Memo Ortega Files

February 18, 2015

Memo Ortega Stories Part 21

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Written by: Rik Hoving
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This is the second part of the story on Memo Ortega’s personal 1951 Mercury he is currently finishing. The car was recently painted in a really dark blue color and is currently being put back together by Memo and his grandson Will.


Memo Ortega is a well known name in the SoCal Custom Car and LowRider Scene, but perhaps not as well known as it should be. Memo has been working on custom cars and Low Riders since the early 1950’s. He became good friends with Custom Car Icon Gil Ayala, and in the late 1950’s he even bought Gil’s famous 1942-46 Ford Coupe as a persona driver. Today, in 2015, 80 years young, Memo is still chopping tops, and any other custom car work you can think of from, his garage work-shop. Check out more of the Memo Ortega Stories in the Memo Ortega Files on the CCC

CCC-memo-ortega-1951-cafeI came across this photocopied old photo taken in La Verne in 1951. The man in the center with the black jacket is my dad.


With most of the major body work out of the way it was now time for the “smaller” details. I decided to change the steering column for a tilt and telescoping ’66 Cadillac collum that I had laying in my garage. I pulled the old Merc column out and put it next to the Cadillac collum. This showed me I still had a lot of work to do to make it fit. I had to shorten the Caddy column about 8 inches that was a shore all by itself. It really looked good ans worked really great. I had a big mess on the dash, wires all over after I wired the car. By the way, I can’t work with out my music you guys out there know that you gotta have them ’50’s music going at all time. After the wiring I decided to paint the dash. I first sanded it to bare metal and added a lot of coats of primer to get it super smooth. I painted it in black for the time being.
CCC-memo-ortega-51-merc-p1-27Test fitting the cut down door window garnish moldings. You can see the ’66 Cadillac tilt column really well in this picture.


Next up was the work on the front seat. After chopping the top I sat to high in the car. I’m a tall person, so I had to rework the seat to fit me. It took me a while cuting here and there. But it was well worth it, now I could seat in the car an my head cleared the roof. The seat still moves back an forth like the original did. Very happy with it. Next I took it to the upholstery shop and got it done ’50’s style. I had to upholster the interior a little at a time money wise… as I could afford it.
CCC-memo-ortega-51-merc-p1-33Doing some welding on the floor, before the work on the lowered seat could start. 


CCC-memo-ortega-51-merc-p1-53Working on the windshield rubber, to get it to fit the new smaller opening. 


All the time I kept looking at the Cad column and steering wheel I had put on. It just did not fit in with the car. It looked out of place, so we, Will and me, decided to go with the original column. I yanked out the caddy collum, got the original one back from the shelves, did some cutting to shorten it and make it fit. It was a big job to get it the way I wanted. On the bottom, for the bearing I used a 1937 Chevy front drum bearing – the small one – then I welded in a spline shaft for the universal joint. This way it would fit to the chevy steering box. Now it had the right look, yes I was happy with it.


CCC-memo-ortega-51-merc-p1-26Cutting down the stock 1951 Merc steering column to make it fit my Merc better, and I put the stock steering wheel back in. Much better.


I kept working on the Merc and started to put it all back together. I wanted to cruise it so bad. I knew I had to take it appart later to do the finishing body work, primer and paint. But I just wanted to enjoy driving the car. I took it to my own Memo Ortega Car show in Pomona in 2013 and everybody really loved it, even though it was still very rough. When I told the people I used a 1941 Chevy top on it they just could not believe it.
CCC-memo-ortega-51-merc-p2-04At the Memo Ortega show in Pomono in 2013 the Merc looked like this.


After painting the dash, I had one of the guys in the Knight Prowlers club, Rick do a mural on the glove box. I wanted Memories of El Monte Legion Stadium and two teens dancin, with the names of a few 1950’s singers on there. He did it the way I wanted… flachback… The El Monte Legion Stadium was a very popular Rock and Roll dancin place, it was a place to be on Saturday Nights. Every sat night they had different famous singers, you name them, they were there. It was far from where I lived, but we had to go there… the cruzin was crazy around there but it was.. outa site…
CCC-memo-ortega-51-merc-p1-50Rick painted the Mural on the glove box door. He did it excactly the way I had it in my mind. This photo also shows the Mercury steering wheel back in place.


CCC-memo-ortega-51-merc-p1-29The new headliner is put in… changed the look and feel inside of the car completely.


CCC-memo-ortega-51-merc-p1-30Working on the bench seat upholstery.


CCC-memo-ortega-51-merc-p1-31Once it was time for upholstery I had made up my mind about the final paint color, dark blue. So the interior was done in a matching blue with white.


CCC-memo-ortega-51-merc-p1-25Back home after the upholstery was installed. Looking good, feeling good with the new interior in white and dark blue. 


Will found some ’51 skirts from out of state. They were send to me in a box… well they had dents all over. I could not belive it. I finally got all the dents out and fit them on the car.  I had to bend them quite a bit for them to fit but I managed to get them to fit. The Merc sure looked cool with them on completly changed the looks…
CCC-memo-ortega-51-merc-p1-21Now with the repaired 1951 Mercury skirts in place… the car looked much longer with them installed.


