49 Mercury as a painted "Finished" Custom, or Jerry Quesnel as a white primered unfinished Custom.

    The prime candidates for this quest are: (in alphabetic order)

    Buddy Alcorn 1950 Mercury
    Sam Barris 1949 Mercury
    Louis Bettancourt 1951 Mercury
    Bill Gaylord 1949 Mercury
    Jerry Quesnel 1949 Mercury
    Wally Welch 1950 Mercury

    Below are some of the facts we know about these cars.


    Buddy Alcorn 1950 Mercury
    (Buddy bought the car in 1955, original owners name is unknown)
    Chopped: at Gil's Auto Body Works year unknown
    First appearance: Unknown
    First publication: Dan Post Blue book of Custom Restyling 1952 (unfinished)
    Other facts: Full fade away front fenders, Oldsmobile rear fenders, rebuilt by Barris in 1955)
    Rounded hood corners. Near fade away roof chop at the back.
    Earliest date on license plates when the car was chopped: unknown


    Sam Barris 1949 Mercury
    Chopped by: Sam Barris
    First appearance: Oakland Roadster Show 20 to 25th February 1951
    Shown in full paint but with unfinished interior, indicating a rush to get the car done for the show.
    The car placed second in full custom class.
    First publication: Motor Trend Magazine December 1951
    Other facts: No known in progress photos. Car most likely built in Sam's spare time after shop hours.
    Car was sold in 1951 to its new owner Bob Orr of Muscatine, Iowa
    Grille uses parts of a 1951 Ford. Sharp hood corners
    Earliest date on license plates when the car was chopped: 1951
    This was the only Brand New car Sam Barris would ever own. So it is likely that he must have had some hesitations chopping it.
    Sam had to work on his own Mercury in his spare time, after shop hours. This being a disadvantage over client cars (Jerry Quesnel) which could be built during shop hours.


    Louis Bettancourt 1949 Mercury
    Chopped by: Ayala
    First appearance: Petersen's Pan Pacific Motorama 1952 November 10-16
    First publication: Restyle your car, 1952
    Other facts: No known in progress photos. Car was styled a lot like how the Ayala's styled the late 1940's Fords. Lots of molded in panels and rounded corners. Of all the Mercs in this list this one has the msost body work done to them.
    Car was redone by Barris in 1953-54.
    Earliest date on license plates when the car was chopped: 1952
    Perhaps this could have been the first one chopped and customized because of a lot of the late 1940's styling cues. Possibly lack of funds prevented Louis to have the Ayala's finish the car for him until early 1952.


    Bill Gaylord 1949 Mercury convertible
    Chopped by: Gaylord?
    First appearance: Unknown
    First publication: Unknown, but it is seen - finished - in one of the Don Montgomery books with 1949 Mercury license plates.
    Other facts: Gaylord top and interior
    Sharp hood corners
    Earliest date on license plates when the car was chopped: 1949
    Most likely the first one chopped, but its a convertible.


    Jerry Quesnel 1949 Mercury
    Chopped by: Sam Barris / Jerry Quesnel
    First appearance: Possibly the Tent Show in Montebello in 1951. Not sure on the exact dates.
    Car as shown in white primer, and possibly a late rival indicating a rush to getting it ready for the show?
    First publication: Popular Science October 1951
    Other facts: Marcia Campbell documented Sam Chopping this mercury in a photo album containing 37 photos.
    Stock grille when the car appeared in white primer. Later the grille would be replaced with one made out of 1951 Ford parts, similar to the Sam Barris Merc grille.
    Sharp hood corners
    Earliest date on license plates when the car was chopped: 1951
    (Edited after readings Jeff's reply.)
    Jerry (still with us) claims Sam cut the top on his merc before Sam chopped his own Merc.
    Jerry had started customizing (shaving etc) his Mercury himself at his parents drive way.


