The story of the Ultra Modern Merc is one of the most fascinating tales of custom-car building during the 1950s. It tells of how a young, obsessed novice in Southern California enlisted the help of the legendary George and Sam Barris –- who taught him welding, metal shaping and show-car promotion -– and secured backing from the Ford Motor Co. to build his dream car over the course of nine years.
The young builder was Leo Lyons, who was 20 when his endeavor started in 1950. His creation was completed in 1959, and it went on to become a well-regarded show winner and magazine cover car.
Considered to be the last of the great 1950s Mercury builds, the Ultra Modern Merc is the Pick of the Day, advertising on ClassicCars.com simply as a 1950 Mercury custom. Offered by a dealer in Sarasota, Florida, the remarkable automobile is also one of the most interesting classic car “barn finds.”
After falling into obscurity for decades, it was rescued in 2013 by Geoffrey Hacker, an author and automotive historian who has dedicated his life to finding and rescuing hand-built custom cars of the post-war era as head of his Forgotten Fiberglass project. Hacker reunited the Merc with Lyons in 2014, shortly before the builder’s passing.
Since Hacker and other like-minded enthusiasts restored the Merc, it has appeared at the 2015 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in a class for custom Mercurys, and at the 2016 Amelia Island Concours in a class of unique private-build prototypes that was organized by Hacker.
“This car is the most radically customized ’49-51 Ccstom Mercury built in-period, and has been recognized as the last significant custom Mercury built in the ’50s,” the seller notes in the ad description.
Lyons originally intended the Merc to be the prototype of a run of identical specials built in period. But by the time the car was finished, interest in producing any more of them had waned.
Other than the chassis, there’s very little Mercury remaining in the Ultra Modern Merc, limited pretty much to small sections of bodywork, the windshield, wipers and exterior door handles.
Most of the body was hand-formed by Lyons, with the hood, doors and roof made by the famed fabricators at California Metal Shaping. The 322cid V8 engine, Dynaflow transmission, headlight rims and Dagmar bumpers came from Buick; hubcaps from Studebaker; and rear trim from Pontiac.
The interior was entirely handmade with extensive rolled-and-pleated seats, dash and panels, and Studebaker gauges and steering-wheel parts from Ford – the steering-wheel center displays the Ford emblem.
The unique piece of Southern California custom-car history looks in the photos to be in restored condition, although there is no mention in the ad of whether it runs or its roadworthiness. Not that you’d be likely to go joy riding in this Merc; it belongs on the show field or in a museum.
The seller has put an asking price of $159,900 on this unusual find. Whether you favor or fault the innovative styling, this one-man’s-vision creation from the heyday of car customizing is deserving of respect and preservation.
To view this listing on ClassicCars.com, see Pick of the Day