The ultimate Kustom Kemp is the Hirohata Merc and for decades, it was untouchable. Sure, you could catch the famous Barris brothers-built custom at a museum or a concours, but not since 1959 has there been a chance to slide behind the wheel and drive it cross-country like Bob Hirohata once did in 1953.
On March 21, 2021, the family of longtime Hirohata Merc owner Jim McNiel announced on Instagram that the custom 1951 Mercury coupe was for sale.
“Hey Kustom fanatics! After 60 years of ownership, the #HirohataMerc is now for sale and looking for a new home,” stated the Instagram post by hirohatamerc. “Our family has enjoyed this car immensely for over six decades and now it’s time for new stewardship to continue its legacy.”
As the ultimate custom car, you can bet “We’d Buy That”... once our lotto numbers come up.
There’s no price listed on Instagram, but as the most influential kustom car of all time, we’re betting the price tag is in six- or even seven-figure territory.
After its build for Bob Hirohata into a custom by Sam and George Barris in 1952, the Hirohata Merc went on to appear in magazines and at car shows, racking up way more than 100 trophies. The Merc even appeared in the Hollywood film “Runnin’ Wild.” It was one of the first chopped Mercs, and with its perfect balance of clean trim and numerous but subtle modifications, the Hirohata Merc went on to be the most copied custom Merc for decades. Customizers are still influenced by the Hirohata Mercury today.
After Hirohata sold the car in 1955, the Hirohata Merc went through a handful of owners until McNiel bought the well-used kustom as a 16-year-old in 1959. He parked it five years later, leaving it out of sight but not forgotten for decades.
As the world’s most famous custom Mercury, people began to seriously hunt down the Hirohata Mercury. All but a few kustom car guys knew McNiel still had it. By 1988, he was ready to bring the car back onto the pages of magazines and began restoring the historic chopped Merc. Today, it’s a show stopper again. McNiel regularly displayed the restored Hirohata Merc and after his passing in 2018, his family has continued to do so. Currently they have their Hirohata Merc displayed at the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles.
While the Hirohata Merc has been imitated and even outright copied, there’s only one original. Now that it’s for sale, Instagram followers began speculating who would buy it. One of those suggested buyers was Barris kustom car collector Jack Walker, who had a beautiful copy built while McNeil was still hiding the original. According to comments on the Instagram post, he was contacted about purchasing the original Hirohata Merc but did not make a deal.
The Hirohata Merc and other Barris kustoms regularly appeared on the pages of Bob Petersen’s publications, so many have speculated that the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles would be the perfect buyer. According to the family members who posted the Hirohata Merc’s availability on Instagram, the Petersen Museum has shown interest. However, the pandemic has been financially trying for museums and the timing for such a purchase probably couldn’t be worse.
The family stated on Instagram that it’s “trying to avoid the auction route,” so now is your chance to buy that Merc. You may never have another shot to buy the ultimate kustom from the heyday of custom cars.
If your checkbook isn’t big enough to snag the Hirohata Merc’s pink slip, run down to the Petersen Museum and catch one more glimpse of it — you may not have another chance.
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