BILL VERNA 50 MERCURY
Carl Johnson operated a small body shop where he created several nice Customs and Hot Rods, this 1950 Mercury is one of three he did.
David Wolk recently shared several photos with the Custom Car Chronicle. Photos of two chopped and padded topped Mercury’s created in the very early 1950’s. The photos show two mercury’s one 1949 an the other an 1950 model restyled by Carl Johnson. It turned out that one of these Mercury’s, the one Carl did for Bill Verna later ended up in the hands of a friend of Larry Watson, Larry Lorenzen, who had Dean Jeffried paint some flames on it. The car even made it on the cover of an book about custom cars in the late 1970’s.
But lets take a step back first, and tell you how David Wolk got these photos. We let David tell it in his own words.
“I was at the LA Roadster show about 5-6 years ago walking the swap meet. I saw an old guy with a table of old car photos for sale. He was standing there talking to another man explaining about one of the cars he built. I realized he was the builder of these cars. At the time I didn’t realize who he was and was kind of embarrassed to ask his name. I grabbed these few custom car photos asked the price, then asked if he would autograph them for me. My brother also bought one old hot rod photos, it was the famous Mooneyham an Sharp # 554 ’34 ford.
His name was Carl Johnson. At the time I hadn’t heard of him, but thought the photos were cool. Looking back I wish I would have taken the time to visit with him.”
One of the photo’s of Bill Verna’s 1950 Mercury had these words written by Carl Johnson on the back. He wrote the information on the back of the photo in 1993.
David mentioned that he later found out a bit more information on Carl when he read an article in the Rodder’s Journal issue 44 on and lake modified 1934 Ford coupe. The story provided a bit more information about Carl. He was a member of the Rod Riders club and a professional body man with small shop. He helped chop the 34 ford 3 window in the article and also chopped the top on the Mooneyham and Sharp # 554 34 ford. David’s brother bought a photo of the Mooneyham and Sharp 34 Ford from Carl, which we used at the end of this article.
These photos from Carl are interesting for several reasons, first is of course since they show two very nice customized 1949-50 Mercury convertible’s. The second reason is because one of the photos shows a 1951 California plate, which means that the Bill Verna 1950 Mercury chopped by Carl, is among the first Mercury convertibles to be chopped. This short list also includes the Bill Gaylord 1949 Mercury, chopped by Barris, the Ralph Testa Mercury, also chopped by Barris and the 1949 Carl Johnson did for himself. And the third reason is because of the flipped side ways 1949 Buick taillights that have been used on Bill’s Mercury. A touch that was also added tot the Ralph Testa 1950 Mercury restyled by Barris in 1951. It makes us wonder who was the first to use these taillights this way. These Buick taillights also helped us identify the car to be later owned by Larry Larenzen some time later in the 1950’s, and Norman Woodruff in the later part of the 1950’s.
The 1950 Mercury of Bill Verna restyled by Carl Johanson with a padded top by Eddie Martinez. The photo was taken while the car was still unfinished, with primer spots on the rear quarters, doors and A-pillars. A set of 1951 Mercury skirts was used. The photo is now in the collection of David Wolk.
Carl chopped the windshield of Bill Verna’s 1950 Mercury and created hand made pods, or wind-splits to make the canted 1949 Buick taillights work with the Mercury quarter panels. The headlight bezels were molded to the fenders for a nice frenched look and the lenses were slightly recessed. The hood corners were left square at this point. A small lip was added to the front wheel opening. We do not know if Carl hand made the lip, or if it came from another car. A set of Spotlights was added and Eddie Martinez was hired to do the padded top with open quarter windows Eddie most likely was also responsible for the custom interior in the car. It always seamed to me that the padded top Martinez created had a rather heavy look to it, created by the think profile look.
The front section of the Mercury side trim was replaced with a shortened rear section and flipped from one side to the other to give the trim a nice pointy look in the front. The photos show that the rear quarter trim has been removed at this stage since it was interfering with the new Buick taillights. Later the rear section was shortened and re-installed. The car was most likely painted black after all the work had been completed, although we have not been able to find photos of the finished version from the time Bill owned the car.
The front view shows that the grille and parking lights have been removed, possibly waiting for a custom grille to be created by Carl. This photo shows the 1951 License plate on the car. The photo is now in the collection of David Wolk.
From the photos we have seen from the mid/late 1950’s we know that at one point the car was further customized with rounded hood corners on the front of the hood, and that the hood was shortened at the back, the filler piece added to the cowl and also those corners rounded. The grille shell was molded to the fenders and a new floating grille bar was created from a set of bumper guards, most likely accessory bumper guards for a 1951 Mercury.
This photo shows how low the top was, and also shows the primer on the A-pillars and doors where the door handles were removed. We can also see the subtile lip on the front wheel opening. Possibly Carl wanted to create a similar lip on the front wheel openings as those on the 1951 Mercury skirt that was used on the back.The photo is now in the collection of David Wolk.
