A short drive in the Hirohata Mercury

 

A SPIN IN A CUSTOM CAR ICON

 

Hirohata Mercury owner Jim McNiel, asked me to jump in the passenger seat of his Mercury for a short drive. It put an instant HUGE smile on my face that lasted for days



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This article was original created in 2013, but with the passing of Jim McMiel on May 7, 2018 I thought it would be nice to put this article on Jim and driving the Hirohata Mercury back on top. RIP Jim McNiel.
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In 2010 the plan was developed to gather the very best historical custom cars, that were still around in the US, to be part of a special exhibition at the 2011 GNRS. I was invited to be one of the four organizers of this Customs Then & Now exhibition. The whole experience was mind boggling, something I will never, ever forget in my life. The “road” towards the event was special. In my mind’s eye, I could visualize the building getting filled with all the cars and people we invited from all over the US. When it was time to fly to California, a couple of days before the show, I had a hard time getting any sleep at night. Once arrived in Pomona, I saw the first historical custom cars that had already arrived. Cars like the Barris-built Dick Fowler 1938 Ford coupe, and several others, with more customs arriving every hour. I was in heaven.

On Thursday morning, set-up day before the show, I was walking from my hotel to the AHRF parking lot, towards the Fairplex building, when I spotted a long trailer with the side door opened a few inches. I immediately recognized the ice green color on the car inside: The Hirohata Mercury. So, I walked over and talked to the driver, to see if Jim McNiel was around as well. “They will be here any minute”, he said. And sure that was the case. It was really great to see Jim again, after we had met earlier at the Sacramento Autorama Mercury Gathering in 2009. We talked for a bit, and then he had to unload the car. He parked it in a nice spot at the parking lot, so I could take some photos.

Jim stepped back, and let me alone with the car for some time. I walked around it, followed every line on the car, took as many photos from every possible angle I could think of, and absorbed every little detail about this car. I had seen the iconic Hirohata Merc before in Sacramento, but seeing the car in natural light and being able to walk around it with nobody else to bump into, was an extremely nice and privileged experience.

CCC-Hirohata_Mercury-01-WThe extended front fenders and hood lip create a perfect balance for the long chopped roof line.
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The Hirohata Mercury is the Custom Car that comes to mind when somebody says the word Custom Car. At least it is to me, and I know this is the same for a lot of people. the Hirohate Merc is THE historic Custom Car icon. And the car was sitting there in front of me with nobody else around it. If I close my eyes I could hear Sam Barris and his team hammering away on the body. I could almost feel the excitement in the Barris Shop, when the car was finally assembled, and the team saw what they had created. I could almost see the huge smile on Bob Hirohata’s face, when he took it for the first spin around the block. I was in Custom Car Heaven before the show had started, and I did not even realize that – for me – the best thing that very day, still had to come.


CCC-Hirohata_Mercury-14-WThe rear 3/4 view shows show all the lines from the Buick Side trim, the chopped top, the curved side windows, custom made scoop and reshaped character line flow together .
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CCC-Hirohata_Mercury-03-WThe custom made parking lights add extra width to the front of the car. The hand made lip on the front wheel opening matches the one of the flush fitted fender skirt at the rear.
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Jim had made an appointment with a photographer from Sweden for a photo-shoot. Together they decided the best location for the shoot would be on the other side of area where we were standing. Then Jim asked me if I wanted to take a seat in the car, when he drove to the location…

Eh… Yes please!

Jim McNiel invited me to sit, and drive inside the Hirohata Mercury! Instant smile on my face. I made sure, I put my back-pack and try-pod extremely safely on the floor, in order not to damage anything, and carefully sat on the green and white tuck & roll front seat. Jim got in the car behead the steering wheel, and started the engine. It ran flawless, and the sound of the Cadillac engine was music to my ears. I looked around absorbing every little detail like the hand made laminated dash knobs, (which Bob Hirohate made himself, and which are still in place), the Von Dutch pin-striping on the dash is amazing, extremely fine and detailed, and weird above all. I also noticed the V-butted windshield, the chrome garnish around the windshield, the green hand made fuzzy rear view mirror “warmer” that Jim’s wife Sue, made so many years ago. The green and white headliner- which is still the original that the Carson Top Shop made in 1952, the slightly cracked Monterey steering wheel, and Jim holding it, slowly turning to maneuver the car thru the parking lot. It felt the car was floating, Jim drove slow and seemed to enjoy every second driving his baby.

I tried to imagine how it must have been driving this car back in the early 1950’s. The car probably just stopped traffic, and had people turn to take a second look when it was passing by back then.

CCC-Hirohata_Mercury-05-WNotice the relaxed position Jim has in the car. This photo also shows the slightly cracked -unrestored- Monterey Steering wheel. Jim added the bullet steering wheel center when he was unable to find the original accessory badge.
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CCC-Hirohata_Mercury-06-WEven Jim has a great smile on his face, and he can jump in the car and take it for a spin whenever he can.
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On the short trip on the parking lot, people turned their head when they heard the soft rumble from the Cadillac engine, realizing something special was driving by. And then the large eyes, and instant smile on the faces when they realized what they saw. An experience I will never forget, and the smile it caused on my face never disappeared throughout the duration of the show.

