John Stanford's Mercury Project 

a.k.a....AREA 51

1951 Mercury Convertible

Goal: Restore original body, add slight modifications and update driveline and interior.

Check out the latest picures!

Using the stock mercury body and frame, I am going to install a  Chevrolet 350CI engine and automatic transmission with overdrive. I have an old '52 Ford PU Dana 44 rear end with 3.71 gears that will run behind a 700R4 overdrive transmission. I hope to add a full digital dash later which will include a CD Player with a Bose Sound System.  I also plan to update the hydro-electric top, power windows and seats systems with a newer fully electrical system.  I will keep the interior as original as possible. The seats, kick and door panels will be refurbished and upholstered in two-tone Tan leather.  As for the exterior color, I am currently leaning toward an  acrylic enamel metallic "Midnight Blue". The car will be built for  cruising, so it will be lowered, full skirts, lake pipes and Wide Whites.  I am also thinking of chopping the top on the old convertible to give it a little longer appearance.

Brief history..

I bought this car in Texas in the early 80's from a fellow car buff who was selling "Tri-Five" (55/56/57) Thunderbird parts.. He had obtained the car in Kansas near his childhood hometown and brought it back to Houston. I found out about it through a mutual friend and just had to have it. Well the Mercury had been outdoors for many years which resulted in a car that the floor that had all but rotted away, along with the top and interior.  Needless to say.. I could still picture life in the old car; that is with a bunch of work and a little money.  Well as time goes by, I find that I was right about the "bunch of work" part, but I had miscalculated  the "little money" part.

Here are a couple of the first pictures so far....

 First Time Home (Houston)


I started to work on the car in '85 but was forced to place it in storage due to my job being relocated from Texas to Pennsylvania.  Just about the time I thought I would go to Texas and get the car, I found out I was again being re-located. This time to Tennessee. Well a year and a half in Tennessee and I was moved a third time, this time to Ohio in 1992.  

The car was in a climate controlled storage building in Texas so I decided that I would wait a few years to get settled in Ohio and build a shop and then go after the car.  Sounded like a great plan to me.


Well as luck would have it, in 1998 the company made me an offer that I couldn't refuse...RETIREMENT.. YIPPEE !!!!. Well, I sold our place in Ohio and moved south to Kansas to retire.. (my wife's home state) but later found out it was a really really bad choice as far as taxes and other miscellaneous fees go. Oh well! live and learn! After a little while living in Kansas, I soon found out that there is a ton, and I mean ton of old cars still around, just waiting to be found and restored or street rodded.


I also was lucky to find a good frame for the old car as well. A friend of mine decided to use an Oldsmobile frame under his '1950 Coupe.  I decided to box the frame to beef it up to accommodate the convertible body and reduce overall frame weight.

In the summer of 2000, I purchased a car trailer and then traveled down to Texas to retrieve the 'Ole Merc. On the way, my wife and I stopped for a couple of days to attend the "Pate" Swap Meet at the Texas Motor Speedway, where I managed to pick up a few goodies, and visited with some old friends. 


As you can see... I have lots of work to do on the old Mercury. so stay tuned and visit back to see what progress is being made.


Well the ole' Mercury  project was "PLACED ON HOLD".....for a while.. 

Seems as if some of the local officials in the Wheat State just want to be hard on car enthusiasts when it comes to title and registration.

Example: Below is what I had to go through to get my 1934 Ford 5W Coupe titled in Kansas. 

I had build, titled and registered my 1934 Ford 5 Window Coupe in Texas back in the late 60's early '70's  when I lived there. The '34 was also re-titled and registered in Tennessee (when I lived there late '80's / early '90's with no problems.  Because I was bringing the car into the State, I had to have it inspected by the Kansas Highway Patrol / Kansas Department Of Transportation. When I took the '34 to get it re-titled and registered in Kansas, the Kansas Inspector told me that the frame number (VIN) was not valid. He said that the number appeared not to be an original. I explained that the number on the frame matched the Tennessee title as well as the old original Texas Title that I still had. I even showed him all of the original paper work from Texas.  He indicated that I would need to let him pull the body off to verify that it hadn't  been messed with.  Well this didn't seem like a realistic avenue, so I asked him what my options were.  He just said that I would have to either remove the body from the frame or find a lawyer to get it titled in Kansas.  Well I went through a lawyer and filed a law suit against the Kansas Highway Patrol Department of Transportation.   After a few months, and six-hundred dollars later, my attorney informed me that the judge had decided the case and I was issued a clean Kansas Title and Registration.   

