Ken B 1948 Mercury Sportsman

Highschool Sweetheart

I saw your recent article of 46-48 Mercurys and I thought I'd tell you my story.

I met my high school sweetheart in 1957. She was homeless and lived in a junk yard. Her name was Betty. She looked terrible. Honestly, she was a wreck. But I fell in love with her immediately. I was 15. I knew that if I could take her home with me I could get her cleaned up and looking beautiful again. But I had to admit she was falling apart. She was in no condition to meet my parents. Dad might think she was cute, but I knew Mom would disapprove. Mom said I was too young. “She’s a mess.” She asked how would I take her out to meet my friends - I wasn’t even old enough to drive.”

Thankfully, after much pleading, my older brother agreed to lend me the money to make my dream come true. For $50 I became the owner of a 1948 Mercury Sportsman convertible. True, she had no fenders or hood or trunk lid; no grille, no top - in fact not much of anything - just a body and frame.

I lived on the outskirts of a famous Connecticut factory town named Naugatuck, on my grandparent’s former farm. Except for some chickens, all the livestock were gone. My grandfather could no longer work a farm and my dad worked for the power company, so the barnyard and barn became my playground. Dad paid to have the Merc hauled to our yard and I began my quest to rebuild my beauty.

On weekday mornings, my brother dropped me off at the junk yard on his way to work. I had my lunch and a leather bag of tools and started dismantling ’46, ’47 and ’48 Mercurys for parts. He would pick me up at 5 o’clock and we would load the day’s haul into his ’48 Ford sedan. After several days and many parts, I was ready to start assembly. Of course, my dad, an old Model A hot rodder, and my brother, who had already souped up his flathead, helped when they had time. My Dad usually taught me, and my brother usually critiqued my work, and both inspected my progress.

It took the entire summer of 1957 to complete the task. I might have finished it sooner but I had a large newspaper route that took up a couple of hours a day. I vaguely remember having to replace the front end as it was damaged in the wreck. I believe the original had knee-action belt shock absorbers. We replaced it with a Ford axel with tube shocks and had to have new king-pins pressed into it. I replaced the brake drums and wheel cylinders, plus the whole front clip (fenders and hood, which may be from a ’47), trunk lid and driver’s door. My dad and brother and I rebuilt the flathead. We had it bored and stroked and added a 3/4-race cam, and added twin Stromberg 97 carburetors. My brother did the spray paint. My mother made seat covers. And my dad got it registered. My brother drove it until I got my driver’s license in the spring of 1958. He fine tuned it and worked the kinks out until it was a perfect road machine (for 1958).

Of course, I drove it to high school during my junior and senior year. Then, it sat for 3 years in my dad’s garage while I was in the Army. Dad kept it running. Years later, I drove it to Los Angeles when I moved there in 1978. My high school friends teased me when I showed up at my 20th school reunion. “Still got the same old car, Ken? Are time’s tough?” We all laughed.

I’ve had many offers to buy her but she’s still with me. When I moved to Florida some years later I decided to rebuild it for modern street use. With the help of my friends, we welded in a ’74 Chevy Nova front-end subframe to improve the steering and suspension. We removed the body from the chassis to do a complete body cleanup and transformation of the running gear.

Now it runs with a 350/350 Chevy engine and transmission. The engine was set up by a local racing team with some performance modifications. The rear end is a beefed-up 10-bolt, with disc brakes all around. I put in an “ididit" steering column topped with a LaCarra steering wheel, Vintage Aire air conditioner, and a floor shift for looks. It has new glass all around, a heavyweight new power ragtop, electric windows, and a hundred other upgrades too numerous to mention from seats to body bolts.

I’m retired now and live in Florida. It took me 10 years to finish the work and I still drive my Merc occasionally but not as fast as I used to. She likes the highway more than city traffic so I still get the urge to hit the open road again. Betty and I have been together 58 years. (That’s longer than all my marriages combined). She still can be temperamental, but that’s just Betty. I still love her.

0 Reader Comments

Join the Discussion