THE AYALA VERSION
Wally Welch’s 1950 Mercury was among the first Customs based on this iconic Mercury model. Gil and Al Ayala of Gil’s Auto Body Works, created this Milestone Custom Car.
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]ally Welch bought his 1950 Mercury from the dealer in late 1949, and took it straight to the Ayala shop located at 4074 East Olympic Blvd. Wally had been working with Gil Ayala on a few of his other cars, including his famous 1941 Ford convertible. He had become good friends with Gil and Al, so when it came time to have his new Mercury customized the Ayala shop was a logic step. The body style of his Mercury was very new, and not many of them were fully customized at the time. The Ayala shop was most likely still working on the Louis Bettancourt chopped 1949 Mercury Custom at the time Wally brought his car to the shop. Or perhaps Wally took his Merc to the Ayala’s before Louis did his 1949 Mercury. I still have never found any proof of when which Mercury was started and finished. Most likely the Welch Mercury was finished first, since it was shown at the 1951 Motorama show, and Louis was shown in 1952. In any event Wally had something a little more subtile for his Mercury in mind, than what the shop was doing with the Bettancourt Mercury.
A young Wally Welch.
The Ayala’s started with lowering the car to the perfect ride height, Wally wanted his Mercury to sit level and low, but not to low that it would be impractical. The frame was C’d in the back to allow the axle to travel without hitting the frame. At the front the car was lowered by reversing the front spindles and cutting the coil springs. A set of 1950 Mercury fender skirts were extended downwards to sit level with the bottom of the body. Then the Ayala’s started to chop the top. While the 1952 Hop Up article lists the chop as four inches in the front and 5 inches in the back, the 1952 Restyle Your Car, Trend book #105 lists it as a three inches front, and 5 1/2 inch rear chop. Both numbers listed in 1952 are not quite correct. The chop must be less severe than those numbers. Compared to many other chopped Merc, the Wally Welch Mercury looks really mildly chopped. In the past we have tried to figure out how much chop it actually was when we asked the cars current caretaker Justin Mozart, who could take measurements from the windows. But sadly so far we have not been able to get actual numbers for this.
During the chop process the drip rails were shaved, as was done with most of the Californian built chopped Mercury’s in the early 1950’s. It was decided that the B-Pillars should remain straight, and not angled forward as the shop had done on the Bettancourt Mercury. The door corners at the top were rounded for a much more pleasing flow which was needed after the drip rails were removed. One unique element of the chop was the shortening of the rear quarter windows. The way the Ayala’s did this make it not really obvious, until you start to compare it with other chopped Mercury’s. This gives the Mercury a real coupe feeling.
The October 1954 issue of Speed Mechanics used this photo of the Wally Welch Mercury for its article on how to install Spotlights. In the May issue of Hop Up magazine you could order a new subscription on the magazine and choose one of four photos as a free gift. This photo of the Wally Welch Mercury was one of them. Who has one of these original hop up prints?
The door and trunk handles were removed as well as the hood and trunk ornaments. Next up was the extension of the front fenders. The headlights were moved several inches forward and new sheet metal shaped to fill the gap. Below the headlights rings which were frenched into the body an angled forward section was shaped. This angled section has the same angle as the Mercury bumper guards, and gives the front end a nice elegant feel. The grille surround was molded to the fenders and the hood corners rounded. The splashpan was molded in, and the lower edge was reshaped to hide the base of the 5 1951 DeSoto grille teeth. These grille teeth are sitting inside the grille opening much deeper than how most of these grilles are installed today. The deep sitting grille teeth fitted perfectly with the angled front fender shape creating a very well balanced front end of the Mercury.
This photo from the 1952 Hop Up article shows the clean work the Ayala performed on the front of the car. Extended front fenders with frenched headlights. deep inserted 1951 DeSoto grill teeth in a custom pan, and rounded corners on a shaved hood.
At the back the upper trunk corners were rounded. This optically helps flow the trunk into the chopped top a lot better, creating more pleasing lines.The taillight bezels were removed and round rod used to create the shape to which the stock taillights could sit in. This frenching of the taillights brought the styling of the front and rear of the mercury together. Another nice Ayala touch. The front section of the side trim that originally has a Mercury script on it, was replaced with a shortened section that belonged on the rear quarters. To be able to do this both sides had to be flipped. But now the hole side trim front to rear was nice and smooth. And small ignition type lock, (taken from a 1940 Chevy glove compartment door) was installed in the rear section of the side trim on the drivers door. This ignition motivated the electrical door openers.