Well not having a clear title on the Mercury , even though it had came from Kansas and was was an original Kansas car made me a little nervous.  I just didn't feel like going  through the hassle that the Kansas Highway Patrol had put me through with my '34.  So taking  a slightly different approach and a few extra bucks, I went through a valid antique auto dealer, and  later I had a good clean clear Kansas title for the 'Ole Mercury.

FALL (October) 2005...  

I have started back on the Mercury project and decided that I would go ahead and prepare a better chassis. I have cut boxing plates for the x-member to strengthen it for the convertible body. The frame had previously been set up for a Big Block Chevrolet. I will have to remove the BBC mounts. 

I will use a mockup SBC (Small Block Chevrolet) to set up the chassis. This will enable me to weld the new mounts in place. I will still have to made a small mod to the transmission cross member so it can accept the 700R4 transmission mount.

The steering box presented a small clearance problem and I have discovered that I can use a set of older Hedman Headers that will clear the steering box.

I have already installed the Dana 44 on the stock springs. I haven't welded the spring pads in place yet. I will wait until I get the body mounted on the frame, so it will have the proper weigh. I then can align the rear end and the transmission.

Jan- Dec 2006

Here's a few pictures of the chassis so far..... (Just click on the small image below to see a larger view)

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Jan - Sept 2007

Well I had spent the fall of 2006 dismantling and repainting my 1934 Ford 5-w coupe, so the 'ole Merc didn't get much attention. 

With the 2007 bad spring in Kansas, not much car building was going on, as most guys spent they time ordering parts or just trading parts and stories.  Well around late spring/early summer, I did however run across a set of new floor panels that where priced right, so I picked them up.  I of course waited until the hot part of July and August to rip out the old floor and start the installation of the new panels.. Not really the smartest move on my part..!!!!, but who said I had any smarts to start with.

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Oct - Dec 2007

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Jan - Mar 2008


Well  the start of the new year has brought a ton of cold weather including snow ( I really hate snow!). Not having a heated garage, I tend to stay in the house as much as possible, so I don't get much accomplished on the Merc.  

However; during this period, I have been reading about using an Isuzu Power Steering gear in place of the stock mercury unit. It seems the Isuzu and the Mercury steering gear is close to being the same size and shape. This really got my attention, so I have been beating the bushes looking for a reasonable priced unit. So far no luck, so I am thinking of maybe going with an alternative source (maybe a Ford or Chevy unit).  

I am also pondering the idea of using the front upper and lower control arms and spindles along with the disc brake units from a mid to late '80's Lincoln Towncar. I would like to merge them into the stock '51 upper and lower control arms. This would give me disc brakes as well as ball joints to replace the stock drum brakes and king pin spindles on the Mercury.  I would also use the rear end out of the Towncar  because it has disc brakes as well.


Well, over the weekend, Jon, Glenn, Tom and myself moved the ole' Mercury out of my shop and pulled the body off of its original frame. We rolled the original frame over to the side of my shop. After that, we rolled the new frame with engine and transmission intact under the convertible body. .  I had been a little worried that I had set the engine in a little too far back and that the distributor would hit the firewall, but much to my delight, it appears that everything fit just right. The transmission dip stick tube was a problem, as it did hit on the firewall behind the head. I removed the mounting bolt and moved the tube towards the outside edge of the head and gained the clearance I needed. I will need to make a new mounting tab for the tube and bolt it down later.

Here's a shot of the old chassis, and a couple of the engine compartment.

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Picture 53  - This is the old chassis complete with original flathead and automatic transmission. 

Pictures 54 and 55 are a couple of shots just to show the body on the prepared chassis.

