Story and photos By Tom Maruska
While waiting for less humid weather in order to sandblast parts to the 1956 Mercury XM-Turnpike Cruiser concept car, I moved on to restoring and rebuilding many of the components to the dream car. When the weather is humid, the sandblaster clogs from the moisture in the air mixing with the sand. That makes the job miserable as I have to constantly disassemble the sandblaster to unclog it.
So, I moved on to tackling the motors in the butterfly roof window panels. The motor was inoperable and as can be seen in the photos, its interior was pretty rusty. I took the motor completely apart and sandblasted the case inside and out (the sandblasting cabinet for small parts doesn’t clog up), cleaned the armature and brushes, soldered new wires in place and painted and reassembled the motors. When completed, they both ran as new. The rest of the butterfly operating mechanisms were also cleaned, repainted and greased for years of smooth operation.
An item that was difficult to make was the acrylic dividers that rest on a chrome bar and separate the quarter window glass from the acrylic windows at the rear corners of the car’s roof. They’re intended to give the illusion that there’s nothing there while they are actually supporting the roof, as well as acting as dividers between the two types of windows. The original chrome steel supports were too far gone for the chrome shop (AIH Chrome Plating in Dubuque, Iowa) to plate. The shop sent them back and told me to make new ones, which I did.
Recreating the steel supports was relatively simple; the acrylic coverings, however, were not. There is an acrylic divider between the rear glass quarter windows and the acrylic glass rear corner windows. It’s going to be a tricky part to reconstruct because it has to be polished in all crevasses to make it as clear as glass. I purchased a small piece of 3/4-inch Plexiglas from a vendor on eBay and using an original piece for a pattern, I used my table saw to cut the basic shape and then cut out the grooves and notch. The difficult part was sanding and polishing the acrylic inside the grooves and notch to end up with them perfectly smooth and clear in order to get the desired effect when installed on the car. They mount over a chrome bar and the idea is to make them seem transparent and as if they don’t exist, giving a wide-open view from inside as well as outside the car with no blind spots.
All of this work to recreate the acrylic windows had me thinking about a place not too far away me, in Lakeville, Minn., that specialized in making acrylic displays for retail stores. The business was Masterglas and the owner, Steve, was a “car guy” and would make custom acrylic parts for various car projects. For instance, he made some of the domes for Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s cars as well as cockpits for small aircraft. I heard about him while I was restoring the Thunderbird Italien concept car on which the large rear window was acrylic. At the time I contacted him, he was more than happy to make the Italien window and then later, when I was restoring the Mercury XM-800 concept car, he also made the windshield and back glass for that project. When I purchased the XM-Turnpike Cruiser and again had the need to have acrylic windows made, I called Masterglas only to find out that Steve had passed away and they were shutting down his business.
That sent me searching the country and even Canada looking for a place, hopefully within driving distance, to make the acrylic windows for this project. I found one place in California and another in British Columbia. Their prices were reasonable, but the kicker was that I had to ship these heavy and fragile plaster molds across or out of the country and if they got broken in transit, I’d be starting all over. Then I got the hair-brained idea to build my own oven large enough to accommodate the sheets of acrylic in the size I needed to make the XM-Turnpike Cruiser’s windows. I searched on Craigslist and found two electric ranges nearby for free. I brought them home and stripped them of the side panels, heating elements, oven controls, door hinges, seals and insulation. I purchased two sheets of 18-gauge sheet metal and went to work cutting and welding and built my own oven big enough to accommodate my needs.
As a test for my new oven, I used a piece of old Plexiglas I had in the shop and it turned out fine. Except for the scratches from laying around the shop for a couple years, the test piece would have been a good window. I put off forming the actual windows until a later date.
The XM-Turnpike Cruiser has unique conduits for the power window wiring as it enters the doors. There are also unique covers for the door hinge openings in the A pillars. These items were quite rusty and I had to rebuild them before the doors are properly in place. I also made new door sill plates.
I kept busy over the next few weeks rebuilding other component parts for the car. These parts included the master cylinder and brake booster. It’s a Bendix Treadlevac booster as commonly used on a lot of Ford Motor Co. and General Motors products of the day.
With all of the aforementioned parts restored and ready to reinstall on the car, I figured I better get back to getting the car ready for them. By then, the humidity had dropped and the weather was perfect for sandblasting.
I do the sandblasting in my shop and to contain the sand, I erect a “tent” over the car using the same tubular framework you see over vendor spaces at swap meets and other outdoor events. I wrap it with clear 4-mil poly and tape it to the floor. I have an exhaust fan in the sidewall of the shop and I construct a “duct” to it from the tent.
Once the sandblasting was completed, I left the tent in place and sprayed epoxy primer on the exterior of the car and its body parts. Then I sprayed the interior with KBS Coatings rust proofing paint and that will be the finished interior color. Every bit of the metal in the passenger compartment will be covered by carpet, panels and the headliner so the color doesn’t matter.
The next step will be refinishing the exterior of the body and getting it ready for paint. As you probably know, it’s a rather time-consuming, boring procedure comprised of spreading body filler (aka Bondo) over the entire surface of the body, waiting for it to harden and then sanding about 98 percent of it off and doing it again and again and again until it’s, as the saying goes, “laser straight.” You probably won’t hear from me again until the paint is on and assembly has begun. I can’t wait for that point in the restoration!
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