Nick Matranga Mercury

 

NICK MATRANGA MERCURY

 

One of the most Iconic Custom Cars of all time the Barris Kustoms Restyled 1940 Mercury Coupe for Nick Matranga was short lived, but made a huge and lasting impact.



In the past we have shared the in-depth article on the life of Nick Matranga by Michelle M. Yiatras here on the Custom Car Chronicle. It now is time to focus on just the car. The Nick Matranga 1940 Mercury.

The Barris Customs created 1940 Mercury Coupe for Nick Matranga in 1950, is together with the 1951 Mercury created for Bob Hirohata in 1952, perhaps the most iconic traditional Custom Car ever created. If a dictionary would have a visual for the description Custom Car, then a picture if Nick’s and Bob’s Mercury’s would sum it all up. Nick’s 1940 Mercury coupe only excised for a little over a year, before it was destroyed in a car wreck. Because of when it was created, late 1950’s and the lack of all Custom Car publications, the trend setting and inspiring Custom was never part of a full magazine feature in the magazines. Yet the Matranga Mercury has inspired countless of Custom Car enthusiasts all over the world to build cars similar or inspired by this famous Custom Car icon. In 1951 Dan Post published a new edition of his Blue Book of Custom Restyling and included were several photos of the Nick Matranga mercury taken by Marcia Campbell. There was no written info on the car, not even a mentioning of the owner, only that it was created by Barris. These photos must have had a huge impact on the Custom Car community in 1951 and the following years.


Dan Post used no less than 5 photo’s of the Matranga Mercury in his 1951 edition of the Blue Book of Custom Restyling. Iconic photos of an Iconic Custom Car taken by Marcia Campbell. The Post book did mention the car was a Barris Custom, but nothing on Nick as the owner. Later these photos were used again in the Barris Kustom Technique books published in the 1990’s.
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I think it is save to say that no other Custom Car has been copied in clones, or near clones than the Matranga Mercury. The Custom Restyling the Barris Brothers brothers performed, at their Barris Custom Shop, on Nick’s Mercury is pure genius!

When Nick Matranga was still in High School, the John C. Fremont High School in Los Angeles he started dreaming about the Custom Car he wanted to have. He loved the beautiful styling of the ’39 and ’40 Ford’s and Mercury’s with the wide and stylish grille and soft flowing lines of the fenders and body. Nick preferred the coupe body style and after comparing the Fords and the Mercury’s he decided that the longer roof of the Mercury, plus rear bench in the Mercury, compared to the jump seats in the back of  the Ford Coupes made the mercury more attractive to him. Also the fact that the longer wheelbase, and the softer body contours of the Mercury were much nicer than the same year Fords in his eyes. The overall shapes of the Mercury were very appealing to Nick, but that high hat top on the coupe looked so out of place on the very stylish lower portion of the Car.


No matter what angle you look at the Nick Matranga Mercury, everything always blends together and flows beautifully toward the back of the car. The use of the heavier ’46 Ford bumpers add a lot to the visual appeal of the car.
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Nick had seen several chopped 1940 Mercury Coupes on the streets of Los Angeles that had caught his eye. That looked much better than stock, still not as elegant as Nick envisioned for his own Custom, but he knew the ’40 Merc would be just right for him. From the Mercury Customs he knew some had been restyled at the Barris Shop on Compton Ave. including two nearly identical for Al Andril and Johnny Zara. And then there were a few others. But there were a few elements on all those Custom Coupes he saw that figured could be improved on. Around same time GM introduced the all new pillarless hard top models for Buick, Oldsmobile and Cadillac, and the beautiful window lines stunned Nick. He needed to do something with that on his dream custom.

Nick happened to be driving by a used car lot when he spotted a cherry low miles grey-green coupe. He drove his newly acquired Mercury straight to the Barris shop to start discussing the changes he had in mind. Before the bodywork on the Mercury was started the suspension was modified, with a dropped axle in the front and lowering blocks in the back, the rear of the frame was modified to accept the lowered rear axle, and the floor had to be modified with a raised drive shaft tunnel. Lowering the car at this stage made the work on the top easier. Now the top was better to reach, and more importantly the overall proportions when chopping the top could be seen much better than when the car had been left stock height. Very important since Nick’s Mercury would be all about flow, balance and proportions.

Fortunately there are at least two very clear side view images of the Matranga Mercury. Thanks to Marcia Campbell we can still enjoy the breathtaking side profile of the car. This one taken in late 1950 was first published in the Dan Post Blue Book of Custom Restyling in 1951. It must have inspired countless car enthusiasts. (Colorized black and white photo)
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The Chop

The chopped top on the Matranga Merc is what really sets this car apart from everything else restyled during the same period, or even decades later. According to some publications Sam worked over a year on the top, to get it just right. I think it just took a little over a year to get the whole car done. And we have to keep in mind that when these cars were created in the late 1940’s early 1950’s the cars were mostly the only form of transportation these guys had. And so was the case with Nick’s Mercury. So most of time during this year of construction, the car was most likely in partly primer on the road.

