A Day at the Barris Shop

 

A DAY AT THE BARRIS SHOP

 

The August 1953 issue of Rod and Custom magazineĀ  had a beautiful feature on a day at the Barris Kustom Shop. Lets take a closer look at this and see some never before published photos.



I was born in 1967, in the Netherlands, far away from where most of the Custom Car History originated. I’m way to young to have been able to walk around in the famous Custom shops from the 1940’s and 1950’s, my favorite Custom Restyling period. When I came across some old R&C magazines at an Dutch Classic Car show decades ago I was in 7th heaven. Many years later I came across some of the early Hop Up and R&C magazines, one being the 4th issue of R&C, August 1953, one of my all time favorite R&C magazines. This issue had an whopping 6 page article on an Saturday at the Barris Shop as part of the new Barris Korner series.

It was for me the first time I was able to get a better view of how the Barris Shop looked like, and worked, and how it must have been for the guys back then to work at this shop, or hang out there on a Saturday afternoon. The lead-photo of the article, taken across the street from the Barris shop is one of my all time favorite photos taken at the Barris Atlantic Blvd shop. To me it is pure magic, and I have always hoped that one day some more, or at least better photos would surface of this photo, or photos taken the same day.

The openings photo from the August 1953 R&C article. What a sight! This photo alone must have had an impact on a lot of people back in 1953, and really ever since. The Barris Kustom Shop, where all the Custom Car magic took place.
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Unpublished photos.

In December 2017 my good friend and CCC contributor Tom Nielsen, mentioned he had a few more photos taken at the Barris Shop, and was wondering if I could tell him a bit more about these photos. It turned out that Tom had several photos from this same Saturday photo shoot with George Barris as that was used in the August 1953 issue of R&C. But Tom’s photos had never before been published. They must have been outtakes. The photos Tom has in his collection are copies from copies from the original photos, and at this point it is impossible to find out where they originally came from. But we know that they were all taken with George Barris his camera, most by George himself, and others, where we can see George in, were taken by somebody at the shop.

One of the guys fooling around in the driveway. I wonder if George was standing on the roof of the building across the shop, or perhaps he used a ladder?
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My new all time favorite Barris Shop photo is this one, from ground level showing the fantastic Customs lined up in front of the shop, and the rest of the activities going on.
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Close up of the photo shows: from left to right Mystery parked in-progress Ford, Dick Meyer 1953 Ford, Snooky Janich 1941 Ford, Jerry Reichman 1950 Mercury 4-door, Dale Marchall 1950 Mercury, Jim Collins / Don Vaughn 1947 Buick, Larry Ernst 1951 Chevy.
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Sam Barris showing how an Barris Accessory Hot Rod fender would be mounted on his Model A roadster. The majority of cars done at the Barris Shop were Customs, but they were also very capable to do Hot Rods, as this and several other photos taken this day show.
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I really love this photo as well, not only because it shows three fantastic Barris cars, but also since it shows the corner across the street from the Barris shop, where an other iconic photo was taken which we have used for another CCC-Article. Dale Marchall is mounting his Kustoms Los Angeles brass tag to his in progress mild 1950 Mercury Custom. Behind it is Jim Collins 1947 Buick (formerly owned by Don Vaughn), and next to that is the Larry Ernst 1951 Chevy.
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In the R&C article we can read that Sam Barris (left) and George (right) are discussing plans for the Chet Herbert Bonneville Streamliner with Harry Lewis. Harry was hired by Barris to design and help create race cars at the Barris shop. This never before published photo was taken from a slightly different angle than the photo that ended up in the R&C article.
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Dicky Meyers is prepping this Model A on ’32 Ford rails Hot Rod for paint in a corner of the original building. Very interesting how they use news paper to tape off the engine bay preventing over-spray. The wheels and tires were covered by old rags. Notice the meters on the wall behind the car.
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1949-50 Lincoln coupe mildly restyled stopping at the Barris shop, possibly for a quotation on repairing the damaged front, and possibly further restyling?
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The R&C article describes a bit how a typical Saturday at the Barris shop looks like, at least part of it. We have heard stories from some people that the info in this article(s) is mostly correct, but very often they leave out the part that later at night they all went out to some of the famous places to hang out, go to dances, trying to hook up with the girls. have the most fun possible. According to some chasing the girls and trying to get them impressed with their automobile was one very important reasons for having a Custom Car.



