LA BOMBITA (Little bomb in Spanish)
It started out when I was much younger. I saw American Graffiti and was awestruck with the cars and hotrods in that movie, especially the yellow 1932 Ford 5-window coupe as well as the maroon ‘50 Mercury leadsled.
Besides thinking that that yellow coupe was the bomb, the real bomb for me was the Mercury in that movie. Hotrods were the shine of hot engine builders and speed freaks, while the leadsleds were the speciality of metalshapers and body men in the post war years. There was always a friendly rivalry between them, just as Chevy and Ford lovers to this day!
Later on, I saw a movie called “Heart like a Wheel “. The movie was about the first serious Top-Fuel female drag racer in history, Shirley Muldowney. There too was a chopped leadsled Merc which just reinforced my resolve to own one.
Later came the movie Cobra (starring Sylvester Stallone), also featuring a black Merc leadsled.
All these movies just fanned the burning flame to one day own a 2-door leadsled, either a ‘49 or ‘ 50 Mercury just like in the movies.
Over the years, I’ve always been on the lookout for one, but could only find 4-door types. Those for sale were super pricey and also in a very advanced state of rust and decay which I did not think would justify the labour and money to build such a beast. I was always on the lookout for the 2-door. They are actually quite rare worldwide and super scarce in S.A.
The commitment to tackle a leadsled project can be a quite daunting task taking the amount of hours to build into account.
At one stage I was seriously considering importing a fiberglass Merc kit from AC Autos, considered to be the best in the States.
I believed my dream would never come true and would never find a 2-door so I bought three 1949 donor Ford bullet nose cars over a period of time to build a future leadsled or Kustom.
One day I got a call from my friend, Piet Slot, also a Mercury owner and a fellow member in our club, saying that he knew of someone wanting to sell a 2-door Merc locally – as you might expect I thought it was a bad joke!!
After a few calls I bought what I was looking for. After all these years, it was right under my nose here in Primrose, Johannesburg.
That’s when the fun started:
It was stripped, categorised and all body parts sent to Marius Raaths for sandblasting.
On the return of these parts and during the initial stages of preparing the chassis and body, another friend, Andre van Rooyen mentioned that he knew of someone that was also busy with a 2-door Merc for a couple of years, right around the corner from his rod shop in Industria North, Roodeport.
I was so excited that I went to meet Okkie Marais from OJ Panelbeaters that very same day!
Okkie had done extensive work on a 2-door ’49 Mercury and had already chopped the roof and ZEDDED the chassis in the front – an old style lowering mod. The interior was also welded with crisscross with squaretubing to prevent any warping of the body. Driving back home from Okkie and thinking about what I had seen, I was blown away with the shape and stance of the car.
With a strange twist of fate, I phoned Okkie about 2 weeks later and jokingly asked if he would swop my unchopped Merc for his chopped one, he unexpectedly said he would consider it !?? With a bit of persuasion from Andre, I got a call later that Okkie would indeed swop me. He had decided that he would rather like to build a stock Mercury …. WOW !!! How lucky could one hotrodder get!!!
According to Okkie there was already approximately 600 hours of labour in that build thus far!!! We arranged for the swop that same week. Could not waste any time here.
We sand blasted the chassis, box welded it completely, triangulated all corners and made all the pre- required spaces and holes in the chassis for exhausts etc., before primering and painting it silver.
I had bought a faux Oldsmobile Rocket 88 valve cover kit for a small block Chevy while at the Streetrod Nats in USA in 2013, as well as a traditional Cadillac air cleaner cover for my dream baby . My rebuilt 350 Chevy and stock Turbo 350 gearbox was painted Oldsmobile traditional green and runs a 600 CFM Holley carb.
The original firewall and gearbox tunnel was cut out and moved back to accommodate the bigger Chev engine, as well as making space for the rear fitting dizzy . This work is amazing and looks factory original. There is a custom aluminium radiator fitted as well as custom ally master cylinder bottle installed, both made by Barry from Walkerville.
A Ford 9 inch was fitted with some serious modifications done to the rear suspension to lower it to the max. This diff is fitted above the rear springs with lowering blocks. Shock absorber and air bag mountings were also custom made to facilitate the extensive lowering. All pipes, brake lines and wiring are also channeled in the chassis and can’t be seen. The whole front and back under carriage/suspension is painted silver as well
We fitted a Jag front suspension with the springs removed. A LHD Jag rack and pinion was installed and blanked off. Custom shocks were also procured and fitted. I sourced all my own airride suspension equipment – bags, truck air tank , compressors ,switches and pipes – locally here in Joburg. Both front and rear bags were fitted upside down for easier access to the airlines for the suspension. The air controls are hidden in the glove compartment/cubby hole for a clean look on the dash, as well as ease of operation.
