In 1951, Mercury offered the last, and some say the best, version of their highly popular Mercury Eight body style that debuted in 1949. Those three years provided a much-needed resurgence for Ford Motor Company, and Mercury played a strong part in the company’s soaring sales. However, thanks to custom car builders in southern California, the legend of the ’49-’51 Mercury didn’t end in 1951, but continues to this day. In 1953, Sam Barris of Barris Kustoms built a customized 1951 Mercury that set the car culture on its ear and created an entirely new genre of customization, the “Lead Sled.”
Ford Motor Company introduced the Mercury brand in 1938 as a 1939 model. Until Mercury came along, Ford sold only the low-price Ford brand and the upscale Lincoln brand. Mercury was priced between the two and was intended to compete against other mid-price cars like Oldsmobile and Dodge. Ford’s strategy worked well and Mercury sold strongly, although it was not until 1949 that Mercury had its own unique body styling. That styling continued through the 1951 model year.
Mercury made a few changes for 1951, including a horizontal grille that wrapped around the front sheet metal and included the parking/turn signal lights. The rear was also changed, by extending the rear fender lines and incorporating new vertical taillights. The output from the 255 cu. in. flathead V8 engine was boosted to 112 horsepower and, in addition to the three-speed manual transmission, the first Merc-O-Matic automatic transmission was offered.
A full lineup of models was offered with two-door standard and Monterey coupes, a two-door convertible, a two-door station wagon, and a four-door sedan. Mercury’s sales magic had not worn off as 1951 set a production record with 310,387 cars.
Sam Barris customized a 1951 Mercury coupe for client Bob Hirohata that won many awards and is generally considered to be the most famous custom of the classic era. It has appeared in many car magazines, was featured in the movie ‘Running Wild’ starring the effervescent Mamie Van Doren, and made Rod & Custom’s list of 50 favorite Rods & Customs in 2003.
Bob Hirohata’s ’51 Mercury is credited with starting the “Lead Sled” genre of car customization that is still popular today. When Ford gave Mercury its very own body design, they created a blank canvas that inspired customizers everywhere to let their creativity run wild and forge their own timeless masterpieces.