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Ayala Custom Shop

Johnny Rosier 53 Mercury




Johnny Rosier worked together with the Gil and Al Ayala to turn his 1953 Mercury Hard-Top into a Magazine featured Custom Car with an unique style.

Johnny Rosier from Norwalk California was a young body and fender man working out of the California Custom Shop in Gardena Ca. who had a dream of this wild, yet mild ’53 Mercury Custom in the mid 1950’s. The plan was to work on the car himself as much as he could, but for the design and major construction of the car he turned to his friend Gil Ayala, owner of Gil’s Auto Body Shop in East Los Angeles. Johnny was a member of Gil’s car club the Auto Butchers ELA.

Front 3/4 low angle photo makes the upward front section of the side trim even more pronounced. Not a very nice flowing line with the rest of the car, but the trim sure got a lot of attention for the car. Notice how low Johnny’s Mercury was.

Together with Gil Ayala Johnny designed his dream Custom based on the ’53 Mercury Hard Top he had bought. The plan was to get it very low, which needed the frame to be C-ed in the rear to make sure the axle would not bump the frame all the time. The front of the car was heavily restyled with an home made grille created from expanded metal. The metal sheet was shaped in an “L” shape with the bottom and top folded over for a very nice “factory” look and fitted the grille opening. This unit was chrome plated before it was installed. The lower portion of the Mercury grille was de-chromed and later painted body color. The stock Mercury bumper was cut up and only the outside pieces were retained. These were combined with 1955 Buick (or Cadillac?) bumper bullets which were welded and smoothed for a beautiful one piece look. A third bullet was added to the center of the grille and decorated with three Oldsmobile Fiesta hubcap flipper blades.

Color photo from the July 1956 Rod & Custom Cover. Such an amazing photo.

The front fenders were reshaped at the front with round rod and sheet metal, so that a set of modified 1956 Packard headlights could be installed. Below the headlights a new stainless steel panel was shaped to fit inside the new extended fenders and meet with the bumper and grille. A set of square 1947 Chevy parking lights was installed in this stainless panel, just below the Packard headlights.The hood was up next, the Ayala’s removed the non functional Mercury scoop and shaped a new piece of metal to make the hump of the scoop flow into the front of the hood with a nice smooth line. In the top of the hood  6 small rows of each 5 louvers was added.

Close up of the ’56 Packard headlights in the heavily reshaped front fenders. Below it are the ’47 Chevy parking lights. Notice the pinstriping following the new body line created when smoothing the factory fake scoop.

Buick bullet mounted in the center of the expanded metal grille. The Oldsmobile Fiesta hubcaps spinner blades are mounted to the Bullet. Auto Butchers ALA brass plaque mounted below it. Pinstriping by Von Dutch.

All the door handles and other emblems were removed of the body, and everything was smoothed. The rear quarter panel non functional scoop was opened up and would later be detailed with a set of  chrome louvers from a 1955 T-Bird. The rear fenders were extended and a set of 1955 Lincoln taillights, including the stainless trim was installed. Below the taillights they installed a 1954-54 Cadillac bumper, that needed to be narrowed to fit the mercury rear fenders. The flow from the Cadillac bumper ended toward the Lincoln taillights works really well. A similar set up was used on Gil’s personal ’55 T-Bird.

For the side trim, which would be the base for the planned two tone paint-job, Gil and johnny used  ’55 Ford side trim for the horizontal sections on the door and rear quarter. The lower sections was made by slightly adjusting an 1955 DeSoto side trim. The most unique feature of the side trim was the upswept frontal section on the front fenders. The magazines from the mid 1950’s state that that piece of trim was pirated from an special chrome kit (aftermarket perhaps?) for the ’55 T-Bird. But so far I have not been able to positively ID that piece. If any of our readers knows where this up-swept section of the side trim originates from, please let us know.

Notice how the lines on the cars new body lines all complement each other. The angle of the front fender mimics the C-Pillar angle, the angle on the Lincoln taillights the windshield frame. The angle from the upward going front of the side trim mimics the shape of the back of the roof… perhaps.