CCC-Hirohata_Mercury-13-WHere we can see the V-butted windshield, Sue’s hand-made mirror warmer, and the unrestored dash with the Von Dutch pin-striping.
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CCC-Hirohata_Mercury-08-WBob Hirohata also created the laminated knobs for the Appleton Spotlights.
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CCC-Hirohata_Mercury-07-WClose up of the intricate Von Dutch pin-striping “this is the City”. Notice the cracked off-white paint on the glove-box lid and dash. This is the original paint that was added in 1952.
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CCC-Hirohata_Mercury-12-WOriginal Carson Top Shop created headliner, and detail work round the curved side windows.
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When Jim parked his car, and we got out, I noticed one other detail I had never seen before on the car. I had never really seen the custom made dark green lucite piece, that Bob Hirohata made for the door garnish moldings. I noticed it, because the sun light made it look really fantastic when I opened the door to get out.
We drove the car for only a small distance, perhaps a little more than half a mile, but this was a trip inside the Hirohata Mercury… an unforgettable experience!

After making some more photos of the car at the new location, I thanked Jim for the unforgettable experience, and went to toward the main building. Jim and I were talking throughout the weekend, whenever we bumped into each other. He seamed to have a great time at the show.

CCC-Hirohata_Mercury-02-WMy own personal favorite angle of the Hirohata Mercury. This photo also shows the sectioned bumper guards at the front only covering the bottom part of the grill.
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I know the short drive was “only” at the parking lot of the GNRS, but to me it was more like a drive in early 1950’s Los Angles…. Very similar to these Photoshopped images I created¬†shown below.










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Hirohata Merc Model

 

HIROHATA MERC MODEL

 

Yoshihiro Hobara built this Barris Kustoms Hirohata Mercury model several years ago. Never really happy with its roofline, he decided to redo it. And now in its 1955 Lime Gold version.



Yoshihiro Hobara from Japan has recently finished two new Barris Custom 1/25 scale model car¬†to add to his amazing Barris Kustom Models collection. The Frank Monteleon 1941 Ford, which we will cover in another article soon, and the Bob Hirohata Mercury.¬†The Hirohata Mercury model was one he actually already finished quite a few years ago, but there were a few things on the model Yoshihiro never really liked. One day he decided the time was right for a redo of this already stunning model and he decided to replicate a different version of the car. The real Hirohata Mercury has been restored back to is original sea-foam green and organic green color. The Clone Jack Walker and Doug Thompson created, which was recently acquired by John D’Agostino was finished in the same color combo. The convertible version that was done in the last couple of years was also finished in these colors, so Yoshihiro figured it was time to create his Hirohata Mercury in the after 1955 Running Wild¬†color combination of lime green and organic green.



The original version

Yoshihiro did an amazing job creating his original version of the Hirohata Mercury based on an AMT 1949 Mercury. All the ’51 Mercury details as the longer rear fender and larger rear window were wither scratch built from sheet and strip styrene or patched together from parts box parts. The top was chopped, and all the Barris Character restyling on the sides and front of the body was hand shaped from plastic and putty. The Buick side trim is an resin part from Replica’s & Miniatures Company of Maryland. The grille was built from chrome plated parts box bumpers. The ’53 Cadillac Sombrero hubcaps, from an old AMT kit are mounted on painted white wall tires. The Lincoln taillights were shaped from clear red plastic and the Barris Crest is a hand painted photo-etched part from the Model Car Garage.

ccc-yoshihiro-hirohata-merc-01Extended front fender with frenched headlights, extended hood, custom grille, lipped front wheel openings, its all there, just like on the real car.
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ccc-yoshihiro-hirohata-merc-02’53 Buick side trim, Barris Crest ad the beautiful shaped body sides.¬†
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ccc-yoshihiro-hirohata-merc-03Parts box rear bumper and hand shaped Lincoln taillights. Reshaped rear window to looks like the ’51 Merc unit. Even though the model looks stunnign,¬†the rear of the roof was never to Yoshiro’s likings.
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The Second Version

ccc-yoshihiro-hirohata-merc-04So in 2016 he disassembled the model, and stripped most of the paint from the roof, belt-line and front of the body. Time to reshape the roof line and do some more fine tuning of “wrong” things Yoshihiro had noticed over the years.
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ccc-yoshihiro-hirohata-merc-05A few mm were removed from the c-pillar and everything was reshaped until it looked more like the real Hirohata Mercury.
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ccc-yoshihiro-hirohata-merc-06The lip on the front of the hood and the headlight were reworked a bit as well.
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ccc-yoshihiro-hirohata-merc-07The new much sleeker roof shape looks fantastic Notice how the chrome plated Buick trim was taped during the body work to protect the chrome plating. The trim piece was glued to the body and could not be removed without damaging it, so it stayed on the model. 
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Lime Green Version

The Hirohata Mercury was repainted in lime green and organic green (below the Buick trim) around 1955. George Barris had made a deal for the car to appear in the movie Running WIld with Mamie Van Doren. The car would appear in the movie together with the Fred Rowe 1951 Mercury, also a Barris Restyled car. But to look better in the black and white movie the car’s light sea-foa green color needed to be redone in a bit darker color. George Barris mixed a good looking lime green gold color to go with the Organic dark green. The new color changed the looks of the car completely. Sadly so far no color photos have been surfaced of this color from around 1955. When current care taken Jim McNiel found the car in late 1959 the car was still painted this lime green color, and it remained like that until it was restored back to its original version in the 1990’s.