I have created an visual using the side view photo of the Matranga Mercury and a stock ’40 Mercury to illustrate what was done to get the top looking this good. After having chopped a few ’39-40 Mercury Coupes before, using mostly the original top metal, Sam used pre-shaped metal created by the California Metal Shaping company to create the unique looking top that makes this car such a big hit. Another key factor for the success of the chop on the Matranga Merc compared to other, is how Sam raised the top of the windshield around 1.5 inches up into the top. This allowed him to get the side profile low enough to be in balance with the rest of the car, and still have enough windshield space to make the car drive-able. If you compare this with the earlier Mercury’s from the Barris Shop, like the Andril and Zaro Merc, those had very small windshields, which were out of proportion with the side windows, and making it hard to drive the car in traffic.



After having discussed the style and looks Nick was after for his Mercury with both George and Sam Barris it was time to get started on the chop. Just as Sam had done previously on the Al Andril and Johnny Zaro Merc’s, he started the process with completely removing the B-pillars on the Merc. Then cut the rear of the top at the lower edge, and the A-pillars at the most straight section. Nick mentioned that the car was chopped 6 inches in the front (some publications mention 5 inches), the top of the windshield was raised into the top, perhaps a bit more than an inch, to make the windshield opening a little larger, and more in proportion with the side windows. This was something Sam had learned from chopping the Al Andril and Johnny Zaro 1940 Mercury’s. At the back they just let is sink in between the body until the side profile of the windows as well as the top look perfect to them. The graphic of the Mercury side views, further down this article, showing how the top was chopped, visualize how much more the rear of the top came down, compared to the front. During this time Sam removed the drip rails, for a more smooth look.

When the rear of the top came down so much, automatically the rear corner of the rear quarter window moved forward. Making the side window opening much shorter than on the stock Mercury. With no B-pillar in place this looked really stunning. While maneuvering the top of the car till the flow of the top was perfect, and enhanced the main body shape as well as rear fenders, Sam tacked it in place. Nick absolutely loved the new pillarless look and told Sam and George they had to come up with a solution to make this work somehow, since the B-pillars were not going back into the car.

This illustration shows how much impact the chop on the Matranga Mercury has on the looks of the ’40 Mercury. Image A) shows how the car, with all the other modifications would have looked if the top had not been chopped. Image B) shows the difference between the stock ’40 Mercury roof and the chopped Matranga top with ghost images and outlines. Image C) shows how the stock top was dropped, and rotated to create a lower in the rear roof line for more pleasing effects. It also shows that dropping the top resulted in the now much shorter quarter windows. (blue vertical lines) The image also shows how much the rear section of the top was reshaped for the best results, and how the stock location of the rear of the roof is now related to the flowing transition from top of the trunk to the actual roof. Image D) shows the finished Matranga Merc profile.
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At that Point George started to bend some steel bars to get a feel of what the best shape would be to replace the vertical B-Pillars on the Mercury. Eventually they came up with a beautiful radius on the B-pillar window channel that flew just right with the shape of the top, mimicked the front section of the door window channel and gave the car that spectacular continues flow front front to rear look and feel. The side window frames was created from 3/8 channel, welded, smoothed and eventually send out to be chrome plated. Its especially this new side window shape that really sets the car apart from everything else created around that time. It made the car look fresh, modern like the newest GM Hard-top models, but even more streamlining than those. It looked even better than Nick had ever hoped it would look. With the side window shape determent, Sam Barris set out to reshape the rear of the roof to fit the new window shape, as well as flow with the rest of the body.

After several tires they finally knew what to do to get it right, and pre-shaped panels were created at the California Metal Shaping company and welded in place. What is so unique about the shape of the rear of the top on Nick’s Mercury is the slight bulge at the back, just above the top of the rear window. Designed almost like if the people in the back needed to have sufficient head room as well. It is that bulge, which we also can see on the Jesse Lopez Ford, as well as a few other Barris Customs, that makes the overall flow of the Matranga Mercury work so well.

On Jesse Lopez Ford this shape was created because Jesse loved the shape of the Carson Topped ’41 Ford so much. So perhaps this idea for the roof shape was also the main inspiration on Nick’s Mercury. In any event, adding the slight bulge shape at the rear of the top helps keeping the roof look like a coupe and adding the needed “kick” for the eye when following the side window shape. Jesse had asked Sam to reduce the height of the rear window on his ’41 Ford, to be better in balance with the side windows. Sam really liked this and he did the same thing on Nick’s ’40 Mercury. He took a few inches out of the height of the rear window before he placed it back into the new lowered roof. This way the rear window fits much better in line with the side windows than the stock unit would have been.

Close up of the window channel the Barris Brothers created. for Nick’s Mercury. The new shape was totally unique, and enhanced the shape of the top, as well as the fenders and main body. After the Matranga mercury was destroyed in an accident in early or mid 1952, the Barris Brothers used the same shape of windows of the 1951 Mercury they created for Bob Hirothata.
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The roof of the stock ’40 Mercury is separated with a small strip of stainless steel, making the top look like a separate unit. On previous Custom Mercury’s like the Al Andril and Johnny Zaro Merc Sam already had  figured out hos much smoother the top looked if that strip was eliminated and the roof section was blended smooth with the turret panel. So that was also so done on Nick’s Mercury, and the blending was done with an even softer radius than the cars Sam had worked on before. The factory rounded top trunk corners helped the flow of the turret panel into the roof even more.