The rear of Johnny’s Mercury looks more impressive than the stock ’53 Mercury did, with its tall Cadillac bumper and reversed angle ’55 Lincoln taillights. The bumper taillight set-up reminds me of Gil Ayala’s ’55 T-bird.

With all the body work done it was time for some paint. The first paint job was done in “black gold” a deep black with gold metallic added to it, with a lime gold on the top and inside the side trim. A really unique color combination which later helped get the car on the cover of the May 1956 issue of Rod & Custom magazine. The interior was also detailed with chrome plated speedo meter gauge, dashboard glove box door, speaker and window trim. The upholstery was done, according some of Trend Book Restyle your car from 1957 in black and yellow leather, which worked very nice with the exterior paint. Sadly we have not been able to locate any photos showing the interior of Johnny’s mercury.

The factory dummy scoop on the rear quarter panel was opened up to become functional, and was dressed up with the chrome louvers that normally are used on the front fenders of an 1955 T-Bird. (Who knows… perhaps these items came from Gil Ayala’s personal T-Bird, since they were shaved on his car!)

Close up of the ’54-55 Cadillac rear bumper, ’55 Lincoln taillights and extended rear fenders. Very nice addition to the Mercury back.

Johnny choose a set of ’53 Cadillac hubcaps to be used on his Custom Mercury, but to make them special he cut out the centers and replaced them with unknown centers. According the ’56 issue of R&C the center pieces were removed, gold plated and placed back in the hubcaps. But the photos of the car show that the centers are completely different than stock ’53 Cadillac centers… They looks a bit like ’54 Mercury hubcaps centers, but they are not… another mystery… Gil Ayala installed a set of Appleton Spotlights and Johnny’s Mercury was ready to cruise the street. The car as it was finished was featured inside and on the cover of the May 1956 issue of Rod & Custom Magazine. According the R&C article the pinstriping on the car was added by non other than Von Dutch. Johnny added the polished brass Autobutcher ELA plaque on the front of the car.

Johnny’s ’53 Mercury was featured in color on the July 1956 issue of Rod & Custom Magazine, and had a three page feature in the magazine.

Memo Ortega from La Verne Ca, used to hang out at Gils’ Auto Body shop during the weekends. He and his friends drove up to East LA to see what his friend Gil Ayala was up to. He saw Johnny and his stunning Mercury several times at the shop. This is how Memo remembers Johnny’s mercury. “When we used to go see Gil Ayala we always hoped Johnny would come by at the Ayala shop as well. Some times on Saturdays We saw Johnny with his Merc there. We got to meet him and talk cars with him. He sure was a kool guy with us. If I remember right, his car was black and gold at the time. Some times we would wait till Johnny was going to leave.  Just to see him and his merc go down Olympic blvd. His Merc looked so kool,. We never stayed long a the Ayala’s, we were teenagers then… just having fun so we had to keep on krusin all over with my ’37 Chevy.  Johnny always said ” You guys kruse all the way out here from La Verne? Man that’s far, but its kool! You guys are young”.

Second version

Not to long after Johnny’s Mercury was finished the paint on it was redone again. In the Trend Books Restyle Your Car published in 1957 two black and white photos appear of the car. It was mentioned that the car was now painted blue and gold. New scallops around the headlights and taillights can be clearly seen in the photos.

The March 1958 issue of Car Craft magazine gave us a look at the new paint job on Johnny’s ’53 Mercury. New Blue paint, scallops around the headlights (also around the taillights, not visible in this picture) and a gold, or perhaps copper plated grille insert.

The March 1958 issue of Car Craft magazine had a beautiful color photo of the front section of Johnny’s Mercury on the cover. As promotion for an article on Custom grilles created from expanded metal. There was nothing on the Merc inside, but the cover photo showed the new paint-job in a green blue with gold inside the side trim and the roof. Possibly the gold remained the same from the first version. The newly added scallops were done in gold, and the expanded metal grille was now gold plated as well. The Autobutchers plaque was moved to below the rear bumper and a license plate was added just below the grille at the front. Other than that, no significant changes were made.

