1950 Mercury lead sled “Maximus” wins 2023 Ridler Award

Steven Pham

Bruce Harvey was the builder of Sho Bird, Rick Bird’s 1931 Chevy that won last year’s Ridler Award at the Detroit Autorama. To say that the Chevy’s radical front-end styling—incorporating two huge turbos and a chromed exhaust system—was an acquired taste is to understate the response from some naysayers. Another of Harvey’s builds brought home the Ridler Award for 2023: Luigi Deriggi’s 1950 Mercury two-door, “Maximus.”

Winning one Ridler more or less makes a builder’s career, so back-to-back titles is an an impressive achievement for his Pro-Comp Customs shop near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At the award ceremony in Detroit, Harvey told me that this time around  he wanted to demonstrate that he could produce a more restrained design than Sho Bird.

Harvey sported an ear-to-ear grin after the win, but “Maximus” owner Deriggi was wearing a face of mild shock. When I asked him to wrap up his reaction in a sentence, all he could say was, “Unbelievable!”

2023 Ridler Award hot rod autorama 1950 Mercury
Steven Pham

Though not based on something more predictable, like a ’32 Ford, the “Maximus Mercury” is fairly traditional for an extreme custom car with a handful of modern touches. You may recall that one of the most famous customs ever made, often described as the most influential custom car ever, is the “Hirohata Merc.” The Hirohata car is a 1951 Mercury Club Coupe that was chopped, channeled and stuffed with so much lead body filler for Navy veteran Masato “Bob” Hirohata (by George Barris’ brother, Sam) that it spawned the nickname “Lead sled.” Deriggi has wanted a 1950 Mercury-based custom ever since he saw Sylvester Stallone drive one in the 1986 movie, Cobra. Direggi’s stable also includes a 1941 Ford and a vintage Mustang.While it may have been inspired by the Cobra and Hirohata Mercuries, Deriggi, who owns a mini-supermarket and wholesale grocery business in New Jersey, wanted something original in concept. And Harvey delivered.

The roof has a 5-inch chop and the body panels were shaved. Custom taillights and fender-mounted exhausts were fabricated along with molded bumpers. Maximus also features a hand-built grille, front spoiler, and a very cool hood scoop that echoes the front end’s general shape. The Merc is finished in a shade of metallic and pearl brown called Candy Root Beer, highlighted with a slightly contrasting airbrushed motif along the car’s beltline. Chris Boyd provided the custom-designed offset wheels: 20 and 22 x 10-inch chrome 10-spoke showstoppers.

Paul Atkins did the fully custom interior. which features tan leather on the seats (based on TEA buckets) and door panels, with color-matched headliner and carpeting. The dashboard and full length console are finished in chrome and the same root beer paint as seen on the exterior. Sparc Industries created a custom steering wheel specifically for this build. New Vintage USA provided the gauges for a custom dashboard fabricated by Harvey’s team at Pro Comp.

So much for the show, now for the go. The Merc body sits on a customized Art Morrison chassis with air suspension. Power is provided by a beautifully polished Ford “Coyote” V-8 with Borla stack fuel injection and topped by eight gleaming, chromed velocity stacks. (Everything is improved with velocity stacks!) Power flows through a Ford AOD automatic transmission and a quick-change differential.

Everyone in attendance seemed happy with the choice of winner. Well, everyone except for the remaining Great Eight finalists. Check back with us tomorrow for a rundown article on the seven runners-up

2023 Ridler Award hot rod autorama 1950 Mercury
Steven Pham
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    All the pictures of the beautiful Mercury and NO PICTURES OF TAIL END AND TAILLITES AND REAR QUARTER EXHAUST!

    There aren’t many young dudes with pockets deep enough to pay for a Ridler level build. Also, not all of them are dudes. One of this year’s Great Eight, the ’69 Superbee, is owned by a woman (who also owns some McLarens, including a Senna).

    If I DID have enough cash, why in the world would I spend it on a trailer queen? I’d buy me a really nice new driver (insert favorite make & model).
    Now if I had an excess of money, would things be different, but there again, why? Just to sit behind it somewhere and say “yup, that’s mine” ??
    Does this level of “car” earn any of the profits made at the door? It should!!
    If so, then a worthy of the investment! But let’s face it, even magazine profits aren’t like they once where … Has Hagerty paid the owner for this article?
    Curiosity drew me to see what all the fuss was about …
    Call me old school … nice to look at, but I’s rather drive em!