The rest of the body work on Nick’s Mercury was rather straight forward, and something the shop had performed multiple times on other customs cars. Like the nosing, decking and the molding of all four fender. But it perhaps never had looked so good as on Nick’s mercury, where it was balanced out with that super flowing top. Sam had to modify the hood latching mechanism in order to remove the hood ornament. Nick insisted of keeping the stock grille, and even the stock eyebrows mounted at the bottom of the hood front, just above the grille. He also wanted to keep the original heavy hooded chrome headlight bezels. He loved the design on those, and he was so right about that. Nothing would have looked more in place than these original elements. Sam did however shorten the side trim on the hood, which now starts at the center of the front wheel opening. This optically puts a bit more weight on the rear of the car.

To enhance the flowing lines of the top, Nick wanted to removed the taillights from the fender and mount them, just like Jesse Lopez had done before him, in the bumper guards. They chose to use a set of 1946 Ford bumpers for the car. These bumpers are a bit heavier in appearance than the stock Mercury units, giving the car a bit more weight, and the round shape with the small lip at the top really helps with the flow, front to rear. The stock ’46 Ford bumper guards have a beautiful art-deco shape and are absolutely perfect for creating bumper guard taillights. Jesse Lopez showed Nick how to create the taillights. The bumper guards were mounted in such a way that they flow with the lines of the trunk when looked from behind. The rear of the Stock 1939-40 Mercury kind of stops abrupt into this gap that is left between the body and bumpers. It makes the car look short. So to not loose the momentum of the flow from the top to the trunk Sam decided to use a gravel shield to fill the gap. He welded the gravel shield of an ’46 Ford, and molded it nicely into the body with a similar smooth radius as that was used on the rear fenders, making it look like it came from the factory that way. And integrated the rear bumper a d made it part of the overall design of the car


Two 1940 Mercury’s, the top one is the Johnny Zaro Mercury, and the bottom one the Nick Matranga 1940 Mercury. The Zaro Merc has a much more conservative chopped top. Very much styled along the lines of the original car, jts a few inches lower and slightly more streamlined with the rear portion of the top molded to the body to make it a one piece affair. The chopped top done like this gave the car a completely new more aggressive look and with a low stance the proportions looked a lot better than stock. To be able to get the side windows the right proportional size, the top needs to be chopped quite a bit, leaving the windshield very small. On the Matranga Merc this was fixed by raising the windshield up into the top. The rear portion of the Matranga mercury roof was shaped completely different from the Zaro Mercury, making it look much more modern.



To further enhance the flow of the car, Sam reworked a set of teardrop fender skirts to fit the mercury fender, that Nick had bought at one of the after market companies, to fit the mercury fenders. The door handles were removed to help clean up the sides of the car and again help with the flow, front to rear. To open the door Nick installed push buttons, that activated the solenoids to unlatch the doors, in the running boards, to open the doors from the outside. Inside he installed the buttons on the dash. The dash itself is a piece of art as well. Not really that much has been done to it, just cleaned up a little, and smoothed over completely before it was chrome plated. All the factory ribbed plastic components on the dash were copied in clear red Lucite another trick that Jesse Lopez helped Nick with. The red Lucite looked amazing mounted on the chrome plated dash.




Interior

The interior on Nick’s Mercury was upholstered by Bill Gaylord in dark maroon and ivory using DuPont Fabrilite. The maroon sections was outlined with ivory piping, and the all ivory headliner was a mix of rows of tuck and roll running length wise, outlined with maroon piping and plain ivory sections. The lengthwise design helping create more optical length inside. The carpet was done in dark maroon, and Bill made diamond shape floor-mats to protect the carpets. The section below the chrome plated dash was also fully upholstered in Bill Gaylord’s trademark diamond pattern upholstery. Nick bought a brand new 1950 Mercury Monteray steering wheels that Sam modified to fit the ’40 Steering column. Like most of the Customs created in this era Nick also had to have a set of S-552 Appleton Spotlights, were mounted at the Barris Shop. These Spotlights give the car the needed kick, or focus point at the front of the roof, all to help with the optical flow.  set of wide white wall tires were of course needed to help with the elegant lines of the car, and the most perfect hubcaps in the world, the Cadillac Sombrero’s were installed on the front wheels. Nick drove the car like this, in primer for a bit, before the next big decision needed to be made… color.

