Fred Rowe's 1951 Mercury
1951 Mercury Convertible restyled by Barris Kustoms for Fred Rowe of Los Angeles, California. Fred's Merc was nosed, decked, and shaved for handles and emblems. The modified doors and trunk were electrical operated by solenoids. The operating button for the driver side door was installed in the chrome rub strip. Chrome trim was installed along the bottom of the car to accent the chrome rub strip. Up front, the hood was peaked and the hood corners were radiused. The headlights were frenched and slightly tunneled, using the stock headlight rims. The ends of the grille bar were stock, while the center section was rolled from sheet metal and fitted with slotted teeth. In the book "Barris Kustom Techniques of the 50's Volume 3: Lights, Skirts, Engine and Interiors" George Barris says "We even retained the parking light" when he speaks about the grille bar. The stock front bumper was left untouched, just like the parking lights. In the rear, the exhaust was routed trough the rear bumper corners. The stock taillights were replaced with 1950 Chrysler taillights that were installed low, just above the bumper. Barris completed the build by chopping the windshield 4 inches. A beautiful padded top by Carson Top Shop was then made for the car. Carson Top Shop did also upholster the car in white simple tuck and roll with contrasting horseshoes in gray. The carpet was also gray, and a tarpaulin was used to cover the rear seats when the top was off. The body of the car was painted Burgundy Mist Candy.
Under the hood there were plenty of chrome and polish. The Mercury flathead was ported and relieved, and it featured Edelbrock finned aluminum heads and twin Stromberg 97 carburetors on an Edelbrock intake. Dual Appleton S-552 spotlights and fenderskirts were added as a final touch. The car rolled on Buick Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels that were fit with whitewall tires. The first version of the Merc was completed in 1953, and it landed the cover of Rod & Custom August 1953.
Fred's Mercury was another one of those customs which was modified as styles changed. Later on, the car received two scoops in the hood, and the original sidetrim was replaced with1952 or 1953 Buick trim spears. Small scoops were placed in the center of the curves in the sidetrim as well, and the bumper guards were sectioned. The second version was completed in 1954, and Rod & Custom April 1954 ran a Barris Korner tech article that showed how the hood scoops were made. The article was called Scooping Your Hood.
The second version of Fred's Merc appeared in the Universal-International movie Running Wild along with Bob Hirohata's 1951 Mercury. William Campbell played an under cover cop in the movie, who's ride was Fred's custom. The Hirohata Merc was the bad guy's car. The movie was released December 1, 1955.
Around 1962 Anthony Gonzalis purchased the car for $900.00 from a used car lot in Southern California. Anthony kept on to the car, and he only used it on occasion. Around November of 1986 his son Conrad Gonzalis advertised it for sale on Hemmings. Anthony passed away in 1987, and Conrad was named executor to his fathers estate. It was Conrad's duty to dispose his Fathers property, which included the Mercury. Bill Layman of Bethel Park, Pennsylvania contacted Conrad about the ad in Hemmings. Conrad knew it had been in a movie, but he thought it was Rebel Without a Cause. Bill started to ask questions about the Merc, such as if it had small scoops in the hood, if it had 1953 Buick side trim with scoops that opened into the quarter panels. Bill also asked if it had a grey and ivory interior, a Carson Top and if it was painted a purplish Maroon. Conrad's answer was yes except for the color. It was black. He did tell Bill that there were areas on the firewall where the black paint had peeled, and the color Bill described matched. Conrad also told Bill that were a tag on the inside of the header that read Glen Hauser, Carson Top Shop. Bill then told Conrad that the movie it had appeared in was "Running Wild." Conrad had a step mother and the car was stored at her residence. She would not let Conrad take any photos or let anyone see the Merc, in fact she tried to claim possession since she was the wife of Anthony. When Bill told Conrad he would like to purchase the old custom, Conrad told Bill about the complications with his step mother. Conrad challenged her in court and won, but It took ten months to resolve the dispute. Bill kept in touch with Conrad on a monthly basis, and the two became friends during that period. When everything cleared in the courts, Conrad removed the car from his step mothers residence. The car was moved to an outdoor storage facility were Conrad finally could take some photos and send Bill, who had not yet seen the car. Conrad did also send the photos to 14 others who had showed their interest in the car. He assured Bill that since he had enlightened him with the history of the car, that he would let him have the final bid. Conrad phoned Bill one thursday afternoon to inform that he had an offer of $7,000 from someone in Fresno, California. Conrad and the Merc were located in Burbank. If Conrad accepted the offer, the bidder would pick it up the following Saturday. Conrad kept his word to Bill, and offered to sell the car for $8,000.00. Bill agreed, and sent a deposit to hold the car. He arranged to have it picked up and delivered to his home. The Merc arrived on a flat bed about two weeks later. Bill hooked it to a battery, and to Bill's amazement, it started with a little coaxing and drove up his driveway and into the garage. Even though the car had been neglected over the years it was complete except for the Appleton spotlights and the knock off spinners on the wire wheel caps. The car had absolutely no rust, and the lead work was perfect and did not have to be redone.
During the restoration, Bill wanted to duplicate the color that Barris once had given it. He took one fender skirt and carefully sanded away the black color until he reached the beautiful color that actually turned out to be Candy. Bill believes George Barris called it Organic Maroon. He sent the skirts of to PPG's paint lab in Cleveland, Ohio, where they confirmed that it was a Candy color. PPG then duplicated and furnished the base coat and top coat free of charge, just so they could use the car in their ads. Bill decided to keep the fender skirt he sanded sown, just in case someone would challenge him as to the accuracy in the color. In 2014 Bill still had the fender skirt in his collection. According to Bill the base color looks like mauve, while the top color resembles grape juice. Combined, they looks like beautiful color on the Rowe Merc. The body and paintwork on the car was done by Bill's friend Art Klos. Jim Roll reupholstered the interior and top. 18 months later, in 1989, the restoration was completed, and the car once again looked like it did when it appeared in the movie Running Wild. In 1991 the restored version of the Merc was featured on the cover of Rod & Custom February 1991 along with a 1954 Chevrolet that Bill had built in to a tribute of Duane Steck's 1954 Chevrolet, also know as the Moonglow.
Needing money to build a new home, Bill sold the Mercury and his Moonglow tribute to Kirk White in 1992. In 2009 the Merc was owned by Robert and Paul Milhous of Florida, and it was a part of the extensive Milhous Collection in Boca Raton. In February of 2012 the entire Milhous collection was up for sale by RM Auctions. The Fred Rowe Merc sold for $423,500 at the auction, Saturday, February 25.
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