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Custom Car Builders

December 1, 2014

Ohanesian Merc – details

 

OHANESIAN MERC DETAILS

 

One of my personal all time favorite custom cars, The Harry Westergard/Less Crane/Dick Bertolucci-built 1940 Mercury Convertible Sedan. Lets take a look at the details that make this car so special.


Harold

“Buddy” Ohanesian from Sacramento, California bought a rare 1940 Mercury Sedan Convertible in 1945, shortly after he returned from service. Not long after that he took the car to Harry Westergard for some Custom Restyling. Harry worked together with Less Crane on reshaping the front end of the Mercury to adapt and 1946 Chevy grille. They also chopped the windshield frame and added 1937 DeSoto bumpers. A little later Hall of Oakland created a padded top for the car. In 1949 Harold took the car to Dick Bertolucci who was by then just 19 years old, but already very well known in the area for his excellent body work. Harold wanted Dick to create a lift off metal top to replace the worn out padded top. This resulted in one of the most stylish Custom Cars of all time. In the next few years a few more changes would be made and eventually the car put in storage and restored back to its former glory in the early 1970’s. In the 1990’s the car found a new owner in the late Ed Hagerty who had the car completely restored. It was this version I saw at the 2009 Sacramento Autorama Mercury Gathering. And it was at this show I talked to Dick Bertolucci about the details on the Harold “Buddy” Ohanesian Mercury.



CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-earlyA small photo of Ed Ohanesian’s 1940 Mercury appeared in the August 148 issue of Hot Rod Magazine. This is the first version that we know of. Harry Westergard and Less Crane worked on this version with the ’46 Chevy grille, chopped windshield, molded fenders and 1937 DeSoto bumpers.

 



CCC-1940-mercury-brochure-sedan-conIllustrations of the Mercury Convertible Sedan from the 1940 sales brochure. 

 



CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-dick-02An photo of the later version shows the car with the metal top at Dick Bertolucci’s shop. This version shows bumper mounted taillights and no bumper exhaust tips yet.

 



CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-colorizedColorized photo shows the car in 1951, still with the bumper mounted taillights. This side view shows the absolutely wonderful shape of the top and how well balanced the whole car is with the perfect stance and overall flow. 

 



CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-70sThe Ohanesian Mercury was restored in the 1970’s when the car was owned by Louie Martin and Dennis Nash.

 



Being part of the organization of the Mercury Gathering at the 2009 Sacramento Autorama I was able to walk the buildings during the two set up days. During on of these days I met Dick Bertolucci. When we put to gather the list of Mercury’s that would be part of the Gathering, there were a few that stood out for me a little more than the rest of the invited cars. Cars like the Sam Barris mercury, the Hirohata Mercury, the Ralph Test Mercury, and the Harold “Buddy” Ohanesian Mercury. I was actually walking towards the building when the Mercury arrived, I was super thrilled to see this car for the very first time in person, and not only that, but also hear and see it drive by. What a sight!



CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-details-16The Ohanesian Mercury when it arrived at the 2009 Sacramento Autorama Mercury gathering. The first time I saw this car in person… 

 



After the car had been parked inside the building I checked it out from top to bottom for at least an hour. I took photos, stood back and looked at the car from all angles. I was lucky that the car was one of the first arrivals for that part of the show floor. So now I was able to walk around it and view it undisturbed from a distance. I had studied photos of the car for a long time, but that sure does not compare to looking at the car in person and being able to walk around it. The next day I was again walking around the Ohanesian mercury, when I spotted an older man in an electrical cart surround by some family members or friends. The man got out of his cart and walked over to the Ohanesian Merc. Stepped over the cord that had been put up by now, so I knew the guy must be familiar with the car and I thought he must be Dick Bertolucci.

When I walked over and asked if he was mr Bertolucci. He sure was and shacked my hand. “Wow you have nice warm hands, please hold my hands, since I have these ice cold hands” was Dick’s response. And he really had very cold hands. We bonded right away. I told him who I was and that I had just done the colorized Cover of the Rodders Journal, which he really liked. That was the perfect opening for a conversation about the Mercury. And Dick was very enthusiastic to tell everything about the car, like it was the first time he ever told the story, but I knew he must have told it a hundred times or more before.



CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-details-12Dick Bertolucci posing with the Buddy Ohanesian 1940 Mercury at the 2009 Sacramento Autorama Mercury Gathering.

 



He explained to me that Harry Westergard and Less Crane worked on the car before he did. Larry and Less had created the new grille opening, extended the hood and reshaped the front of the front fenders, and installed the 46 Chevy grille including the molded in splash pan and installed 1937 DeSoto bumpers. They also chopped the windshield and reworked the rear of the car where he had cut of the top portion of the very high from the factory Phaeton back end. To be able to do this they had to shortened the trunk. Dick mentioned that the first version of the car had no top, but that Harold, the car owner drove the car to Oakland to have Hall create a padded top for the car. I wish we could show you a photo of this version of the car with padded top, but so far we have not been able to locate on. Hopefully in the future we will be able to add one to this article.