Carson MatrangaThis photo of the interior in Nick’s Mercury must have been taken early in 1950. If you look close then you can see that the dash is missing a few dash knobs as well as the radio, which are visible in the other photos of the interior. The simple horseshoe shape of upholstery on the bench seat looks very attractive with the ivory piping. There is no rear view mirror in the car when this photo was taken.
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This photo shows how the dashboard was now finished with the radio and the missing dash knobs in place. The red lucide panels must have looked spectacular on the chrome plated dash.
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Here we can see the specially made window frames, the chrome plated garnish molding, the beautiful Gaylord upholstery, including the diamond pattern on the panel below the dash, and that Nick had installed a rear view mirror by then. The ’50 Mercury Monteray steering wheel looks right at home in the decade older Merc.
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Taken at the 1951 National Roadster Show in Oakland shows how the B-Pillar section had a (rubber) trim section making sure the gap between the door frame and the rear quarter frame was covered in case of rain, or any other bad weather.
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Nick was not only looking for the very best in optical styling, he also wanted to have a powerful engine, that went as well as it sounded. Nick had an 1946 Mercury block modified by Phil Weiand. Who installed Weiand heads, intake and cam. Nick knew Phil very well and he gave Nick a good deal on the motor. Phil treated the engine with all the goodies and made it look really good and made sure it was reliable but also sounded really well.



1950 photos

Even though the Matranga Mercury was only around for a little over a year, there are still plenty of photos of the car. Showing how popular Nick’s car must have been at the time. To help identify the different photos and when they have been made we have split up this section of the article in 1950 photos, 1951 Photos and 1951-52 photos after Nick sold the car.

There are very few photos taken of the rear of the Mercury so these two photos from the Kurt McCormick Collection are very important. These two where taken with some time in between them. The one on the left shows the car without the rear view mirror. And the one on the right shows the car with the mirror installed and with the Kustoms Los Angeles plaque mounted below the rear bumper. These two photos are also giving use the best look at the chopped rear window, with its pleasing teardrop shapes. This last photo also show how nice the bumper guards follow the line of the trunk. Everything on Nick’s mercury was so well designed.
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Close up of the rear bumper in 1950 shows the bumper guard integrated taillights than Nick created with the help of Jesse Lopez. Notice the hole cut into the guard included the ribbed outer section of the stepped Art-Deco shape, and how that was reshaped into the Lucite.
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Nick had seen many of George Barris his beautiful organic paint jobs, using transparent toners, mixed with Venus Martin gold and bronze powders. So he knew George would do a find job on the car. Nick picked a 1941 Buick Titian Maroon as base color. The Titian  maroon base color was a bleeder, it showed somewhat what was underneath. In a similar way as later candy paints worked. George and Nick spend many hours mixing colors, based on the Buick color, adding black, adding gold powders and spraying it over different base colors. The end result of the paint job was a spectacular deep dark maroon with highlights enhanced with added gold powder and sections lower on the body that had more black showing thru the paint. All this was done in a away to enhance the shape of the body of the car. And according to those who have seen the car in person, the paint was spectacular.

After George had finished the paint the still fresh paint job was carefully color sanded with wet sand paper. The it was left alone for about a month. This way the paint had completely set, and all the paint thinners had evaporated and the paint completely shrunk.Then Nick and friends color sanded the paint once more and did a final rub-out for the most perfect paint finish.

Nick estimated he had about $1800.- invested in the car. And the Barris Bill alone could have been much higher if he had not helped out with the built all the time. Usually Nick would go to the Barris Shop after his regular day job, and there he would work on the car, either alone, prepping the car for the next day’s body work, or assisting Sam who was working on the car after shop hours as well. Nick credits Sam Barris for doing most of the work on his Mercury. And how it was a pleasure working with Sam who was a fantastic craftsman and knew exactly how to realize the ideas Nick had in his mind for the Mercury.

1950 snapshots taken at Nick’s girlfriends house.
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Nick Matranga’s trend setting 1940 Mercury Coupe Custom was Restyled mostly at the Barris Bell Shop and later finished Atlantic Blvd Shop in Lynwood. Perhaps the very early work on the car was performed at the Compton Ave. shop, since the car was constructed over a one year period. Sadly so far no in progress photos of the Mercury have surfaced.

Possibly a local parking lot or perhaps high school outdoor car show shows Nick’s Mercury with 1950 license plates. Parked behind the Merc is George Barris’s personal 1942 Cadillac Convertible Custom.
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California Avenue South Gate photo shoot

Marcia Campbell took some of the most important Historic Custom Car photos that we know. Perhaps Dan Post hired her to do a series of photos of a few of the latest Barris Customs at the Hall of Justice located at California Avenue in South Gate. One of the cars included in this photo shoot was Nick Matranga’s ’40 Mercury. Perhaps the most famous series of photos taken from the Matranga Mercury were taken by Marcia Campbell during this photo-shoot. It are the photos taken at this photo-shoot that give us the impression that the paint on the car was not rubbed out completely, giving the paint on the car a sort of semi gloss feel. Perhaps its just an optical illusion, or it could be that George Barris understand the importance of Nick’s Car and insisted that it would be part of the photo-shoot for the Dan Post Blue book, despite the paint not having the desired high gloss. There was no antenna on the drivers front fender on the car when these photos were taken.

