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Barris Kustom ShopBill DeCarrcustom cars

Bill Ortega 1941 Mercury




The late Bill DeCarr built this perfectly styled, 1941 Mercury Coupe as his personal car, while he worked at the Barris Kustom shop in the late 1940’s.


Some of the very best custom cars from the golden age of customizing never received the credits they deserved. One of those cars is the Bill DeCarr 1941 Mercury. In my eyes, one of the best restyled 41-48 Ford/Mercury created back in the day, for sure a Milestone Custom. Bill restyled his mercury while he worked at the Barris Compton Avenue shop in the later part of the 1940’s. At the time there were no Custom Car related magazines out there to feature Bill’s car in. And by the time those magazine were published in the early 1950’s, the 1941 Mercury had left California and with that basically the option of being featured and shown to the US and even world audience. (Bill DeCarr was born Bill Ortega, but changed his name to Bill DeCarr in the 1950’s.)

Fortunately George Barris took several photos of Bill’s Mercury when it was finished and a few when it was getting built. Those photos were shown in several of the books Barris produced. And now we could for the first time really enjoy the sense of style and craftsmanship Bill DeCarr¬†had and put into his Mercury. And possibly the best thing of all is that the car survived, and was recently restored back to how it first looked in the late 1940’s.

 CCC-Bill_DeCarr-Mercury-1959-19-WWe are not 100% sure, but most likely this is the early stages of the Bill DeCarr 1941 Mercury. Getting shopped in front of the Barris Compton Avenue shop.

Bill started with a short door (business-) Coupe model 1941 Mercury. The Mercury’s had a three inch longer wheel base than the same year Fords. This extra length in front of the cowl was perfect for the long and low effect Bill was looking for. Bill lowered the car with a nice speed-boat stance. Bill modified the front of the car to accept a 1948 Oldsmobile grille. He molded in the stock headlight bezels. and reshaped the front wheel openings to make the car look even lower than it already was. He ten chopped the top around 4 inches in the front and more in the back to give the body a nice backward sloop. Bill spend a lot of time on the rear portion of the roof to get the proportions just perfect. The back door tops were rounded to flow better with the roof. These short door coupes are not easy to chop right. But Bill sure succeeded in this. To further enhance the speed boat stance and length of the car Bill created full fade away fenders. The panels to create this were molded into the body with a nice radius. The long 1941 fender skirts follow the lines of the fade away fenders and lead your eyes all the way to the back of the car. The fender character lines on both front and rear fenders was hammered out to create smooth fender sides which worked much better with the fade away panels. All handles and stainless trim were removed and the holes welded for the ultimate smooth look.

At the back the fenders were molded to the body with a nice radius. The gas cap was welded shut and the filler cap replaced inside the trunk. The stock taillights were shaved and new taillights were created in the 1848 Ford bumper guards. The stock bumpers were replace with what looks like 1949 Ford bumpers. Bill then painted the car in deep maroon, and finished it with a set of white wall tires, Cadillac Sombrero hubcaps and Appleton Spotlight. Perfection.

CCC-Bill_DeCarr-Mercury-1959-16-WGeorge Barris took this photo of Bill’s Mercury sitting at the back of the Barris Shop. Most of the work on Bill’s Mercury and the mercury has been covered with multiple coats of primer.

CCC-Bill_DeCarr-Mercury-1959-21-WThe rear view ¬†of Bill’s Mercury shows a lot of similarities with Jack Stewart’s 1941 Ford. Bill’s car was done first and had bumper guard taillights, a trick from the late 1940’s. While Jack’s Ford had hand made lenses set into hand shaped pods molded onto the rear fenders.

CCC-Bill_DeCarr-Mercury-1959-17-WThe Finished Mercury with perfect proportions. The long nose works really well with the Oldsmobile grille and long fade away fenders. The photo was taken at the Barris Bell shop around 1949-50.

CCC-Bill_DeCarr-Mercury-1959-03-WCarl Abajian fooling around in this Bill Gaylord photo of the Mercury. Perhaps the car had a Gaylord interior.



CCC-Bill_DeCarr-Mercury-1959-20-WMost likely Bill DeCarr gave this blurry snapshot, of his 1941 Mercury, to his good friend Larry Watson. It is part of the Larry Watson personal collection. Notice the rocks on both cars preventing them to roll downhill.

Bill sold the car to¬†Dick Hansen of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. At that time, or shortly after that the car was repainted in a petrol green. One small photo of the car appeared in the Trend Book No. 101 Custom Cars published in July 1951. However Barris was listed as the builder, Bill’s name was not mentioned.

In the 1970’s the car was rebuilt. The then new owner was looking for a complete new look for the car. He “sectioned” the car by removing material from the bottom, to give the car even more optical length. The Olds Grille was removed to make place for a large opening with unknown grille insert. The hood was louvered and at the back 1950 Mercury taillights were set on molded in pods. Not really a pretty sight. But we have to understand the scene at the time this car was rebuilt again was completely different than what we are used to now. We can only be happy that the car was at least cared for and not junked like so many others during this period.


