RALPH TESTA 1950 MERCURY
One of the few original customized 1949-51 Mercury’s, created by the Barris Kustom Shop for owner Ralph Testa. This beautifully restyled Custom Mercury survived and was completely restored in the 1990’s.
Special thanks to Bill Worden
I have always admired the overall looks of the Ralph Testa Mercury a lot. The car has such beautiful simple lines. This Mercury is a perfect sample of how good designed customizing enhances the original beauty of a car. No modification on the Ralph Testa Mercury was done just for the sake to modify it. Every modifications was well designed, and fitted with the overall design of the car. I had seen several pictures of the car in the old magazines, and in a few newer magazines and book. In 2009 I had the pleasure to see the Ralph Testa Mercury for the first time in person. Bill Worden, the current care-taken of the Mercury was invited with the Mercury to be part of the Mercury Gathering at the 2009 Sacramento Autorama show. It was a real pleasure to meet Bill, talk about all the details on the car and hear all about the cars long history. Bill had brought an well filled photo album willed with all the information he had found on the the Ralph Testa Mercury, which was wonderful to browse thru. It was really amazing to see the car up close and to be able to walk around the car many, many times and absorb all the details, and enjoy the overall flow of the car.
We do not know much details about the early stages of the Ralph Testa Mercury, when and how it was created. But the newest parts used on the car are from late 1950, early 1951. So we assume that the car was restyled in early to mid 1951. Sadly no in-progress photos have ever surfaced (so far), nor any other information that could set a confirmed date for when the car wast built excactly. The first confirmed date on the mercury is from the 1952 National Roadster Show which was held from Feb 19-24, 1952 in Oakland California. The Ralph Testa Mercury was show at this event.
The restyling of the Ralph Testa Mercury
The first time I read about the Ralph Testa mercury was in the 1952 Hop Up article. it was mentioned the top was chopped 4 inches. Later I also found this info in the Barris books an other publications. But this amount of chop has always seamed to be a bit to much for the way the height of the windshield looked. And I knew that in the early magazines the writers liked to used slightly “enhanced” numbers. When I asked Bill Worden, the restorer and current caretaker of the car, to measure the windshield height of the Ralph Testa Merc, so that I could compare it with a stock Mercury windshield height, it turned out that the windshield was chopped just 3 inches. The 1952 Hop Up article also mentioned incorrectly that top was cut 4 inches in the front and just 2 in the back, which would give it an upwards towards the rear shaped top. Which is also very odd, and really inaccurate since the top is flowing nicely towards the back and the side window openings a near parallel to the belt-line. The nicely shaped long padded top was created by the Carson Top Shop, the shop that also was responsible for the rest of the interior. It shows once again that not everything in the old magazines can be taken for granted.
One really unique feature on the Ralph Testa Mercury is how the top of the grille opening was cut out, and welded to the hood. The new hood lines taper slightly inwards towards the grille opening creating a very elegant shaped on the new hood. The new smoother hood to grille transition gave the car a really interesting look. Especially with the long center grille bar of the turned upside down 1951 Henry-J grille bar. The hood emblems were removed and the peak on the hood was extended downwards on to the portion of the grille surround that is now part of the hood. To make the Henry-J grille bar fit the 1950 Mercury opening the top portion of the center grille bar was cut off, and is now resting on the gravel-pan, after the whole unit was flipped upside down. The gravel-pan itself was molded to the front fenders and the side pieces of the grille opening were welded in as well, making the front section of the body a sone piece unit.
This wonderful rotogravure printed photo was the openings photo of the three pages feature article on the Ralph Testa Mercury in the July 1952 Hop Up magazine. The photo was taken by Gene Trindl.
This side view shows the wonderful stance of the Ralph Testa Mercury with the nice flowing Carson Padded top and the 1948 Buick side trim leading your eye from the front wheels all the way to the back. Perfection in Custom Restyling.
The front fenders on the Mercury were extended by molding in the stock Mercury headlight bezels. The original Mercury headlight buckets were set back about 3/4 inch. No inside trim ring was used for this. This new headlight fender unit looked very much like the then brand new 1952 Ford and Mercury headlights, but just a bit more subtile, smoother and rounder shaped, created to fit Ralph’s 1950 Mercury very well.