3/4 front view with the hall of Justice building in the background.
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Near perfect side view scanned from the original photo proof sheet taken from the original negatives by Marcia Campbell.
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Colorized black and white photo give somewhat an impression how the rear Matranga Merc might have looked in color.
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Nick posing proudly with his 1940 Mercury. Most likely this and the other pictures taken at this location by Marcia Campbell were taken not all that long after Nick’s Mercury was finished.
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Enlarged section of the front 3/4 photo shows the Mercury in all its beauty. Notice that there is no rear view mirror mounted yet, so these photos were taken shortly after the Mercury was done.
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1951 photos

If it hadn’t be for the Korean war, then Nick most likely would have never sold the car, at least not just one year after completion. Nick even had told David Zivot how he had plans to install an all new Cadillac OHV engine in the car. But instead Nick enlisted in the army, and left the car in his mothers Garage. George Barris was able to pick up the car in case he needed it for Custom Car shows, which he did for the 1951 Oakand Roadster Show (Feb, 1951), the Montebello Tent Show (and at the Hot Rod show in the LA Armory most likely in Jan ’51). At one point George Barris informed Nick’s mother that he had a buyer for the mercury, and after initial not wanting to let go of the car, Nick eventually agreed and the car was sold for $2500.- in September / October 1951.

1951 photo taken at the Barris Atlantic Blvd Lynwood shop. This high 3/4 front view shows how right Nick was in to keep the front of the car mostly stock, with only the hood cleaned up to enhance the beautiful Mercury shapes.
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Fremont High School photo shoot

Nick graduated from John C. Fremont High School And not long after that he started the work on his ’40 Mercury. In 1951 He went back to his old High School with his Custom Mercury for an set of historically important photos. We are not 100% sure about the photographer who took these photos at the High School, but most likely it was Marcia Campbell who took them. By then Nick had installed a radio antenna on the drivers side front fender.

The perfect dead on side view photo that has helped many enthusiast create their version of the famous Matranga Mercury. This is the one photo that really shows the beautful shaped roof line on Nick’s Mercury. Marcia Campbell was most likely the photographer.
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The front 3/4 view in front of the school shows that the car now has 1951 plates. From this angle it looks like the roof is flowing so smooth into the trunk area.
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Sadly I was unable to locate a copy of the complete photo taken from the rear 3/4, so we have to do with this zoomed in version.
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Perfection on wheels. Everything about the Matranga Mercury is just right, as this photo shows. The slight speed boat stance, the flow of all the body lines enhanced by the curved hard-top window trim.
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According an interview with Nick, the skirts used were 1941 Buick Skirts which were modified to fit the Mercury fenders. But more likely they used aftermarket skirts commonly used on 1939-40 Fords. The shape of the skirts flow perfectly with the Mercury body, enhancing all the restyled body lines on the car. This photo also shows the the door popper button activating the solenoid to open the the door located in the running board.
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The Shows

George Barris took Nick’s Mercury to the 1951 Oakland Roadster Show. Nick was in the army by then and could not make it to the show. Small funny detail is that the show card in the windshield of the Mercury, which was made by a sign painter at the show, had the name Matranga misspelled. (inset on the left)
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Nick’s Mercury also appeared at the Montebello California Tent Show held in 1951 at the Armory. Nick was already in the military by then, so somebody else had taken the car to the show for him. Parked next to Nick’s Merc is Snooky Janich ’41 Ford (in primer behind the merc) and the Jesse Lopez 1941 Ford. Peaking just behind the Hop Up sign is the nose of the Jack Stewart 1941 Ford.
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The Mystery new owner
It has been written that a nineteen-year-old guy, named Stanley Hannenberg of Artesia, CA, purchased Nick’s Mercury. This is based on an Jun 8, 1952 news paper clipping (included in this article) in which is it listed that the car he drove (a 1939 Coupe) was wrecked on a rainy day January 7th, 1952 against a telephone pole.  The story very much sounds right with the info others have mentioned on how the Matranga Merc came to its end. But the dates on this article do not match the fact that the Matranga Mercury was photographed at an Pasadena event on March 30th, 1952, which was featured in the June 1952 Hot Rod Magazine, three month after it was possibly totaled. At this point we do not know for sure who was the new owner after Nick, and when exactly the car was wrecked and declared “totaled”, and scrapped with only the Appleton Spotlights remaining of the car. But it must have been after March 30th, 1952.



1951-1952 after Nick sold the car

The Falcons and the Gripers Hot Rod Clubs from Pasadena, California organized an Car Show and reliability run in one event on March 30th, 1952. An two page article about this event appeared in the June 1952 issue of Hot Rod magazine. This possibly is the latest event that the Matranga Merc ever entered, and the last time it was photographed. Besides having the one interior photo used in the Hot Rod magazine article, I also believe that a series of photos from the Danny Lares Collection showing the Matranga Mercury were taken at this event.

