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Sam Barris 1940 Mercury




Sam Barris’ first full custom was this wonderfully restyled 1940 Mercury Convertible with Padded Top and Speed Boat stance.


CCC-Sam-Barris-1940-Merc-01We are not 100% sure this is actually Sam’s 1940 Mercury, but more than likely it is Sam’s car under construction in front of the Barris Compton Ave. shop. The windshield has been chopped, and the side trim shortened as well as the hood smoothed.The car had black wall tires, and used Calnevar white dress-up wheel covers (to simulate white wall tires). The padded top is still missing at this point.

 CCC-Sam-Barris-Photo-Album-WThe photo on the left shows Sam’s Mercury completely finished, with black wall tires. Note that the car still had the antenna on the factory stock location, centered on top of the windshield divider. The car also uses a license plate on the front, mounted on top of the DeSoto Bumper. The photo on the right shows the car with white wall tires, the antenna was now gone, and the license plate looks to be mounted in front of the bumper now.

After Sam Barris had left the Navy, he moved from Sacramento to Los Angeles, Southern California. There he joined his brother George Barris, together they started the Barris’s Custom Shop. (Later known as the Barris Kustoms).
One of the first full customs Sam would build for himself was based on a 1940 Mercury Convertible. Sam build the car around 1948, although there are some reports mentioning that the car was build in Sacrament, before Sam joined the Navy in 1942. Perhaps he already owned the car back in Sacramento, and had started to customize it then. But we believe the car was finished around 1948, at least in the version we show it here in this article.

This 1940 Mercury was Sam’s only car to get around with. So most likely it was customized over a longer period, doing the work in his spare time after shop hours and in the weekends. Its not the first 1940 chopped Mercury convertible with a padded top. And most likely the Barris brothers had even done one or more similar to Sam’s for customers. But despite that or possibly because of that Sam’s 1940 Mercury came out absolutely perfect. The proportions on the car are absolutely perfect. The speed boat stance and the perfectly shaped padded top make this car look like its speeding while standing still.

CCC-Sam-Barris-1940-Merc-05This very poorly copied photo comes from the Johnny Zaro Collection. But since there are only very few photos of Sam’s 1940 Mercury left,  we show it here anyway. This photo also shows the car with the license plate mounted on the front bumper. The antenna has now been installed on the drivers side front fender towards the back, on a slight rearward angle.

Sam chopped the windshield just the right amount on the Merc. The windshield height combined with the height of the side windows, and padded top is dead on perfect. Sam shaved the door handles as well as the trunk handles. He also smoothed the hood and created a unique mechanism to open the hood with only the lower portion of the hood trim. The side trim on the hood was shortened several feet. To give more weight toward the rear of the car. The rear fenders were molded to the body. Extra metal shapes made sure the fenders are now smoothly blending into the main body. The taillights were removed, and the holes filled. The front fenders were also molded to the body.

The car was lowered more in the rear than in the front, creating a wonderful speed boat stance. The 1940 Ford/Mercury teardrop fender skirts increase this effect as well. Sam choose 1937 DeSoto ribbed bumpers to go on his Mercury. At that time it already was a classic custom trick. The ribbed bumpers worked perfectly with the ribbed single bar flippers which Sam installed. In some of the photos in this article we can see that Sam used black wall tires at first. But later he switched to white wall tires, which give the car even more class.

Sam installed one single motor cycle taillight on the drivers side of the rear bumper, just outside the bumper guard. There is at least one photo of Sam’s Mercury showing the rear bumper without the guards, and with two motor cycle taillights installed. Sadly we have no info which version was first, but most likely the singe taillight was done first, and perhaps to many Police stops might have decided Sam to install the second one.
Sam had the padded top made by the Carson Top Shop. The Carson Top shop is known for creating the top on standard jigs. Apparently the shop built different jigs for the most popular cars to come in for Carson Tops. We also know that the Carson Top’s are known to be more boxy that other padded tops. Most likely Sam insisted on a little more flow on his top, and perhaps it was build using one of the jigs. The top of Sam’s Mercury flows really nice, especially if you compare it to some other Carson Tops on 1939-40 Mercury’s.  Perhaps the top was created by somebody else, and not by Carson as was mentioned in some other publications?

When all the work was done, Sam painted the car in a medium blue. Some documents, including some of the Barris books speaking about green paint on Sam’s mercury. But several old timers, who knew Sam from back in the late 1940’s, have confirmed Sam’s Mercury was indeed a wonderful medium blue.

CCC-Sam-Barris-1940-Merc-10Colorized by by Rik Hoving shows how the car could have looked like back in 1948. The photo was taken in front of the Barris Compton Avenue shop. The front license plate has now been removed. We can also see the wonderful flow of the padded top really good in this photo.


