The Mercury Body Speedster

On April 13, 2014, in Fun Stuff, Galleries, Musings, by lisa

Once upon a time, a man named Clark and his romance author wife Lisa took a walk down an alley in their neighborhood, and over a rotting fence they saw a sad little speedster lurking in the bushes.

weeds

Or at least it looked like it might be a speedster. Clark knew it was something special, and for the next couple years he watched in horror as the weeds grew higher and the bushes thicker, and the car all but disappeared. He dreamt of rescuing that car and restoring it, and left a message on the door of the rental house behind which it sat, but nothing came of it. And then a chain of events occurred…

Clark once had a friend he used to work on cars with, but very sadly this friend died several years ago; Clark spoke at his funeral. The friend had a sister, and this sister ended up inheriting a house from her piano teacher. Really. From all reports, the piano teacher hated most of humanity except for this sister, and so she left her house to her. Inside the garage of the house was a 1949 Cadillac…. which the sister gave to Clark, as a gift.

1949 Cadillac

Clark, with the 1949 Cadillac Fleetwood gifted to him by a friend glad to be rid of it.

Clark was thrilled, and for a while had thoughts of restoring it, but then accepted that the Cadillac was not his dream car. His dream car was crumbling under the bushes in the alley down the street.

We tracked down the owner of the rental property online, and from him got the story on the car. It belonged to the guy’s brother, who had bought it in the 1960s from a WWII vet who had been a machinist. The vet had made many of the parts of the car himself, and drove it up and down the coast, from Seattle to California.

So the brother buys the car which is no longer running, puts it in the garage on this lot in the 60s, and the years go by…. The garage rots and falls over, partially crushing the car. The garage was hauled away, but still the car sat… and rusted… and rotted.

Clark sold the Cadillac, and used some of the money to buy the speedster from the brother. It wasn’t easy to persuade the guy to sell — he still had dreams of fixing it up — but eventually he let it go, on the condition that he was allowed visitation rights.

Clark called up his brother Ric, who owns a couple garages in nearby Ballard (Doctor Don’s, if you’re in Seattle and need your car repaired) and has a tow truck. They had to take down the fence in the alley to get the speedster out.

speedster pulled from weeds

Clark (on R) and his brother pulling the speedster from the weeds.

See the pointy rear end? That makes this a “boat tail” speedster.

But what the heck was it? We looked in all sorts of books to try to find out what make and model the body of the car was, but found nothing exactly like it; it didn’t help that the car body looked to have been pieced together from several different makes and models, plus the machinist’s own ingenuity.

withhood

This hood is definitely not original to the car. Clark later pegged it as a Buick. It has nickel-plated louvres that will go over those openings.

CIMG2292

You can get a sense of how crushed the poor car was.

CIMG2265

The hand-painted odometer had stopped at 66,610… the 666 seemed a wee bit ominous.

CIMG2289

This is looking inside the back of the body. That oval shape is a trunk hatch that had been sealed and filled in with lead. This was the key element that allowed us to identify the body, as it is unique to this make of car.

Over a year after buying the car, Clark stumbled on the answer online: the main body component was a Mercury Body Speedster, made in the 1920s. Only 1,400 were made, and only about 75 are known to still exist (The Mercury Body Corporation went out of business at the end of the 20s). It was a car body that you bought as a sporty upgrade to put on a Ford Model T chassis, or a Chevy.

MercuryAd

 

Unfortunately, the chassis under this body was a mess… and wasn’t even a Model T. It was a Willys (Willys later became Jeep), probably, or maybe a Chevy. Clark debated trying to fix the chassis, and then decided that it would take too long and be Absolutely No Fun. Instead, he used the rest of the money from selling the Cadillac to buy a running Ford Model A in Montana, which his brother Ric went and picked up. Here’s the Model A coming home:

CIMG2523

 

He then sold the body of the Model A at the Portland Swap Meet, and has been using the money from that to continue his work on the speedster. Clark and his brother have a booth at the swap meet every year — Space 9300. Say hello if you’re a car guy and plan on going.

Clark had by now joined the online forums at the Jalopy Journal, called the H.A.M.B. (which stands for Hokey Ass Message Board, I kid you not. Clark’s handle is ClarkH). Although Clark has been working on cars since he was a kid, and put himself through college working in service stations and flipping cars, he still has had a lot to learn about rebuilding a car like this. The H.A.M.B. has been his fount of knowledge, so if you’re a H.A.M.B. guy reading this, know that Clark appreciates you all, and swears he’ll do his build thread soon. Really. He promises.

It’s been two years now since Clark rescued the speedster from the bushes. He’s learned to weld, and learned magic tricks like soaking anything rusty in a big vat of vinegar. A lot of progress has been made:

traction

The car body in traction, while Clark welded in a supporting frame.

Beginning to uncover the rear hatch. That was lead he had to melt out of it.

Beginning to uncover the rear hatch. That was lead he had to melt out of it.

Welding shut the holes in the cowl. That's a piece of copper, held against the sheet metal with magnets. The copper has a different melting point than the steel, so when Clark welded from the inside, the copper provided a backing to the weld. Or something like that. I'm sure I got it half wrong.

Welding shut the holes in the cowl. That’s a piece of copper, held against the sheet metal with magnets. The copper has a different melting point than the steel, so when Clark welded from the inside, the copper provided a backing to the weld. Or something like that. I’m sure I got the explanation at least half wrong.

The end of the boat tail, with new pieces being fabricated and welded in, to replace the rotted out metal.

The end of the boat tail, with new pieces being fabricated and welded in, to replace the rotted out metal.

bodyscrubbed

The car body, stripped of paint.

auto

The body in place on the Ford Model A frame.

There’s still a long way to go, but the car is taking shape. Clark is hoping that by next summer we’ll at least be able to ride around the block in it. It’ll be a couple more years before we’re ready to join in on rallies or meets, or put it in our local Greenwood Car Show.

Me at the Greenwood Car Show in 2013, standing in front of a

Me at the Greenwood Car Show in 2013, standing in front of someone else’s Napier.

 

Clark remains unable to believe that I’m supportive of this hobby; not just supportive, but delighted. He doesn’t believe me when I talk about how I’ve always fantasized about tooling around the countryside in a speedster, like a character in a PG Wodehouse novel. But I write romance novels, most of them historical: of COURSE I’m going to be excited about having a 1920s car, and knowing that my husband had the wits and brawn to rebuild it himself. Someone fetch the smelling salts, for I am about to swoon.

My husband’s fascination with cars has bled through into some of my writing. Check out “Great Aunt Sophia’s Lessons for Bombshells.” Scenes in this story take place during a re-creation of the historic auto races on 17 Mile Drive in Pebble Beach, as well as at the Concours d’Elegance. Perhaps more to the point, there is some very sexy stuff that happens in an Auburn speedster. Seriously. It’s naughty. A historic Duesenberg and Jaguar also make important appearances.

bombshell copy

I’ll eventually post more updates on the car progress. In the meantime, if you’re a car guy, do your wife (and yourself — a happy wife reading erotica is a good thing for a husband) a favor and get her something spicy to read, like my newest series of historical erotica, from Simon & Schuster. Available from all e-book retailers.

Read Chapter One Here

iTunes   Amazon   Barnes & Noble   Simon & Schuster

One Response to The Mercury Body Speedster

  1. Jerry says:

    Cool story. I have a 1920s mercury speedster too.

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