Story and photos By Tom Maruska
The reconstruction of both doors for the 1956 Mercury XM-Turnpike Cruiser concept car is complete. It consisted of cutting off the bottom 8 in. of the doors both inside and out and rebuilding them and reinstalling the original mounting bracket for the power window mechanisms. I also sandblasted the remainder of the doors so they are ready for refinishing. They have also both been on the car several times to make adjustments for proper fit.
A Sneak Preview
Although I haven’t done any restoration work on the power window mechanisms as of yet, I thought you might like to take a peek at them. They are quite interesting. They are completely handmade mechanisms and I like to call them “dinosaurs.” It’s tempting to install modern mechanisms in the doors as they are so simple nowadays, but I will restore and install the originals sometime down the road.
In the right front of the engine bay sits an air cleaner. It’s remotely located and connected to the dual carburetion via a flexible 3-in. duct. This air cleaner was also used on the 1955 C600 cab-over-engine (COE) Ford trucks just like the one pictured pulling the Big M Van-O-Rama, the original rolling display showcase for the XM-Turnpike Cruiser. (By the way, if anyone knows anything about the whereabouts of the Big M Van-O-Rama trailer, I would sure like to talk to you!)
The housing surrounding the carburetors is simply a choking mechanism. There is a cable attached to a flap on the housing inlet. The air filter was originally an oil bath filter, which I planned to convert to a paper filter. I sandblasted the housing and it came out looking like a strainer — full of holes. And with the thin metal, it would be impossible to weld up.
I tried to find a solid replacement, but none was to be found so I constructed one from fiberglass. I smeared body filler on the inside of the rusty original to ensure coverage of all the rust holes, then sanded the outside smooth where the filler bled out. I then coated it with form release agent. Next I coated the outside with several layers of resin and a couple layers of glass cloth. When it all hardened, I removed the fiberglass mold from the original air cleaner.
Now I had a perfect copy of the housing, albeit reversed from what I needed. The next step was to coat the inside of the “buck” with form release, followed by several layers of resin and glass cloth. I fabricated
a 3/16-in. steel wire loop the diameter of the top of the buck and embedded that in more cloth and resin. I allowed it to sit overnight and the next morning, I separated the new glass housing from the buck. After a little more finishing on the inside, I had a perfect duplicate of the original steel part. I cut the bottom mounting area from the original and glued and screwed it to the new part so it will fit and look like the original. You can see the “OIL LEVEL” mark in the steel part, and that is also perfectly duplicated on the fiberglass part. Then I found an oil filter to fit and it’s ready to go to work.
Special Valve Covers
As can be seen in pictures of the engine bay above, the XM-Turnpike Cruiser also had special valve covers.
You may recall from an earlier update that the original valve covers were stolen long ago along with the intake, carburetors and the aforementioned choke housing. The valve covers were originally 1955-’57 Thunderbird dress-up valve covers with the T-Bird emblem removed and “Turnpike Cruiser” scripts from a pace car in their place. Mr. Cosh, from whom I purchased the car and who over planned to restore the car, found and purchased a set of T-Bird valve covers and a pace car emblem, which I received with the car’s purchase. I had to make the appropriate modifications.
The Last of the Fabricating (I hope)
Now that I have some more of the “easy stuff” out of the way, I still had to build a completely new hood. I did not have the original hood as it had been replaced sometime in the past with a “cobbled” hood, and it wasn’t even close to the original. All I had to go by in making a new hood was vintage pictures of the car.
I began crafting a new hood by taping heavy paper over the hood opening on the car. I’m sure most of you at one time or another have done pencil rubbings over coins or other items to transfer their image to paper. Well, that is what I did next. I traced the opening onto the paper by rubbing the pencil over the edge of the hood opening. This gave me the cutout size for the hood skin.
Then I cut out the pattern and traced it onto the sheet metal for the hood. Using those lines, I cut the sheet metal along the tracing with a plasma cutter and set it aside.
