George Contaoi's 1941 Mercury
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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