CCC-barris-hirohata-hawaiian-missing-goldThe only time we have seen color photos of this version of the car was on the Hirohata Mercury before the restoration had started. But by then the lime green had faded, was dull dirty and scratched. But it looked really good.
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ccc-yoshihiro-hirohata-merc-08With all the body work done, it was time to spray on the Lime Green and Organic green.
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ccc-yoshihiro-hirohata-merc-09It is really fantastic to see the car in these 1955 colors. Fresh paint drying, waiting to be hard enough to do the final assembly.
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ccc-yoshihiro-hirohata-merc-10While Yoshihiro is waiting for the Hirohata Mercury paint to get fully cured he continues to work on his next Barris Model, the Frank Monteleon 1951 Ford which was painted prior the Hirohata Mercury. We will do a full article on the ’41 soon.
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ccc-yoshihiro-hirohata-merc-11Completely assembled again. For this version of the Hirohata Mercury Yoshihiro has added a set of aftermarket Cadillac Sombrero hubcaps.
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ccc-yoshihiro-hirohata-merc-12Stunning lines are now all flowing together, just like on the rear Hirohata Mercury. And it is really fantastic to see the Hirohata Mercury in this Color. 
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ccc-yoshihiro-hirohata-merc-13The new re-chopped roof looks perfect.
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ccc-yoshihiro-hirohata-merc-14The thinned down hood lip also looks great. I really love the look of this color on this car.
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Yoshihiro has done it again, creating another stunning 1/25 scale Barris Kustoms recreation. And on top of that he treaded us with something special to finish it in its rarely see 1955 lime green and organic green paint job. Perhaps if John D’Agostino sees this, and if and when it gets time to perhaps redo the Hirohata Mercury clone, this could be the version his car should be finished in as well. How amazing would that be. Getting back to the model car. Yoshihiro has finished another Barris Kustoms creation, the Frank Monteleon 1941 Ford, and that we will cover in a new article soon. Yoshihiro is now working on an update of his old Buddy Alcorn Ayala/Barris Mercury… also stay tuned for that one.
If you want to see more of Yoshihiro’s amazing Barris Kustom model cars, then check out the¬†other CCC-Articles of his amazing work.






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Hirohata Merc Hawaiian Badge

 

HAWAIIAN BADGE

 

Since the Hirohata Mercury was restored it always had an oddly shaped and located brass badge with the name The Hawaiian on the door…¬†Lets find out the story behind the badge.


Howard Gribble¬†recently send me an email including¬†a photo of the Bob Hirohata Merc which he took at this recent¬†visit¬†(January, 2016)¬†to the new Petersen Museum. He noticed that the “Hawaiian” badge on the door, which had been part of the restored Hirohata Mercury for years, was missing. He¬†wondered when this badge was removed from the car, especially knowing this would have involved a paint touch up. Howards email¬†reminded me that I still wanted¬†to do an CCC-Article on this controversial Hawaiian Badge that was part of the restored 1951 Mercury, but as far as we could tell, it was never on the car when Bob Hirohata owned the car.

CCC-barris-hirohata-2016-petersenHoward took this photo of the Hirohata Mercury at the Petersen Museum in January 2016, no sign of the drivers door mounted Hawaiian badge.
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I took this photo of the Hirohata Mercury in 2011, and the Hawaiian badge is mounted on the drivers door, just below the vent window.
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CCC-barris-hirohata-hawaiian-badge-02The Hawaiian badge was made of a hand shaped and polished piece of sheet brass with the letters engraved and painted the sea-foam body color.
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The Hawaiian Badge was recently removed from the car, when the Mercury was cleaned, fine tuned, updated and made ready for the prestigious Mercury Gathering at the 2015 Pebble Beach Concourse D’Elegance. The car spend some quality time at Junior Conway’s House of Color Shop in Bell Gardens, Ca. for an full update. The restoration of the car was completed in 1998-99 and since then the car had traveled to many shows including all the way to Sweden. So it was time for some touch-ups etc to be in excellent condition for the Pebble Beach show. While the car was in Conway’s shop and body sections had to be touched up, it¬†was decided it was a good time to remove the Hawaiian badge as well. On a visit with Roger O’Dell to the Junior Conway shop John Denich took some photos of the Hirohata Mercury being fine tuned for the Pebble Beach event.

CCC-barris-hirohata-2015-update-03Apparently there were some fit problems on the rear window lower stainless trim. 
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CCC-barris-hirohata-2015-update-04The Hirohata Mercury was cleaned and detailed inside and out.
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CCC-barris-hirohata-2015-update-02John Denich took this photo which shows that the badge was now gone.
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CCC-barris-hirohata-2015-update-01The Hirohata Mercury at the Pebble Beach Concourse with painter Junior Conway on the left, owner Jim McNiel in the center, and Rob Radcliffe on the right.  
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The Hirohata Merc Hawaiian Badge

Lets take a step back and look at the history on this The Hawaiian badge on the Hirohata Mercury. Ever since the Mercury was restored by Jim McNiel the Hawaiian badge was part of the car. But none of the old photos I had seen on the car show this badge. At this time we are not 100% sure Bob ever named his Mercury “The Hawaiian“. Some people have referred to the car by that name, possibly even before Jim McNiel restored the car, but we do not have any proof for the name connected to Bob. We do know that Bob named his Mercury the “Mercillac” after he had installed brand new Cadillac engine for his cross country tip in 1953. And as far as we know there was never a badge or emblem with this name added on the out or inside of the car when Bob owned it. It might be possible that Bob renamed the car in the mid 1950’s when he was about to sell it, but agian there are no photos or info to proof this.


CCC-barris-hirohata-mercillacThe October 1953 issue of Rod & Custom magazine featured an article by Bob Hirohata on the cross country trip he made in his 1951 Mercury which he named “Mercillac”
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There are several photos of the Hirohata Mercury, after it was repainted by the Barris Kustom Shop in lime green, that show a side view mirror on the drivers door, mounted just below the vent window. This was on the same location as later the Hawaiian badge would be at. When I asked Jim McNiel about the Hawaiian badge and also about the side view mirror he mentioned that most likely Bob was stopped a lot by the cops, and perhaps even ticketed for having no side view mirrors. So in the end the mirror was added and screwed to the door. There are also stories that the mirror was added to the Mercury requested by the Movie company when the car was hired for the Running Wild movie. And judging all the photos of the Mercury after it was repainted, the later might actually be the real reason why there was a mirror on the Merc. After Bob Hirohata sold the car in 1955 the new owner installed a hitch and used the Mercury to pull his speed boat, for that the mirrors must have come in handy.