Larry Lorenzen a new owner
At one point, we are unsure when exactly this was, the car was purchased by Larry Lorenzen. We also do not know if Larry bought the car from the first owner Bill Verna, or if the car had already changed hands. Most likely Larry owned the car till about late 1957, when it was offered for sale on a used car lot in Long Beach, Ca. It was bought by Norman Woodruff in early 1958 and Norman used the Mercury as daily transportation for a few years before he sold it again.
When Larry Lorenzen owned the car owned the car in the later parts of the 1950’s he had Dean Jeffries add some long licked crab-style flames in gold, yellow red on the car. The flames were designed in a way they would transform to and outline to cover the side trim of the car, and to follow the beltline. The flames where outline in a bolt white pinstripe by Dean. It was most likely Larry Lorenzen who added the lake pipes to the car. The photos we have been able to find of this version of the car, with flamed added by Dean Jeffries seam to all be taken in late 1957- and in 1958.
Larry was later good friend with Larry Watson, and this black and white photo of the Mercury when owned by Larry Lorenzen comes from the Larry Watson Collection. It shows the car with new Oldsmobile hubcaps ad lake pipes. The fender skirts and bumper guards have been removed at this stage.
This it the other photo of the Mercury from the Larry Watson Personal Collection. We are unsure when this photo was taken, possibly around late 1957, perhaps early 1958. The car was obviously for sale, for a low price of just $695.-. The hubcaps were and spotlights are removed, but otherwise the car looks to be in good shape.
Since this color photo of the Merc is the best quality one we have we took a section of the front and enlarged it, so we can have a better look. We can see that the location of the antenna has been changed from the 1951 photos, the parking lights are nicely molded in, possibly taken from another car. The rounded hood corners front and rear and how the custom lip on the front wheel openings are accented with paint and pinstriping.
Despite the large cover photo of the Merc, there was not a full feature on the car inside the Grease Machine book. But the introduction chapter did show this small color photo of the car. We have no idea if the guy standing behind the car is Larry Lorenzen, or somebody else. The rounded rear corners of the car can be seen very well in this photo.
Bill Junge took this photo in 1958 on Route 66 somewhere in Texas after they had a flat tire on the way home from the drag races in Oklahoma City. Bill and his buddy Norman “Woody” Woodruff (who owned the Merc since early ’58) had driven the car from SoCal to OK City to attend a Drag Racing event. Notice the water bag on the front.
Another photo Bill Junge took is the only one we know about that gives us a good look at the great shaped flames Dean Jeffries painted on the trunk of the car. It also shows how the exhaust tips exit thru the rear bumper. The car appears to have different hubcaps in this photo.
Photo taken by Bruce Olson in late August of 1958 at the 4th Annual NHRA National Championship Drag Races in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The design of the flames, how one lick turns into an “outline” around the shortened side trim and ends with another lick is a really great touch by Dean Jeffries. Photo is shared by Todd Olson. This low angle photo shows how thick the padded top is over the side window openings.
Norman Woodruff used the still flathead powered Mercury as his daily driver for a number of years, and then sold it again. So far we have not been able to find any information on the car after this, we have no idea what happened to it, and if it is still around or not. If you know anything more about the Bill Verna / Larry Lorenzo 1950 Mercury, or more about Carl Johnson’s work as customizing, then please let us know, email Rik, we would love to add more information to this, or possible future CCC-Articles. Thank you.
The other Carl Johnson photos
David Wolk and his brother bought two more photos from Carl at the LA Roadster show. These and the article in the Rodder’s Journal issue 44 is about the only other material we have on Carl Johnson and his work as body man and custom builder. At this point we do not know when Carl started doing work as customizer, and how many cars he created. From the text on the back of one of the photos we know that he did 3 1949-50 Mercury’s and one of them is a 1949 he did for himself. David bought one of the photos showing Carl in his own Mercury. Sadly this photo does not show a date or anything else we can use to date the car. But to me it looks like this one pre-dates the one he did for Bill Verna. The car seams to have less body work done, the door handles are still in place and the stance is higher. But the photo shows that the car used 1951 Mercury skirts and also that the headlights are frenched with the lights recessed, something that we have not seen done on other cars created in 1949-50. The padded top on Carl’s personal Merc seems to be a little less bold when viewed from the side, giving the car a more elegant look.
Carl Johnson in his personal 1949 Mercury convertible with padded top. The stance on the car is a bit higher than on Bill’s Mercury, indicating this one might be done earlier. It looks like Carl used a set of Calnevar Chrome Dress-Up trim rings with smooth hubcaps. What happened to this car?The photo is now in the collection of David Wolk.
Special thanks to David Wolk, Bill Junge, Anthony White and Todd Olson for sharing the photos and info with the Custom Car Chronicle.