Story and photos BY Tom Maruska
The last installment in this series covering the restoration of the 1956 Mercury XM-Turnpike Cruiser concept car left off with the completion of upholstery on one of the seat backs. Tackling the interior was a change of pace to spell me from the extensive sheet metal fabrication I have been performing on the car. Shortly after the last installment, I had one seat 100 percent complete.
The bucket-type seat is very “Jetsonish.” Some of you younger folks probably aren’t familiar with “The Jetsons,” but they were a futuristic space-age cartoon TV family in the early ’60s. The complete interior of the XM-Turnpike Cruiser is very space age, yet it actually predates “The Jetsons” by almost a decade. Nonetheless, it’s a very well put together interior and as time slides by, you’ll get to see it get restored.
The windshield bunk
I’ve been dreading this part of the restoration since I started working on the car over a year ago. This is the area that the windshield sits on. It’s a little different on the XM-Turnpike Cruiser than any other car I’ve worked on in that the windshield sits about an inch below the deck of the cowl. It’s designed that way so there is no black rubber windshield seal breaking up the “vista view” flowing into the car. After the windshield gets installed, another filler strip painted the body color will get installed flush with the top of the cowl. The instrument panel then gets installed on the inside, right up to the glass, so the transition from outside to inside is obstacle free.
There was no means to drain this recess for the windshield when Ghia built the car’s body. As a result, this area nearly rusted away completely. Fortunately, the track that the windshield rubber sits on was still solid, so I was able to save that area in order to maintain the original shape of the windshield base. However, I had to reconstruct all of the structure that supports the glass, windshield wiper motor and wiper arms. I also constructed a trough below it all with several drain tubes. Rubber hoses will eventually get attached to the drain tubes to allow water to drain through the bottom of the firewall to outside.
This area is close to completion. I’ve painted inside the trough area with the KBS Coatings rust-proofing paint that I’ve been using on the project. I’ve also been brush painting areas that otherwise would never get a finish before I cover them up, so these areas will likely never have to be rebuilt again.
With the purchase of the XM-Turnpike Cruiser, I received a professionally built plaster mold for the windshield. When I wrote about the XM-Turnpike Cruiser project on a Facebook page, a gentleman named Glen Durmisevich wrote and said, “When Ray Sabo owned it, there was no windshield. So he called Don DeLaRosa, who was Ford’s design liaison to Ghia when the Turnpike Cruiser was built. DeLaRosa had gone to Chrysler and became VP of their design when Ray called him. He sent a couple Chrysler modelers over to clay up a windshield and make the molds.”
There is an inside and outside to the mold. The glass maker I’ll be using to make this custom windshield is Brian Edmunds of Gilchrist Glass Bending in British Columbia, Canada. Edmunds said he would use the inside mold as it’s easier to drape hot glass over it when forming a windshield.
I figured I would put the mold to a test before investing several thousand dollars in a custom one-off windshield. I wanted to make sure the new one would fit when I received it.
I painted a couple coats of a universal mold release agent on the plaster mold and then layered several sheets of fiberglass cloth over the mold and painted on resin between the coats to make a fiberglass windshield for test fitting.
After the fiberglass cloth set sufficiently, I was able to trim the perimeter to match the mold. In the meantime, I had purchased a rubber windshield seal from Super Soft and I attached it to the fiberglass windshield, then installed it on the car.
To my amazement and great satisfaction, the mock windshield fit perfectly! All that’s left now for the cowl and windshield section is to build a crate for the plaster mold and ship it off to Canada, then wait for the new glass to arrive. After getting into it, it wasn’t as bad as I feared.
More and more rust
The rust situation was the same alongside the quarter and rear windows as it was under the windshield — not much metal left. I began by making a paper template of the surface of the rear cowl (the area between the back glass and trunk opening).
I cut out the top sheet metal and bent it to match the original, then cut out the notches for the roof supports and laid it on top of the original piece to make sure I’d have a good fit. I scribed the end edges of the new piece onto the car body so I’d know where to cut out the rusty section. I welded temporary supports to the roof as I didn’t want anything moving when I began cutting out the rusted metal.
Then I proceeded to build the drain trough under the front edge of the trunk lid and the support structure underneath the cowl. A plasma cutter was used to cut away the rusted piece at my scribe lines and around the roof support posts.
I removed the original rusted rear cowl from the body and damn near dropped it on my feet! I couldn’t believe how heavy it was as I had just fabricated the replacement piece and it was comparatively light. I weighed the two pieces and the new one was just under 8 lbs. The rusty piece weighed in at 24.4 lbs.! There was 16 pounds of lead on it for shaping the top. I built the replacement piece to the elevation of the lead on the old piece.
The rear turn signals are in the back corners of the roof. Like everything else, the housing areas were badly rusted, so I rebuilt both of them and with that completed, the main body of the car became rust free. It is now ready for finishing.
When ironworkers complete their part of building a structure, they erect a Christmas tree on top of it. In keeping with their tradition, I erected a small Christmas tree on top of the XM-Turnpike Cruiser.
I still needed to cut the bottom 8 in. off each door and rebuild them, as well as construct a completely new hood and trunk lid. There was not much left of the door bottoms. I had the doors on and off the car numerous times to make sure the alignment was right before I welded everything solid to the bottom.
A few days ago, I brought the engine to Midwest Engine Rebuilders here in Duluth, Minn., to give the engine a complete overhaul. It didn’t have many miles on it, but since it sat so long, I didn’t want to take anything for granted. The same goes for the transmission, but I’ll be doing that myself in the not-too-distant future.
I have the drivers door done at this point so I’ll sign off until the next update. Thanks again for reading!
Tom Maruksa Restorations
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