CCC-barris-hirohata-mamie-van-dorenMamie Van Doren poses with the Hirohata Mercury painted lime green at the Running Wild Movie set. The side view mirror can be clearly seen in this photo.
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CCC-barris-hirohata-mercillac-mazza This photo from the Barry Mazza Collection shows Bob Hirohata’s Mercury after it had been repainted Lime green (after the Running Wild Movie)¬†with some three bar flipper hubcaps. The photo was taken at an unidentified outdoor show, most likely in 1955. The most interesting about the photo is that the car has the mirror mounted, and a show card mounted on the front bumper with on the lower section Kustoms of Los Angeles, and on the top the “MERCILLAC” name. Unsure is if Bob Hirohata still owned the Mercury when this photo was taken, most likely it was.
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CCC-barris-hirohata-mirror-01Close up of the mirror which appears to have a teardrop shaped base.
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Jim¬†mentioned that is was one of the previous owners of the Hirohata Mercury, most likely¬†Dirty Doug Kinney, who removed the mirror in the late 1950’s. Most likely he did not want to fill the holes and repaint the doors,¬†¬†so he decided to create a badge that would cover the holes left from the side view mirror. He shaped the brass badge in a similar shape as the mirror base to cover up all evidence of the mirror. He then engraved the “The Hawaiian” name into the brass badge. When Jim bought the Hirohata Mercury for $500.- in late 1959, or early 1960 the Hawaiian badge was on the car.

CCC-barris-hirohata-hawaiian-missing-gold-02This photo from the Rodder’s Journal issue number 5 show that both The Hawaiian badge¬†and¬†the Barris crest are missing from the car at this point… ¬†Jim stored the originals¬†in the house, making sure they would not get lost. We can however see the holes drilled for the mirror an later the badge.
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CCC-barris-hirohata-hawaiian-missing-goldJim takes out the Hirohata Mercury for the last time before the restoration starts. 
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CCC-barris-hirohata-hawaiian-badge-01I took this photo of the badge at the 2009 Sacramento Autorama Mercury Gathering. Here I spoke with Jim about many details of the Hirohata Mercury, including the history of the Hawaiian badge.
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When Jim set out to restore the Hirohata mercury in the 1990’s he decided to take the car back to how it looked when Bob Hirohata owned the car in about 1953. But since the Hawwaiian badge had always been part of the car for as long as Jim owned it he decided the badge would be part of the restoration. The Badge has since then always been a great topic of conversation every time the car was displayed. The use of the badge was controversial to say the least. Most historic Custom Car enthusiasts, including myself always felt the badge should not have been used, and the holes should have been filled in to bring the car back to how Bob Hirohata had it in 1953.

Fortunately Jim McNiel decided that when it was time to fix up the Hirohata Mercury for the prestigious Pebble Beach Concourse 1949-1951 Mercury Kustom event, it was time to bring the car back to how Bob Hirohata drove it cross country and entered it in many car shows. The Hirohata Mercury has always been one of my most favorite Custom Cars, and seeing the restored car in person sure was a Custom Car highlight for me, but the¬†Hawaiian badge¬†always bugged me a little…¬†like a smudge you want to clean¬†off. With the badge removed we have Custom Car perfection.

CCC-barris-hirohata-pebble-beachJim McNiel drives the car up to the podium at the 2015 Pebble beach Concourse to receive his best Custom Award…. without the Hawaiian badge on the door!¬†
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CCC-Sponsor-KingKustomsTShirt-602Contact Rob Radcliffe at King Kustoms for more info on these T-Shirts Email Rob
 

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Hirohata Merc Mystery Antenna

 

HIROHATA MERC MYSTERY ANTENNA

 

For a short time in 1953 Bob Hirohata had a set of futuristic antennas on his famous Barris Kustoms built 1951 Mercury. Ever wondered where those came from?

 
In the Barris Kustom Techniques of the 50’s book Volume 1, first published in 1996, there is a photo on page 94 showing the Hirohata Mercury photographed at a park with a set of strange looking, futuristic double, or triple antenna’s. This was the first time I had seen these antenna’s on any photo of the hirohata Mercury. The antenna’s were pretty small in this picture, but I was already wondering what they where. Then a year or so later in the Barris Kustom Techniques of the 50’s book Volume 3 there is a close up photo of the rear of the Hirohata Mercury with a model in the open trunk on the “frontispiece”. In this photo we can¬†get a really good look at those strange looking antenna’s. Ever since I saw this photo I have been trying to find out if perhaps¬†Bob Hirohata got creative with some green colored plexiglas¬†sheets and created these antenna’s himself, or if they were some sort of aftermarket product.
 
CCC-hirohata-merc-radar-antenna-05This is the photo that appeared in the Barris Kustom Techniques of the 50’s book Volume 3 showing the odd antennas really well.¬†The license plate, mostly¬†covered by the Kustoms of Los Angeles card shows that this must have been around 1953.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-radar-antenna-13
 
CCC-hirohata-merc-radar-antenna-06If you look hard you can see these antenna’s also in this photo. This photo was taken at the same time and same location as the trunk with model photo shown above. Bob had these antenna’s on the car at the time he had replaced the Sombrero hubcaps with the 1953 Cadillac units.
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I always thought these antenna’s did not really fitted the Hirohata merc very well, at least not in the time period they were on the car, which was somewhere around 1953. These Antenna’s might have looked really great on cars like the Modern Grecian, the El Capitola, or a lot of other wild customs from the late 1950’s early 1960’s. But on the very smooth early 1950’s styled Hirohata mercury, they always looked out of place. Fortunately Bob Hirohata might have thought the same things and they were on the car only for a short period. Later the holes for the antenna on the rear fender were even closed up completely. And the rear fenders are now completely smooth, with no sign of any antenna at all.