At the 2014 Memo Ortega Car show I had done some more work on it, like the new grille and I had darkened the gray primer sections on the car a bit more. So now those parts blended in with the rest better, making the body looks a lot nicer. I parked it next to my Chevy at the show, and bothcars looked really fine together.
CCC-memo-ortega-51-merc-p1-36Howard Gribble took these photos at my show in 2014. It was here that Joe Figuero mentioned the unique grille.


CCC-memo-ortega-51-merc-p1-37My Merc and Chevy at the show, both looking mighty fine…


CCC-memo-ortega-51-merc-p2-02Me and Terry with my Merc at one of our Sunday cruise/picknicks.


CCC-memo-ortega-51-merc-p2-01A better look at the grille I made.


Well it was time to do the body work, Will told me about his friend Alfredo, he does body work. I wanted to do it myself, but sadly I can’t do body work anymore. My right arm is messed up, and I wanted the car to come out nice. So we took it to Alfredo who did a super job on all the dents. I can still do fab work, I have just finished an old school chopper trike for a friend, so I keep pretty busy.
CCC-memo-ortega-51-merc-p1-35Alfredo, his nephew and me discussing what all still needs to be done to the Merc’s body. You can see the big dents on the drivers side door and rear quarter panel.



CCC-memo-ortega-51-merc-p1-40Primer, sanding and more sanding to get the body straight.



CCC-memo-ortega-51-merc-p1-41Checking out the work… its looking really good. The body is almost ready for a fresh coat of primer.


CCC-memo-ortega-51-merc-p1-38Most of the body work done and the car in light gray primer. We decided to take out the passenger side rocker panel and made a new one.


CCC-memo-ortega-51-merc-p1-39A few more sections needed some more work and more primer. You can also see the flush fitted skirt in this photo.


The quarter panels had some real bad dents on them and now they look like new. We also had him flush the skirts. I’m not a fan of flush fitted skirts… but on these Merc’s, when you pull off the skirts, and if your not carefull, you will scrach the paint. And since the plan was to have this car painted with gloss paint, we had Alfredo do a set of flush fitting skirts. When he was done with the bodywork we asked him to paint the Merc in black suede. We planed to have it like that for some time and safe up for some money to paint in gloss later on. We took the car home, boy it looked good.
CCC-memo-ortega-51-merc-p1-42After the gray primer the car was “finished” in black suede. I planned to keep it like this for some time to safe up for the final gloss paint. I thought it looked really neat this way already….



A few days latter Will told me his friend Hector wanted to paint the car for him. He told us he could do it before he would have to go and do some surgery. After that he could not paint the car anymore. So we decided to have him paint it now. I really wanted to paint it myself, but my arm does not let me do that anymore. Well Hector did a marvelus job. He went over the whole body, making sure every part of the body was perfect and smooth for painting. Then he painted the car. I really like his paint job it looks real good. Both Alfredo and Hector did an awesome job… more on the paint and finishing the rest of the car in the next story… coming soon.
CCC-memo-ortega-51-merc-p1-43Hector on the left showing to Will and me how he was prepping the body for paint.


CCC-memo-ortega-51-merc-p1-44Hector was very carful not to damage the upholstery in the car. His prep work was done really well. 


CCC-memo-ortega-51-merc-p1-45Some spots needed some more attention to get up to Hector’s standard, like the A-Pillars.


CCC-memo-ortega-51-merc-p1-46With all the sanding and prepping was done Hector taped of all the openings.


CCC-memo-ortega-51-merc-p1-47Time for a new coat of black primer followed by some more sanding and then….


CCC-memo-ortega-51-merc-p1-48A few coats of super dark blue…. finally a gloss paint on the Merc to show its beautiful lines.


CCC-memo-ortega-51-merc-p1-49Hector cutting and buffing the fresh paint to a super high shine. He did such an awesom job.



 CCC-memo-ortega-story-19-20This was the first time we took the car out of Hector’s shop… The color looked so amazing. I cannot wait to put it all together again.



Memo will show more progress on his 1951 Mercury soon… stay tuned.


Go to Part Twenty Two.
Go back to Part 20.



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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)


  1. Memo.. I love your Merc. The chop looks perfect and the grille is great. When I saw the picture of the Cad. steering column I said ‘No’ but you then reworked the stock column to fit . Good for you.I hope to see the next installment soon.


  2. Nice photos and story of the building of your great looking ’51 Merc.


  3. memo” the car looks great ! lots of time & work ! cruise on man, cruise on !!


  4. Looking good!! The Merc looks amazing and the paint job looks like glass.


  5. the work is outstanding and the color and paint make the car good luck with the finish


  6. Wow, nice chop…after doing a ’51 Merc chop and retaining the stock ’51 rear window, I can appreciate the hard work it is to make the ’51 rear glass flow right. Looking forward to seeing this Merc reassembled! 🙂


  7. thanks you guys, i sure appreciate all your comments memo,


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