CCC-1940-mercury-sedan-convertible-02The photo above and below show the huge difference the Dick Bertolucci created top made on the overall appearance of the 1940 Mercury sedan convertible.

 




CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-details-13To make the new metal top work well with the rest of the body, Dick removed a large section of the rear of the body. This way the belt-line could be continued all the way to the rear of the car, where it slightly moved down, following the curvature of the body. An 1946 Oldsmobile rear window was used.

 



Dick continued that Harrold brought the mercury to his Dick Bertolucci Body and fender shop in 1949. The padded top had seen better days and was really worn out. So Harold wanted a lift of metal top, and asked if Dick could create it. Dicke metnioned that he was only 19 years old then, but had been doing a lot of body work already and people came especially to him for good quality and stylish custom work. Dick found a 1946 Chrysler four door wrecked car with a perfect top, which he thought would be the perfect shape for the Mercury. After he had cut off the top and placed it on the Mercury he found it to be to long. The front end needed to be shortened and the rear needed some reshaping for which he used the rear of the top from a 1941 Buick. For the front of the top he made many cuts and reshaped the metal to fit the windshield frame. While doing this he realized he needed to do something different on the A-Pillars since installing the top on top of the windshield would not work well with the side profile on the car.

He took a good look at how the padded top had been created and noticed how the sides of the top actually fold over the ends of the A-Pillars and thus allow for a heavier side profile of the top. To be able to do this on the metal top, Dick cut a round section from the top of the A-Pillars, this allowed him to fold the metal top over on the sides and make it flow nice with the A-pillars, in a similar what as the padded top had done. Now he was able to heave the nice heavy, but in balance top for the Mercury. Most of this work was done by hammer welding. Not something Dick was very used to at the time, but he had noticed all the other work done on the car by Harry and Less was hammer welded as well, so he thought he should just continue the technique for the top where possible.



CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-details-01The rear of the body was angled forward slightly to match the new lines of the top, the trunk was shortened from the top to fit the new lowered rear of the body. The way Dick handles the continuing belt-line, compared to the new trunk line is so wonderful, it makes it look like it came from the factory (but then better) this way.

 



At the back Dick needed to modify the body work previously done by Harry and Less. The work done was fine for the padded top, but for the metal top the lines just needed to be a bit more straight and in line with the rest of the car. Dick wanted the top and how it was mounted on the body to look like something that could have come from the factory that way. So a lot of time was spend on the back. Making pie-cuts to reshape the rear and make it flow perfectly with the new shape of the top. The lower edge of the new top was made ridged with a welded in frame work to ensure the best possible fit. The only problem was that these sections could later not be metal finished due to the frame work. So that was the only section Dick had to use lead for fine tuning. Dick found that a rear window from a 1946 Oldsmobile was a perfect fit for the top. It flows really nice with the rest of the lines of the car. Another tricky section was how the top needed to be smaller at the top to fit flush with the side window frame and line up with the windshield frame, but go wider all the way at the bottom on the back to fit flush with the wider section of the belt line. Dick spend a lot of time shaping the edges of the top to make everything look factory finished.



CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-details-08Another look at how Dick Bertolucci handles the panel lines on the top and the trunk. Work of Art.

 



CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-details-02A detail that is often overlooked at the Ohanesian Mercury is the way Dick Bertolucci reshaped the top corners of the A-Pillars. Below is a photo showing the stock A-Pillars and how the top ends flat with the top of the windshield. But on the Ohanesian Ford to top section is cut of with a radius. This allowed Dick to have more height at the top when viewed from the side, and the side windows could be made smaller in height, which enhanced the low profile of the car. 

 



CCC-1940-mercury-sedan-convertible-03Stock A-Pillar shows flat top corner.

 



CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-details-03This photo gives us a nice view of the interior upholstery and headliner. But it also shows how Dick gently widened the top towards the rear and towards the belt-line. This was needed to make sure the rear of the top fitted flush with the main body. (see also photo below)

 



CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-details-06The flowing lines from the lower edge of the trunk to the center of the top is absolutely perfect. It also flows so nice with the molded rear fenders and Buick Skirts. This side view also shows the matching shapes and lines on the molded splash-pan and taillight pods.

 

CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-details-10The original dip behind the doors for the convertible top was extended towards the rear of the body to optically follow the belt-line all around the car. This photo shows all the work that was needed to make sure the top would match the chopped side window frames as well as fit to the main body. It also shows the molded fenders.

 



CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-details-07Close up of the later 1946 Ford taillights that were set on hand made pods. The pods echo the shape of the splash pan. The molded in fenders and splash pan create very smooth body lines. Notice the exhaust tips in the Chevy rear bumper. Dick mentioned that he had not done those, if he had, he would have modified the tops to follow the shape of the bumper.