CCC-Bill_DeCarr-Mercury-1959-15-WThis is how the mercury was shown in the Custom Cars Trend book No. 101 in 1951. (it was actually shown smaller than we show here)


CCC-Bill_DeCarr-Mercury-1959-01-WNever before published photo of the Mercury in 1959. The car was painted teal green in the early 1950’s which it was still wearing in 1959. Although it looks like some repair work was going on, and possibly a repaint.

CCC-Bill_DeCarr-Mercury-1959-05-W1980 photo shows the car with the sectioned body and the molded in pods for the 1950 Mercury taillights. The rear wheel openings were opened up on this version as well.

CCC-Bill_DeCarr-Mercury-1959-13-WFrom the barry Mazza collection come the next three photos showing the new styling for the car in the 1970’s – 80’s. The car looked already very long with the chop and full fade-away fenders, but the sectioning made it look even longer.

Phil Waters from the Uk was on a trip to the Lead Sled Spectacle Des Moines when he visited the NSRA Street Rod Nationals at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in 1982. At this show he spotted this great looking 1941 Mercury full custom. At the time he had no idea what the car was, but it was interesting enough to shoot some photos of it.

CCC-Bill_DeCarr-Mercury-1983-01Bill DeCarr’s 1941 Mercury at the 1982¬†NSRA Street Rod Nationals at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.

CCC-Bill_DeCarr-Mercury-1983-02Apparently the then owner thought the car might sell better if he showed the engine.

CCC-Bill_DeCarr-Mercury-1983-03By¬†1982¬†the hood on Bill’s old Custom had been punched with 6 rows of louvres.

CCC-Bill_DeCarr-Mercury-1959-12-WBarry Mazza later took these photos at the same show. His photo gives us a good look at the 1950 Mercury taillights. The Exhaust pipes exit at the top of the taillight. Custom made bumpers from round rod and bumper ends welded to them.

CCC-Bill_DeCarr-Mercury-1959-11-WThe then owner had later put the hood back on the car and taped some info on the A-Pillars.

And now for the really happy part of the story. William Polk has owned the Bill DeCarr¬†1941 Mercury for many years. And a couple of years ago he decided to undo the last round of modifications and get the car back, close to how it was originally¬†built by Bill DeCarr¬†in the late 1940’s. William hand made all the bottom pieces that were removed from the cars lower edge decades ago, to get it back to stock specs. An 1948 Old grille was added again, just like all the other touches that had been removed and replaced over the years.

The last photos we show here in this CCC-Article are from 2012 when the car was nearly finished. We hope to be able to show you more photos of the finished car here soon.


CCC-Bill_DeCarr-Mercury-1959-10-WHere we can see the new body panels that were added to un-section the body. The Oldsmobile grille has already been installed at this point.


CCC-Bill_DeCarr-Mercury-1959-09-WThe rear wheel opening was closed up again, and the taillight pods were removed. A new splash pan was created and molded to the body.



CCC-Bill_DeCarr-Mercury-1959-06-WThe car how is sat in 2012. Almost completed.




More info/resources.

  • Custom Cars, Trend book No. 101, 1951
  • Barris Techniques of the 50’s, Volume 1, 1995
  • Custom Car Photo Archive, Bill DeCarr 1941 Mercury




(this article is sponsored by)

CCC-Sponsor-KingKustomsTShirt-602Contact Rob Radcliffe at King Kustoms for more info on these T-Shirts Email Rob





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 “Bill Ortega 1941 Mercury

  • What a wonderful custom , long front end , fadeaway to die for and lovely proportions all around , this custom got to be created and inspired by Jack Steward Ford , which one was first ? This one built part time by Bill Ortega in the Barris shop , Jack Steward Ford built in Ayala shop and later in Barris show , were they possibly built at the same time ? Thanks for this spotlight article on a traditional era full custom .

  • Bill Ortega (DeCarr) was one of the greats. I have always liked this car. It’s nice to see that it will finally be seeing the light of day. It’s good that they are restoring it to it’s original version, but I like the other version too! It looks long, low, and slinky, like a snake! Perhaps a clone is in order.

    I talked to Bill’s good friend Roger O’Dell several years ago (who built the wonderful “Bill DeCarr Special” ’36 Ford Roadster a few years ago) about possibly interviewing Bill. He told me then that Bill wasn’t in good health and it probably wouldn’t be possible. I see now that he has passed away. I’m sorry that I never got to meet him, but at least he left behind a great legacy that we all can enjoy!

  • Great feature car Rik, I love this car and it really is one of my all time favorites. When I see this it just makes me think of Lake Tahoe with the perfect lines of this car. After looking at a true custom like this I really find it hard to understand why todays magazines feature cars laying frame with no stance. This car alone is powerful enough to show people how important stance is on a custom.

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