The flyer for the first Annual Pasadena Auto Show and Reliability Run held on March 30, 1952. This was most likely the last time the Matranga Mercury was entered in an event.
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Danny Lares had bought the Jesse Lopez 1941 Ford around 1951, and more than likely Danny knew the new owner of the Matranga Mercury. Danny was a active member of the Road Kings-Wilmington car club and possibly the new owner of the Matranga Merc was also a member of the Road Kings or perhaps a member of one of the other attending Long Beach car clubs. The snapshots from Danny’s photo album clearly show that the two cars and the two owners stayed close during this event. While there is no photo of Danny’s ’41 Ford in the Hot Rod magazine article, one of the photos shows that Danny was there at the event. Looking at all the details in the Hot Rod magazine article and compare them with Danny’s photos I think that most, if not all these photos were taken at the same event. The last event the Matranga Merc most likely was entered.

The two page Hot Rod magazine article from June 1952 showing the interior of the Mercury. In the photo on the far left (page 20) we can see Danny Lares on the far right collecting a trophy for his ’41 Ford. Who knows… perhaps the new owner of the Matranga Merc is also in this picture?
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One page of the Danny Lares photo album shows Danny’s ’41 Ford and the Matranga Mercury. The one photo with the number 30 painted on the door must have been taken at the reliability run.
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Cleaned up version of the photo taken at the Pasadena reliability run on March 30th, 1952. That must be the new owner behind the wheel of the Mercury.
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Sitting side by side the Matranga 1940 Mercury and the lopez ’41 Ford with 1952 tag’s on the 1951 License plates. Both cars are now owned by new owners. The Lopez ford is missing the fender skirt, possibly removed for the reliability run?
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What a line up, Glen Johnson ’37 Ford (which was the feature car for the event flyer, Danny Lares with his Jesse Lope ’41 Ford (that is Danny with the white cap) and the Matranga Mercury next to it. To bad the fence is blocking so much of the cars. But since this might be the last event the Matranga Mercury was entered I wanted to include it here anyway.
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The Merc parked next to the Danny Lares ’41 Ford.
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Enlarged section of the photo shows the ’52 tag on the ’51 California license plate. It also gives a good look at the ribbed GM or aftermarket rear view mirror that Nick added to the car.
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This photo was taken at the first annual Pasadena Auto Show and Reliability Run on March 30th, 1952, and was featured in the June 1952 Hot Rod Magazine. It might have been one of the last photos taken of the famed Matranga Merc.
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Changes to the Matranga Merc.
The Matranga Merc only excited for a little over a year, so it never underwent many changes, like some other famous Custom Cars had. The only things I have been able to notice that changed are the addition of a GM ribbed rear view mirror towards some where in 1950. And the addition of a driver side front fender mounted radio antenna in 1951. The photos that we have been able to find of the Mercury show that the car had two license plated in its life as Full Custom. The 62B 1 997 plate from 1950 and the 5N75907 plate from 1951, and the addition of the ’52 tag in late 1951, or early 1952. In some of the photos of Nick’s mercury it appears as if the paint was a semi gloss. Possibly these photos were taken shortly after the car had been finished, and the paint had not been rubbed out yet. But it could also be an optical illusion, nobody has been able to confirm the reason why the paint looks semi gloss in some photos.

Nick Matranga News Paper Article BarrisThis is the Jan 8, 1952 new paper article mentioning the accident which matches some details of the stories about the accident of the Matranga Mercury. But the year of the car is wrong, ’39, not 40, (which can happen in a none car related news paper). But the January 7, 1952  date of the accident does not match with the fact that the Matranga Merc was photographed at the Pasadena even on March 30th 1952. The mystery of Who was the owner of the ’40 Mercury after Nick Matranga continues…
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In the short life span of the Matranga Merc the car was photographed with two different license plates. These help us identify when the photos were taken. 62B1997 plate from 1950 and the 5N75907 plate from 1951, and on the right it shows the addition of the ’52 tag in late 1951, after Nick had sold the Mercury.
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Time frame Matranga Merc

  • 1949 late 1949 work started at the Barris Bell Shop, Los Angeles.
  • 1950 late 1950 the car was finished at the Barris Atlantic Blvd Shop in Lynwood.
  • 1950 November 16th thru 19th Nick Matranga enters his freshly finished Mercury at the Motorama, held in the convention hall at the L.A. Shrine auditorium.
  • 1951 January Nick Matranga enters the Matranga Merc at the Los Angeles Hot Rod show at the LA Armory.
  • 1951 The Dan Post Blue Book publishes 5 photo of Nick Matranga Mercury.
  • 1951 February (early) Nick deployed for boot camp and leaves the car at his mothers house.
  • 1951 February 20-25 George Barris enters the Matranga Merc at the Oakland Roadster Show.
  • 1951 Date unknown George Barris enters the Matranga Merc at the Montebello Armory Tent Show.
  • 1951 September – October George Barris sells the Mercury on behalf of Nick for $2800.- to an new owner.
  • 1952 March 30th New owner enters the Matranga Merc in the Pasadena first annual Reliability run.
  • 1952 Date unknown the new owner wrecked the car hitting a telephone pole in the rain.
  • 1952 June Interior photo appears in the Pasadena Car Show coverage in Hot Rod Magazine.