    Wally Welch 1950 Mercury
    Chopped by: Ayala
    First appearance: Possibly the Petersen's Pan Pacific Motorama 1951 November 7-11
    First publication: Hop Up magazine April 1952
    Other facts: The chop on the Wally Welch Mercury was relatively mild with shorter (compared to the others) rear quarter windows. In 1952 Barris redid the car for Wally, changing the color to deep purple, and adding two extra 1951 DeSoto grille teeth.
    Rounded hood corners.
    Earliest date on license plates when the car was chopped: unknown
    This Mercury has a lot less body work than the Bettancourt Mercury, a relatively easy chop and could have been done in a short time.
    Wally was known for having had a lot of custom cars already. And most likely he was able to sell them for good money thus generating some money for having his 1950 Mercury to be built fast.

    So here are some of the facts that can be important for dating the cars in time. I guess/hope more facts will be added in this thread. And hopefully one day we will be able to get a date for when the first 1949-50 Mercury was chopped, and or finished.
    Will this be important. No, not really I think. Back in the day when these cars where being built it was not important who was first. As long as a new custom car was making the deadline for a major show. Car owners wanted to win trophies at these shows, and the builders needed the new entries to get more clients. But I doubt that it was a race against the clock to have the first ever 1949-50 Mercury chopped.

    This has not been the first time a similar list had been produced. Harry Bradley once made a list in an 1980's magazine. And Pat Ghanal's had his own list in his The American Custom Car book.

    Harry Bradley's List (1986)

    Pat Ganahl's list (2001)

    The new 1949 Mercury has been available to the public since late 1948, and in the pat it has happened more than once that brand new, or near new cars where customized right away by their owners. So in a way it is kind of strange that the 1949 Mercury was not chopped as soon as it hit the dealers. Perhaps the relatively high price was responsible for that. But Bill Gaylord did not mind that and he chop his 1949 Mercury Convertible in 1949. And created a wonderful padded top for it. Perhaps this was the real first chopped 1949 Mercury. But I guess a chopped convertible does not count in this "contest"

    I think that it was a very big step when the Marcia Campbell photo book was shown and some of its content was shared here on the Hamb. This for the fist time showed that some photos of Sam Barris chopping a 1949 Mercury top where not his own Merc as the photo captions always said. But in fact Jerry Quesnel's 1949 Mercury. So I think that as a fact was an importuned thing to get cleared.
    Issue #51 of The Rodder's Journal shows 17 of the photos taken from this album, and some of those same photos have been mistakenly been published as Sam Barris, helping to believe Sam's Mercury was chopped first.

    So, this was long... I hope some good arguments will show up soon, and hopefully with the addition of more photos and insights we can once and for all put a name to the first chopped 1949-50 Mercury.
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2011
    kidcampbell71 likes this.
  2. chaddilac
    Joined: Mar 21, 2006
    Posts: 13,862


    Interesting read Rikster!! Nice work as usual!!!
  3. Gambino_Kustoms
    Joined: Oct 14, 2005
    Posts: 6,565

    Alliance Vendor

  4. Mudslinger
    Joined: Aug 3, 2005
    Posts: 1,964


  5. 2Hep
    Joined: Mar 3, 2005
    Posts: 511


    It's like a CSI timeline for the Merc...awesome
  6. Jerry Quesnel had corrected his story with me from the first time I spoke with him.He said.... He had started doing other modifications in his driveway like the handles,headlights etc.He has told me different times that the roof was cut at Sams shop.The story of his dad getting very angry with him is when the first time Jerry drove the car home with the cut roof in its rough early stages.
    kidcampbell71 likes this.
  7. RPW
    Joined: Mar 3, 2001
    Posts: 950


    Very interesting, I love this kind of stuff!
    To get even more details it would be great knowing exactly when the Trend books and the Post book was published (month). By that we can set the time line even more precise.
  8. Rikster
    Joined: Dec 10, 2004
    Posts: 5,781


    I would love to find out about that as well... But even then we don't know exactly how long it took these special publications to get from contributed material to printed publication.
    But if somebody has any leads on how to get info on the publication dates on these magazines and books.... please share.
  9. Rikster
    Joined: Dec 10, 2004
    Posts: 5,781


    Jeff.... you need to share this info here.
    This is the first time I hear Jerry had corrected that drive way chop statement.
    I know you are doing it now... but if we really want to find out which car was done first, you need to get all your first hand info out here.
  10. koolkemp
    Joined: May 7, 2004
    Posts: 6,007