Published photos

The article is done really nice and literary walks us true the shop as if the reader was to visit the shop himself. Starting outside the shop then going on to the drive way, or parking area, and then into the shop, the office first, then the work places int he original building and then on to the former Filbar Furniture building Barris had added to the shop not long before these photos were taken. The only thing that could have made this already perfect article would have been with a floor plan drawing…. I have thought about creating one, but at this moment I have not enough information to actually do one that I know is accurate enough.

The 6 page article in the August 1953 issue of Rod & Custom magazine. One of the very best Barris Kustom Korner articles, and this article alone must have boost sales on the magazine enormous.
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More stories on Saturdays at the Barris Shop
Jack Stewart was good friends with George Barris and spend a lot of time at the Barris Kustom Shop at Atlantic Blvd. George Barris finished his mostly Ayala restyled 1941 Ford in 1951. Jack mentioned that George loved to paint cars, and very often used the more quite weekends to stay at the shop mixing paint and spraying the many coats of lacquer to get the deep lustrous paint jobs the Barris Shop was so well known for. George painted Jack’s ’41 Ford during the weekend as well. Jack brought his car over on Friday, and when he showed up at the shop on Monday it was all done and looking amazing. Which, according to Jack was somewhat amazing, since the paint booth at this Atlantic Blvd shop was far from ideal with a dirty dusty floor. Jack always mentioned to George he might as well paint the cars outside. But George was still able to turn out amazing paint jobs at this shop.

In the early days of the Barris Shop, George was single (just as jack) and he would be at the shop most of the time 7 days a week. But especially the Saturdays were very busy at the shop. The Saturday all the car owners were off from their regular job, and would go over to the Barris shop to help out with their cars at the shop. The more work the owner could do on their own cars, the lower the bills would be.

Tommy Thornburg polishing the Larry Ernst 1951 Chevy. Parked next to is is the old Don Vaughn 1947 Buick, and peaking out over the rear of the top is an Henry J Custom. If we only could see this picture in color…
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Nick Matranga on the left discussing the options how to fix the damage done to the rear of the Snooky Janich 1941 Ford.
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Jim Collins from Gardena, California had recently bought the beautiful Barris restyled 1947 Buick convertible with Gaylord padded top from original owner Don Vaughn.In this photo Jim is cleaning the car, and we can see the back of Dale Marchall’s 1950 Mercury with custom taillight pods and primer painted sitting next to it.
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Bob Lund 50 MercuryFrank Sonzogni working on Bob Lund’s 1950 Mercury. In the background we can see the model A roadster getting ready for paint, and outside we can see a small portion of Jerry Reichman’s in progress 1950 Mercury 4-door.
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Jack also remembers many Saturdays he spend at the Barris shop with a lot of the guys from the original Kustoms Los Angeles club. The shop was a hangout place for the club, and everybody got together there, hang out for some time and then would go out together that Saturday night. Jack had good memories hanging out at the Barris shop with his good friend Doug Anderson (aka dog face) who owned a Custom 1939 Ford convertible with chopped padded top. And Jack Cordkill who owned a 1938 Ford Chopped Coupe, Dick Fowler was also a guy that Jack hung out with when he turned up at the Barris shop. Dick also owned a chopped 1938 Ford coupe, the one with the Packard grille, that Kurt McCormick now owns. Jack was also good with Bill Ortega who worked at the Barris shop part time and as well as at the parts department at an Lincoln Mercury dealer.

The Saturdays were always a lot of fun, where everybody helped on the projects, getting cars ready to hit the road on Saturday night, or prep them for a show the next day. Jack had very good memories about him and George driving George his cars to the parties, Jack never drunk much, so he usually ended up driving George his cars back home early in the mornings on Sunday. But this was perhaps a year or two before these photos were taken. During that time Jack also hung out with Marcia Campbell who hung out at the Barris Shop on Saturdays during the 1950-51 period. Jack remembered that Marcia was very well accepted at the shop by everybody. It was still very unusual for a girl to hang out at a Custom shop, but she fitted right in with the rest of the clan. Marcia always had here camera on hand, and shot a lot of photos at the shop and took the guys to nice locations to take photos, which she would develop and print, and then brought them over as a gift for the owner (and a copy for George Barris) the next Saturday.