In June 2015 good friend Ulf “Wolf” Christiansson send me a link for an ebay auctions. Wolf is always on the hunt for interesting Custom Car artifacts,¬†memorabilia, books, magazines and parts. And this time he was browsing the products from an seller¬†who had some parts Wolf liked, when he came across this¬†
NOS vtg Jetsons-type RADAR disc antenna booster/intensifier product for sale. Wolf recognized the odd shaped product and emailed me that we now finally know where these Hirohata Mercury antenna’s come from. Another Custom Car “mystery” solved!
 
CCC-hirohata-merc-radar-antenna-04Enlarged section of the above photo gives us a good look at the 5-disc antennas and the batwing shaped bracket.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-radar-antenna-02This photo from the Mad Fabricators Barris Photo DVD shows the antenna’s from another angle.
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This is what we know about the Radar Antenna from the ebay auction.

It is called¬†the¬†‘RADAR¬†Areal¬†Intensifier‘, and according to the hype on the sales card it does do virtually everything to improve your radio reception. The Antenna is produced by¬†C.B. Crawford & Co in Cleveland, Ohio.¬†The ebay seller bought¬†these antenna’s at¬†from an¬†Hershey vendor in 1992. They came in two types and in several different colors. We assume Bob most likely used the green version on his 1951 mercury to match the interior dash knobs he created in white and green laminated plastic. The two types were one with 5 pastic discs, which turned out to be rare, and one with 7 disks which apparently were produced in some larger quantities. Bob used the rare 5 disk type on his Merc.

 
CCC-hirohata-merc-radar-antenna-07This is some kind of display card showing the 7 disk type “Radar Aerial Intensifier” color options. The early 1950’s newspaper wrapped parts on the top and right are the way the ebay seller found them as parts of this display set. It is probably how¬†these were send out to the stores so they could display them on the counter.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-radar-antenna-12This is the same 5 disc “Radar Aerial Intensifier” unit that Bob Hirohata used on his Hirohata Merc. Bob did possibly remove the bracket and created a “batwing’ styled unit to fit around the main antenna on his Merc. It could also be possible that the units on the Hirohata merc, with the batwing like brackets, are a different type from the same company.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-radar-antenna-09Close up of the larger 7 disc units.
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Jan-Brag-Aero-Glo-Antenna-01After seeing the CCC-Article on these antenna’s Jan Brag send us this photo of the one he has found. And this one comes even closer to the one on Bob’s mercury. It looks like there were more companies creating these Futuristic antenna’s in a similar style.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-radar-antenna-lastI took this photo of the Hirohata Mercury in 2011. the car now has no antenna at all on the rear fenders.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-radar-antenna-14In 2011¬†Wolf asked Jim McNeil¬†about the Antenna’s on the early version of the car. Jim mentioned that the holes for the antenna were welded shut at one point.¬†Wolf¬†took his camera, held it inside the trunk, inside the rear fenders and took a bunch of photos hoping to see the welded antenna hole. And he sure managed to capture it. I have lightened the section in the photo¬†a bit to show the welds¬†even better.
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Hirohata Merc – The Trunk

 

HIROHATA MERC – THE TRUNK

 

The Hirohata Mercury was restyled inside and out, many elements on this car, including the fully detailed trunk, started new trends in customizing.



[dropcap]O[/dropcap]ver the years I came across more and more photos taken at¬†early 1950’s car¬†shows that show custom cars with their hoods and trunk open. Especially photos taken at outdoor shows in the early 1950’s show custom cars with the open door, hood and trunks. Later in the 1950’s and early 1960’s making points at cars shows was really important and the more details you showed to the judges and public the more points you got. So in those later years, everything was opened to show all the details and gain points for more trophies, even wheels were removed to show undercarriage details. It appears that in the early 1950’s shows the owners would show the cars both closed and opened from time to time at a show. This allowed he public to see both all the details inside as well as the wonderful shapes of the outside of the cars.


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Custom Cars in the 1940’s usually had mostly stock engines, some had some speed parts, but mostly that was done for more power, and not so much for the looks. The trunks were sometimes upholstered, but not really to be shown, just to be practical. Later in the early 1950’s things changed. And more time was spend to detail more and more sections of the cars. In the early 1950’s¬†some, and actually quite a few cars had chromed and detailed engines, and the¬†owners loved to¬†show their car with the hood open. Even more cars with fully upholstered high-end interiors liked to show of the cars with the doors open, and showed cards if the upholstery shop to advertise their work¬†(perhaps for a discount on their own upholstery).¬†If you had a really detailed car with a fully upholstered trunk you also wanted to show off that work and opened the trunk at the shows.



CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-20One of the first photos of the Hirohata Merc I noticed with the trunk open was this one taken at the Custom Car and Hot Rods show held at the Thrifty’s drug store parking lot in Los Angeles May 15, 1954.
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One of the Icon Custom Cars from the early 1950’s that can be seen at shows with the trunk open was Bob Hirohata’s 1951 Mercury by Barris. Bob had a fully detailed trunk (as well as chromed engine) and loved to show-off all the detail work that went into his car. Cars like the Hirohata Mercury with so many details added to the interior, engine and trunks kind of started the later award points craziness. But before the mid 1950’s everything was still “normal” and the awards at the car shows still went to the best looking custom cars, and not to the one that had the most modifications, or the most chrome plated parts. Lets take a look at what Bob had to show in the¬†well detailed trunk of the Hirohata Mercury.



CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-02This photo of the Hirohata Merc trunk appeared in the November ’53 issue of Honk Magazine. It showed a fully detailed and upholstered trunk. Matching spare tire with Cadillac Sombrero mounted. The gas filler was relocated in the trunk, but detailed and the carpet was neatly finished around the base of it.¬†
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-11I took this photo of the completely restored Hirohata Mercury at the 2009 Sacramento Autorama Mercury Gathering. Jim McNiel did an amazing job restoring the trunk to early 1950’s specs. Eddie Martinez was responsible for recreating the Bill Gaylord upholstered trunk.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-05Bob Hirohata on his famous Kross Kountry in a Kustom trip to the Indianapolis 500 and Custom Car show in 1953. Bob is filling the Merc with gas and it looks like Bob and his co driver did store some stuff in the trunk, but it was filled all the way. Possibly more stuff for the long trip was stored on the passenger seat to try and get the weight  distributed as much forward as possible.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-08Famous model in the trunk photo taken by George Barris. It appears the model is holding an drive-in speaker that can also be seen sitting on the upholstered section in the 1953 Honk Magazine photo. Bob Hirohata wrote a letter in 1956 to Rodding and Re-styling magazine about the car. In his letter he explains that the speakers in his trunk have 50 foot long wires, for picnics (thank you Frank for this info). This photo also shows the Space-Age Antennas Bob Hirohata added to the car. Only very few photos show these. There is one other photo taken at the same location showing that the car is using 1953 Cadillac hubcaps now. The spare tire in the trunk still has the early Sombrero mounted. And the Oil and Gas cans are painted in the sea-foam body color.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-18Taken at an unknown outdoor show, shows the Hirohata Mercury in color again with the hood and trunk open.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-04Another photo of the Hirohata Mercury taken at an outdoor show at the Hollywood park race track in Inglewood showing the car with open hood and trunk. The car has 1953 Cadillac hubcaps now.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-19Photo from the Rodder’s Journal shows the trunk pre-restoration. The photo shows it had a hard live and was not always taken car of as it should have. But most of the upholstery is still there and could be perfectly replicated by Eddie Martinez.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-06This photo taken by Pat Ganahl shows all the original parts re-installed before the restoration started. The oil and gas cans are now located on the right side. This photo also shows that the cans have been re-painted dark green at one point. (Rod & Custom December 1989)
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-07During the restoration Jim Mc Niel used the trunk to store parts in… just like it was done in the old days. (Pat Ganahl photo)
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-12Another looks at the restored trunk with wonderful period looking word by Eddie Martinez who has been doing this kind of work since the 1950’s. These photos also show the one thing that was not molded on the body because the Barris crew ran out of time to get the car finished for the Motorama show… the rear splash pan.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-22Bob Hirohata Checking the fule¬†filler that was relocated in the trunk. He is holding one of the special tools he created with the green and white laminated plastic handle. If you look hard you can see a small portion of the space age antenna next to Bob’s shoulder.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-15The drivers side had a set of tools and the relocated fuel filler. 
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-13Close up of the special tools with Bob Hirohata made laminated handles. 
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-14Close up of the gas filler. Nicely detailed and chrome plated. The carpet was neatly finished with white piping. Also notice the simple rounded bottom edge of the trunk opening. A typical way to round corners in the 1950’s.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-16The trunk handle and emblem was shaved and the lock modified to open electronically. This photo also shows that the whole underneath of the trunk is now painted body color It appears in the 1950’s photos that the inlay sections are either painted a dark color or have been upholstered with dark material.¬†
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-17A close up of the remote controlled opener. The hand made bracket and not used holes are all left the way it was done back in the 1950’s.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-09The top photo shows the restored cans, with the original paint on it. It is not sure when these were painted, but most likely after 1955 when the car was repainted as well. The cans are now dark green with white lettering, while in the 1953 photo (below) they are most likely sea foam green (the lighter body color of the original version). with dark letters. The early version also look to have hand painted Barris Crests, while the later version have Barris Crest decals. Interesting is the carpet used on the top, as well as the base, which seams to have been reversed in the restoration. Both the cans and the base are the original items.
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CCC-hirohata-merc-trunk-10Close up show the Barris crest decals and hand painted letters in white on the dark green painted cans.
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Cross Country in a Kustom

 

CROSS COUNTRY IN A KUSTOM

 

In May 1953 Bob Hirohata drives his Mercillac from California to Indianapolis. An epic Cross Country trip in an award winning custom, that still fascinates people today.



Custom Cars in the 1940’s and 1950’s were built as daily users. Unlike most show cars today, these early Customs were actually driven to the shows they attended. Even if that show happened to be on the other side of the country.

I had heard about Bob Hirohata’s epic road trip for quite some time. But it would take me a few years before I finally found a copy of the October 1953 issue of Rod & Custom that was reasonably priced, including shipping to the Netherlands. And when it finally arrived in my mailbox 15 or so years ago, I read the story over and over again. I looked at the small photos in the article. Trying to visually how it must have been for the viewers back then, to see a car like the Hirohata Mercury hover by, in your home town, far, far away from California. And how it must have been for Bob and his friend driving a car that low, and with the quality of the mostly two lane roads back then. What an adventure!

I’m so happy that the team at Rod & Customs realized this trip was something special, and they needed to spend as many pages to is as possible. I still hope that Rod & Custom would do a re-run of this article, and goes back into the archives, to see if there possibly are more photos taken by Bob from that trip, that were not used in the article. How nice would that be! But even if they only have the photo already used in the 1953 article, then it still will be so good to see them, larger, and with modern day printing techniques… or perhaps even as an online article. R&C editors… hope you are reading this!

