custom cars

November 23, 2014

Jim Roten – 57 Mercury photos

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Written by: Rik Hoving
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Chico California had some very interesting Custom Cars in the later part of the 1950’s. Fortunately Jim Roten took photos of them, including these two 1957 Mercury mild Customs.



Mercury’s from 1957 have never really been a popular choice for customizing. They were huge cars to begin with, and when customized as in lowered they were a lot harder to drive than they already were straight from the factory. However that did not stop some people to turn their ’57 Mercury into show stopping Custom Cars. Jim Roten photographed two mild ’57 Mercury Montclair’s from his home town Chico. The first one we are highlighting here, was already customized when the car was brand new in 1957-58. This car was owned by Jim’s school mate and friend, Willis Kingsley Baker III. Willis was also known as “King” Baker. The second Mercury, an rather mild, an very stylish one was probably owned by John Vincent at the time, who might have bought the Mercury to replace his customized ’54 Oldsmobile 88.
Many thanks to Jim Rotan for taking the photos back in the late 1950’s and his son Mike for sharing them.

Willis Kingsley Baker III Mercury – version one

Willis bought his 1957 Mercury new from the dealer and started to customize it right away. The car came from the factory as a two tone, in white and a darker color. Jim could not remember what the darker color was originally. Riley Collins shave all the emblems and removed the door handles, which he replaced with electric door openers. This all was done just weeks after Willis had bought the car. He had to work carefully since the idea was to leave the factory stock white in place, and only paint the darker color sections to hide the body work. With the soothing done, the body was taped off and Riley added a dark purple which was later scalloped and striped by Jim Roten. Jim thinks he scalloped the car in light purple, or lavender. 1957 Oldmobile hubcaps were installed on medium wide white wall tires. The finishing touch for the outside was a set of Dummy Spotlights, an absolute mandatory item in the later part of the 1950’s. The interior was re-upholstered with wonderful tuck & roll panels in white leatherette, with a cover over the rear seats by Luckenbill’s Upholstery of Chico, California
CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-amn-02The early version of the car done in a simple two tone with elegant scallops. The long painted spread running from the front fender towards the rear quarter side trim created optical length. Possibly this was done to cover the shaved door handles. The hubcaps are stock 1957 Oldsmobile units.


CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-amn-03A subtile scallop accentuates the recessed section on the trunk. The exhaust tips are moved from exiting on the lower side of the bumper, to the rear of the bumper where new tips exit thru the bumper.


CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-amn-22At the rear we can see a LANCERS Chico club-plaque and some pin-striping by Jim Roten.


CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-amn-04Willis Baker’s middle name was Kingsley, hence the nickname of “King”.  Baker cleverly reversed the “M” in the grill to a “W”. 


CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-amn-09The hood an top of the fenders show some very elegant scallops. Two rows of louvres where punched in the hood, and accentuated with thin scallops.


CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-amn-05A little later a set of spotlights was added as well as a KUSTOMS of America plaque on the front bumper which was bought from George Barris in Los Angeles.


CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-amn-06A better look at the wonderful subtile scallops on the hood and fender tops. This high view also shows that later the recess in the roof was painted in a different color. Car owner Willis “King” Baker posing here with his freshly customized new ’57 Mercury.  The car was driven regularly which explains the bug splatted windshield.


CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-amn-07King Baker demonstration how low the car was… LOW… but not low enough as the photos below show.



Version two

About a year after the first version of the King’s Mercury had been finished, it was time for a complete more radical redo. Riley painted the entire car in show quality dark metallic purple lacquer and Jim Roten did the extensive scallops in light purple, or lavender metallic. We lowered the car as far as possible. The lower edge of the lake pipes was now about half the height of a pack of cigarettes above the ground!  The “King’s Kart” logo on the decklid was applied by a sign painter.  The car drew a lot of attention in Northern California but as a mild custom, eventually went to the scrapyard.
CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-amn-11Car was repainted dark purple metallic by Riley Collins. Jim Roten did the scallops and layout by hand using 1/4 inch masking tape. He then masked the entire car so light metallic purple scallops could be sprayed. Jim outlined the scallops with brush applied pin stripes.


CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-amn-08This package of cigarettes demonstrates how low the car is. The lake pipes became protection for the lower body from getting damaged.


CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-amn-17This is the only photo that has a date on it.  March 1958, and by that time the car was already in its second version. That is Jim Roten posing with the car shortly after he had finished striping the car.


CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-amn-18Dead on side view of the car shows the nice scallops and outlines Jim Roten Designed. The car has a slight forward rake. Paint was show quality nitrocellulose lacquer.


CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-amn-16The top of the fenders and hood show an well designed Scalloped layout which looks amazing on the smoothed body. Seemingly endless miles of striping.


CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-amn-15The 1958 Mercury was named “Kings Kart” after Willis his nickname “King” Baker.


CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-amn-14Another good look at the scallops on the hood and fender tops. The outlined section gives completely different proportions to the body. This photo also shows that the Oldsmobile hubcaps are now updated with some large bullets on the center. The new tuck and roll interior was done by by Luckenbill’s Upholstery of Chico, California


CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-amn-13King Baker with his freshly re-customized ’57 Mercury.  The paint job was considered radical at the time.  So was the low ride height. The lake pipes on Kings Mercury were actually functional.



The other ’57 Mercury Custom

Jim Roten took two photos of another 1957 Mercury Custom. This car was more subtile, and not as low as the one Willis owned. This Mercury was lowered only mildly, with all the handles and emblems shaved of the body and everything was smoothed. A very simple and elegant two tone was chosen for this car. The main body in a darker color and contrasting white only in the rear quarter/fender cove. Jim could not remember the colors of this Mercury.
CCC-jim-roten-58-merc-bku-01Turnpike cruiser skirts give this Merc a completely different look as well.














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About the Author

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)

One Comment

  1. love the photo with jim roten standing by the cool purple merc, i think the scollops really make the car stand out, allso like the redone version ..king kart.. not manny mercs like that around, i sure like it,

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