Jack mentioned that the guys hanging out at the shop on Saturday were mostly the same guys each week, mostly pretty much the local guys, but when there was going to be a special event, or a special show, then Kustoms of Los Angeles club members from all around would gather at the Barris shop to drive to the event together. Jack proudly mentioned that very often he was leading the parade, just because his windshield had been cut into the roof a few inches, allowing him to see the stop lights. The rest would then just follow along.


Tommy Thornburg who owned a Barris restyled 1947 Studebaker Custom Convertible can be seen here cleaning the Larry Ernst 1951 Chevy. Perhaps Tommy’s Studebaker had not been finished at this point, or perhaps he agreed to take the Ernst Chevy to the show for Barris. Larry Ernst was from Ohio, and was most likely not in California when this picture was taken.
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Jim Collins cleaning his 1947 Buick Custom at the Barris shop to have it all Tip-Top for the show the next day.
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A low angle view of Dale Marchall mounting the Kustoms Los Angles tag to his 1950 Mercury, getting the car ready for the Pasadena show the next day. The old Don Vaughn Buick is sitting behind it.
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Sam Barris (left) and George (right) with Harry Lewis taking about the plans for the body on the Chet Herbert Streamliner, which will be created at the Barris Shop.
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Bob Johnson aka “Jocko” sanding the freshly applied primer on the rear fenders of Mr petersen’s 1952 Cadillac convertible. The car would later be painted Metallic Fuchsia Orchid.
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Frank Sonzogni working on the grille on Bob Lund’s 1950 Mercury using a 1951 Frazer grille bar, later three 1951 DeSoto grille bars would be added to this as well.
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1929 model A roadster on ’32 Ford frames getting ready for a new paint job. Old rags were used to cover up the tires while Dicky Meyers is cleaning the body.
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George Barris often used 1/25 scale plastic promo-model cars to give a quick impression of how a car could look. This helped him as well as the client in making decisions on the modifications, as well as on the colors. In this photo George shows some new paint on an Oldsmobile model for Jack Nethercutt’s 1952 Oldsmobile that looks to be almost ready for paint.
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Sam Barris putting together a brand new 1953 Cadillac Coupe deVille that had been just painted off-white at the paint booth at the back of the Barris shop.
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Different angle of Nick Matranga talking to Snooky Janich (named “Little” in the R&C article) to see how they can fix the dent in the trunk that happened the day before. Notice that the Snooky Ford had already been outfitted with the ’39 Chevy taillights by then. The R&C article stated that the Barris Shop always kept the paint formula of all the cars they painted. But as far as I know, in case of damage, they usually decided it was time for a complete new paint job.
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Lloyd Jensen working on a sectioned and turned convertible Henry J, seen here figuring out how to make the Kaiser taillights to work with the Henry J rear fenders. This car came from Iowa to have the Barris shop perform their magic. Not sure if I have ever seen the finished car. The Henry J was sitting just outside of the furniture building entrance.
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Ralph Manok working on a scoop set into the Cadillac front fender that was added to this 1941 Buick that came all the way from Ohio. We are still trying to find out who was the owner of this car, and what ever happened to it.
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John Manok working on the chopped top of Earl Wilson’s 1947 Studebaker four-door that later would be known as the Grecian.
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Frank Sonzogni is a full time motorcycle officer during the day, and is working part time at night and in the weekends at the Barris Shop. In his spare time Frank is working on his personalĀ  car, a 1950 Mercury which he can be seen working on in this photo. Sanding away on the freshly leaded chopped top.
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George Barris posing with a Jaguar Xk120 which he is Restyling as his own personal driver.
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Sam Barris talking to the owner of the ’29 Model A Roadster about using the new Barris Aftermarket Accessory Hot Rod cycle fenders.
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Dating the photos
So far we have not been able to confirm the date of the Saturday these photos have been taken. None of the photos have a date on it as far as we know.Ā  The Barris Korner article featuring these Spend a Saturday at the Kustom Shop photos was published in August 1953, which means the photos and text must have been submitted at least two month prior to this, and more likely even longer. Most likely the photos were taken in the first couple of month of 1953. There is one more hint about a possible date given in the R&C article, which mentioned that the next day, Sunday, there was going to be a car show held in nearby Pasadena. All the cars were cleaned and detailed for this show. So far I have not been able to find out what this show was for sure, but a good chance is that this was the Pasadena Auto Show and Reliability Run held on Sunday April 19, 1953. The 1952 Pasadena Auto Show (the first annual the previous year) had some high end Customs and Rods attending, plus it had a two page article in Hot Rod Magazine. So this could very well be the show the guys were preparing for on Saturday. (More info and photos on the ’52 show can be found in the CCC-Nick Matranga article.) If it was indeed this show, then the Saturday these pictures were taken was April 18, 1953. But I’m not 100% sure.