Johnny Rosier in his Mercury during a Car Craft photo shoot done by George Barris.

The gold scallops around the taillights connect to the gold from the side trim section. Auto Butchers ELA is now below the rear bumper.

Great close up photo of the Packard and Chevy headlight set up, as well as the bumperettes made up from the Mercury bumper, and the Buick bullet. The photo also gives us a good look at the customized hubcaps. Perhaps the bullet in the center is still ’53 Cadillac, and they added something around it?

6 small rows of louvers are added to the hood. The hood was smoothed with the removal of the factory none functional hood scoop, and the raised section was extended forward and made to flow nicely into the front of the hood.

Johnny’s Mercury was very low, just the way he loved it. According Memo Ortega the car looked amazing floating thru the streets of East LA. The extended fenders front and rear with new angles repeating the pillar angles of the top, works really well.

The side view photo shows how the upward angle on the front section of the side trim points towards the peek of the extended front fender.

Two page feature in the December 1957 issue of Car Craft Magazine.

This 1957 and ’58 Car Craft photos are of the second and also the last version we have seen of Johnny’s Mercury. Nobody seams to know how long Johnny had the car after that, or what happened to his 1953 Mercury Magazine Cover Ayala Custom. If anybody knows what happened to the Johnny Rosier Mercury, please let us know.

Johnny Rosier Mercury Magazine Features…

  • Rod & Custom July 1956
  • Car Craft December 1957


Also shown in…

  • Trend Book 143 Restyle Your Car
  • Car Craft March 1958
  • Custom Cars March 1958
  • Motor Life July 1958 (selected for the 20 most outstanding Custom Cars readers vote that year)
  • Trend Book 197 Custom Cars 1961 Annual

Johnny Rosier was a welder and a ice man. His father owned an ice company in the 1940’s and early 1950’s, and Johnny used to drive his mildly customized ice truck around town making ice deliveries. But he loved welding so much he started to work on Custom Cars. Later in life Johnny Rosier was a welding Foreman for a steel company building sky risers. The higher the better, according to one of Johnny’s daughter’s he loved being up there. But he loved his cars to be low low low. According his daughter Johnny might have had one more Custom Car. She remembers he father showing here a magazine when she was a kid, with a car in rainbow Metalflake inside, or perhaps on the cover. But many decades later she can’t remember what it was.

Sadly all the private collection photos from Johnny’s Custom Car period are long lost. Johnny Rosier passed away in December 1997.

Johnny Rosier posing with his Restyled Ice Truck that he dressed up with Single bar flipper hubcaps, fener skirts, and Appleton Spotlights. Johnny gave this photo to Memo Ortega in the 1950’s.

(This article is made possible by)


Rik Hoving

Rik is the CCC editor in chief. As a custom car historian he is researching custom car history for many years. In 2004 he started the Custom Car Photo Archive that has become a place of joy for many custom car enthousiasts. Here at CCC Rik will bring you inspiring articles on the history of custom cars and builders. Like a true photo detective he will show us what's going on in all those amazing photos. He will write stories about everything you want to know in the realm of customizing. In daily life Rik is a Graphic Designer. He is married to the CCC webmaster and the father of a 10 year old son (they are both very happy with his excellent cooking skills)

3 thoughts on “Johnny Rosier 53 Mercury

  • hi rik, just seen ur story on johnny rosiers merc great story on a mean looking kustom from the 50,s with the ayala brothers an johnny good job rik ill never forget johnnys car, keep on krusin low an slow in kustom haven johnny, an thumbs up to u rik for this article an photos on a great kustom,

  • On that front fender trim piece, wondering if the rear quarter beltline molding from a GM fastback, c 1949-52 might be our culprit. Upside down, and backwards.

  • I always like the cover of Rod and Custom with this great looking 1953 Merc on it. The rear 3/4 view is especially attractive.

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