Phase 2 of the Mercury concept car’s restoration
Story and Photos by Tom Maruska
Old Cars - Tom Maruska has been hard at work to bring the 1956 Mercury XM-Turnpike Cruiser concept car back from the brink. The heavily weathered show car was left in the elements for decades, causing extensive rust and deterioration to its other parts. Old Cars has been following the story of the XM-Turnpike Cruiser since Maruska acquired it and then through its aggressive restoration. The following update follows the first installment showing Maruska’s work in restoring the show car in order to make it worthy of a pedestal again.
The restoration of the 1956 Mercury XM-Turnpike Cruiser concept car is progressing better than I originally anticipated.
Since the last update, I welded the donor frame rails into place. I chamfered the edges of the new and old frame rails in the same thickness of the steel as the original metal and filled the “V” with weld. Then I ground the welds flat and added boiler plates over the seams for added strength.
The next step was to remove the undercoating in the wheel wells and other areas in preparation for sand blasting. These undercoated areas still had good sheet metal. The undercoating was very hard and stubborn on the XM-Turnpike Cruiser, so I resorted to using aircraft stripper to soften it for easier scraping. Aircraft stripper is very noxious, so I used a hobby air system pumping fresh air into my face mask while using it.
The Big ‘M’ and Other Fine Letters
After getting all the old undercoating scraped away, I took a short break from the body and decided to remake the big, unique “M” hood ornament that was missing. I had the base for it so I knew the size of the foot print, but the “M” was long gone. Fortunately, Ray Cosh, who sold me the car, had supplied a period photo of the “M” on the car. There were no side views of the “M,” so Ray drew a picture of how it should look.
Since the “Y” from the “MERCURY” on the nose panel was also missing, I began fabricating this letter at the same time as the “M” hood ornament. The letters on the front of the car are the same size and shape as the letters on the quarter panels, so I was able to use a “Y” from the quarter panel as a pattern. Then I also replaced all the studs on the quarter panel letters.
All these parts were then sent to AIH Chrome to be re-plated into “car jewelry.”
Fortunately, my neighbor, friend and fellow “car guy” Clayton offered to let me use his newly acquired electrically operated bead roller for fabricating the new floor panels for the XM-Turnpike Cruiser. I have a sheet metal brake, plasma cutter, English wheel and planishing hammer (for later use on outer body panels) as well as a wire feed welder.
I began by replacing the extra support tubing alongside the driveshaft tunnel and fabricated a new tunnel.
The XM-Turnpike Cruiser has extra structure under the floors, an “X” under the front floors and added supports under the rear floors. These areas also had a covering beneath them, on the bottom of the car, sandwiching the braces in a type of “double floor” system. This was for added strength because of the concept car’s weakened frame from recessing the rear floors.
A new structure was created and then welded into place. Before welding the bottom cover into place and covering the braces and the bottom of the upper floor, I coated the entire area with KBS Coatings rust-proofing treatment (www.kbs-coatings.com). I also coated the inside surface of the bottom sheet before I welded it into place. All seams were coated with sealer to seal up the inner cavities so moisture can’t get in and start the rusting process all over again. However, I doubt that this rare car will ever sit outside again as it did in its earlier years.
By coating the surfaces with KBS Coatings rust-proofing product before enclosing the areas, I believe I have better coverage than if I had drilled holes and inserted a tube with a nozzle on the end and sprayed a coating inside the closed areas. However, I will have to use such a device to coat the insides of the frame rails once I have all the welding on them complete since it’s the only way to get inside that area.
One advantage to having the car on a rotisserie is that I can position it so whatever part of the frame rail is down can be thoroughly coated inside and allowed to dry before rotating it 90 degrees to coat the next bottom surface.
While looking at early pictures of the XM-Turnpike Cruiser on the show circuit, you may have noticed that it looks a bit longer than any other Mercury from the mid ’50s. Ghia added approximately 18 inches to the chassis that Ford sent them in order to extend the XM-Turnpike Cruiser’s body length during construction. Ghia reinforced the lengthened structure by fabricating a large metal “X” brace at the rear of the chassis, under the trunk floor. Like the rest of the car, this addition was also severely rusted and needed to be replaced. And also like the other covered areas, this X brace was coated inside with the KBS Coatings rust-proofing treatment before welding the trunk floor extension into place.
The XM-Turnpike Cruiser had very unique gas and brake pedals made of orange rubber and trimmed with chrome. The originals were deteriorated beyond use, but were usable enough to copy. Even though most people would never notice them, I didn’t want to replace them with typical black pedals. The original pedals also had a steel plate embedded in the rubber so they could be attached to the car. I used a plaster of Paris buck in order to carve models of the pedals.
Then I searched the internet for a pourable silicone and found Smooth-On (www.smooth-on.com), which I poured over the plaster models to make new molds for creating the new pedals. Smooth-On also sells pourable liquid urethane that is tintable in a rainbow of colors, and it has a much higher tensile strength than the liquid silicone used to make the mold. The result is very similar to the hardness of a standard brake pedal.
I poured the liquid silicone into the molds. The models were painted simply to aid in their release from the silicone once it cured, and I happened to have a can of orange spray paint handy so I got a sneak peak at how the finished pedals would look. They were also coated with a mold release agent from Smooth-On.
I mixed up about half the liquid urethane needed and added coloring to get the shade of orange I was after, then poured the molds a little less than half full. After it hardened enough so that the steel gas pedal inserts wouldn’t sink, I laid them in place and then mixed and poured the other half of the orange urethane on top to fill the molds. The next day, when I removed the pedals from the molds, I was quite happy with the outcome.
Next, I’ll be getting back to the body again. There are still a couple pieces to fabricate under the recessed rear floor area that the mufflers and tail pipes fit into, and then I’ll begin on the outer body repairs. There is extensive fabrication to be done below the windshield and rear windows.
I believe the car was completely assembled before it was initially painted so all of the “hidden” areas were left as bare metal, another reason the car so severely rusted. Because of the way the window seals are recessed below the body surface, there was little to stop the migration of water into these vulnerable areas. I will get into those areas in the next update. Thanks for following along!