Chris Ito shared two photos taken at the 1952 National Roadster show in Oakland California that show the Ralph Testa 1950 Mercury parked next to the Barris Kustoms built 1942 Ford for Jack Brumbach.
All the emblems and handles were shaved of the body and the stock side-trim was removed and replaced with a 1948 Buick side-trim mounted lower on the body than the original side-trim. The location of the Buick side-trim was chosen to optically connect the top of the hubcap on the front wheels to the top of the skirts at the back, making the car appear longer and lower. The Buick side-trim also houses the push-button on the drivers side to open the door. 1950 Mercury fender skirts were extended downwards and are now level with the bottom of the car. The stock taillights were removed, the holes filled and 1949 Buick taillight units were chosen to be used on Ralph’s Mercury. The Buick taillights were canted 90 degrees and mounted side ways on the rear quarters of the Mercury. The now top line of the taillights was positioned at the extended line of the rear quarter character line. To be able to use the taillights this way the taillight base had to be filed/sanded to match the shape of the mercury body. At the front of the taillights a v-shaped extension piece was shaped from sheet metal and welded to the body to make the taillights flow nicely into the body. At the rear section a smaller v-shaped filler piece was create and welded and leaded to the body. These modifications made the Buick taillight right at home on the Mercury. These new taillights together with the hood and grille modifications make this one very special mercury with exquisite styling.
The rear splash-pan was welded to the body and leaded smooth. Other that these restyling elements, the body remained pretty much stock. According the 1952 Hop Up magazine article the car was lowered 5 inches on the front cutting the coil springs and modifying the spring cups. The rear came down 7 inches using lowering blocks and modified spring shackles. To make sure the rear axle would not hit the frame, a C shaped section was cut from the frame. The new ride height with the rear a bit lower than the front looked really good, like a speed boat emerging from the water. The so called “Speed boat stance” A stance that the Barris Customs were known for.
According the Hop Up magazine article, Barris painted the car with 28 layers of Coral Blue / Purple lacquer over an metallic base. The exhaust was re-routed to emerge from the new rectangular exhaust tips molded into the Mercury rear bumper. Cadillac Sombrero hubcaps were modified to fit the Mercury wheels and a set of wide whitewall tires mounted. On the inside the Barris shop installed an Mercury Monteray Accessory steering wheel and a set of Appleton Spotlights. Next the car was send off to the Houser Carson Top Shop for a full padded top, beautifully shaped and styled. The interior was done in two tone leatherette.
Ralph’s Mercury can be seen in the lot of the Andrews and Evans Automobiles lot photo used in a magazine ad from September 1952. Meaning that Ralph must have put it up For Sale around the summer of 1952, not really all that long after it was finished.
As mentioned in the opening parts of this article the car was most likeley restyled at the Barris shop in late 1951. Ralph enjoyed the car for a while, most likely did a few shows with the car, the only one we know for sure was the 1952 National Roadster Show in Oakland. But perhaps there were more. In September 1952 Andrews and Evans used an photo showing the Ralph Testa Mercury in the For Sale lot which was used by this this company for a magazine ad. Usually the ads need to be turned in at the magazine, at least a month ahead of the printing dead-line, but more likely a few weeks earlier. Our guess is that the photo with the Mercury on the Andrews and Evans lot was taken in either June or July of 1952. We do not know who bought the car of the lot, but Bill Worden mentioned that he knows for sure that in late 1952, perhaps early 1953 Jim Foran, original from Tacoma, Washington was the new owner of the Mercury.
In 1952 Hop Up magazine gave away one free 5 x 7 inch photo if you subscribed to Hop Up for one year. You could choose from four photo, and this photo of the Ralph Testa was one of the four. Makes you wonder how many of these are still hidden away in attics…
Jim Foran buys the car.