My next step is to get the body bolted down, then I will begin to install newer style bear claw latch assemblies in the doors. I had obtained a set out of a old Chevy Suburban complete with door-lock solenoids. Following that, I will modify and install a swing pedal assembly that I removed from a 70's Monte Carlo.


02/16/08 - 03/31/08


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 I picked up a complete serpentine system off of a 1990 Chevrolet Suburban from a local wrecking yard. After mounting it to the engine, the system fits the Mercury chassis just right. The only modification that I had to do was to bend the high pressure hose tubing on the power steering pump closer to the bottom of the pump to clear the front cross member.  The rear bracket that was on the power steering pump which also mounted to the rear of the alternator, and then to the front bolts on the drivers side exhaust manifold will also be modified to mount to the front header bolt.


Picture 56  above is a shot of the serpentine system mounted for fit on the front of the engine. I will be removing it for cleaning, plus I will need the engine out to prep and paint the firewall. I will also be installing the GM factory style fan blade e/w clutch assembly. I will also modify the radiator "U" bracket for fan clearance. 


I installed the inter-fender panels to check for clearance of the serpentine system and to bolt the radiator "U" bracket in place. I found that the radiator needs to be mounted lower to gain fan clearance on the bottom hose.   I will have to fabricate new mounting platforms for the bottom of the "U" bracket.  The radiator will bolt to the front edge of the "U" bracket. I had previously lowered the front sway-bar by using spacers under the frame so I could lower the radiator if needed. 


I cut a section out of the passenger side inner-fender panel to sink the battery box into. The original battery box was mounted on the drivers side inner-fender panel. Thinking it over, I elected to place the battery on the passenger side, closer to the starter on the Chevrolet engine, which resulted in cutting into the "fresh" air vent passage and reducing the size to about half of the original. The air passage will still route under the battery box and should still supply plenty of fresh air to the passenger side vent. 


04/01/08 - 09/30/08


During the April/ September time frame, I tried to accomplish a few more things... I spend time removing the engine and transmission from the car so I could clean, sand, fill-in excess holes, primer and paint the firewall and the inner-fender panels.  Here are a few pictures that I took during the April thru September time frame. 


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The first shot (#57) is of the drivers side front header bow bracket that holds the front header bow over the windshield to the side rails of the convertible top frame. As you can see, the pot metal piece is broken in several pieces. I was unable to find a source for a replacement, so I decided that I would try and fabricate one myself. As you can see in the next picture (#58), I used  pieces of flat stock and a little patience to fabricate my own. Picture 59 is a shot of the drivers front fender and inter-fender panel. I just left them bolted together to start the cleaning/sanding process.


While I had the engine out, I installed a 1978 F150 2 wheel drive power steering gear unit. (picture 60)  I found that by using the front original mounting hole on the frame for the original steering sector, the power steering pitman arm mated up with the original steering perfectly. I had to drill and sleeve the frame for the top bolt and I had to fabricate a mounting tab and sleeve for the bottom bolt (Picture 61).


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Once I had everything mounted and secured, I continued to work the inner-fender panel and the firewall. Picture 62 shows the firewall and the inner-fender panels shortly after I painted them. You will notice that the top of the cowl was not sprayed... this is because I am going to paint it the same color at the body. Pictures 63 shows the engine installed along with the inner-fender panels and radiator. In picture 64, you can see  the passenger side inner-fender panel cut out for my battery, In pictures 65 and 66(below) you can see the routing of the power steering hoses on the drivers side.



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Pictures 67 through 69 show the fenders remounted so I can begin body work on them.  I will be adding the grille surround and the bottom grille panel next so I can work them as well.  


I bought and installed a air-compressor delete pulley. This will enable me to crank the engine without doing damage to the compressor, because I don't have any of the other air conditioning parts installed. I cut two rust spots out of the passenger fender and made patch panels to replace the bad metal. I also welded the headlight rings ('52 Ford) on the fenders 


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Picture 70 is a shot of the drivers side headlight after I had "frenched" it in. I left off the bezel ring so you could see the addition 

of the screw tabs I had to install. I did this so I would be able to remove the stainless trim rings and adjust the headlights without removing them from under the fender. There is enough room so that I could change a bulb also if I needed,  I did however mount the headlight buckets from inside the fender as to give the headlight additional depth. I drilled and formed countersunk screw holes in the bezels for # 8 stainless steel screws.