 



Dick was also responsible for the set in the license plate, and the addition of 1946 Chevy bumper to replace the 1937 DeSoto units. To make the Chevy bumpers fit, he had to reshape the molded in splash pans Harry and Less had created earlier. The interior was updated with a 1941 Cadillac dashboard and steering wheel. The headlights were dechromed and primered to be painted body color. Dick painted the car in wonderful maroon mixed from Chevy color toned darker and gold powder (Venus Martin No. 9). Buddy drove the car around like this until 1952. Then Dick got the car back in his shop for a repaint and while at it he changed the motor cycle bumper mounted taillights for 1946 Ford taillights in home made pods molded onto the fenders. These new pods were shaped to fit the Ford taillights, but also to look similar to the side view of the rear molded in splash pan. At this time it was also decided to mold in the previously painted stock headlights.

Dick mentioned that he did not remember who did the bumper exhaust tips. But he assured me that it was not him who had done those. Since he would have re-contoured the tips to follow the bumper shape, which would have looked much nicer he said. Dick mentioned that he was still very proud at how well balanced the removable to came out on Harold’s mercury and how he was able to balance the whole car so well, with the perfect ride height and window size, top shape and height combination.



CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-details-04Dick also created the set in license plate at the lower part of the trunk. The license plate sits behind glass and is installed from underneath the trunk lid.

 



CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-details-05The dashboard is still the 1941 Cadillac dash that was installed into the car when it was customized in the late 1940’s. But the steering wheel has been replaced with a 1947 Cadillac unit at a later date. The interior was upholstered by Ron Lago in the 1970’s.

 


CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-details-09Another update from the 1970’s restoration is the chrome plated removable B-Pillars. Those were painted body color on the original version of the car.

 

It was amazing to be able to walk around the Mercury with the creator of this fantastic Custom Car and see him point out all the details. And the really amazing thing is that in 2009, 60 years after the majority of the custom work was done, the whole car looked still absolutely stunning. And the fit and finish of the metal top was top quality with an even gap all around.



CCC-1940-mercury-sedan-convertible


CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-details-15The two photos above show the difference in A-pillars very well. If the A-pillars would have remained the stock shape then the side windows would have been one to two inches taller. and the roof very thin. Now everything is nicely balanced and in good proportions. Notice the work that needed to be done for the grille to fit and how more finished the front looks with the molded in splash pan.

 



CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-details-14Close up of the front shows the work that was needed to make the 1946 Chevy grille fit the 1940 Mercury front fenders and hood. Both front fenders and hood had to be extended forward and reshaped. A later edition of the car had molded in stock Mercury headlights. 

 



CCC-bertolucci-ohanesian-merc-details-11

There is a lot more to tell about the Ohanesian Mercury, and we probably will do… in another future CCC-Article, but for this article I wanted to high-light all the body details that make this Custom Car Icon so special. Take a look at the photos in this article of the Harold “Buddy” Ohanesian Mercury, see how well balanced the car it, how a perfect ride height works wonders and how good a four door sedan body can make just the perfect custom.

 

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About the Author

Profile photo of Rik Hoving
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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8 Comments


  1. Profile photo of Quentin Hall

    Yep. That’s the one. Paint it the original maroon color Dick painted it and it’s perfect. This car has inspired me every step of the way on my project. A tip o’ the hat to you Dick.


  2. Profile photo of Keith Daleen

    Great write up. The lines are perfect.


  3. Profile photo of bob tindale

    An amazing car and a perfect example of what customizing should be about. Improving the design of the original car not change for the sake of change.This car “gets it”.


  4. Profile photo of Eric H

    Thanks for this Rik. I have always wanted to know more about this car and it’s great roof.


  5. Profile photo of Jerry Ferrier

    Great article Rik!

    Perfect example of a very well thought out custom.


  6. Profile photo of Tony

    An all-time favourite of mine! A landmark custom both in style and execution.

    Thanks for the story Rik and particularly the detail shots and stock/custom comparison shots.


  7. Profile photo of Larry Pointer

    What a wonderful piece. The interview with Dick Bertolucci is priceless! When I was a kid of 7 or 8, right after WWII, Cecil Wentz sponsored a Sprint Car race at our local fairgrounds in Sheridan, Wyoming. Among the Californians who parked their tow cars and set up their pit area in the in-field was the first real custom car I ever saw. It was a ’39-’40 Ford or Mercury phaeton, 4-door convertible. It was lowered with the “speed-boat” stance, a beautiful metallic lime green, de-chromed, with fender skirts, and I want recall a chopped windshield and full top in cloth. It lit a torch of custom car passion that has burned in my heart ever since.

    When I saw the trailer hitch on the back of Buddy’s car in the photo with Dick Bertolucci in front of his shop, I wondered, “Could this be the same car?”

    L-Pointer
    (Conquistadors Car Club of Sheridan, Wyoming, (1957…)


  8. Profile photo of KingKustoms

    Incredible amount of work in this Merc…this side by side comparison to the stock car is a great idea, Rik. It was wonderful to meet Bertolucci at the 2009 Merc Gathering with this car.



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