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Custom Car Builders

June 5, 2018

Cliff Rackohn 1948 Mercury

 

RACKOHN 1948 Mercury

 

One of the more elegnat Customs to roll from the Barris Kustom Shop in during its hay days was the 1948 Mercury Restyled for Cliff Rackohn.



Before we start about this beautiful Barris Restyled Mercury I want to mention a few things about the name and the year of the car. In the Barris Kustom Techniques of the 1950’s Volume 2, the name of the owner of this Mercury is spelled Cliff Rockohn and the year of the Mercury is marked at 1947. In the April 1951 issue of Motor Trend Magazine, as well as the Trend book Custom Cars #101, there is a different spelling of the name Cliff Rackohn, in both the small article as well as in the For Sale ad, and the car is labeled as an 1948 model. I will keep the 1951 Motor Trend spelling of the name, as well as the year for the car to be the most accurate.

’48 Mercury Coupe restyled by the Barris brothers for owner Cliff Rackohn from South Los Angeles. This Mercury is one of the late 40’s, perhaps early 1950’s restyled cars at the Barris Shop that had its fair share of publicity, and one that survived on the Custom Car scene longer then most others created during the same period. Yet, the Mercury is not often mentioned in the more recent Custom Car publications.





So far I have not been able to find a date on when Cliff’s Mercury was first created. The first time it was published was in the Motor Trend issue from April in 1951. Meaning that the car had to be finished around two month prior, February ’51. Around this period the Barris Shop was extremely prolific and a lot of cars were created at the shop. Some were very well documents, others, like Cliff’s ’48, was not. A few elements, like all the molded body panels, the bumper guard taillight and most of all the not rounded top corners of the trunk and rear fenders indicate that the car might have been mostly built around 1948-49. After that it was more common to round off sharp corners.

Cliff was a member of the Kustom’s Los Angeles. This frontal photo shows the beautiful peak on the hood extending all the way down to the grille and how extremely well and elegant the ’48 Cadillac grille looked on this Mercury.

 


The overall lines, the perfect speed-boat stance and wonderful long hood make this ’48 Mercury one very elegant Customs.

 



The Barris shop created many ’41-48 Ford based Customs, but relatively few same year Mercury based Customs. And that while, as Cliff’s car clearly illustrates, the three inch longer front end of the Mercury’s lend themselves to the perfect tail-dragging Custom. the long nose does not only give the impression of having a more powerful motor, but the proportions, especially with a heavy chop, really benefit from the longer front end. How much the top was chopped is hard to tell, like usual the early publications were often far from accurate with their tech info. And numbers were often exaggerated to make the cars looks even more special.

According the Barris Technique book Cliff’s Mercury was chopped 4 inches in the front and 8 inches in the rear. MotorSport magazine and Trend Books Custom Cars #101  mention 6″ and 8″ and Car Craft magazine a full 8 inches. The chop is pretty heavy on the car, but 6 inch removed from the front might seem to be a little to much. But the difference from to more in the back does sound more accurate than the 4 inches difference from the Barris Book.

The chop on Cliff’s is beautifully proportioned, and reminds me a lot about he chop Sam Barris would later perform on Jerry Quesnel’s ’49 Mercury. With its distinctive forward rake on the B- Pillars and super smooth C-Pillars. Clearly an experiment by the Barris brothers who usually kept the B-pillars straight on their chops. The shape of the door frame and roof shape on Cliff’s Mercury remind me of some of the super smooth and flowing padded tops coming out of the Bill Gaylord shop. But just as on the Quesnell Merc, the rear quarter window front corners seem to have some trouble finding the right direction when looked at from certain angles. But I have to say that the forward pillars sure help with the speed-boat look, and make it look going fast, standing still.

Notice the mud-flap below the front fender.

 


In 1951 Cliff entered his ’48 Mercury at the Montebello tent show. Together with Jack Stewart’s ’41 Ford, Jesse Lopez. 41 Ford, Nick Matranga 1940 Mercury, Snooky Janish 1941 Ford, Gil Ayala 1942 Ford and a fee more not in this photo the car formed the Custom Section at this unique show.

 



Typical for the late 1940\s early 1950’s the Barris Brothers removed the running boards, and the door skin was extended down. The rear quarter panels was treated the same way. All four fenders were welded to the body, and the seam smoothed with lead for that desirable one piece look. The very busy stock Mercury grille was removed and the body panels reshaped for a much cleaner front. A more elegant and more expensive looking ’48 Cadillac grille was chosen to fit the new smoother front ,and it turned out to be the perfect look for the Mercury. The lower section of the front, which is separate on the 46-48 Mercury’s was molded to the new front end along with the splash pan. The front of the hood was extended down into the new section above the Cadillac grille and the Mercury peak on top of the hood was reshaped at the front to end in a point just above the Cadillac grille, making it look like the peak flows into the center vertical grille bar. This all leads to one of the best custom front-end designs created by the Barris Shop.

There was a small feature on the Mercury in the April 1951 issue of Motor Trend Magazine, showing two photos, including one with Cliff posing with the car.

 


A closer look at the Motor Trend 1951 photos. A well dressed Cliff posing with his fantastic looking ’48 Mercury.

 


And taken at the same location this nice higher point of view 3/4 look at the Mercury. Very nice angle photo showing the car in all its beauty.

 



The headlight rings were molded into the front fenders for a smooth look and the headlights very slightly recessed. The door handles and all emblems were shaved and the side trim shortened on the hood, which was a typical Barris Trademark. At the back the splash-pan was molded to the body, just as on the front, and the taillights plus fender trim was shaved and all holes filled. The bumpers remained the stock units front and rear. But at the rear the Barris crew modified the bumper guards to accept some hand made laminated Lucite taillights. The finishing touch was a set of long 1941 FoMoCo fender skirts, a set of Appleton Spotlights, Cadillac Sombrero hubcaps on wide wall tires (6.00:16 ).