    I think the owners see themselves as patrons of a particular art. They’re usually not looking to make a buck, though the builders are.
    As for payment, I don’t work for free and Hagerty has always paid me on time.
    If I had the kind of money it takes to build a Ridler competitor, I’d probably spend it on a dozen or so cars that would be driven regularly.

    I agree entirely! Seems a waste of good money to stuff it in an airconditioned garage and not even take it out on a sunny day. Once was a saying , “Run what you brung” Definitely use the car!

    I have a Harley I sorta customized and it just sits in my garage. I can’t ride anymore but I can still look at it and sit on it and run my hands on it and remember and smile.

    We’re still working on the photos for this post – there were some issues regarding resolution and uploads. When the post on the Great Eight finalists goes up there should be a full gallery of photos.

    In any case, I believe the rear of the car and the fender mounted exhaust can be seen in the second photo.

    Photography of the Ridler competitors has issues. Since it’s a hot rod show and the cars have to be operational, they’re judged with the hoods up so judges can see the engine compartment. Nobody ever drew a car with its hood up while sitting in study hall (or class, or detention). You have to find an owner or builder near the car and ask if they can put the hood and deck lid down, which works maybe half of the time. Otherwise, you just have to catch them when they’re closed.

    I’m with you Ken. Take it outside with the hood and trunk closed and lets appreciate the cars profile in real light.

    …that’s always been a problem with taking pics of cars at either Autorama or former Detroit NAIAS – the lighting in Cobo Hall makes it almost impossible not to have those crazy lights screw-up all your vehicle photos!

    The Autorama and NAIAS, in my experience as a guy who isn’t a pro photographer but takes a lot of pictures, are apples and oranges. The Autorama has those rows and rows of what are probably high pressure sodium lights near the ceiling as well as all the supplementary lighting in the displays. At the NAIAS those overhead lights are dimmed or off and I think the cars themselves are illuminated very well, well enough that I can shut off the flash.

    Try using a camera with a real lens and that doesn’t also make phone calls and use a polarising filter. You can make the pix much more to your liking.

    Front end reads as modern Mini (not a complement).

    Obviously the build execution is extreme, but then all the Great 8 can boast that.

    For me, the 78 Mustang II Cobra and 58 Cameo are the conceptual winners of making something more/different/unique and one of them should have won the award.

    The rest of the field is pretty blah, generic excellence if you will.

    I love the small details on a build like this. The 80’s Mercury logo in the wheel center caps put a smile on my face for sure.

    Absolutely agreed, looks like somebody puked a glitter car.
    All these Barris wannabes would not know originality if it ran over them I don’t understand why the judges don’t recognize this. Or perhaps they are so jaded that anything that shiny and looks finished is a winner!
    Anybody out there can throw a coyote or LS motor in a car, a shiny crap paint job, stupid mods, and even dumber Wheels with no rubber but lots of chrome and come away with a trophy for a static sculpture.
    Just saying.

    Instead of bashing those that put out their efforts, why don’t you show the car world what you can do? I’m not saying that you aren’t entitled to your opinion but if you think you can do better, prove it.

    As a Ridler contender in last years show (2022) I can assure you that it’s not about building “cars” anymore. Asking someone to “prove” they can do better is really kinda an elitist comment. The average Ridler contender has spent at LEAST a million dollars on their build. I did not. I built a car that was actually able to be driven on roads and the judges spent less than 2 minutes looking at my car that took 5 years to build. Many of the other Ridler contenders had no mirrors, no working A/C systems, no wipers, etc. Clearly the judges are only interested in “car as art” — which is fine. But with that said most “car folks” can neither afford or want to build a multi million dollar car that is only driven in and out of the trailer. Sad that there is no inclusion for actual cars that are real cars. As for the “driving” requirement for Ridler contenders, it’s a joke. I was asked to drive my car forward about 10 feet and wiggle the steering wheel– then back it up 10 feet. Done. I saw that the chrome brake rotor cars were using felt pads to protect the rotors from being scratched. Hardly a “drive-able” car.