Pictures 71 and 72 are shots with the trim rings (bezels) in place.  

Picture 73 shows the passenger door where I had filled in the door handle holes.  I will also be filling in the holes where a previous mirror had been mounted.


10/01/08 - 12/31/08


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Picture 74 is a shot of the front of the car showing the stock grille with parking lamps and grille extension (Elephant Ears).

Picture 75 shows the engine compartment pretty much complete. Note the power brake booster is installed.

Picture 76 is another shot of the front of the car with a stock grille, minus the bumper (to be installed later).

Picture 77 is a close-up of the passenger side "french" headlight showing the stainless steel ring insert.


Well during the October through December time frame, I managed to get the swing pedal installed. I also had to replace the bottom seal on the power steering pitman arm shaft. It began to leak after I  got everything connected. I also installed front shocks, and the drive shaft with new U-joints.


I managed to get my exhaust hooked up through a pair of new Thrush Mellowtone glasspack mufflers'.I still need to get the car to a muffler shop to finish out the exhaust back to the rear of the car.  I added a pair of 45 degree turndowns after each muffler for the time being.  After checking out the clearance around the exhaust, I found that I will need to enlarge my pass through hole in my frame.


01/01/09 - 10/31/09   



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Here's a few shots of the car at it's current stage.  Man!,  I still have a lot of work to do.   Well I finally got started  on my wiring.

I am using an E-Z wire 21circuit wiring harness.  I mounted the fuse panel  on the firewall just above and to the left of the gas pedal.  I began by routing all of the rear section wiring down the side of the transmission and drive shaft hump. 



I was searching on the web one evening, and I managed to find a rear convertible seat that might work in the '51.  It was located in RI. and It is was an original seat out of a 1953 Mercury Convertible. After checking all of the data I could find, I was convinced that the 1953 seat is the same as the 1951.  Well I made a deal with the owner, and a few days later, it was shipped to me.


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As you can see by the pictures, the seat will need a little TLC and new upholstery. The springs are in great shape, and I now have a pattern for the new rear seat upholstery. The front seat was bare springs, out of a 2-door coupe.  The original seats were in such bad shape, I salvaged what I could and then disposed of them.  I did save one of the seat back strap brackets from the convertible seat to use as a pattern.


Well,  all of the wiring is in, but not connected to the dash.  I have an extra dash that I acquired at a swap a few years back. I am going to replace the original gauges with 12 volt units while maintaining the original look.  I have found that 1-1/2" gauges would work perfectly. However, I couldn't find a matching 1-1/2" fuel gauge, and had to use a 2" gauge. The 2" gauge will look 'A" OK! because all of the gauges are set behind the original gauge bezel and all you can see is the needle and the degree marks. 

As soon as I get the "new" dash fitted with the gauges, I will dismantle it and go ahead and paint it before I bolt it in.  


Well I finally got the dashes painted, but the color was not want I had wanted.  I had bought "Mid-Night Blue", but the color is much lighter with two much blue.  I went ahead and mounted one of dashes that I had sprayed, but will not be using long term; only to get the car going. I will repaint the other dash later and install it for  long term.


I purchased a new set of 2002 Mercury Grand Marquis 20 Tear Drop slot alloy wheels. The wheels have a 5 lug x 4.5 bolt pattern, with a back space of 4-5/16 inches. After measuring the Dana-44 at 61 inches from wheel mounting surface to wheel mounting surface, I found that I could re-drill the axles to 5 on 4.5 and would have about 1-1/4": clearance between the tire and the fender.


I came across a 1978 Lincoln Mark V nine inch rear end with disc brakes and bought it from local machine shop. The bolt pattern is 5 x 5, and it measures 62-5/8 inches from the wheel mounting surface to the wheel mounting surface.  The pumpkin had 2.50 gears and is 28 spline. If I run this width, I can re-drill the pattern to 5 x 4.5 , turn the centers of the axles down to fit the new wheels and will have approx 1/2 inch clearance between a 9 in wide tire and the inside lip of my fender.   To be on the safe side, I could narrow the rear end to 60 inches. This will give me about an inch and a half clearance between the tire and the fender. . 


