The Mercury lead-sled is probably the coolest of the cool in terms of classic cruisers, and this fantastically built 1951 Mercury Custom gets everything right
The ultimate lead sled, the archetype, the one that everyone wants, this ’51 Merc coupe defines the breed. Rounded, lowered, smoothed, fender skirts – it has all the traditional custom styling cues wrapped in a gorgeous Calypso Pearl Green job that ideally suits the long, low-slung profile. Paired with the bulletproof reliability of a 429 V8 and the elegance of a totally custom interior, this is a lead sled that’s very easy to fall in love with. Featured in Rod & Custom magazine with more trophies under its belt than we can count, this bespoke Merc cost way more to build and with only 5584 miles on the finished restoration, its years of dominance are just beginning.
This car could have been the prototype for every Mercury lead sled built, incorporating some of the most traditional modifications and a few tasteful touches that make it incredibly unique. The list of body mods is extensive, ranging from the molded hood with rounded corners, the custom-made front grille, 1956 Buick headlights, the 2 ¼-inch chopped roof that features a custom handmade Carson cloth top, and the fabricated fender skirts that seemingly lengthens the body even further. A stunning PPG Medium Calypso Green Metallic paint job grabs all the attention, although the point of a custom is to blur the lines so you can’t find the mods, but nevertheless the shade was a perfect choice to highlight this incredible build. Somewhat unbelievably, the paint job is nearly 30 years old (it was finished in 1994), but it’s held up incredibly well after a lifetime of showing this Merc off at the country’s top car shows, and it still glows from within with a deep, sugary look that makes this car insanely appealing. In addition, it was recently professionally ceramic coated, so it will continue to age gracefully for years to come. After the top was chopped, a hand-made Carson white cloth top was cleverly installed, and although it doesn’t come off or fold, down, it gives this Merc a trick look and provides the perfect amount of contrast to the seafoam-colored paint. Shaved door handles and the Desoto style front chrome grille are led-sled trademarks, although the custom rear bumper that was formed from the ends of a ’55 Packard and the center section from a ’55 Studebaker is a bespoke piece we’ve never seen before, but absolutely love. Big chrome bumpers and the chrome ‘spear’ on the profile offset all that luscious paint with a big of flash, while the custom rear taillights and exhaust exits incorporated into the rear bumper transform the car’s rear end. Man, the more I look at this car, the deeper I fall in love.
Bright white bucket seats punctuated with green piping are the perfect complement to the high-visibility exterior, and the overstuffed seats (the front are power-actuated units swapped-in from a ’65 Lincoln; the rear come from a ’65 Thunderbird) mean this is a fantastic road trip car. Naugahyde rolls and pleats punctuate the supple ultra-leather hides, which are still in great condition even after all these years, and matching door panels, plush green carpets, and a custom headliner were all stitched to match by the pros at Jasper Customs in Tacoma. The lightly modified Mercury dashboard was filled with Dakota Digital gauges, A/C was cleverly integrated underneath and it indeed blows cold, and the owner created that one-off custom steering wheel and mounted it atop a Ford tilt column. A Blaupunkt AM/FM/Cassette head unit was installed into the headliner – although it’s due for an upgrade – and even though some of the interior components might look slightly dated, everything is high-quality and is still in great shape. Even the trunk was finished to match the cabin, complete with matching carpet and hidden panels stitched like the car’s door panels.
In contrast to the marque mixing and matching on the outside of this big Merc, there’s nothing but Ford-powered stuff along the length of the drivetrain, highlighted by a powerful 429 V8 underneath the big hood. Built by Jim Harter at ABCO machine shop in Washington, the gutsy big-block is fed through an Edelbrock 4-barrel intake atop a matching Edelbrock intake. This might be the best-running lead sled we’ve ever featured, and the highest praise we can offer is that it runs and drives like it was factory built. Turn the key, and it fires, idles smoothly no matter how hot it is, and the integration is seamless. There’s a big radiator to keep it cool, modern accessories close to the block, and even the firewall and inner fenders were finished to show standards with matching Calypso Green paint. The block was coated with Ford Blue engine enamel, featuring several polished stainless pieces that help dress it up. Underneath, the custom chassis was built by Street Machines Unlimited and features a front clip from a ’77 LTD (including power steering, spindles, and front and rear power brakes), Monroe front/rear shocks, a 4-link rear-end complete with a Sprint Car torsion bar, and an Air Ride air-bag system front and back that helps set the wicked stance. A C6 automatic transmission handles the shifts, spinning a 9-inch rear end stuffed with highway-friendly 3.00 posi-traction gears that help this big body float down the road. 15-inch painted steelies with 1950-spec hubcaps and beauty rings are the ideal choice, and they carry 195/75/15 front and 225/75/15 rear Coker whitewall radials, as you might expect.
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Location: Concord, North Carolina, United States