Custom Car Chronicle
Ayala Custom ShopBarris Kustom Shopcustom cars

The Louis Bettancourt Mercury Part 2


Originally built by the Ayala’s and redone by the Barris Kustom Shop with a full one-of-a-kind Carson Top Shop interior this car was and still is one of the Ultimate Custom Mercury’s.

In part one of this three part article we talked about the Louis Bettancourt Ayala version. In 1953 or perhaps late 1952 Louis decided that the ultra smooth look the Ayala’s had created for him was not good enough anymore. Or at least he wanted something new. He took the car to the Barris Kustom Shop. And there the team under guidance of George and Sam Barris created one of the most famous 1949 Mercury’s from this already stunning car.

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen a custom car is ready for a redo, especially in the early 1950’s it was more than often that the redone version was not really an improvement over the first version. There are a few exceptions to this rule, and most certainly the Louis Bettancourt Mercury is one of them.
The Barris shop clearly looked at all the design elements on this car before they started to work on it. They must have discussed everything first with louis, since it appears that Louis always knew exactly what he wanted. They all realized that the starting custom was already extremely nice and did not need a whole lot done.


CCC_Louis_Bettancourt-Barris00This rare photo from the Barris Collection shows Louis Mercury in progress at the Barris Shop. The whole body has been sanded smooth and looks to be ready for the Tingia maroon. Odd detail is that the antenna is still on the car during this stage?

The body work performed by the Ayala’s was perfect to start with. It was more in the accessory department that improvements could be achieved.
Louis wanted to have an more pronounced grille, so George Barris designed one on some Ford components.



Barris used a 1952 Ford grille bar with the center portion cut out, and the ends welded together to create a new pointy v-shaped center. The ends were created from the wrap around grille extensions from a 1951 Ford. The grille teeth are described as Mercury teeth, most likely 1953 Mercury rear quarter trim teeth, but we are not 100% sure about this. When everything was welded and smoothed the grille units was send out to be plated. The grill is known as one of the best designs to ever come out of the Barris shops. And the grille it a perfect fit for the Ayala created grille opening. Perhaps even better than the thin Kaiser bar it was filled with originally.




On the front Barris also decided to change the bumpers to a 1953-54 Pontiac Deluxe bumper including the accessory over riders on the corners. A 1952 Kaiser bumper guard was used. The new bumper and especially the end over riders are a big improvement over the stock Mercury units. But the front Kaiser guard is perhaps a bit to much since it interferes with the beautiful grille, especially when viewed from the front. The side view is very nice though.

At the rear the same year Pontiac bumper with over riders was used The over riders on the rear work perfectly with the shape and location of the Ayala created taillights and rounded bottom of the trunk corners. It very hard to imagine this was not even intended this way. At the back there is now also a 1952 Kaiser guard and this time the bullets were opened up to accept the exhaust tips to exit.



The only other major improvement to the exterior was the addition of the 1949 Cadillac side trim. This side trim is placed as low as possible on the front fender and covers up the top portion of the front wheel opening. By doing this the car looks even lower than before. The side trim gives the car instant speed, even when the car sits still. Barris Crest were added at the perfect in balance location on the front fenders.
The Cadillac sombrero’s now make place for the unusual 1953 Studebaker hubcaps. These hubcaps were customized with a gold colored fake knock-off to which a Barris crest was added.

CCC_Louis_Bettancourt-Barris-ColorThis is not the best photo of the Barris version of the Bettancourt Mercury, but the only good quality color photo we have been able to locate. This color slide was made by Ina May Overman (Valley Custom Shop 1952 Lincoln). and is parked next to Sam barris his personal 1952 Ford convertible.

Once all the work was done the Mercury was sanded completely smooth. Louis had picked a great shade of maroon named Tingia maroon by George to be used on the car. And I guess he could not have picked a better color. I love the idea of the original lime green color and if the car ever gets restored then I feel it should go back to the original Ayala lime green color. But the dark,deep maroon with all the new Barris touches is an absolutely perfect choice.



Then the car was dropped off at the Carson Top shop for one of their unique interiors. Louis was very happy that his car would finally get the interior it deserved. It had been mostly stock up until then. Carson used a metallic threaded wine colored fabric, which was button tufted with white buttons in some areas, combined with egg white rolled and pleated naugahide. The dash was painted body color with the exception of the gauge cluster which remained chrome plated from the Ayala version.The headliner was upholstered in egg white length wise pleats in the center and white piping wine cloth material on the out side. The floor rug was done in a similar colored wine maroon. All the garnish moldings were cleaned up and smoothed and then send out to be chrome plated. This gave a perfect contrast with the Dark red upholstery material as well as to the exterior paint.

CCC_Louis_Bettancourt-Barris04This George Barris photo shows the chrome instrument panel, the unique upholstery and the unique location of the Spotlight with the handle sticking out from the chrome plated door garnish molding.




The car was only featured one in this form. The October issue ofCar Craft magazine featured a four page article on the car done by Dick Day. Some of the same material was used in the 1955 Custom Cars Annual for a one page feature. In both articles the Ayala shop was credited for the the initial work on the car. But both articles make it look like the Ayala’s never finished the work “At this point the car was delivered to the Barris Brothers’ Body shop for detailing and finish work.” We know of course this is not entirely correct since the Ayala’s did finish Louis mercury in lime green in 1952.





In 1956 Louis Bettancourt sold his Mercury to Johnny Zupan. The car now looked “old” compared to the then rage in customizing. Johnny had some plans to update the car again and took it to the Barris Shop to have the car updated to more present day standards. And that will all be in part three of the story.

Go to part one of the Louis Bettancourt story. The Ayala version.
Go to part three of the Louis Bettancourt story. The Johnny Zupan version.

Sources and for more info:

  • Car Craft October 1954
  • Custom Cars Annual 1955
  • Barris Kustom Techniques of the 50’s Volume 3







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)

3 thoughts on “The Louis Bettancourt Mercury Part 2

  • The first two versions of this car are great. It should have stopped there. I personally would have stayed with the Ayala colour [too many dark coloured Mercs] and the Cad wheeldiscs but the Barris grill is an improvement as is the rear bumper treatment.Even though the Barris front bumper matches the rear the thick ends and center overider aren’t an improvement. I’ts all a matter of personal taste. What beautiful car.

  • Just came here to study the hubcap spinners on the Bettancourt…found some that are very similar recently and I really want to make my own pair of “Bettancourt Merc Hubcaps” for my Ford. ’53 Studebaker with a three-prong angled spinner and what I believe are two more Barris crests in the center. Anyone know EXACTLY what the spinners are? I’m assuming aftermarket accessories, possibly offered through Cal Custom or the Barris Kustoms line of accessories…would love to know for sure. The four I found are, in my opinion, dead-nuts…I will update with my creation. 🙂

Leave a Reply