George Contaoi's 1941 Mercury

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You could hear when George talked about the Merc that it was THE car in his life. In 2014 George told Olav Kvipt of Kustomrama that this construction photo of him with the Merc in pink primer was taken at Forrest Falls in 1953. Photos taken during the build shows it running 1947 Cadillac Sombrero hubcaps and long 1941 Ford fender skirts. Photo from The George Contaoi Photo Collection.
George bought the Merc in 1952, after selling his first custom, a mildly restyled and radically lowered 1941 Ford tudor sedan. Photo from The George Contaoi Photo Collection.
Developed in April of 1955, George believes this photo was taken in 1953 the 1940 Ford with a Carson Top belonged to Jim Dramgool, a buddy of George. Photo from The George Contaoi Photo Collection.
A closeup of the photo above shows the nice lines of the top that George, Al Andrade and Dick Richardson chopped. Photo from The George Contaoi Photo Collection.
A photo of George with the Merc taken on a hot summer day in 1956, during a Krankers club trip to the beach. Notice the curved windshield. George Barris stopped by when they built the car at Dick Richardson’s Custom Shop, and Contaoi told Olav that Barris never figured out the one-piece windshield that came from a 1952 Studebaker. Photo from The George Contaoi Photo Collection.
The car was worked on over a span of 3 years, and the build was completed in 1956. Finished in red lacquer, George dressed it up with dual Appleton S-552 spotlights and Oldsmobile Fiesta hubcaps. There were no bumper guards up front, and the rear bumper featured a 1949 Chevrolet license plate guard. In 2014 the car was rumored to still be around, kept in possession by the Hells Angels motorcycle club. Photo from The George Contaoi Photo Collection.
The Contaoi Merc as it sat in April of 2020, when James Hochstedler reached out to Sondre Kvipt of Kustomrama to see if he could help him identify the old custom. James and current owner John believed it could be an old Barris car due to the high quality of the work. Three photos were attached to the email, and it didn't take many seconds for Sondre to recognize and identify George's long lost Mercury. THE Merc! Photo courtesy of James Hochstedler.
According to John, Ronnie Vestle traded a knucklehead Harley-Davidson to a car painter nicknamed "Litle Caesar" for the Merc in 1967. John bought the car from Jeff Hooper for $150 in 1968 and installed a 1963 Dodge front end. It ran Cragar wheels when John bought it. Photo courtesy of James Hochstedler.
In April of 2020, John had started to restore the car. "He had the rear end and front axle rebuilt," James told Sondre. John is an expert body and paintman that has owned his own shop since the 1970s. "He is now retired, and working on cars he bought 50 years ago." John still has the flathead motor that came with the car, but he had decided to install one that he rebuilt for another project. Photo courtesy of James Hochstedler.
Photo courtesy of James Hochstedler.
Photo courtesy of James Hochstedler.
Photo courtesy of James Hochstedler.
When John bought the car, the spotlights had been removed, and the Merc was still running without fender skirts. Photo courtesy of James Hochstedler.
A push-button under the hood operated the door. Photo courtesy of James Hochstedler.
Old scars from the top chop. Photo courtesy of James Hochstedler.
Photo courtesy of James Hochstedler.
Remains of the black interior. Photo courtesy of James Hochstedler.
Photo courtesy of James Hochstedler.
Photo courtesy of James Hochstedler.
The frame was c-notched in order to lower the car. Photo courtesy of James Hochstedler.
Photo courtesy of James Hochstedler.
John still has the flathead motor that came with the car, but he had decided to install one that he rebuilt for another project. Photo courtesy of James Hochstedler.
Photo courtesy of James Hochstedler.
Photo courtesy of James Hochstedler.

Lost and Found


1941 Mercury Business Coupe owned by San Bernardino Krankers member George Contaoi of San Bernardino, California. The Merc was George's second custom, and he bought it in 1952, after selling a mildly restyled and radically lowered 1941 Ford tudor sedan.[1]


Restyled at Dick Richardson's Custom Shop

George began restyling the car in 1953. The work was done at Dick Richardson's Custom Shop, where his buddies Al Andrade and Dick Richardson worked. Al and Dick had also helped George with his 1941 Ford Tudor sedan earlier, and they began the build by nosing and decking it. It was also shaved for door handles, and the profile on the hood was filled.[1]


Chopped and hardtopped

Al, Dick, and George proceeded to chop the top on the car. They eliminated the door pillars, turning it into a hardtop. In 2014 Contaoi told Olav Kvipt of Kustomrama that George Barris used to stop by to check out how the build progressed. Barris never figured out how they fit a one-piece windshield in the car, and Contaoi could reveal that the secret was that they used a 1952 Studebaker windshield. Photos from George's collection from 1953 shows it in pink primer, with the top chopped and hardtopped.[1]


DeSoto grille

The same 1953 photos show the car with frenched headlights. Later on, it received a 1955 DeSoto grille that had been cut down and modified to fit the new opening. The rear fenders were molded to the body and the trim on the fenders was discarded. The stock taillights were frenched in by using the stock bezels. The gravel pans were molded, and the rear gravel pan was extended downwards. Photos taken during the rebuild shows it running 1947 Cadillac Sombrero hubcaps and long 1941 Ford fender skirts.[1]


Build completed in 1956

The car was restyled on over a span of 3 years, and George finally completed the build in 1956. Finished in red lacquer, George dressed it up with dual Appleton S-552 spotlights and Oldsmobile Fiesta hubcaps. There were no bumper guards up front, and the rear bumper featured a 1949 Chevrolet license plate guard. The rear of the car was lowered, and the frame was C-notched to accommodate the lower stance.[1]


Sold to Roger Davis

George eventually sold the Merc to Roger Davis of Rialto, California in 1961. Roger was a fellow from San Bernardino who ended up in jail. After being locked up, Roger sold the car to Hells Angels member Dexter Shields. Contaoi was a founding member of the San Bernardino Hells Angels, and in 2019 he recalled that the Hells Angels had the Merc as their mascot car. In 2019 Contaoi did not know where his old custom was at, but he believed that it was still in possession of the San Bernardino Hells Angels.[1]

Found in Barstow

A year later, in April of 2020 Sondre Kvipt or Kustomrama received an email from James Hochstedler of Barstow, California. James has a friend, John, who had just dug out an old custom car that he bought back in 1967. A custom he had kept hidden for more than five decades. According to James, the quality of the work was so good, that he and John believed it could be an old Barris Kustom car. They reached out to Kustomrama wondering if we could help them identify the Merc. Three photos were attached to the email, and it didn't take many seconds to recognize and identify George's long lost Mercury. THE Merc.[2]


Little Caesar and the Knucklehead

Having spent more than 50 years curious about the origins of the car, John was shocked to find out the history of his Merc. According to John, Ronnie Vestle traded a Harley-Davidson Knucklehead to a car painter nicknamed "Litle Caesar" for the Merc in 1967. John bought the car from Jeff Hooper for $150 in 1968 and installed a 1963 Dodge front end. It ran Cragar wheels when John got it, and by then the spotlights were removed, and it was still running without fender skirts.[2]


The restoration

Early in 2020, John had started to restore the car. "He has the rear end and front axle rebuilt," James told Sondre. John is an expert body and paint man that has owned his own shop since the 1970s. "He is now retired, and working on cars he bought 50 years ago." John still has the flathead motor that came with the car, but he has decided to install one that he rebuilt for another project.[2]


References




 

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