CCC-Sam-Barris-1940-Merc-06  CCC-Sam-Barris-1940-Merc-04

CCC-Sam-Barris-1940-Merc-02The photo above shows that the car had unidentified bumper guards installed, and only one motorcycle taillight mounted on the drivers side next to the guard. Notice that the rear window had been taken out in this photo.

CCC-Sam-Barris-1940-Merc-11This low-angle photo of Sam’s Mercury parked along side of the Compton Ave. Barris shop shows the perfect speed-boat stance of the car really well. The Barris brothers were experts in getting the right stance for their cars.

CCC-Sam-Barris-1940-Merc-03This photo shows the car with two motorcycle taillights. The bumper guards are now removed, and the license plate is mounted behind the bumper.


According the stories Sam did not have his finished Mercury all that long. The finished car drew quite a bit of attention, and when somebody offered him the right amount of money for it he decided to let it go, in order to be able to pay the bill’s. Sam did not keep track what ever happened with the car after he sold it. It might still be around today. There are some rumors the car is found, and currently being restored. So far the remains of this car, which is an early custom 1940 Mercury, have not been identified for the full 100%. Sam’s car was very nicely done, but there were a lot more cars with very similar body modifications, so it will be very hard to positively identify. Lets keep our fingers crossed and we see a restored Sam barris 1940 Mercury convertible on the roads once again.

Reference and more info

  • Hop Up magazine, May 1953
  • 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)

12 thoughts on “Sam Barris 1940 Mercury

  • Excellent story and photos of the Sam Barris 1940 Mercury. Even at an early age he had a real talent for style and craftsmanship in his customizing.

  • Terrific pics and account of a very nice car Rik. We don’t see or read much about this one and as Tom says it really shows Sam’s talent for style and his restraint in design. These classic customs (in my opinion) reflect what I think the designer’s would have wanted the cars to be if they did not have to accommodate things such as tall rooflines for hat clearance, factory badging and clearance for poor road conditions… Just a very clean, sleek, good looking automobile!

    I also enjoy learning about the colour options the fellows back in the day used on their customs. We see so many of the “tried and true” colours that we forget some really nice colour options available for our own period style rides.

    Good stuff!

  • by any standard, the Sam Barris ’40 Mercury rag top is the one example that all others should be judged . It is axiomatic that the earliest efforts (after the 1st few during the “learning curve”) seem to be the best. Music, true art, architecture… custom cars.. it must flow.

  • I believe this car is now called Merlow.
    Was chatting with Gene Winfield, while we were going over the car.
    Many pieces were hand built, including the intake manifold, as Gene put it, by an old friend of mine.
    Windshield trim, same bumpers, signal lights in the rear bumperetts now.
    Same proportions and stance, along with the dual small spots, non functioning, but look great there.

    • Chaz, thank you for your comment.
      I know the Mercury you are talking about. It was created by Altissimo Restoration with body work by John Aiello. Although a very nice custom Merc, it is not the same as Sam’s for sure.

      • Hello Rik

        There are differences, but they are cosmetic add ons.
        The overall build is, as Gene said, early 50’s hot rodder, customizer.
        Gene really intriged as to where those hard to get, one off, early performance parts, components came from, as you can’t get them any more.
        Take a second look, it’s closer than you might be aware of.

        Thank you

          • Chaz, I heard back from Brandon, from Altissimo who did the Mercury “Merlow”. This is what he mentioned.
            “The Merc came to us slightly modified from an older fellow who sold it to my friend Joe Phipps. Not much else is known of the car. We chopped the windshield post and rack, molded front and rear, splash pans, shaves and all the normal custom touches. It was NOT the 40 Sam Barris Merc.”

          • Hello Rik

            Thank you
            If I get the chance to talk to Gene again, will ask about specifics on some of the older components.
            His interests were on where the previous, older builder I guess, got some of those old time hotrod components.
            His words “ the intake was built by an old friend of mine, (one can only imagine who that old friend might have been)this must have been done early by an old hotrodder”, I’m not sure if that applied also to the Canadian heads it had.
            The carbs he noted were reproductions, but good ones.
            He wondered what might have happened to the originals.

            This and the fact it is such a close match, in every other way to the Barris car, got me wondering.
            Right down to the same scalloped bumpers front and rear, including the rear bumperets, but now with the turn signals integrated in them.
            Only 2500 Mercury convertibles built in 1940, with how many in California customized?

  • I believe you, and Brandon should know.
    That Merlow is not the Sam Barris car.

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