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One-off Ghia-built Mercury concept car heads to auction

Words: Nathan Chadwick | Pictures: Mecum Auctions

A one-off Ghia-built Mercury concept car dating from 1955-56 is set to be auctioned in the New Year. Called the Mercury XM Turnpike Cruiser, it was designed by Mercury’s John Najjar and Elwood Engel before being sent to Ghia to be constructed. Mecum Auctions will be putting the car up for sale at its Kissimmee sale in early January, fresh from a four-year restoration.

The Mercury XM Turnpike Cruiser was originally shown at the Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago and New York auto shows in 1956, and was used as the pace car at the Daytona Beach Grand National Race in 1957. Under the flamboyant Persimmon paintwork with Pearl White highlights lies the chassis of a 1954 Ford 250; it features transparent butterfly roof panels that open and close automatically with the doors. You can see period video of the car below.

Despite the space-age grandeur inside and out – take a look at the individual bucket seats and dashboard – once the car’s duties on the show circuit were over, it was simply parked up outside Ford’s HQ, eventually degrading as it passed through several owners.

As reported by Hemmings earlier this year, the car was discovered by Tom Maruska in 2018 in a pretty sorry state. Vandals had shattered most of the windows, and the original pearlescent orange paint had been lost to the elements, while the floor was non-existent. The lower doors had also corroded away, and the vandals had set about the boot and bonnet, but the wings, doors, quarter panels, roof structure and handmade chrome trim were all in place.

A project originally planned to take two years would take twice that, firstly down to replacing the windscreen. While a mould had come with the car, it took several different manufacturers to get it just right. The rest of the ‘glass’ was made out of Plexiglass – and not afraid of taking on a challenge, Maruska learned how to shape the material with the aid of budget kitchen ovens bought via Craiglist. He ended up making one big oven, and developed a technique to heat the Plexiglass sheets to 265ºF for 12 minutes before clamping them between moulds. Other challenges included butterfly panels that weren’t symmetrical by a distance of around two inches, and poorly functioning electric windows.

Maruska refinished the interior himself, and replicated the unique faces on the dashboard; the actual mechanicals were all standard Mercury parts. The clock was replaced with a modern movement, and fitting the chrome heater controls revealed the curious usage of ‘Summer’ and ‘Vinter’ in the labelling.

The engine provided a bigger challenge. The carburettors, intake and rocker covers were all missing – and because the bonnet line was lower than that of a standard Mercury of the time, Maruska had to have a new, shorter radiator tank fitted, much like Ghia must have done back in the day. The missing intake manifold was likely a bespoke part, so Maruska fitted a Carter carb from a 1956 Mercury, while Thunderbird rocker covers were adapted to fit. In period literature, the car was supposed to be fitted with a 312ci Y-Block engine, but it was actually a 292ci engine common to most Mercurys of the era.

After 6000 hours, 13 sheets of 4 x 4 x 8ft 18-gauge steel and much blood, sweat and tears, the car will be put up for auction at Mecum Auctions’ Kissimmee sale between January 4 and 15. More details can be found here and here, and you can see videos of the car in action here and here.

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