Jim had bought the car while he was stationed in White Sands, New Mexico. He bought the car from a guy who apparently bought the car without having the cash to pay for it. This guy, who’s name we do not know at this point, was tired of making the payments for the car, so he gladly accepted the offer Jim made for the car. Jim recognized the Mercury from the Hop Up and other magazine articles. The car was still painted the Barris Coral Blue-Purple paint at this point. Somewhere between the end of 1953 and the end of the summer of 1954, Jim took the car back to the Barris shop and had the Barris shop put two Barris crest on the car. It is also quite possible that at this time Jim also had the Barris shop repaint the car Tahitian red and that the Barris shop automatically put the Barris Crests on the car. Bill also mentioned that at that time while Jim was in LA, he also had the car at the Gaylord Upholstery shop for some floor carpet work, and possibly some other repair work, and perhaps even a new color upholstery on the inside of the top to match the new paint? Jim then took the car back home to Tacoma after he had finished his time in the service. Jim showed the car at several local shows including the first Annual Tacoma Auto Show in 1955.
This photo dated Nov 1953, comes from the Bill Worden Collection and shows the new owner Jim Foran with the Mercury with the padded top removed. The car still had its Barris purple paint then.
Bill Worden the new caretaker.
Jim traded the Mercury some time after that for a 1953 Cadillac, and then lost track of the car. Bill Worden mentioned that the car must have changed hands several times after that, and that is had a pretty rough life during those years. Then the car sort of disappeared from the radar until 1978. A friend of Bill Worden mentioned that he knew about this old Barris Mercury custom hiding away at this guys place. Knowing Bill’s passion for Custom Cars, he figured he might be interested in the car. The car was in a rather sad condition, but it looked like it could be restored. And it was a real Barris Custom for sure. It took Bill and his friend another year or so to convince the owner of selling the car to them. Eventually a deal was made and the car came home with Bill for $4,000.- 50% owned by Bill and 50% by his friend.
Later Bill bought out his friend and he now owned the car. It was not until the early 1990’s before Bill started to work on the car. Bill did a lot of work on the car himself, but the restoration of the bodywork and all other body work needed was done by Larry Foss, who did an really great job on it. Bill mentioned that since the lead work on the Buick taillights had to be redone, he decided to make them flow a little nicer and more subtile into the main body that they did originally. And I have to say they do look really great. Before all the body work was finished, Bill installed a fully detailed early Cadillac engine with a lot of chrome goodies. Larry Foss is also responsible for the new Coral Blue-Purple paint job which Bill had custom mixed from samples found on the car by Tracy Mayo from Autopaint. Bill Worden put the car back together in his home garage, and after he had done most of it he hired Bob Jaspers from Jaspers Custom Upholstery to do the interior and the padded top using the restored original bows created by the Carson Top Shop.
In 1995 Bill finished the restoration of the Ralph Testa 1950 Mercury and he debuted the car at the 1995 Paso Robles Cruisin Nationals show. Where it was a real crowd pleaser. Since then Bill has showed the car at many cars shows including the prestigious Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. In 2009 Bill was invited to the Mercury Gathering at the Sacramento Autorama show where it was one of the main attractions in the building. In 2011 Bill was invited to be part of the historic Customs Then & Now show at the GNRS where 75+ historical Custom Cars where gathered. In 2015 Bill is invited to be part of the Mercury’s on the lawn at the Annual Pebble Beach Concourse. Ken Gross is organizing a gathering of 10 historical Custom 1949-51 Mercury, and the Ralph Testa Mercury will be part of this event. Currently Bill is working on getting the Mercury fully detailed and ready for the show, and perhaps the most important of all, he is going to replace the radial white wall tires with a set of wide white bias-ply tires especially for the show. This will be the first time in many decades the car will have accurate white wall tires mounted.
I talked to Bill Worden about his car and mentioned how I really liked the way the taillights flow into the fenders and are picked up by the lower rear quarters. Well let me tell you a “secret” said Bill. They did not come this long from Barris. When I did the restoration I made the extension of the taillights pods a bit smoother and made them to flow into the body better than how they ever where.
Resources and more info
- Restyle Your Car, Trend Book 105 1952
- Hop Up, magazine July 1952 (full feature)
- Hop Up, magazine April 1953
- Rods and Customs, magazine May 1953 (first issue)
- Hop Up, magazine July 1953
- Barris Kustoms Techniques, book volume 3 1997
- Custom Rodder, magazine July 1999 (full feature)
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