The information from the interior comes from the Motorsports magazine. The front seat was pirated from an 1942 Chevy, allowing to be seated 3 inches lower than stock, which was very welcome with the much lower top. The interior was upholstered in tan cowhide pleated and rolled. The headliner was done in grey imported English wool, and the floormat was made of deeply-piled green rug, which matched the lacquer dash trim. Which makes me wonder if the original color of the Mercury was perhaps green when Cliff Rackohn original owned it?

The car was offered for sale in the same April 1951 issue of Motor Trend magazine. The $6000 invested in the car to built is was a lot of money back then. Notice the spelling of the name Cliff Rackohn. Perhaps Cliff had signed up to go to the War in korea… like so many other guys in the Kustoms Los Angeles Club. Hopefully one day we will know.

 




New owner in 1952

In the January 1952 issue of Motorsport magazine There was a two page + feature on the Mercury. According the article the car was then owned by Dave Clickman of Southern California. According the article the the car was chopped 6″ in the front and 8″ in the rear with new sheet metal added from the top of the trunk to the bottom of the rear window, creating a smooth transition. The frame was z-ed in the back and the front was dropped with a 2.5 inch dropped front end. The article also mentioned that the hood was chopped 5 inches, which would technically be a section job, but that is clearly not the car on this Mercury. And that all body panels are molded together and leaded to form one smooth body. It also mentioned that the skirts used once belonged to a ’48 Buick, another false “fact” since the skirts are ’41 Ford Mercury units.

The article mentioned that the car was painted 25 coats of Arctic Blue lacquer by Gram Brothers of West Los Angeles. The engine was rebuild by Ray Brown, a famous Hot Rodder. The Cylinders were bored to 3 5-16″ and a 1950 Mercury crankshaft of 4″ stroke was employed. The 275 Cubic Inch engine utilizes Jahns 3=ring racing pistons with high domes.  It had Edelbrock heads two carb intake with two 48 Stromberg carburetors.

January 1952 issue of Motorsport magazine. Scans provided by Jamie Barter.

 


Beautiful rear 3/4 view from a higher point of view shows how gorgeous this Mercury was. From this angle the top works the best. The sharp top corners of the trunk might indicate that the majority of the work was already done on the car around 1948-49.

 


The interior was done by Bill Gaylord in a tan colored leather, green carpets.

 



This photo shows that by the time Dave Glickman owned the car the rear has been raised a few inches.

 


This photo shows the bumper guard mounted taillights a bit better.

 


When Dave Cickman owned the car the car ran 3T 609 1951 California plates.

 


Dave drove the Ray Brown rebuilt flathead engine to a best time of 87.70. Not bad for a heavy leadsled.

 


Third owner

In the August 1955 issue of Car Craft Magazine the Mercury was featured again. This time the car was even more on a forward rake, and the fender skirts have been removed. The owner by then was listed as John Logg of Hollywood, and the Mercury described as a 1947 year model. By now the car was dark maroon, and there is some color movie footage of the car at the 1957 Coachman Car Club high-Shool car show. After this we have not been able to find info on the car. Where it went, or what ever happened to it. If you know more, please let us know.

The Mercury was owned by John Logg when it was featured in the August 1955 issue of Car Craft Magazine. By then the rear had been raised, and the fender skirts removed for a completely new look.

 


John Logg was a member of the “Streaking Deacons” and used their club tag on the front bumper.

 

Screen shot of a color 8mm movie made at the Coachman Car Club Motorcade Car show in 1957. The footage was filmed by Bob Stephenson who was Coachman Club member, and it is so far the only color images we have of the car. By then it was painted a dark maroon.

 


This was a slowly moving from left to right shot so thee screen shot was rather blurry. But still very interesting to see that the car was shown with its hood up, showing off the Ray Brown Flathead engine.

 


So far this has been the last photo I have been able to find on the Rackohn Mercury. The car looks still very much like the original version, only it has a different stance, and by now the Sombrero hubcaps have been replaced by some more modern hubcaps 9possibly Olds Fiesta hubcapa. This photo was used in the Trend Book #143 Restyle your car published in 1957.

 


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About the Author

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)




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7 Comments


  1. This Mercury was perfectly executed and had all of the nice Barris details to make it truly outstanding!


  2. Thank you for filling in some of the details of this rather lesser-known (and my favourite) custom Merc from this era! Green, blue, maroon, all great colours of the day; but it looks great in B&W too! As with many of these old customs, I wonder if it is still around somewhere..?

    Thanks Rik!
    Dave


  3. Great article Rik. Always interesting to see how the story changes from magazine to magazine. No matter what the chop may or may not have been, the finished product was beautiful.
    I like the look of the uncut Cadillac grill. Just seems to make more sense to my eye.
    Would love to find this one!
    Torchie


  4. Fantastic article Rik. Really good and interesting. A great custom that is hardly talked about. Great detail in this article. What a difference a few inches can make when talking stance. The second owner changed the look of the flow by raising the ass end a little. It’s amazing how much impact stance makes on a custom car.


  5. Jim Baker

    Rik,
    As usual I am amazed at what you find out about these old custom’s. Since my car was patterned after Cliff’s car all this information is amazing. I had one small picture from Custom Cars #1and took it to David. Of course I have a different grill, taillights and no spotlights. It has been a joy for these 30 years!


  6. Another great article on a great custom. Not to nitpick but I assume you mean Sam Barris chopped Jerry’s car not Sam Foose. Wouldn’t want to start another controversy with that car. 😉



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