The red 15” wheels are custom made Steelies, with Jag PCD in front and Ford PCD in the rear. These were made by my old friend, Cedric Saffy. The Wide Whites tyres are from Coker and the hubcaps are Ripples from Speedway Motors.
The paint saga was also a little controversial!!
All/most of my friends said I was mad/crazy to go MATT purple for the final colour and predicted it would not work and would look super sh*t !!! Luckily I didn’t listen to any of them. This unique paint was mixed by Annetjie from Autopaint Centre in Centurion. The rest of the car is straight gloss black. The bonnet/hood was louvred by Dave Blumberg – 92 chops in total – all perfectly straight. After about another 600 hours, all the prep and primer was done .It was spraypainted in my carport!! All emblems, beadings, trim and mouldings were removed for a smoother /rounder perceived body shape.
As you can see it’s a LHD. The dash was masterfully cut up into 11 separate sections and rewelded. No one can tell the difference that this was originally a RHD dash. The clocks and instruments were redone and serviced by Pierre from Speedo Services. There are full door-length electric windows fitted and the switches are controlled from the dash not on the door itself. We wanted the interior to look period correct, BUT with modern controls.. The front headlights were frenched outwards instead of the traditional inwards way and the original ’49 taillights were lowered closer to the bumpers and the gaps filled by fiberglass surrounds due to the gaps in the shape of the fenders. There are also two Chev C10 taillights used as front flickers/turn signals in the front to give it a different and smoother look.
We also decided to keep and extend the rain gutters, this accentuates the teardrop look of the roof line as well as keeping the door handles standard. They look like big retro beer fridge handles which are unique to the 49 Merc – not shaved like most sleds are.
The bench seating was stripped and the frames reshaped. They were made shorter and smaller to give a lowered look just enough height to peek over the steering wheel. Ideal for KROOOZING .The seats are all covered in black calf leather. The top panels in the interior were also custom made from fiberglass to finish the rooflining off and hide the inner roll cage which was specially custom made for strengthening the roof integrity. There is also a custom rear parcel shelf and the interior running boards were made from fiberglass . The steering column is from Speedway Motors and an original, unmolested ‘40 Ford white steering wheel is fitted. This rare wheel was sourced from Jim Price in P.E. They are the wheel of choice with true old school rodders. The custom horn button and rear window graphics was done by Pierre from Pure Grafix in Midrand, while the Gasser style petrol pedal is from Speedway motors
The basic car was completely fully rewelded (all button /space and stitch welds were redone). One could say that the whole car is made up of 6 separate sections in total. Bonnet, boot lid, 2 doors, 1 piece front clip (completely welded up for strength and non flexibility) and then the body. The rear quarter panels were also welded and formed together to the body to prevent flex from the movement of the airbags .They are joined like the 1950 Mercurys were – ‘49 Merc quarter rear fenders were split. This is a stunning piece of metal welding magic
The front bumper is custom fitted to the back of the car, and the back bumper to the front, which gives a tighter fit and look. The bumper bolts used are rugby ball shaped, from the 1930’s Fords, which also gives it a different and stylish Kustom look. All nuts and bolts used in this build are stainless steel button heads and the rechroming of the grille and bumpers was done by Gavin.
The leather seats, side door panels, carpeting and roof lining was done by Caiphus from K&K upholstery. The front split window is frenched outwards and has a VW rear view mirror and 2 x Ford Swan side mirrors. Elvis also sings VIVA LAS VEGAS quite often.
Four silencers were fitted, 2 on each exhaust pipe. They were custom made by Tom from TNT in Germiston, as were the branches/headers. She runs super soft and quiet, just like a leadsled should.
Our biggest highlight of this build, in my opinion, is the pillarless look we have achieved. The B-pillar plus the rear quarter glass can be removed to give it a coupe/bent teardrop look. It can stay in or be removed for a different appearance. This difficult mod was first done by George Barris in the 60’s on a Mercury leadsled for his then customer, Mr Hirohata . This particular kustom car is one of the most famous Merc leadsleds ever built. A friend, Fred Corbett, jokingly mentioned to me that it would be uber cool if this demanding work to the pillar could be done on my project!!!… This planted a seed and the challenge was accepted. The results you see are outstanding!!
This lead sled was completely built in-house over a period of approximately a year. All work, with the exception of the wiring, (done by Clint Mann from Alberton Autolecs) was expertly done by Bern van Gass. This build can compared to any high dollar Hotrod/Kustom, anywhere in the world!!! I am so happy with the result and proud of his work.