There’s no denying that a ’49 Mercury was, and still is, the epitome of “cool.” Didn’t that Hollywood icon, James Dean, make that fact known to all in the movie “Rebel Without A Cause”? Didn’t those two Barris brothers from Lynwood, California, start a craze that continues today – chopping the top of a ’49 Mercury coupe? Didn’t Dick Dean,the Sultan of Chop, build several and make them famous? Isn’t the Hirohata Merc one of the most famous Mercury’s in the world?
Ok, don’t send us hate mail, we know the Hirohata Mercury is a ’51 model, but there’s no denying that the ’49 through ‘51 Mercury is one of the most recognizable cars in the world. It ranks right up there, along with a 1932 Ford and a 1957 Chevy.
For our history lesson on this icon, in 1949 there were four basic body styles produced: a four-door sedan, a two-door sedan (and often referred to as a sport coupe), the convertible and a wood and metal bodied station wagon. To make all of us yearn for the good old days, prices began at $1,979 for the two-door sedan, and rose to $2,716 for the wagon. Don’t you wish you could find one for that price today? If you did, what you’d likely get would be what was left after it had been at the bottom of a lake for 50 or so years. Which would probably be not much.
A total of 301,302 Mercury’s were produced for the 1949 model year. Of that, only 8,044 (according to the Classic Car Database) were station wagons. That fact alone makes them quite rare. However, the wagon featured here was not one of those 8,044 produced by Mercury, believe it or not, this one actually rolled of the assembly line as a sport coupe, and we’ll have more on that in a minute.
Dave Dolman of Verdon, Nebraska, owns, drives and built the wagon featured here. In 1996, Dave started on the Mercury after accumulating enough parts. Suffice to say, what was left of the Mercury was in very sad shape. The car had been hit in the side and a tree had caved in the roof. Dave had taken it in on trade for some other work he’d performed. It was in such bad shape that friends told Dave that he’d never finish the wagon. Several times over the years it seemed that they were correct. Dave eventually made them eat their words.
Fortunately, Dave had owned several other Mercury’s before he tackled this one, so he knew the inner workings of the model. This Mercury is not a kit car, it was built the old fashioned way –scouring the junk yards for parts and putting them together by hand in a pleasing way.
Dave makes his livelihood rebuilding cars for other people so the years pass quickly in his shop. After starting on the ‘49, Dave was interrupted several times by building and finishing a customer’s ’49 Merc coupe and a ’50 Merc coupe, redoing a ’59 Mercury station wagon and modifying a ’55 Pontiac two door wagon. Ten years later, in 2006, Dave finally found time to work on his own wagon again. In the meantime, he’d scrounged a ’57 Ford station wagon roof and some ’56 Ford station wagon parts including side windows as well as the windowed liftgate and tailgate from the same car.
Adding The Sheetmetal
First he needed a newer chassis for all the metal he was going to add. The built chassis consists of a ’79 Monte Carlo clip with 2.5-inch dropped spindles, air bags, a 1.25-inch sway bar, and Wilwood disc brakes. Around back, a nine-inch Ford with wagon drum brakes was used. A GM crate engine of 355 cubic-inches and a 700 R-4 automatic transmission was set on the mounts after an Olds faux valve covers and a ’53 Cadillac air cleaner were added.
When it came to the sheet metal, the floors were the first to be added, stiffening the body – they came out of a ’56 Ford wagon and were fitted masterfully so the wagon look wouldn’t be lost in the process. The ’57 Ford roof was deskinned and five-inches were removed from the crown, flattening the roof. It was also narrowed six inches to fit on the 3.5-inch chopped windshield frame.
Braces were added to support the length of the top and the ’56 Ford wagon side windows were chopped 4.5-inches to match the new angled front pillars. The Merc then needed new quarters in order to match up to the Ford side windows so Dave hand-built the quarters and added ’52 Mercury taillights to them.
The liftgate may look stock, but it is certainly not. It was modified by adding metal to the top of it and narrowing the bottom of it. That accomplished, the liftgate fit the tailgate and worked perfectly. Just below that, a new pan was rolled and a pair of ’55 Pontiac split bumpers were fitted, a license plate box was added and the exhaust pipes were relocated to the quarter’s sides behind the rear of the wheelwells.
Inside, a tilt column was pirated from a ’74 Chevy van and topped with an Impala steering wheel. The front seat is from a ’65 Buick Electra, the rear seat is out of a ’56 Ford station wagon and both are covered in Kalfskin Beige leather.
Dave hand built the rear interior quarter panels out of aluminum and had them covered in a tuck n’ roll pattern using the same Kalfskin leather. Larry Cummings of Countryside Upholstery in Humboldt, Nebraska did the headliner, carpeting and the interior. The stainless “rub strips” on the interior floor are courtesy of the ’56 Ford wagon and add a finished look to the rear of the Mercury.
Even though it took Dave better than 12 years (actual build time was 2.5 years) to put his vision on the streets, the car looks as fresh today as it did eight years ago. The good news is that Dave and his wife Shirley are no strangers to road trips. Every time Dave drives his wagon to a show (the latest being to the James Dean Festival in Fairmount, Indiana, in late September, 2016), he’s always asked the same question: “How many steel bodied two-door station wagons did they make?” Dave’s answer: “They didn’t make any, I built the only one!”
One thing is certain. The 1949, 1950 and 1951 Mercurys were hot when they were new, and remain a must have for any serious collection, no matter which model is desired.
Article courtesy of Rod Authority, written by Roger Jetter.