Phase 4 of the Mercury concept car’s restoration
Story and Photos BY Tom Maruska
Since the last update of the 1956 Mercury XM-Turnpike Cruiser’s restoration in the Oct. 17 issue of Old Cars, I have continued rust repair on the body and work on the upholstery. Once I completed the rust repair on the front of the car — particularly around the bumpers, grille inserts and headlamps — I was done with the sheet metal work all the way around the sides of the body. I still have some work to do on the structure on the underside of the roof that holds the butterfly roof panels in place. There is also extensive fabrication work to be done at the bottom of the windshield, as well as around the bottoms of the quarter and rear windows, not to mention the bottoms of the doors. I will also need to completely fabricate a new hood and deck lid.
The metal work at the front end would be easy compared to the work around the bottoms of the windows, so that’s where I began.
The rust behind the front bumper pods on both sides of the car was extensive. I used my plasma cutter to cut off the rust-perforated pieces, then used those cut-away pieces as patterns for cutting new pieces that would get welded together and then onto the body.
You may recall from my earlier updates in Old Cars that Ford Motor Co. sent the complete, new rolling Mercury chassis to Carrozzeria Ghia in Turin, Italy, to have the body constructed. Since the lower control arms were in place when the car arrived in Italy and this was a one-off concept car, Ghia saw no need to leave access to the control arm bushing bolts should replacement be required some day. Since the under-body roll pan was completely rusted away, and I had to remove the control arms for restoration, I needed to have access to the bolts when I reassembled the suspension. Once the control arms are back in place, I will install flush-mounting covers over new access holes with just a small screw attaching the new panels at the very bottom. They’ll then be finished along with the rest of the body and will disappear from view. I sincerely doubt this car will ever sit out in the weather again, and it will likely be driven very little, so it’s probable the control arm bushings will never need replacing again.
The deck panel just behind the front header panel and under the hood also needed to be replaced. It was, like everything else, rusted beyond repair, so it needed to be cut out and replaced. The center section that the hood latched through was still solid, so I left that in place and made the new panel to go around it. When I removed the rusty panel, I found more rust in the structure beneath it and, of course, I wasn’t surprised. I cut out and replaced the rusty pieces below, then welded a new top panel in place.
Sometime in the XM-Turnpike Cruiser’s past, a previous owner replaced the car’s rocker panels, but he didn’t duplicate the body ridge line along the bottom edge so before I moved on, I fabricated correct rocker panels and welded them in place.
The ‘butterfly’ roof panels
The roof section turned out to be tougher than I imagined. There is a lot of structure on the underside of the roof to support the “butterfly” window operating system. And guess what — it was severely rusted and needed rebuilding.
One of the bad things about the butterfly roof and roof panels is there are no adjustments built into the system. It has to be welded perfectly so that the alignment up and down, forward and back, and all the gaps are perfect. To make these panels fit, I tack-welded the butterfly mounts in place, then installed the roof rail trim, installed the butterflies and examined how it looked. Then I would mark the adjustments needed, cut the tack welds off and try again. It took quite a while before I got them just right. The mounts are still just tacked in place and I won’t weld them in solid until I get the roof refinished to a point it’s ready for paint. At that point, I’ll refit all the pieces and “burn” them in with my welder. However, the main roof structure is completely welded solidly in place; just the brackets that mount the butterflies may need to be adjusted and then solidly welded later on.
I should note that before welding parts in place, I coated them with the KBS Coatings rust-proofing product that I’ve been using throughout the project.
Refinishing suspension parts
I needed to take another break from the rust repair and do something for a little while that looked like I was accomplishing something. To that end, I sandblasted, primed and painted all of the suspension parts. These include the coil and leaf springs, the brake drums, tie rods, upper and lower control arms, spindles, axle ends, rear end and backing plates, as well as a few other miscellaneous parts.
I always mask any part with threads or that contact bushing or bearing surfaces. I’ve learned the hard way that any paint on those surfaces has to be removed before installing nuts, bearing and bushings.
I don’t mind jumping around to different parts of the restoration to get a break from one thing or another — it all has to be done anyway. After painting the suspension parts, I was on to another “break.”
One of the reasons I like to order all the parts that I think I’ll need early in the process is that I like to jump around and do different things to break up the monotony. I also wanted to get one of the seats completely done just because I want to see what it will look like. So, I started with the driver’s seat.
I sandblasted and painted the driver’s seat frame with KBS Coatings’ rust-proofing product. I had to do a little rust repair to the seat frame, too. Why would I think this part would be different than any other part of the car?
One of the seat tracks was also rusted off on one end and I had to fabricate a new 5-inch section and weld it on. This part looked like it was likely a production part so I could probably have found one someplace, but I didn’t know how much time I would have spent on the internet or phone trying to find it. So, in pretty short order, I had it made and welded in place. It did take two trial attempts before I got the third piece correctly bent.
The first part of the seat that I finished was the panel on the back of the seat. It’s adorned with a large L-shaped chrome piece with a handle on the top corner and a chrome finger cup under the handle. This is to pull the seat back into the upright position after accessing the rear seat area.
There are two different pipings used on the seats. Gold piping was used between two sections of the orange leather, and white piping was used between white and orange leather. I have a Consew Premier commercial sewing machine that will sew through seven layers of leather and it works great. It’s a double-needle machine with two needles 3/8-in. apart, and you can sew with either or both needles (depending on the project). There isn’t a presser foot especially for sewing with piping so I made one myself and it works perfectly. It rides on the piping and sews perfectly close to the piping for a great-looking seam.
Now I have the back of the driver’s seat completed and the foam rough cut for the seat bottom. I can almost sit in the XM-Turnpike Cruiser and begin to get a sense of the car when it was new from the driver’s seat.
Author’s note: Thank you for your continuing interest in the XM-Turnpike Cruiser! Be sure to watch for more updates in Old Cars and visit www.tommaruskacars.us for additional information on this fabulous and historic car. I will be posting a couple videos on YouTube showing some of this work. Go to youtube.com/tpls63 and then click on “videos.” Once there, scroll to the end for videos of this project.
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