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Barris Crest
I often was asked why the Matranga Mercury never had a Barris Crest. If the Matranga Mercury was such a famous Barris Custom, why do none of the known photos of the car show the Barris Crest on the cowl, or elsewhere? Was Nick Matranga perhaps not happy with the the work the Barris Shop did? That he did not want to promote the Barris Shop with a crest?
The answer to that question is very simple. During the very short live span of the Matranga Mercury late 1950 – June 1952, the Barris Crest had not yet been created. The Barris Crest was first used around late summer 1952. and by then the Matranga Mercury had already been wrecked and scrapped.

Just a few samples of many 1939-40 Mercury Coupe Customs that have been inspired by the Matranga Mercury, or were built as clone, or semi clone. The Nick Matranga 1940 Mercury is the most copied Custom Car design ever.
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Nick Matranga was born Nicholas Joseph Matranga, on April 21, 1930 in Los Angeles, CA, He passed away on March 27, 2010, in Torrance, CA.




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Butler Rugard Westergard Merc

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BUTLER RUGARD WESTERGARD MERCURY

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A very early Westergard customized 1940 Mercury survives several re-stylings over the years, gets restored to 1950’s specs and ends up in Europe.

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A little while ago we ran a short story on the Butler Rugard’s 1940 Mercury restyled by Harry Westergard. The story was about the car being for sale at a large auction in Greece. At the time the car did not find a new buyer. Recently the Greece owner contacted us to share some more photos of the car taken in Greece and to let us know the car is still For Sale. So we thought its time to do a full article on this unique early Westergard Custom, and perhaps find a new owner for the car who might even take it back to how it original looked when harry Westergard restyled it in the early 1950’s. The last restoration on the Butler Rugard Westergard Mercury, done by Jack Walker and team. The car was restored to a generic mid to late 1950’s version.

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This is how the Mercury looks now, photographed in sunny Greece in 2015.

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Lets go back in time first… to when Butler Rugard’s bought this 1940 Mercury Convertible brand new from the dealer.
Most likely being inspired by the GM design studies of the early 1940’s Butler started to have his brand new 1940 Mercury Customized right away. One of the people who he knew could handle the changes he had in mind was Harry Westergard. Butler took the Mercury to Harry to have him create full fade away fenders.

The story goes that the complete restyling was done over a period of time. Dick Bertolucci mentioned that some of the early work on this Mercury was done by Les Crane, who worked with Harry Westergard on a few projects. Each time Butler took the car back to Harry to have some more changes done to it. But as far as we know the fade-away fenders was the first restyling done by Harry.

There are different stories going around about the padded top on the car. One story is that Westergard chopped the windshield, and created a frame for a padded top, another story is that it was the padded top that was done by one of the famous shops very early on in the process. Westergard is credited for replacing the stock grille with the Buick unit. The hood has also been modified to fit the flatter Buick grille, but the typical Mercury side bulges on the hood are still on the hood sides in this version.

In the later version the bulge was removed and the body crease on the hood sides extended and wrapped around to the front of the hood. The car has 1937 DeSoto bumpers, and the stock 1940 Mercury headlights are still in place. This version used black wall tires and single bar flipper hubcaps. Jack Walker provided the Custom Car Chronicle with a very rare photo of this early version of Butler’s 1940 Mercury. De photo did not come with a dat, but this must have been in the very early 1940’s.

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Jack Walker provided this amazing photo. It shows the car in an early version when the hood sides and headlights were still stock. The car was then also fitted with 1937 DeSoto bumpers.

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He reshape the front of the front fenders and added Packard headlights to them. The team wanted to use a 1942 Buick grille, but since that unit is a lot thinner than the v-shaped Mercury grille the hood needed to be reworked considerably to make this all work. Harry reshaped the front of the hood, he tucked the lower section inward, to meet the new 1942 Buick grille. this all resulting in a dolphin like hood shape, a similar shape we can also see in some coach-built roadsters from those days. Although we are not sure if Harry might have been influenced by those, or if this is just a coincidence.

At the rear Harry installed 1940 Chevrolet taillights, vertical on slightly extended moldings and a set of tear drop fender skirts. The car was lowered with long shackles and a de-arched spring at the back. The car was dressed up with Lyons hubcaps on wide whites, 1941 Packard bumpers and a set of spotlights. The original flathead Mercury V-8 was kept in the car, but was dressed up with some early Hop Up speed parts as a triple-carb Offenhauser intake manifold with matching Offenhauser finned heads. We are unsure when Harry completed the car in this what we cal final version. But we do know that the car was shown like this at a Sacramento Car dealer show in 1950.

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Butler Rugard’s 1940 Mercury at the Sacramento Car dealer show in 1950.

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August issue of Custom Cars magazine showed the car in the letter section. Dark paint, no skirts and long lake pipes.

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It appears that Butler hung on to the mercury long enough to hand it over to his daughter Marie somewhere in the 1950’s. In the August 1960 issue of Custom Cars magazine, there is a small write up on the car in the “Mail Call” section. According this article the car was painted black then, had leopard fur upholstery on the inside of the padded top, a chrome plated dash, and leather upholstery. The photo showed full length lake pipes and no skirts on the rear fenders. It also appears that at least the rear bumper was replaced with a more wrap around unit.