With all the body work done and in primer it was time to choose the perfect color for Wally’s mercury. Wally and Gil mixed up some colors and decided to go with an amazingly brilliant lime gold. The Ayala’s installed a set of Appleton S-552’s and added wide white wall tires with Cadillac Sombrero hubcaps. The first version of the Wally Welch Mercury was finished…. and just in time to participate at the the 2nd annual Petersen’s Motorama show held at the Pan Pacific Auditorium. A very prestigious show, and Wally won the Best Custom Award at the show. Check out the CCC-Article on this event. Another Milestone for the Wally Welch Mercury as well as for the Ayala’s was that the car was in color on the cover of the April 1952 issue of Hop Up magazine, and had a four page feature inside. Irony is that by the time this issue hit the newsstands the car was looking quite different than how it was featured.
Color cover of the April 1952 issue of Hop up magazine. This color image of the lime green.gold painted Mercury must have had a huge impact on its readers.
The Wally Welch Mercury at the 1951 Petersen Autorama in the Pan Pacific Auditorium. The trophy the car won stands on the table on the far right of the photo.
Wally enjoyed the car in this first Lime green version for a little less than a year. The original gray velour interior was still in the Merc at this time. Wally either did not have the cash to do the interior the first time, or perhaps the deadline for the show made it impossible to get a new custom interior done. So when Wally’s girlfriend at the time, Jeannie Christman had made clear to wally that she never really liked the color Wally and Gil had come up with, In late 1951, Wally decided it was time for an update. New paint and a full custom upholstered interior. It is unknown why Wally choose the Barris shop for this update and not go back to the Ayala’s. Possibly the workload and the few employees, leading to long waiting lists at the Ayala’s might have played a roll in this decision. In part two of the Wally Welch Mercury we will capture this part of the story.
After winning the Best Customs award at the Motorama show a well dressed Gil Ayala,is standing proudly next to the Mercury. A unidentified Auto Butchers club member hold the trophy. The Auto Butchers was the car club Gil had started.
The Petersen promo movie of the 1951 Petersen Motorama showed three images of the Wally Welch Mercury at the event.
According to Wally’s daughter Terri, Wally preferred this Mercury over the other customs he had in the 1940’s and 50’s. Wally loved to tell his daughter stories about his Mercury; how all the body work was done in lead, and how the handle-less doors were opened. Wally really loved this Mercury.
Hop Up Magazine cover and four page article. The stange thing about the article is that one spread was done with green, and one spread with sepia toned ink.
Another odd thing about the article on Wally’s Mercury was that the text was mixed up during the preparation of the magazine in 1952. Somehow the order was completely mixed it in the first two paragraphs. I have fixed this in the image above.
Enlarged scan from the Hop Up cover.
The original slide that was made in 1951 by Jerry Chesebrough has sadly faded in color quite a bit. So this cannot be used to match the original lime green gold paint from. Fortunately when the car was restored they found the original lime gold on the doorjambs.
Hop Up magazine received a lot of letters about the model that was posing with the Wally Welch Mercury in the April 1952 Hop Up magazine issue. In the July 1952 issue the magazine responded to the many requests about the model. In there they mentioned it was Jeannie Christman (later this name was spelled as Christam). No mentioning was made that she was Wally’s girlfriend.
Later Hop Up magazine even gave away photo prints of Jean posing with Wally’s Mercury to new subscribers.
From the April 1953 issue of Hop Up magazine.
Just like with a lot of other famous and beautiful early Customs Cars, not to many photos have been saved or surfaced of the original Ayala version of the Wally Welch Mercury. Hopefully more material will surface in the future, and if it does, we of course will add it to this article. If you have, or know about additional photos of the Wally Welch Mercury in its first version. Please let us know.
Resources and more info
- Trend Book 105, booklet, Restyle Your Car 1952
- Hop Up, magazine, April 1952
- Motor Trend, magazine, December 1952
- Hop Up, magazine, April 1953
- Street Rodder, Magazine, May 1988
- Rod & Custom, magazine, August 1989
- How stuff works, website http://auto.howstuffworks.com
- The Rodder’s Journal, Magazine issue #39
- 1951 Autorama winner, CCC-Article
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