A historically significant pre-WWII LA Custom by Charles Marr and Gerry Huth
1940 Mercury Series 09A Custom Coupe
Chassis no. 99A121762
During the late 1940s, Los Angeles publisher 'Pete' Petersen's Hot Rod magazine introduced California-style custom cars to fresh eyes around the rest of the country. By the '50s, "customizing" was going on wherever there were both young people and automobiles. Few knew that a nascent custom car movement had existed in the Golden State even before World War II.
Only a handful of genuinely 'pre-war' California customs survives todayand among them, almost none exist as originally executed. A marvelous exception is this striking chopped-top 1940 Mercury. Customized right after it was delivered to its first owner in late 1939, this was the first 1940 custom Merc convert in the greater Los Angeles area. It was later stored, with its original custom metal work intact, for decades. After reemerging in 2005, the car has very recently been delightfully restored, in exacting and authentic detail, to its circa 1940-41 custom appearance and configuration.
Certainly, few cars ever lent themselves better to customizing than the muscularly bulbous 1940 Mercury. Ford Motor Co. had introduced Mercury just the year before, in a move to fill the void that existed between the low-priced everyman's Ford V-8 and the luxurious, expensive and exclusive Lincoln Zephyr V-12. Marketing intentions aside, the sleek and fast '40 Mercury V-8 convertible simply radiated 'attitude' and from the moment it first appeared, the style was especially coveted by car-savvy youths.
Original owner Charlie Marr, of Burbank, California received his new 1940 Mercury Convertible in November 1939. Within two weeks, Marr and friend Gerry Huth had chopped the windshield three inches. A Carson removable padded top was added soon after, making the car the first '40 Merc ever to be so equipped.
Around 1962shortly after he took over the former Valley Customs shop in Burbank from Clay Jensencustom-builder Carl Morton acquired the tired, but still essentially as-built, old Marr/Huth car. Morton appreciated that the venerable Merc had been one of the first customs to come out of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, an area that had become a hotbed of custom car culture after WWII. (Valley Customs itself had been founded by Jensen and partner Neil Emory in 1948.) He also knew both Charlie Marr and Gerry Huththe latter had become the proprietor of a well-known Burbank muffler shop specializing in custom exhausts, and was the inventor of the Huth automated exhaust-pipe bender.
For more than four decades, Morton kept the car in storage. As several other '40 Mercury projects came and went, he set aside original parts from Charlie's old custom, while also accumulating new old stock for a planned redo. Thanks to Morton's diligence, all of the original customized body parts, including the fenders, doors, hood and trunk lidplus smaller pieces, such as the window frames, vent windows, dash and windshield trimremained with the car.
The vendor became the historic custom's third owner when he obtained the car, still in unrestored condition, during 2005. A thorough restoration was performed in 2008-2009, during which every possible effort was made to use only authentic pre-World War II era parts. After the car was totally disassembled and dipped, all bodywork was done in lead before the epoxy primer went on. Custom Sikkens Autocryl green metallic paint replicated a hand-rubbed multi-coat lacquer finish. Paul Reichling of Cedardale Upholstery recreated the original Carson top, while Guy's Interior Restorations of Portland did the two-tone interiorwhich is period-custom correct right down to the column shift, ivory-colored 1940 Buick steering wheel and matching knobs.
Additional early '40s custom touches include the '37 DeSoto 'ripple' bumpers; '41 Studebaker taillights, teardrop skirts and 'flipper' hubcaps. The unusual above-the-bumper dual exhausts are the way they were, as are the dual Appleton spotlights.
A 1940 flat-head V-8 block was bored and stroked to 276 cubic inches for the Merc. The ported and relieved engine runs an Isky 3/4 cam. Authentic pre-war speed equipment includes the chromed cylinder heads, Weiand dual-carb set-up and modified Lincoln-Zephyr V-12 dual-coil ignition. Also in the hot-rod tradition, the Merc's three-speed manual transmission has Zephyr gears and a Zephyr two-speed overdrive rear axle.
The frame is "C'd" over the rear axle, while a Zephyr hypoid differential allowed the car to set lower without reshaping the factory-shape driveshaft tunnel. Zephyr self-energizing hydraulic brakes provide stopping power. "All of these period modifications make for a very nice driving car that can cruise comfortably at highway speeds," the vendor states.
The freshly completed and beautifully detailed '40 was featured at the 2009 Sacramento Autorama, in a special non-judged "Merc room" exhibit honoring 70 years of Mercury customs.
Seven decades ago, Charlie Marr's custom Mercury Convertible essentially defined for the very first time everything we've come to consider a proper custom 'lead sled' Merc should be. The car is nothing less today than a historically important and wonderfully gorgeous work of artand there no doubt it will be treasured as such all the more so with the continuing passage of time.
The Mercury is still registered to the old Valley Customs business address in Burbank.