    Great post and thread Rik ,Thanks! Its seems like the 2 most likely candidates are Sams or Jerrys car's...either way they were both done by Sam ! I love reading the historical research you do Rik, you have done much to help preserve the custom car history for fanatics like myself :D ..Thanks again !
  11. Rik,I have another correction..... On your facts you didnt mention that Jerry WAS a Barris custom employee,lets not forget that he didnt just drive his merc there and have them do it.This guy did metal work quite a bit,he claims that he chopped his first car at 12 years old ( with a little assistance and it was a windshield on a hot rod).He worked afternoons and evenings at the Barris shop.

    I feel some of my posts have had a lot of research on this subject but they are all in different threads Rik.
  12. What a cool thread. As a fan of the early customized Mercs, I still think that the chop proportions that they (the Ayalas and Sam Barris) did back in the day can't be beat. Right out of the box, they nailed the look.

    It must have taken some balls to fire up the torch on essentially a new car and try something that hadn't been tried before. And then hope you got it right!

  13. The problem is everytime the story changes it becomes less creditable. I am in no way suggesting that Jerry is misrepresenting anything intentionally just that after 60 years peoples memories are not always accurate and clearly he has now remembered a different timeline with some aspects of this story.

    It is still very possible his car was the first cut but changing stories do not clarify timelines very well.
  14. Rikster
    Joined: Dec 10, 2004
    Posts: 5,781


    Copy & past them into this...
    Your info in the other threads is very important.
    Then its all in one thread.. and we might be able to get some dates... Its better to have it all on one place than scattered all over.
  15. Rikster
    Joined: Dec 10, 2004
    Posts: 5,781


    Jeff, was Jerry's Merc built at Barris as a custom car. In other words did Jerry pay Barris for the chop, or did Jerry hire or trade Sam for doing the work on his Merc? Or did Jerry and Sam built this car in the spare time at the Barris Shop?
  16. K13.... I do agree with you on that point about changing but its still bodywork that was done in his driveway and I can see that maybe getting mixed up and his Dad getting pist off no matter what he was mad about.

    Lets not forget that I have Jack Stewart on video talking about this subject.That is another guy who was around at this time and is not related to anyone.
  17. Nice!!
    Jerry Quesnel's Merc. Drool.......
    Last edited: May 10, 2011
  18. Rikster
    Joined: Dec 10, 2004
    Posts: 5,781


    Jeff, can you make a transcript of what Jack has to say about Jerry and Sam's Merc... or put it on Youtube.
  19. Are there other folks who worked at Barris then who are still alive? Could check with 3-4 of them, and "average" their stories to see what timeline is mostly correct.

    I like historical research like this a lot, and how I would get folks like Jerry or others to be more specific, is to ask when the chop was finished... Before Xmas of 1950? Earlier? Jerry and Sam's chops looks very different, Jerry's looks more 40's style. Did Jerry and Sam discuss different approaches and how did that work? I think Rik should call Jerry.
  20. Oh I totally agree but that's the problem a little change here an little change there and then we have a totally different thing happening.

    When I first brought up the point about Sam's straight post chop compared to Jerry's angle post chop you said Jerry had said that Sam did straight posts because the angle posts on Jerry's were so difficult to do he didn't do them on his own car but in our last conversation about this subject it was suggested that Jerry's car was done first with angled posts becasue it was an easier way to chop a Merc so again the two stories don't jive.

    It was a long time ago and sometimes details are hard to remember and when certain questions are asked perhaps it "creates" memories. None of it intentionally trying to sway info one way or another but it does happen.

