Custom Car Chronicle
Jim RotenJim Roten CollectionRiley Collins

Ray Cress 56 Mercury




Designed by Jim Roten and built, mostly by the Riley Colins Custom shop for owner Ray Cress, this uniquely restyled Mercury was published frequently and could be seen on several magazine covers in the late 1950’s.

(Special thanks to Mike Roten, Jim’s son for scanning his father’s photos and illustrations)

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he first time I saw a photo of the Ray Cress ’56 Mercury was in Pat Ganahl’s the American Custom Car book in 2001. I was very impressed with this mild but well restyled Custom. And especially the color, lime gold with subtile gold scallops made a huge impression on me. There were two photos in the book. One, full spread on the title page and a smaller one inside. Both scanned from nice color slides. The photo caption mentioned the car was built by Riley Custom Shop in Chico, California. I have to admit that back then I had never heard of this Custom Shop. But later I sure would find out much more about it.

¬†Ray’s Mercury

Ray Cress took his near new ’56 Mercury Hardtop to the Ray’s Custom Shop in Chico California. Here the back pat of the car was roughly restyled. Later Ray Cress took the car to Riley Collins in Chico California (Chico is around 75 miles north of Sacramento). Ray wanted a full custom, but still on the mild side, not chop, but with new front and rear and many other body restyling. Close friend and shop employee of Riley, Jim Rotan was asked to make some design sketches of what the Owner had asked for and Jim¬†came up with together with Riley. A wonderful low creation with some new body lines and a very elegant redesigned front end. Ray approved the final design for his new Custom, and Riley went to work.¬†The approved sketch¬†Jim Roten made in 1957 can be seen below.

CCC-ray-cress-56-mercury-06The original Jim Roten design sketch from 1957. This version was approved by Ray Cress.

Starting at the front Riley removed the stock bumpers and replaced them with an ’56 Oldsmobile bumper. The lower grille opening in the Old bumper dictated the shape of the new grille opening on the top, which was created from bended round tubing welded and molded to the front fenders and lower hood section. The front lower hood section was welded to the fenders, and a new higher hood line was cut , in the process the corners were rounded for a more elegant look. The front fenders were extended and a new opening was created using round tubing for an “hooded” effect. The original headlights was set in a chrome plated mesh screen. A new grille was created according Jim’s designs. Chrome expanded metal was used as a background, and in front of that hand shaped chrome tubing was used. On the lower corners two small diameter chrome bullets were added.

CCC-ray-cress-56-mercury-14Parked in front of the Riley Collins Custom Shop in Chico is the freshly painted and assembled Mercury. Still missing are the gold scallops at this point Jim took this photo.

CCC-ray-cress-56-mercury-12Jim Roten took this photo of the nearly completed Mercury. The expanded metal and the two bullets are still missing from the grille and so are the Olds parking light.


CCC-ray-cress-56-mercury-13Again parked at Riley’s shop, but now the gold scallops have been added.

At the rear,¬†Ray’s Body Shop had previously installed a set of ’56 Packard taillights in extended rear fenders. Below the Packard taillights Riley used 1954 Cadillac bumper ends and routed the exhaust from the mercury to fit the new Cadillac bumper end exhaust tips. The center section of the bumper was replaced with an body colored splash pan/roll pan. Round tubing was used to made an double roll on this panel that optically leads to the license plate on the back. Moving to the side of the car we can see that Jim had re-disigned the quarter panels to have working scoops front and rear, and long fender skirts. Riley removed the chrome from the quarter panels and cut out the top leading edge and created the¬†elegantly¬†shaped scoops. He reworked a set of 1957 Mercury¬†cruiser skirts to fit the ’56 Mercury. A¬†1957 Ford side trim was cut down at the back and used instead of the stock unit.

CCC-ray-cress-56-mercury-11Completely finished with new completed grille and scallops.

All handles and emblems were shaved and Riley sprayed the car in a wonderful lime gold color. Later followed by scallops, designed and taped by Jim Roten, in metallic gold. The scallops were outlined in dark gold by Jim. The car was lowered to the max and a set of wide white wall tires with chrome reverse wheels with¬†custom hubcaps and¬†chrome fake knock-offs was added. To make the car look even lower a set of full length lake pipes was added.¬†Luckinbill‚Äôs Custom Upholstery Shop in Chico is responsible for the fine white and lime gold tuck & roll interior.¬†Ray’s mercury¬†was on the cover of the May 1958 Motor Life magazine and Custom Cars magazine Jan, 1959 (small photo) with two pages inside. The car was also feature in the May 1959 issue of¬†Car Craft¬†magazine and a full page with three photos in the Trend Book 181 Custom Show-Cars published in 1959.

CCC-ray-cress-56-mercury-02In 1958 Ray’s Mercury was nominated as one of 28 “Top Customs of the Year” in Motor Life July 1958, and a photo of the car was featured on the cover of the magazine. Ray’s Mercury ended at the third place, not bad at all.



CCC-ray-cress-56-mercury-05A closer look at the ’54 Cadillac bumper ends, ’56 Packard taillights and hand made scoops. Notice how the lower edge of the scoop swoops into the bottom of the Packard taillight and top of the Caddy bumper. Nice touch.

CCC-ray-cress-56-mercury-151957 Ford side trim was cut off so it would fit the Mercury body and disappear in the custom scoop. 


The Stan Duncan Version

After showing the car for a few seasons Ray Cress sold the Mercury to Stan Duncan. Stan had the car repainted in a deep tangerine with different shaped scallops than before done in gold fades and gold outlines. The car in the Stan Duncan version appeared on the cover of the March 1959 and had a full spread on the inside.

CCC-ray-cress-56-mercury-01The new tangerine paint with gold fading scallops. The rest of the car remained as Ray had it first.

CCC-ray-cress-56-mercury-10Stan nick-named the Mercury the “Golden Touch”.

CCC-ray-cress-56-mercury-09 CCC-ray-cress-56-mercury-08Car Speed and Style magazine spread.


Resources and more info

  • Motor Life, magazine July 1958
  • Custom Cars, magazine Januari 1959
  • Car Speed and Style, magazine March 1959
  • Car Craft, magazine May 1959
  • Custom Show-Cars, booklet Trend Book 181 ¬†published in 1959
  • Classic & Custom, magazine Jan, 1984
  • American Custom Car, book Pat Ganahl, 2001








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)

2 thoughts on “Ray Cress 56 Mercury

  • Thank for the great article. This Merc has always been one of my favorites. Jim Roten’s photos (of this car & the other cars Riley’s built, as well as the show photos he took) are outstanding. Riley’s was a great and underrated custom shop, in my opinion.

    I really like the detailed design sketch, that is something really special! The car was also on the cover of Custom Cars magazine in Jan. 1957.

  • Good job on the article and I really like this car, especially in the gold version. That angled side shot which shows the headliner’s rolls and pleats is very cool.

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