Wendy and Bill Vanleur’s 1951 Mercury: Passion from a Classic

Click Here to Begin Slideshow History looks back on the 1950s as a nostalgic time in America’s post-World War II development. Riding on a wave of unprecedented prosperity, Americans exuded an enthusiasm and confidence that was reflected in their music, entertainment, modern home amenities, freedom to expand to the suburbs and beyond, optimism in America’s future, and of course, their car designs. Bigger was perceived as better. TV and rock n’ roll were just in their infancy, sex was a private matter, humility and values, pride and loyalty at work, church and the concern for your neighbours was paramount. Started by G.I.s returning from Europe was the passion for DIY hot rods and street rods. It was a fertile period when speed was king, cruising the boulevards and the emergence of drag racing clubs. One of the perennial favourite models to customize were the 1949-1951 Mercury models designed by Eugene Turenne Gregorie, more commonly known as Bob Gregorie, due to their slipstream shape and affordable price. Imagination exploded when Sam and George Barris got their hands on a 1949 Mercury and chopped its roof down since its two-piece V-windshield enabled the task to be much more feasible. With swooning curves and integral fenders, a fadeaway line was much easier to execute than on the lumpier pre-war Mercurys. Body seams were a snap to fill and finish. Of course the “chop” radically changed the streamline of the car by simplifying it, but it’s not a simple procedure. You have to lean the A-pillar back, the B-pillar forward and the chop must be precise and proportionate. Other obvious modifi-cations that emphasized the resplendent, flawless curves, was to lengthen the quarter panels and lower the car to a ground-hugging height. All Mercurys relied on the proven Flathead V8 of its day which came in at 255 inches and produced 110 hp. The ’51 Mer-cury was so successful that it sold more than 309,000 cars, highest by far of the three iconic post-war Mercurys (1949-1951). Viewed as a derivative of the more exclusive Lincoln styling the ’51 Mercury’s upscaled appearance ironically attracted a plethora of customizers armed with cutting torches and lots of candy-coloured paint. But when Bill Vanleur purchased his ’51 Merc in 2000 it was hardly in stellar condition. “The car was original, but not running and very tired looking,” remembers Bill. “It had lots of dents, lots of body filler and the paint was peeling off. It desperately needed a complete makeover.” Bill’s dedication and assiduous skill reminds me of the watch-maker, Greubel Forsey, specialist in the art of finishing. Sure you can get the factory-produced product, but Greubel Forsey make watches - 200 a year - by hand, illustrat-ing the humanity behind the art. Bill has the same vision. Though nothing is drawn on paper, he has this uncanny ability to see the end result. “I have always liked Mercurys and I was looking to do up a custom car,” confirms Bill. But what a project to commit yourself to. “I guess I get my work ethic from my dad. He loved cars and worked in the auto industry for years. Our family car was never dirty and well maintained,” says the affable Bill. “I started with building model car kits, often taking them apart and some-time even putting them back together. If it moves and has a rumble, I’m interested. Still in Bill’s procession are: a ’33 Ford Coupe, a ’35 Ford Pick-up, a ’47 Studebaker Pick-up, a ’64 Cadillac Coupe de Ville, and a ’65 C10 Chev Pick-up.” Over the past 20 years, this has been a work in progress in stages, but has remained a true passion since day one in the confines of Bill’s home garage. “It had been awhile before I chopped the roof down by 3.5 inches. I purged anything superfluous by shav-ing the body and removing all the chrome, emblems and door handles.” He replaced the headlight with a set of frenched headlights sunken into the body for that seamless effect. “I installed a 1950 Merc rear window and grille.” As for the engine, if you can im-agine Queen Victoria doing the 100-metre hurdles, you’ll understand how laborious the Flathead V8 felt. Bill upgraded the horsepower by giving it a 350 Chev embellishing power as well as presence. To compensate for the added muscle, an automatic over-drive transmission was required with a 10-bolt Chevy rear end. “The front and rear suspension was lowered with drop spindles and springs in the front (from Fatman Fab-rication) and lowering blocks in the rear.” Also included were bubble fender skirts, front disc brakes and power steering, new wiring, gauges, new upholstery, and the fait ac-compli, rounded hood corners and custom pin striping by Mac The Knife. But nothing draws the eye like a stunning exterior (its second paint job since Bill has owned it) and I could imagine this ’51 Mercury in a ZZ Top music video or a Stephen King movie. It’s Hot Rod Black, almost a lustre deep-metallic blue under certain lighting, that gives the car a menacing stance. “The original colour was green, but thanks to Cars & Guitars, they did an amazing job in converting something ordinary into something extraordi-nary.” John McGann, editor-in-chief of Hot Rod Magazine suggests, “I’m well aware that I may find myself drowning in the looming tidal wave of electrification that seems poised to inundate us in the next several years, but for a car to be special, it needs personality; it needs to have a soul, and I haven’t seen that yet in an electric car. Quick and fast is impressive, sure, but it doesn’t necessarily mean fun, engaging, or soul-stirring, and a lack of those qualities is boring.” Bill can concur but it also takes time, commitment and money. “The part that took the longest to restore was my bank account,” he chuckles with a knowing nod. “But then, why do anything if the passion isn’t there? There is nothing like driving a classic down the road with the windows down, listing to the music from the exhausts, tunes from the radio, and having your sweetheart by your side.” Click Here to Begin Slideshow

Wendy and Bill Vanleur's 1951 Mercury: Passion from a Classic

Click Here to Begin Slideshow

History looks back on the 1950s as a nostalgic time in America’s post-World War II
development. Riding on a wave of unprecedented prosperity, Americans exuded an enthusiasm and confidence that was reflected in their music, entertainment, modern home amenities, freedom to expand to the suburbs and beyond, optimism in America’s future, and of course, their car designs. Bigger was perceived as better. TV and rock n’ roll were just in their infancy, sex was a private matter, humility and values, pride and loyalty at work, church and the concern for your neighbours was paramount.

