Kalle Jonasson's 1939 Mercury Convertible
- 1 Original Early 50's Custom
- 2 The Barris Rumors
- 3 The Restoration
- 4 Reupholstered
- 5 Chopped Top and Shortened Running Boards
- 6 Plum Crazy
- 7 A Traditional Custom in the 1970s
- 8 A Photo From 1963 Surfaces
- 9 Sold to Theodore Bakayza
- 10 Norm Abrams
- 11 Steve Tansy
- 12 James Etter
- 13 Sold to Norman Abour
- 14 The Bedard's
- 15 Magazine Features and Appearances
- 16 References
Original Early 50's Custom
Kalle immigrated from Rättvik, Sweden to Costa Mesa in 1973. He had always been into cars and decided to follow his dream and buy a one-way ticket to California. Having a passion for old customs, he was triggered by an ad he came across for a 1939 Mercury Convertible in a magazine. The ad read: "Original early 50's custom, frenched, leaded and chopped Czrson top, white tuck-n-roll, flathead, runs well, skirts and spotlights, rust-free California car, approximately 60,000 original miles $5,000." The seller was Dennis Manifor of Garden Grove, California. Kalle purchased the old custom in May of 1978. Back then, Dennis was the president of The Early Times Car Club, and he told Kalle that he remembered seeing the car on the streets of Lynwood around 1958 when he was in high school. When the car came up for sale in the early 1970s, Dennis just had to buy it.
The Barris Rumors
Over the years, there have been speculations about who the car's original builder was. While researching the car for a story in Gasoline Magazine, Kalle told Henrik Forss that he, over the years, asked George Barris several times, "who thought he remembered it. But there is absolutely no evidence for this claim. In any case, the car was spotted on the streets of Lynwood back in the 50s, and the interior was documented to have been made by Gaylord, who at the time was a close neighbor of Barris."
When Kalle bought the Mercury, it was drivable, but he decided to rebuild the Flathead V8. The 264 cid engine was hopped up with a Winfield camshaft, Jhans pistons, Eddie Meyer heads, an Offenhauser intake with dual Stromberg 97s, and a Harman Collins distributor. The engine was hooked to a manual transmission with a Lincoln drive.
Inside, the interior was complete but worn, so Kalle had it reupholstered in white tuck'n'roll. He also used the opportunity to lower the top three inches at the rear to get a little better flow in the lines. The top received a rear window from a 1930s Packard, as the old one was small and quite worn. Kalle told Henrik that the exhaust pipes had previously exited between the taillights and the decklid. Up front, it had a gravel plate between the bumper and the body.
Chopped Top and Shortened Running Boards
Modifications at the time included a 5-inch chopped windshield frame. The hood was shaved and louvered, and it featured dual air intakes in the front. The fenders and the running boards were molded to the body. "Yes, the steps were already shortened when I bought the car," Kalle told Henrik, adding that he made the lakepipes and installed them, "as it looked so empty in the back. I replaced the dash with a 1951 Ford dash and installed a 1952 Lincoln steering wheel. The car actually had a green-flaked Grant steering wheel when I bought it," Kalle recalled. It ran a 1941 Ford rear bumper that Kalle swapped for a 1949 Plymouth bumper that he dressed up with a 1951 Chevrolet license plate frame. The headlights were already molded to the body when he bought it, and it ran 1940 Mercury taillights and dual dummy Appleton spotlights.
When Kalle bought the Merc, it was covered in primer. It had been in primer for a very long time, but Kalle could see that it had previously been painted black. According to him, the car was probably originally painted in a red Buick Fiesta color. During the early 1960s, it was repainted in green Metalflake, and traces of the Metalflake were obvious when Kalle repainted it. The paint and bodywork were performed by Kalle himself outdoors. It was his first ever paint job, and he wasn't satisfied before he had wet sanded and polished it. "Unfortunately, it never got the right color in any magazines, apparently a very difficult color to capture on film. I think it was an AMC color I used, something like Lavender," Kalle recalled. Kalle tested different heights in order to achieve the right stance on the car. At first, it was too high, then too low and scratched, but then it was just right.
A Traditional Custom in the 1970s
While researching the history of the car, Henrik Forss turned to Pat Ganahl for history or traces. He told Henrik that he remembered the custom very well. "I remember when Kalle bought the Merc and started renovating it. It was one of the first late 1930s, early 40s customs to be renovated. During the 40s, after the Second World War, there were, after all, a lot of cars in roughly the same shape as this one. There were probably more convertibles and cars with Carson, Hall, or Gaylord Tops than cars that had the roof on. This, of course, was because it was faster, easier, and cheaper than buying a roofed car." Pat helped Henrik track down the owners of the Mercury prior to Dennis Manifor, but without any luck.
A Photo From 1963 Surfaces
Henrik also reached out to Rik Hoving to see if he had any info on the car in his archive. Rik recognized the car from one of David Conrad's photos. A photo taken at a car dealership in San Diego in 1963. "There is quite clearly a green-flaked '39 Mercury with a Carson-like top. We both reviewed the picture and could also note that the running boards on the green car appeared to be identical to Kalle's Mercury!" Henrik shared the photo with Kalle, who could inform him that it was, in fact, his old car. "He also remembered that Dennis, from whom he bought the car, had told him that the Mercury was owned for a while by a sailor stationed in San Diego! Likewise, this particular '39 Mercury had ventilation windows, which did not appear until 1940 on these bodies. A sure sign that, together with the molded headlights and running boards, could establish that this was the same Mercury that Kalle renovated 40 years ago."
Sold to Theodore Bakayza
In July of 1980, after Kalle had restored and painted the Mercury, he sold it to Theodore Bakayza in Pennsylvania. Theodore also bought a 1950 Mercury that Kalle had built. Theodore was quick to add Barris crests onto both cars and at one point even claimed that the '39 appeared in the movie Gone in 60 Seconds. A statement that, according to Kalle, is not based on reality, "probably more of a wishful thinking."
Theodore ended up selling the Merc to Norm Abrams, reportedly because he was too big to fit in the chopped Mercury. Norm contacted Kalle several times about the car's history, telling him that he had lent it to the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg museum in Indiana, where it remained for several years.
In the late 1980s, the Mercury found a new home with Steve Tansy of Lipton, Indiana. Steve was an enthusiast who promoted and organized car shows. Back in the 1960s, he bought and renovated, among other things, the third Batmobile produced by Barris Kustoms. More show cars followed, something that led him to land a job for Dean Jeffries. In 1967, he also landed a job for Barris, taking care of and touring Barris cars across the country. Tansy also began building show cars himself, and during the early 1970s, he competed in the NHRA series with a Hemi-motorized Barracuda Funny Car named Warlord.
It is not known exactly when Tansy became the owner of the Merc, but through Scott Pavey, Henrik got to use photos that Pavey took at exhibitions both from the Street Rod Nats in Ohio in 1981, and in 1990 in Indiana when Steve frequently showed the car. Tansy passed away in 2016, at 75 years old.
Before Tansy passed away, the Mercury changed hands and found its way to James Etter's collection. Lee Pratt did a story on the car while Etter owned it, and it was still described as a "Barris-built" custom back then. According to Pratt, "In most cases, it's always the other guy who has the good fortune to locate a classic custom in any condition, but to find one completely restored as this one is, happens only once in a while."
Sold to Norman Abour
Norman sold the old custom to Gary and Ruthy Bedard of Howell, Michigan in 1996. When Henrik researched the history of the car, he contacted the couple and got some pictures from them. "They used it, among other things, when they got married." Back then, the car was parked in their garage, still in a very well-maintained condition.
Magazine Features and Appearances
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