I still had to build the webbing (the framework for the hood). I made similar patterns from paper of the contours along both side edges and along the front and back edges of the hood openings along the body. These I again transferred to sheet metal and cut out two of each of them to make the box work for the webbing. Then I made a top and bottom for the webbing boxes and cut 1/4-in. steel for reinforcement where the hinges will mount and in all four corners where the levelers will hit. Then I welded them in place. I also reinforced the area at the front where the latch is mounted and then began welding the webbing boxes all together.
I had to put a very slight crease down the center of the hood skin, which was accomplished quite easily on my break which accepts up to 48-in. 16-gauge steel. Incidentally, the hood skin and all the webbing pieces are 18 gauge.
I also needed to put a small curve on the leading edge of the skin, which I did by beating on a 2x4 with a rubber mallet and also with a sand bag under the skin. It worked quite nicely and without dents. This was all followed with painting the KBS Coatings rust prevention product on top of the webbing and on the underside of the skin where it would be over the webbing. Then I adhered tar paper to the top of the webbing for sound deadening before welding the skin to the webbing, thus completing the job.
One More ‘Last’ Fabrication…
One more big sheet metal project to complete before moving into the finishing stages was to build a completely new trunk lid. For this, I did have the original but severely rusted trunk and webbing to use as a pattern for the new construction.
Once again, I began by making the paper patterns of the curves along the sides and front of the trunk opening and transferred the patterns to the steel. I built the boxed webbing structure and welded its pieces together, then attached this webbing structure to the trunk hinges to check the fit. When I was satisfied, I painted on the KBS Coatings rust-prevention producted, adhered the tar paper, and then started on the skin.
This was a little more complex than the hood. I had to build it in five pieces. I made the center section first. As can be seen in the pictures, it is curved up about an inch along each edge. This curve disappears near the back and becomes flush with the two side pieces. It’s not real noticeable in the pictures, but the webbing is built to allow this transition.
Because the three top skin pieces are narrow — 25 in. for the center and 15 in. on each side — I was able to use my sheet metal roller to put the roll down at the back edge. My sheet roller handles up to 30 in., so that worked slick!
Before I put the curl in the back end of the trunk lid center section, I had to bend the sides up about 3/4 in., which I did in the sheet metal break. I did the bends in 1/8-in. increments so I would have pretty close to a rounded “curl up.” It will eventually get finished with body filler for a nice, smooth curve. The two side pieces sit on top of the center section and are welded together along that edge.
The next step was to tack weld the trunk lid skin to the webbing in several locations around the perimeter so I could install the trunk on the car and check the fit, which turned out to be pretty nice. Then I clamped a straight edge along the back edge, lined up with the points on the back of the body, and used the plasma cutter to evenly cut off the back edge.
I still had to make the curl on the bottom of the back edge that returns to the body and houses the key lock mechanism. I made that out of three pieces again, as it worked so nice in my roller, and then welded them end for end and tack welded them to the top skin and to the underside of the webbing.
I may have mentioned it before, so bear with me if I’m being redundant. Some of you may have wondered what the round thing is on the underside of the trunk lid. Inside the trunk is a funnel, which houses the gas filler neck inside. When the trunk lid is closed, the leather-covered pad seals down over that funnel to prevent gas fumes from entering the car. When I am done with this part of the car, it will eventually have a thick, soft foam pad inserted in it with a leather skin on it.
Now I was ready to cut the hole for the key lock and fabricate the linkage from the lock to the latch. It sounds simple, but it turned out to be an eight-hour job. If anyone would have been in the shop during that process, they surely would have learned some new words. The good news is it’s completed and works like it should.
In addition to the sand blasting and body filler work I mentioned, there’s a lot more interesting work to be completed on the many unique parts that make up this wonderful car. I’m not sure what order I’ll work on these parts as I like to skip around, but be assured you’ll see it all right here. If you missed an update and wish to catch up, you can do so by visiting my website www.tommaruskacars.us
As always, thanks for reading!
1956 Mercury XM-Turnpike Cruiser
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