CCC-hirohata-kross-kountry-01-WBob Hirohata protecting the quarter panel scoops and fender skirts with multiple layers of masking tape before the trip started.
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CCC-hirohata-kross-kountry-11-WA brand new Cadillac engine was installed days before the trip begun.
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The story in Rod & Custom was written down by the R&C editor (there was no name listed for this) as how it was told by Bob Hirohata. Every time I read the article I feel like I’m on the passenger seat with Bob, so both Bob did a great job telling the story and the editor did a great job putting it down on paper to get the right feeling.

Bob mentions in the R&C article that the ¬†article “6000 miles in a Custom in the¬†September 1952 issue of Hop Up magazine, has alway inspired him a lot. And ever since he read that article he wanted to do a similar trip. Bob and his navy buddy Azzie Nishi had talked going to the Indianapolis 500 one day. And when the 1953 race was coming up, and it turned out this could be combined with the 1953 Indianapolis Custom Auto show, Bob decided it was his time to go on the cross country trip.


The amazing thing about this cross country trip is that Bob’s Mercury was an award winning custom. by the time Bob went on his trip the car had won many awards, was featured on the cover of Hop Up magazine (March 1953) and Motor Trend magazine (March 1953) and featured in the even more popular Hot Rod magazine (also in March 1953). But all that did not prevent Bob from going on this trip, of which he knew from reading ¬†Spence Murray’s story in the 1952 Hop Up magazine, that it would be full of rough roads and long empty roads.


CCC-hirohata-kross-kountry-14-WThe October issue of Rod & Custom magazine devoted ¬†6 and a quart page to Bob’s travel story. A lot of pages for a single story, especially in those days. The article also mentioned Bob had nick-named his Mercury the “Mercillac”.
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My guess is that the trip of the Hirohata Mercury, or the Mercillac as Bob called it in his article, must have put huge smiles on peoples face. Quite a few car enthusiast who saw the car on its trip must have recognized it from the Hop Up and Hot Rod magazine features. An most likely the Hirohata Mercury was a car they dreamt about, but knew they would never ever see in person. And now this ultimate custom drove thru town… hovering only inches above the pavement. A car with such wonderful lines and bright color contrasting with everything else on the road then.


I’m not sure if this R&C article inspired other people to do similar trips, but my guess is yes it did. Even 60 plus years later I get the urge to go on this same road trip. Cross Country in a Kustom. In 2011 I had the pleasure of being the passenger in the Hirohata Mercury when Jim McNiel asked me if I cared for a short drive in the parking lot of the NHRA Museum in Pomona (see CCC-Article on this experience). This short ride along was already epic for me… So the cross country trip Bob and Azzie taking several days and sleeping in the car, must have been pure heaven.


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CCC-hirohata-kross-kountry-02-WThis is the only photo we have been able to find of the Hirohata Mercury at the Indianapolis Custom car show in 1953. Hopefully more like this will show up in the future.
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CCC-hirohata-kross-kountry-17-WBob Hirohata behind the steering wheel of his “Mercillac”. A name he gave the car in the 1953 article after the Cadillac engine was installed. But nobody really knows the car by that name. Everybody calls the car the “Hirohata Merc” (photo from the March 1953 Hot Rod feature)
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Hirohata Merc Chair

 

COMFORT STYLE

 

Day dreaming about the Hirohata Mercury at shool resulted in this Art Deco design the Hirohata Merc Chair.

In the mid 1980’s I was in art-school. Around that time news about the revival of the custom cars in the US, from a few years earlier finally made its way to the Netherlands. The little spare money I had was spend on Hot Rod magazine from the US, Wheels magazine from Sweden and Custom Cars from the UK. These were the only magazines that had some custom car info in them that I was able to get my hands on where I lived. I absorbed everything I could find about customs in these magazines. One cars name that kept popping up was the Hirohata Merc, and was often revered to as the “grand daddy of all customs” in the magazines. Everything about that car was pure magic for me back then (and still is today)…

For a school assignment we were asked to design a chair, create some work drawings, build a scale model and a way to display the chair in a furniture shop. I knew immediately that I wanted to design a chair based on the lines of the Hirohata Merc. I made some sketches of a chair inspired on the art deco launch chairs from the 1940’s and some newer chairs created by De Sede, combined with elements of the Hirohata Mercury. The Buick side trim boomerang trim was an excellent shape to be used for the sides of the chair. After sketches the perfect chair, I created a side, front and rear views that would help me build the scale model.

Building the scale model
I wanted this chair to have some car elements like the body panels done in metal. But painted a satin pastel color to make it fit better inside a comfortable home. The basic shape of the model chair was created by laminating foam board together and cut and sand it to shape. The “metal” shaped panels were created from sheet styrene and made as separate units so that they could be painted easily. The seat needed to have a real leather look. I found some very thin imitation leather that was used to create shirts. The leather was cut to size, slightly over sized, with the ends carefully folded and moved under, then glued to the shaped foam base. The side panels were painted satin pastel turquoise (a very popular color back then) and the frame pastel blue.

The Buick style side trim and art deco lines on the front were cut from sheet plastic and covered in aluminum foil to make them look like chrome. Once assembled the chair looked really nice and very comfortable. And I planned to create one in 1/1 scale. But I was never able to find the funds to do so back then. Sadly these photos shown here are all left from the Hirohata Merc chair project. The sketches and drawing have been misplaced many years ago and on one of my last moves the chair was damaged beyond repair. I had not thought about the chair for several years, until I came across one of the photos on a recent hunt for something else.