Flyer for the 1953 Pasadena Auto Show and Reliability Run.
(Courtesy of Bob Rhoades / Renegades Car club.)
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Special thanks to Tom Nielsen.




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Jerry Reichman 1950 Mercury

 

JERRY REICHMAN 1950 MERCURY

 

The 1950 Mercury 4 door sedan was an unusual car to base a full Custom Car on. But Jerry Reichman loved the look of it, and the Barris Shop outdid them self creating this stunning chopped 4 door Mercury Custom.



Jerry’s four door sedan Mercury based full Custom was, and still is a bit of an oddity. It was not totally uncommon to use a four door base car back in the early/mid 1950’s as a Custom Car, but doing it as a full custom including chopped top was very rare, even more because it was based on the so popular 1949-51 Mercury. George Barris added Jerry’s Mercury to his series of four books explaining the Barris Kustom Shop Restyling techniques from the 1950’s, partly to show that even four door were used as base. But at the same time he wrote “Shame it was a four-door”. I guess he rather would have done all the same body mods on the more popular coupes and or convertibles.

Jerry Reichman traveled all the way from Chicago Illinois to have his dream car, a 1950 Mercury four door to be restyled at the Barris Shop. Jerry had seen many Barris Kustoms Shop created custom cars in the magazines and decided this shop was the right one to create his dream custom.Ā  Jerry loved the shape of his stock 4-door Mercury body, the way the rear doors opened at the back and the shape of the side windows. It was around 1952 when Jerry made the trip to the Barris Kustoms Shop with a list of modifications he had in his mind for the Mercury. The fact that Jerry’s mercury was photographed with California plates might indicate that he actually bought the car in California, and not bring it from Chicago. One of modifications he wanted the Barris crew to perform on his four door Merc was a chopped top, and the use of a smaller rear window. Some of the other restyling elements came from proposals made by the Barris crew.


George Barris captured the restyling of the taillights on Jerry’s Mercury hand made pods around 1948 Studebaker taillight lenses.
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Jerry’s ’50 Mercury is most likely the first ever four door Chopped 49-51 Mercury to ever be chopped. Being a four door made it a bit harder to chop, than the two door. Of course because of the double door openings that needed to reshaped, and double to amount of door handles that had to be shaved and electrical openers to be installed. And also because the rear of the top had to be treated in a different way than a coupe would have been, especially with the instructions from Jerry who wanted to have the rear door window opening shaped conform the four door much more oval shapes. And also because the complete width stock rear window had to be replaced with a smaller unit.

All the body work is done, and the car is ready for paint at the Barris Atlantic Blvd. Shop. What is also unique about this photo is that it shows that the car still had its stock stance, and was not, like most other cars at the Barris shop already the lowered suspension before the other body would would start.
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The Barris crew decided to use a 1949 DeSoto rear window to fit right in place on the four door roof after the chop, and it really looks like it belongs there. It was most likely Sam Barris who set out to do all the restyling on the chopped top on Jerry’s Mercury. According the 1955 Motor Life magazine article the top was chopped 3.5 inches in the front and near 5 inches at the rear, creating a nice flow. When the top came down the rear of the top came forward a few inches and the turret panel from the top toward the trunk had to be extended forward. The drip rail was completely removed for the ultimate smooth look. To make the top flow even nicer with the body the top trunk corners were rounded, helping with the optical flow of the top. All the door corners on the Merc, with the exception of the bottom front and rear corners were rounded.