Steve Bateman bought this 1940 Merc Conv. in 1973 in Isleton, Calif. from the Fernandez family (Butler’s daughter), he kept it for two years and then sold it to Ron Marquardt

The next update we were able to find, comes from the early 1980’s. The car is a dark color, but has now an new horizontal grille opening added. The padded top is re-upholstered in dark material. The lake pipes are gone and so is the front bumper. Black wall tires replace the classic white wall units from the previous versions.

According a small write up, the car had been in storage and had been restored when the photo was taken in 1982. Ron kept the car for the next 25 years and they cruised every summer. Most likely during this period the car was in an accident damaging the front and rear end of the car. The car was repaired with tunneled headlights and set-in, turned upside down, 1939 Ford taillights in the back.

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Dark paint, dark top, black wall tires and a new grille opening.

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The the car was painted white, the padded top was covered with white material, and a 1949 plymouth rear bumper was added on the back. The horizontal grille opening was filled with 1951-53 DeSoto grille teeth, and no bumper was used on the front. The original Spotlight have now been replaced with Dummy units. Chip Chipman photographed the car like this in August 2000.

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This photo and those below , (of the white version) were taken by Chip Chipman in 2000. The car was now painted white with a white covered top and a set of DeSoto grille teeth in the new grille opening.

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In the 1990’s, Ron advertised the car for sale in the Hemmings Motor News. Jack Walker, custom car enthusiast and collector of Belton, Missouri, spots the ad. Before he decides to buy it he is doing some research to find out if it is the real deal as the advertisement claims. Jack even asks George Barris, who recalls the car from the time he was learning the trade at Harry Westergards shop. So he advised Jack to buy the car sight unseen. Jack decides to buy the car and asks his friend Ed Guffey to team up with him on the restoration.

Dave Dolman in Verdon, Nebraska, was hired to do the bodywork restored. The body was n rather bad shape and needed a lot of work getting straight again.Once the body work was done Jack and Ed decided to paint the car Candy Apple Red. Not really the right color for this 1940’s custom. But the team decided to see it as a mid 1950’s redone version of the car. The modern engine was replaced with a flathead engine and the interior that came with the car was good enough to be restored. Bob Sipes redid the padded top.

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The Butler Rugard, Harry Westergard-built 1940 Mercury was invited to the prestigious Taildraggers on the grass exhibit at the 2005 Pebble Beach Concourse.

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At some point not too long after the Pebble Beach event Jack Walker and Ed decided to let go of the Historic Mercury and Ralph Whitworth’s aquired it for his Museum. Sadly the Museum plans came to an halt in 2009 and most of the collection ended up being auctioned. The Butler Rugard, Westergard Mercury ended up in the hands a new owner from Greece.

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When the car was part of Ralph Whitworth’s Museum the car was invited to the Mercury Gathering at the 2009 Sacramento Autorama. A historic event with the best and most historical Custom Mercury’s from all over the US.

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To Greece

Not long after the Sacramento show the Museum was closed and most cars in the collection auctioned at the special Icons of Speed & Style RM Auction. The car was sold for $75,000.- plus 10% auction fees. Far below the estimate. The new owner of the Butler Rugard 1940 Mercury takes it to his home in Greece after that.

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The Harry Westergard Butler Rugard 1940 Mercury as advertised for the Icons of Speed & Style RM Auction. Estimated to sell for $125,000 – 175,000 it eventually went for $75,000.- plus 10% auction fees.

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The Butler Rugard’s 1940 Mercury after it has been shipped to the new owner in Greece.

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In June 15, 2013 the car ends up at an COYS auction in Greece. However the car did not meet its reserve, it was estimated to bring: €80,000 – €100,000 ($124,208.00 – $155,260.00) and was not sold and went back to the owner who had bought it at the US Auction.

The Mercury at the 2013 COYS Auction.

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This photo, and the four below shows the car as it was in 2015, photographed by the then owner in Greece. The owner had contacted us to advertise the car for Sale on the CCC. Eventually around 2019 he is able to find a new owner for the car.

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The car today is still in the same condition as the Jack Walker team restored the car in. Odd, far from period perfect Candy apple red with red wheels and Packard baby moon hubcaps. A nice set of Lyons hubcaps, wide whites and a dark maroon or black paint job would do wonders for this car.

GOOD NEWS!
September 2019. The really great news is that the new owner has great plans for the car. The new owner, and his friends are very dedicated. First plan is to get it technically all in order so that the car can actually been driven, and driven safely. The next plan is that the car will most likely be shipped to the US at the end of the summer in 2020, possibly to attend some shows there. The new owner lives half of the year in Greece, and half of the year in the US. Then the later part of the plan is, and this is the most exciting part of it…. to have the car brought back to early 1940’s specs. Black paint, DeSoto Bumpers, just as how the car was initially created for Butler Rugard.

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We soon will be updating this article with more info, and current photos of the car.



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