La BOMBITA (Little bomb in Spanish)
The saga started out when I was much younger. When I first saw American Graffiti, I was blown away with the cars and hotrods in that movie, especially the yellow 1932 Ford 5-window coupe and the maroon ‘50 Mercury leadsled. The Mercury reinforced the ‘BAD BOY’ image to a later generation of moviegoers. Besides thinking that that yellow coupe was the bomb, the real BOMB for me was the Mercury in that movie.
I then went back to the same cinema over a couple of weeks and saw it another 8 times!
I saw “Heart like a Wheel” later on. The movie was about the first serious Top-Fuel female drag racer in history, the famous Shirley Muldowney. There was a chopped leadsled Mercury in that movie too. Later came the movie Cobra (starring Sylvester Stallone), also featuring a black Mercury leadsled, which just reinforced my resolve to own one someday. All these movies just fanned the flame to own a 2-door leadsled, either a “49 or “50 Mercury, just like in the movies.
Hotrods were the shine of hot engine builders and speed freaks, while the leadsleds & kustoms 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!
Spanning the years, I could only find 4-doors locally and was always really on the lookout for the 2-door variant. They are actually quite rare and unique worldwide and also super scarce in South Africa. At one stage I was seriously considering importing and building a fiberglass Mercury kit from AC Autos, (considered to be the best rendition available, in the States.)
The commitment to tackle a leadsled project can be a quite daunting task, taking the amount of hours to build into account and skills needed to finish the dream.
I believed my dream would never come true and would never actually find a 2-door locally, so I bought three 1949 donor Ford Bullet-Noses over a period of time, in order to build a future 2 door leadsled or Kustom.
One day I got a call from my friend, Piet Slot (unfortunately passed on now), a Mercury owner and a fellow member in our club, saying that he knew of someone wanting to sell a 2-door Mercury locally – as you might expect I thought it was a bad joke!!
After a few frantic calls I found and bought what I was searching for all those years, it was right under my nose, right here in 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 building a 2-door Mercury for a couple of years in progress,wanting to meet me and discuss Mercurys.
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 welded 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 Mercury for his chopped one, he unexpectedly said he would consider it ! With a bit of persuasion from Andre, Okkie said he would indeed swop me!. He had decided that he would rather like to build a stock Mercury instead …. WOW !!! How LUCKY could one hotrodder get!!!
According to Okkie there were already approximately 600 hours of labour in that build.!!! We arranged for the swop that same week.
I had previously bought a faux Oldsmobile Rocket 88 valve cover kit for a Small Block Chev while at the NSRA in 2013, as well as a traditional pancake Cadillac air cleaner cover for a unknown future project, (just in case). They were unexpectedly used on my ready and waiting rebuilt 350 Chevy and stock TH350 gearbox, which we painted Oldsmobile traditional green to match.They sure found a good home !!
On arrival, back at our shop,we sand blasted the chassis, box welded it completely, triangulated all corners and made all the pre-planned spaces and holes in the chassis for exhausts etc. The original firewall and gearbox tunnel was cut out, moved back and refitted again to accommodate the larger engine, as well as making space for the rear fitting dizzy. The firewall looks factory original. There is an aluminium radiator fitted as well as aluminum master cylinder bottle installed, both custom made by Barry van Niekerk 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. The shock absorber and airbag 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 undercarriage/suspension is painted silver as well.
We fitted a Jaguar front suspension with the springs removed. A imported LHD rack and pinion was installed and blanked off. Custom shocks were also procured and fitted. I sourced all my own air-ride suspension equipment (bags, truck air tank, compressors, switches and pipes) – locally here in Johannesburg. Both front and rear bags were fitted upside down for easier access to the airlines. The air control switches are hidden in the glove compartment for a clean uncluttered look on the dash, as well as for ease of operation.
The red 15” wheels are custom made Steelies, with Chev PCD in front and Ford PCD in the rear. These were made by my old friend, Cedric Saffy. The Wide Whites are from Coker and the hubcaps are “Ripples” from Speedway Motors.
The paint saga was also another story!!
Most of my friends said I was crazy to go MATT purple for the final colour and predicted it would not work and would look super SH1T !!! Luckily I didn’t listen to any of them. This unique 2K paint was mixed by Annetjie from Autopaint Centre in Centurion. The rest of the car is straight gloss black. The hood was traditionally louvred by Dave Blumberg – 92 chops in total – all perfectly straight.(masterful work). After about an additional 600 hours and with all the prep and primer finally done and It was painted by Bern van Gass in the carport!! All emblems, beadings, trim and mouldings were removed, for a perceived smoother & rounder, bulbous body shape.
As you can see it’s built LHD. The dash was masterfully cut up into 11 separate sections and re-welded. No one can tell the difference that it was originally a right side dash. The clocks and instruments were redone and serviced by Pierre from Speedo Services. There are 2x full door-length Golf 2 electric windows fitted and the switches and wires 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 with custom fiberglass surrounds to mask the gaps in the shape of the fenders. Two C10 taillights used as the front turn signals to give it a different and unique 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 Mercury – not shaved like most sleds. ’50 Mercurys have button door handles
Both benches were stripped and the frames reshaped. They were made shorter & flatter to give them a lowered look, just high enough to peek over the steering wheel. Ideal for KROOOZING .The seats are covered in black calf leather. The top, front and side panels, in the interior, were also custom made from fiberglass to finish the roof lining off and hide the inner roll cage which was specially fitted & made for strengthening the roof’s integrity. The 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 cream steering wheel is fitted. This rare wheel was sourced from Jim Price in P.E.by Richard Irwin. They are the wheel of choice with true old school rodders. The custom Flying Eye horn button and rear window graphics was done by Pierre from Pure Grafix in Midrand,
The basic car was completely 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. Hood, trunk 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 different ride heights .They are joined like the 1950 Mercurys were – 1949 Mercury quarter rear fenders were split. This is a stunning piece of metal welding magic.
The front bumper is custom fitted to the rear of the car, and the back bumper to the front, which gives it a tighter fit and look. The bumper bolts used are oval shaped, 30’s Ford style, 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 re-chroming 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 as well and has a VW Kombi rear view mirror and 2x Ford Swan side mirrors fitted. Elvis also sings VIVA LAS VEGAS !! hanging on his mirror, quite often.
Four stainless silencers were fitted, 2 on each pipe. They were custom made by Tommy from TNT in Germiston, as were the headers. This Kustom 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 in one go, to give it a coupe/hardtop look. It can stay in or be removed for a different appearance, at an instant. This difficult mod was first done by Sam Barris in the 60’s on a Mercury leadsled for his then customer, the young Bob Hirohata. This particular two-tone green Kustom car is one of the most famous Mercury leadsleds ever built. Bob’s 1951 was chopped three inches in front and five inches in back. In lieu of straight or slanted “B” pillars, his car was made into a hardtop, with curved, custom-fitted side glass. The car used 1952/53 Buick side trim. This gracefully arched side trim is the best known of all side trim swops and almost 60 years later it’s still known as the Hirohata Merc.
A friend and colleague, Fred Corbett, jokingly mentioned to me that it would be UBER cool if this demanding and difficult work 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 & Wesley 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!!!