A good look at the reshaped rear section of the top and the new taillights and how they flow with the body character line.
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Close up of the front shows the molded grille shell and splash pan, the smoothed hood with rounded corners, 4 inch extended front fenders, and angled back towards the front of the front fender line.
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At the front a lot of work was planned on the car as well. The front fenders were extended 4 inches and ’52 Ford headlight rings were molded into extended fenders. The lower section of the fenders, below the headlights was angled back at the bottom. This was done in a similar way as the Ayala’s had done it on Wally Welch 1950 Mercury. Perhaps Wally had his Merc at the Barris Shop for the redo during the built of Jerry’s Mercury, and was Jerry, or the Barris crew inspired by it. The hood was shaved of all the trim and the hood corners rounded and the grille shell molded to the front fenders and the molded in gravel pan. The floating grille bar was created from a narrowed and v-ed, to match the Mercury grille opening 1953 Dodge grille. At the back of the hood the ends were cut off and welded to the cowl and front fenders creating a new shorter hood line with nice round corners, which also does not hit the fenders, damaging the paint later on. Jerry’s Mercury was one of the first Mercury’s that had this last modification done to it. But I think that the Ayala’s were earlier with this rear hood corner restyling on the Louis Bettancourt Mercury.

At the rear Jerry wanted new taillights molded into the body. The Barris crew came up with the idea of using hand made pods created using half inch round rod bend around 1948 Studebaker taillight lenses. The pods were positioned in such a way on the body that the top of the taillight pod was in line with the body character line., creating a beautiful flow from front to back. The pod was fine tuned using hand shaped sheet metal and molded into the body using lead.

All finished new taillight pod with the ’48 Studebaker taillight test fitted. Next up is primer.
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Primer sanding, filling in some small imperfections, more sanding and then cleaning the surface for the final paint-job.
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Some of the body restyling techniques on Jerry’s Mercury were captured on photo by George Barris, possibly to use in future magazine features, but the actual chop of the four door body was not captured. Possibly George never took any photos of the process figuring he would never want to use it in a magazine article anyway. There are a couple of photos of the car with all the body work finished, right before it would be painted. And interestingly is that Jerry’s Mercury was not yet lowered. In most in progress photos we have seen from the the Barris shop we see that before the major body work gets tackled on the cars, the ride height is adjusted for the perfect stance. And while doing the body work, and especially the chopped top on cars the overall balance can be checked. But not on Jerry’s Mercury. all the way thru the paint process the car was still on its stock ride height.

These two photos appeared in the “let’s Spend a Saturday at the Kustom Shop” article published in the August 1953 issue of Rod & Custom Magazine. Both photos show Jerry’s Mercury fresh out of the paint booth completely primed. In the left photo we can see a 1953 Cadillac Coupe DeVille which was introduced in October 1952. In the right photo we can just make out the top of the Merc on the right side of Snooky’s damaged ’41 Ford. It helps us a little with dating when Jerry’s Merc was created. After October ’52 and at least two month before August ’53. (it took about two month to publish a magazine back then).
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Jerry’s Mercury was painted by George Barris in a beautiful maroon color. George named the color “Mandarin” maroon in one of his book. In the 1955 Motor Life magazine feature the color was described as 25 coats of Golden “Tingia” Maroon Lacquer.

More final preparations before the multiple lacquer paint job can be applied.
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George Barris adding one of the multiple coats of maroon lacquer paint coats. Notice that the car is still at stock ride height during painting.
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Jerry’s chopped 1950 Mercury 4-door Full Custom was entered at the 1953 Petersen Motorama Show held in October/November 1953. The photo shoot at the famous Compton Drive-In theater together with Bill Bush his un-chopped 1949 Barris Custom Mercury was also taken in 1953. Jerry’s Mercury had a ’52 California tag on his California license plate and bill Bush had a ’53 tag on the plate. One thing that is a bit odd about Jerry’s Mercury is that it had California plates. Perhaps Jerry bought the car in California, and took it home to Chicago later. I have not been able to find any photos of Jerry’s Mercury taken after 1953 or with Illinois plates on it.