These photos show the scale model I created of the Hirohata Chair. I named the chair Streamline 51 back then, because I figured nobody at school would understand the real name of the chair. The photos were taken many years after the model was first constructed. And parts were already falling off and others were damaged. So the model does not look as good anymore as it used to do when I first created it.

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CCC-Hirohata-Chair-04I created the (corner) display from colored card stock and foam board.



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1955 damage to the Hirohata Merc

 

HIROHATA MERC SIDESWIPED

 

In October 1955, not to long after Robert Waldsmith had bought the Hirohata Mercury, the car was sideswiped, and the entire left side was severely damaged.



Like most car people, I always feel sad when I see this photo of the wrecked Hirohata Mercury. It’s hard to believe that something like this happened to such a wonderful custom car. But it does show that these custom car icons were part of everyday traffic back then. More than often they were used for daily transport. When looking at this photo, one has to have a lot of respect for the body man, who was able to fix the car like nothing had ever happened to it.

Today, when you look at the Hirohata Mercury, and tell people the entire left side was once severely damaged, nearly nobody would take you seriously. Nothing from this tragedy can be seen on the car anymore. This 1955 photo however, makes you wonder how the people at the Barris shop must have felt when they saw the damage on the car. Only three years previously, the Barris team worked so hard to create one of the most stunning custom cars in a very short time. And now one side was wiped out.

The story

Most people had never heard about this wreck with the Hirohata Mercury until a photo of the damaged Hirohata Mercury appeared in the Rodder’s Journal #8 article on the Hirohata mercury. And the story about it was almost not told at all if it had not been for Tim Cunha bumping into a¬†Robert Waldsmith at an Salinas, Ca. hospital. Robert Waldsmith¬†was the administrator at this¬†hospital and Tim¬†was the regional manager for a contracting company¬†for Rehabilitation Services in hospitals etc.¬†When Tim and Robert were talking in the hospital office¬†Robert¬†started telling Tim¬†about this¬†Custom Mercillac he once had. He said it was in the Running Wild movie with Mamie van Doren.

Tim¬†told him to prove it……….. Well he did, the next day he brough a box of photos. Also the bill for the repair of the Merc from Sam’s Auto Body Works¬†after he got it side swiped. ¬†Sadly non of this material was copied or scanned at the time. But Tim Cunha did call Pat Ganahl who later got in touch with Robbert Waldsmith and was able to get one photo of the car showing the damage and one of the Hirohata mercury towing a boat from Robert.¬†These photos ended up in the Rodder’s Journal article, and we really have to thank Tim Cunha for getting in touch with Robert, and passing on the information so that this sad part of the story is part of the history of the Hirohata merc and not lost for ever.

CCC-Hirohata-Damage-01-WTim remembered that the photo Robert showed of the damage was just a very small snapshot.
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The photo above was taken in front of the Barris Kustom shop in October 1955, the car was then owned by Robert Waldsmith. Robert had bought the car, shortly before or after it was used in the movie ‘Running Wild’. Bob Hirohata had been advertising the car for sale for some time. When George Barris made the arrangements to have the car in the movie he was asked to repaint the car so it would show up better in the black and white movie. The Mercury was repainted lime green metallic, and dark green below the Buick trim, and that is how it was when the accident happened.

After the movie shoot, Robert put his new custom in several shows, but he also used his new car a lot as daily transportation.¬†In October 1955, he was hit by a car that left his lane, and crossed the center line on Riverside Drive in Burbanks. The two cars got in contact, and most of the drivers side was pretty beaten up, as can be seen in this photo. Robert wanted Barris to fix the damage for him, but in the end, they asked too much money to do the work. He brought the car over to Sam Gates Sam’s Auto Body Works in Pasadena. Sam was known for his fine work on the R&C Dream Truck. Sam did the repair work on the drivers side, and ended up repainting the car in bright gold with a dark gold under the Buick side trim.

In the photo of the Mercury from the movie as well as the accident we can see the car has a door mounted side view mirror. This mirror was not on the car when Bob Hirohata owned the car, nor when he advertised the car (See photo). The mirror was most likely put on by Robert, to allow him to tow his boat. But it could also be possible that the mirror was added to help the actors in the movie Running Wild to improve viability in the chopped car.

When Jim McNiel bought the car the side view mirror was removed by a previous owner (most likely Dirty Doug Kinney). He never filled the mirror mounting holes left in the door, and created a brass plate with a new name for the car. A brass crest with the name “The Hawaiian” has been covering the former rear view mirror holes. This Hawaiian crest is still on the car today. When I saw the Hirohata Mercury for the first time in 2009 I could not detect any signs of this body damage on the completely restored car what so ever. Sam Gates did a fantastic job repairing this Milestone Custom in the mid 1950’s.

CCC-Sam-Gates-Auto-Body-Works-WSam Gates working on the top of the R&C Dream Truck which he chopped. On the left his business ad he ran in Rod & Custom Magazine.
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CCC-Hirohata-MT-May-55-FSADOne of the magazine ad’s Bob Hirohata ran to try and sell his 1951 Mercury custom. This photo in the ad shows the car has already been repainted for the movie. It also ran 1953 Cadillac hubcaps then, but there was no side view mirror.
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CCC-Hirohata-Mamie-Van-Doren-WActress Mamie Van Doren posing with the Hirothata mercury during the time the movie Running Wild was shot. Note that the side view mirror has been added at this time. Also note that the car was now running ’48-’50 Cadillac Sombrero hubcaps again, similar to when the car was first build in 1952.
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CCC-The-Hawaiian-crest-WThe Hawaiian crest that was created in the early 1960’s hides the mounting holes of the side view mirror. This photo was taken in 2011.
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Sources and more info;

  • The Rodder’s Journal¬†magazine #8 (Pat Ganahl)
  • Motor Trend magazine, May 1955

 

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