Started by G.I.s returning from Europe was the passion for DIY hot rods and street rods. It was a fertile period when speed was king, cruising the boulevards and the emergence of drag racing clubs. One of the perennial favourite models to customize were the 1949-1951 Mercury models designed by Eugene Turenne Gregorie, more commonly known as Bob Gregorie, due to their slipstream shape and affordable price. Imagination exploded when Sam and George Barris got their hands on a 1949 Mercury and chopped its roof down since its two-piece V-windshield enabled the task to be much more feasible. With swooning curves and integral fenders, a fadeaway line was much easier to execute than on the lumpier pre-war Mercurys. Body seams were a snap to fill and finish. Of course the “chop” radically changed the streamline of the car by simplifying it, but it’s not a simple procedure. You have to lean the A-pillar back, the B-pillar forward and the chop must be precise and proportionate. Other obvious modifi-cations that emphasized the resplendent, flawless curves, was to lengthen the quarter panels and lower the car to a ground-hugging height. All Mercurys relied on the proven Flathead V8 of its day which came in at 255 inches and produced 110 hp. The ’51 Mer-cury was so successful that it sold more than 309,000 cars, highest by far of the three iconic post-war Mercurys (1949-1951). Viewed as a derivative of the more exclusive Lincoln styling the ’51 Mercury’s upscaled appearance ironically attracted a plethora of customizers armed with cutting torches and lots of candy-coloured paint.

But when Bill Vanleur purchased his ’51 Merc in 2000 it was hardly in stellar condition. “The car was original, but not running and very tired looking,” remembers Bill. “It had lots of dents, lots of body filler and the paint was peeling off. It desperately needed a complete makeover.” Bill’s dedication and assiduous skill reminds me of the watch-maker, Greubel Forsey, specialist in the art of finishing. Sure you can get the factory-produced product, but Greubel Forsey make watches - 200 a year - by hand, illustrat-ing the humanity behind the art. Bill has the same vision. Though nothing is drawn on paper, he has this uncanny ability to see the end result. “I have always liked Mercurys and I was looking to do up a custom car,” confirms Bill. But what a project to commit yourself to. “I guess I get my work ethic from my dad. He loved cars and worked in the auto industry for years. Our family car was never dirty and well maintained,” says the affable Bill. “I started with building model car kits, often taking them apart and some-time even putting them back together. If it moves and has a rumble, I’m interested.
Still in Bill’s procession are: a ’33 Ford Coupe, a ’35 Ford Pick-up, a ’47 Studebaker Pick-up, a ’64 Cadillac Coupe de Ville, and a ’65 C10 Chev Pick-up.”

Over the past 20 years, this has been a work in progress in stages, but has remained a true passion since day one in the confines of Bill’s home garage. “It had been awhile before I chopped the roof down by 3.5 inches. I purged anything superfluous by shav-ing the body and removing all the chrome, emblems and door handles.” He replaced the headlight with a set of frenched headlights sunken into the body for that seamless effect. “I installed a 1950 Merc rear window and grille.” As for the engine, if you can im-agine Queen Victoria doing the 100-metre hurdles, you’ll understand how laborious the Flathead V8 felt. Bill upgraded the horsepower by giving it a 350 Chev embellishing power as well as presence. To compensate for the added muscle, an automatic over-drive transmission was required with a 10-bolt Chevy rear end. “The front and rear suspension was lowered with drop spindles and springs in the front (from Fatman Fab-rication) and lowering blocks in the rear.” Also included were bubble fender skirts, front disc brakes and power steering, new wiring, gauges, new upholstery, and the fait ac-compli, rounded hood corners and custom pin striping by Mac The Knife. But nothing draws the eye like a stunning exterior (its second paint job since Bill has owned it) and I could imagine this ’51 Mercury in a ZZ Top music video or a Stephen King movie. It’s Hot Rod Black, almost a lustre deep-metallic blue under certain lighting, that gives the car a menacing stance. “The original colour was green, but thanks to Cars & Guitars, they did an amazing job in converting something ordinary into something extraordi-nary.”

John McGann, editor-in-chief of Hot Rod Magazine suggests, “I’m well aware that I may find myself drowning in the looming tidal wave of electrification that seems poised to inundate us in the next several years, but for a car to be special, it needs personality; it needs to have a soul, and I haven’t seen that yet in an electric car. Quick and fast is impressive, sure, but it doesn’t necessarily mean fun, engaging, or soul-stirring, and a lack of those qualities is boring.” Bill can concur but it also takes time, commitment and money. “The part that took the longest to restore was my bank account,” he chuckles with a knowing nod. “But then, why do anything if the passion isn’t there? There is nothing like driving a classic down the road with the windows down, listing to the music from the exhausts, tunes from the radio, and having your sweetheart by your side.”

Click Here to Begin Slideshow

Wendy and Bill Vanleur's 1951 Mercury: Passion from a Classic

Wendy and Bill Vanleur's 1951 Mercury: Passion from a Classic

Wendy and Bill Vanleur's 1951 Mercury: Passion from a Classic

Wendy and Bill Vanleur's 1951 Mercury: Passion from a Classic

Wendy and Bill Vanleur's 1951 Mercury: Passion from a Classic

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About Clive Branson 49 Articles
Clive Branson is a photography graduate from Parsons School of Design in New York City and has since divided his career as an advertising creative director/copywriter and as a freelance writer/photographer. He is the author of Focus On Close-Up and Macro Photography and numerous articles for magazines and newspapers throughout North America and Britain. Clive lives and works in Ottawa, Ontario.

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