    IMO this has gotten of hand. It would be nice if judging was a little more “all inclusive” or at the very least a nod to those like myself who can build a contender ( and when I say myself, I mean I personally built my car) that actually drives without spending millions of dollars. The Ridler has escalated to this and I truly don’t know what the answer is. But it does seem a little off when some of the owners of these multi million dollar entrants may not have any idea what engine is even in there car.

    I’m no fan of thoughtless LS-powered customs. When the Ring Brothers put a LS in that Pantera they did, I wondered, haven’t they heard names like Windsor, Cleveland, and Cobra Jet, or even something modern like the Coyote? For what it’s worth, I think three of the Chevrolet based finalists did not use LS powerplants. In fact the “what if” ’58 El Cameo used a period correct engine.

    As for paint, I worked in a DuPont automotive paint lab for over 20 years. The paint work on the Ridler competitors is at least as good as what you will find on a Pebble Beach Concours winner. Most of them are some kind of pearl or metallic, which are hard to apply evenly so you don’t get “tiger striping” and other issues. Whether or not you like the styling or the mods, the paint on the winner was flawless, not “a shiny crap paint job”.

    As for static sculptures, one of the finalists was built to go autocrossing after its show days are over. The owner has competed at the national level in SCCA. One of the Ridler Award rules is that the cars have to be operational and driven onto the show floor. Sure, a lot of them aren’t practical street cars but most of the owners are car guys who actually want to drive their creations.

    Even the winner, Luigi Deriggi, told me that he plans on eventually using the Mercury as a driver.

    Actually I called the “what if ’58 El Cameo”. They called it the El Cameo as if it was a transition model between the Cameo pickups and the ’59 El Camino.

    I pretty much like it but, same old tired headlight treatment. You’d think a former riddler winner could come up with better.

    I have a 56 customline 2 door hardtop (victoria body) I have restored 100% stock much to the annoyance of some of my friends who insisted it would be better as a street rod or custom (whatever that is).
    Beautiful white over springtime green.

    There’s a stock ’50 model about 2 miles from my house. The owner’s small yard used to be covered in old cars, but he seems to have gotten rid of a few during the pandemic.

    I have always loved the original stock 50 Mercs. I looked long and hard to find one that wasn’t modified/customized/chopped/ etc. Why anyone would want to change that beautiful front end is beyond me. Finally found a beauty 2 years ago pristinely restored. I love it and drive it.

    Very nice custom. I would have sculptured the lower grill bar follow the curve of the lower pan and the top to match the upper bulge of the upper grill surround and hood. Maybe tipping the bottom under a bit to give it a bit of an animal look. like ready to bite into the air.

    That’s what caught my eye right away. The headlights (?) has for me, used up it’s styling usefulness over the years. Has anyone ever seen a Merc that was sectioned and with a chopped top. Like a 4″ by 4″.

    It’s impossible for me to appreciate the car from these photos. The lighting is horrible, and the color of the car amplifies the problem. As far as the project goes, is there a bigger cliche than an over the top 1950 Mercury Lowrider?

    That’s an optical illusion. Caused by the “V” in the light surround in front of the car. Can you put to many lights around a car and overwhelm it?

    Many show car owners build the “trailer queens” that are so much derided by commentors, and place them on the circuit for a few years – then put them on the street. Most cars don’t stay in shows forever – after crowds have seen them, they kind of lose their draw. I personally know several builders and owners who take have taken advantage of a newly-built vehicle by trailering and showing for the first year or two, and then put them on the street, where rock chips, road grime, and general wear-and-tear do their jobs. Grandted, SOME cars are built only for display and stay that way – but that doesn’t mean that ALL show cars are “taking a great drive off the street”. For all of you who chide builders for just creating static art, and chant “cars need to be driven”, please take a moment to clarify with the owner whether it will “sit in an air-conditioned garage” forever or whether it will in fact be driven at a future point. 🤨

    I can see it. Dual spots on the A pillars with rear view mirrors in them, tip em out to look behind. LOL. Or go to cameras, Al-La Nascar cup cars, or a full on 360 camera system, like the new stuff. Is this fun or what!

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