The earliest photo I have been able to find of the finished Jerry Reichman 1950 Mercury comes from the 1953 Petersen Motorama Show at the Pan Pacific Auditorium held from October 26th till November 1st 1953. The early version of the car shows that the emblem/scripts above the side trim was added at a later stage. It also appears that the car ran different hubcaps (possibly ’53 Studebaker) than the later ’53 Cadillac units.
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Multiple Barris Customs were on display at the ’53 Petersen Motorama. In the front the freshly finished Sam Barris, behind it the 1952 Nethercutt Oldsmobile and on the far right we can see a glimpse of Jerry’ ’50 Mercury.
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Stunning low angle photo shows the beauty and simplicity of the front on Jerry’s Mercury. Despite Jerry was from Chicago Illinois, the car did have a kustoms Los Angeles plaque on the front.
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Jerry’s 1950 Mercury four door was featured in the February 1955 issue of Motor Life magazine with a two page feature. Including 6 progress photos of how the Barris Shop had handled the head and taillights on the car.
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Rear 3/4 view of Jerry’s Mercury shows the super smooth lines, the smaller rear window and the use of 1951 Mercury fender skirts.
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The Car Speed and Style Article

The photos for this article were taken by Ralph Poole, and must have been taken in late 1953, after the Petersen Motorama. Jerry’s mercury now has the additional script (which looks to say Royal, but I’m not 100% sure about that) had been added on the front fenders, just above the side trim and the Barris Crest. The car is now also updated with the ’53 Cadillac hubcaps that replaced the ’53 studebaker units used on the car at the ’53 Motorama show. The photos from this photo shoot, would for unknown reasons not be used for another 5 years until the Car Speed and Style magazine article on the Reichman and Bush four door Mercury’s. Both owners names are not mentioned in the magazine article, but the cars are listed as Barris Kustoms created cars.

Jerry’s 1950 Mercury four door Full Custom was in color on the cover of the January 1958 issue of Car Speed and Style. It was accompanied by another 4-door Barris Custom, the Bull Bush 1949 Mercury, restyled much milder, with no chopped top.
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Close up of the much smaller than stock ’49 DeSoto rear window which the crew at Barris installed. The photo also shows the rounded trunk corners and the removal of the belt line trim.
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Close up of the extended front fender, hood corners and modified Dodge grille.
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California license plates with ’52 tags during the ’53 photo-shoot. Notice the exhaust true the rear bumper.
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The interior was beautiful upholstered in off white with wide pleats in maroon. The complete dashboard was smoothed and chrome plated. The stock steering wheel was replaced by Lincoln unit that was painted two tone. It looks like the Appleton Spotlight handles are either painted body color, or replaced with hand-shaped Lucite units.
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Jerry’s Mercury only had hubcaps on the front wheels. several lower points of view showed the painted wheels on the rear peeping out under the ’51 Mercury skirts.
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Even though the Compton Drive-In photos were already taken by Ralph Poole in 1953 most of them were not used until 1958. Possibly shortly after the car had been finished and photographed Jerry might have taken the car back home to Chicago in late 1953, perhaps early 1954. We have no idea what ever happened to this beautiful four door Custom Mercury. If any of our readers has any info on what happened to the car after 1953, please email Rik here at the Custom Car Chronicle. We would love to her more, and if possible add it to our story on the car.

Wonderful profile photo shows the beautiful chopped top and the well balanced side windows. The front section of the side trim with the Mercury Script was replaced with a flipped from side to side rear fender trim section. And it was also shortened around 15 inches compared to the stock trim.
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Personally I have always liked the chopped top on Jerry’s four door Mercury, I like the way the chop was done in a far less streamlined way than any of the 49-51 Mercury’s the shop had ever done, making the rear door windows look really attractive. The shape of the top also fits really well with the rest of the restyling of the car. To me the whole design is really well balanced, and I hope that one day a few more good quality photos from the several photo shoots with Jerry’s mercury will surface.






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