    Christ half the time I couldn't tell you what I did a month ago let alone 60 years ago.:D
  21. If you think someone who has built tons of cars through the years is going to remember details like before Christmas from 60 years ago,I think you are mistaken.It sounds like you think im not capable of asking Jerry the right questions.....well thats ok John anyone is free to call Jerry and get to the bottom of this.:rolleyes::)
  22. [​IMG]
    This poster should be on this thread. Yes it was made when Sam past away but why was it passed off as being Sams car ? If they knew this wasnt the first chopped merc then you would think the word "first" would not be on this poster no matter how it is being used.
    kidcampbell71 likes this.
  23. cleatus
    Joined: Mar 1, 2002
    Posts: 2,277

    from Sacramento

    One thing that I've always wondered, since Sam's and Jerry's cars were '49 models, yet neither car seems to have completed their chops until sometime in '51 and supposedly they were bought 'new' - Did they drive them around for well over a year before starting the work?
    It has been said that Sam drove his for 'a while' before starting on it and it appears in the photo sequence that Jerry was already doing some of the other mods to the body before his chop was started.
    The '49s were available end-of-48, so did they buy them right away - when the model was first available, or more towards the end of '49 when the model was nearly a year old, or maybe even in early '50 when they may have been discounted a bit to clear them off the lot to make room for the new '50 models?
    Conceivably they could have been driven for close to two years before cutting the tops. Which being a custom nut would seem like it would be hard to keep your hands off it for that long. Especially for someone who makes a living cutting tops.
    Up to that time chops were mostly performed to older -fat fender- cars to make them look new and exciting, so it may have been a real hard decision to cut into their 'new' car until after the newness had worn off.
    Also when they talk of chopping their 'new' car - for a young guy with a late model car, even if it was a couple years old by then, to them, it was probably still a 'new' car compared to most of their friends.
  24. This great thread has just raised more questions.........
    - Why was there a poster made if this was just another merc that Sam chopped?
    - Why did Marcia take these pictures of Sam doing this car ?
    - Why did people say these pictures were of Sams car when they were indeed Jerrys.In the Barris technique books there are a couple of pictures from this set that Marcia took and George says that in the book "Here we are chopping Sams car" and thanks to the album that Cleatus brought us we know it wasnt Sams car.
    - Why is there a picture of George,Sam& Jerry with a hacksaw before they started the surgery?? Does anyone really think that they would do that with the second mercury they chopped?
    - And finally... Why is there no pictures like this of Sams car? If there was I dont think people would of tried to pass these off as Sams merc when they really arent.
    - I think Marcia Campbell was one of the most important figures in early customs when it came to a camera and I can NOT imagine her not taking any pictures of Sams merc in progress.

    At the end of the day to me it is still the Barris shop who did both of these amazing cars.I just think that Sams was finished first for the show and Jerrys was cut first. <!-- / message --><!-- sig -->
    This from another thread but I think it should be on this thread.
  25. atomickustom
    Joined: Aug 30, 2005
    Posts: 3,332


    It is a very interesting rabbit hole to jump down, but I'm not sure how much it really matters? I'm more interested in which ones look best, not which was done first. To my eye, it's the Bettencourt and the Barris mercs that nailed the right proportions and lines.

    To muddy the waters even more, I think it's entirely possible that someone out there chopped one early on that we don't even know about. As Pat Ganahl points out in his book, the '49 Merc roof is similar in many ways to the cars that were already being chopped. It didn't take a genius to cut one, although it did take a genius to get it right.
    The books and magazines only showed cars that were finished and/or built by someone with a known reputation and (usually) in an acceptable style. It's possible someone somewhere took a hacksaw and torch to one and there isn't a single published photo of it. (Not likely, but possible.)
  26. Cleatus.. I dont think these cars were bought brand new off of the showroom floor either.I think maybe off a used lot? Who knows.
  27. carbuilder
    Joined: Nov 21, 2006
    Posts: 982


    Are there any of the posters for sale some where.
  28. I also really liked the 40s style flippers that Jerry ran on his car in the early stages.This has not really been mentioned and it should be.
  29. Sam's car seems to be the earliest model of all those chopped with the three piece rear window unless some of the others changed the window. Doesn't prove anything but he either drove it around unchopped for quite some time if he bought new, got a deal on it as an old model or as Jeff suggested got a used one.
  30. 68Caddy
    Joined: Apr 20, 2008
    Posts: 174


    that Quesnel '49 is one sexy machine! You can almost smell the laquer.

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