I found out that the gear ratio was 2:50-1, so I bought a pumpkin at the Chickasha Swap meet that has a 3:55-1 ratio. I think this will be just about right for the 700R4 and the tires that I will be running.


11/01/09 - 12/31/09


Well reality set in and is appears that my "want list" is much bigger than my "I can pay for it!" wallet.   I decided to hold off on the Jamco kit for now. I decided to shorten the rear end by the difference of the two axles lengths, which is 2-1/2 inches. I found another short axle to match the one I have. I had a local race car builder shorten the housing on the long axle side by 2-1/2 inches. This will off-set the pinion a few degrees, but it should be "A" OK!.  I hope to be  ordering a kit from Jamco Suspension  to add dropped spindles and disc brakes to the front end of the old Merc in the future.  In the mean time, I am going to turn my time towards domestic house hold chores (repairs that are remodeling both baths).


01/01/10 - 12/31/10


Spend the year enjoying my '34, while trying to save up for more Mercury goodies. I did get one of the baths remodeled. I ran into a few health problems towards the end of the year,  and I didn't get to spend much time in the shop at all.  I did manage to pick up a little project car for my spouse. She likes the fat fender cars, so I purchased a 1946 Ford Coupe. The car is being chopped, and will be fitted with a Ford 302 EFI engine with AOD.


01/01/11 - 08/30/11


  The first six months were a real bear. I woke up one morning and found that I could not lift my arm extended out without getting  a sharp pain in my shoulder. My doctor determined that I had a slightly torn rotator cuff, but said that it was not bad enough for surgery, and that I could exercise it daily to gain muscle mass and tone to strengthen it. He put me on a 6 week therapy session, which helped. I am now able to do a little work at a time, but find it very hard to work overhead. I did manage to attend a few car shows in my '34 Ford Coupe. It appeared that things might be looking up for the last part of 2011.


09/01/11 - 11/15/11


Well I finally got back to feeling better and have been back to work on the old Merc.  I did get the nine inch rear end narrowed, axles re-drilled and have put it together, but not in the Merc (I think I will save it for the chopped '46 project car) .  I managed to purchase a 8.8 Ford disc brake rear end, with a 3.55 -1 gear ratio . The width is right for the Merc, and it has a 5 lug 15mm bolt pattern. This matches the wheels I had bought earlier. 


When I started back on the body work, I found that the rockers were not as good as I wanted them to be. I searched for a set of rocker panels, but found that the ones available were not good quality. I went on the H.A.M.B web site and posted a question asking where I might find someone with a set of quality panels like the ones Mr Merc sold before he went out of business.  I was fortunate and got a reply from a fellow in Texas that had bought a set but he sold the car before he used them. The new owner didn't want the rockers, so he still had then. After a few days of emailing pictures and asking questions, I decided to buy them. I hope this was a smart move on my part.


Well, I received the rockers and found that they were the outer sheet metal only.. They appeared to be formed correctly with the body bow (bend) as the originals, but they did not have the ends on them.  I had to cut the ends off of the originals to add to the new ones so they would fit correctly.. When I cut the old rockers off of the body, I decided to replace the old inner rockers with new metal before replacing the outer rockers. I had already replaced the under side inner-panels earlier, so now the complete rocker assemble  (inner and outer) has been replaced with new metal.  Below are a few of the pictures I managed to take while replacing the rockers and repairing the inner panels.


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My next project on the merc will be to replace the spare tire wheel well.  I seems that when I repaired it early on, I had made the bottom to wide, and now I need to narrow it so my exhaust will fit correctly and come out under the bumper where it should. I had purchased a set of Hedman tight tube headers and installed them along with a pair of nice mellow tone "Thrush" glass packs. I now need to finish out the exhaust, so I can get this car on the street for some test driving while I finish up the body work. 


11/16/11 - 


Stay turned....  more information and  pictures are coming !