“I’ve been into cars ever since my dad took me to a car show around the age of 6. He showed me a car just like one that he used to have and I was hooked. I would be on the hunt for one just like his … until I got my driver’s license and found the car I had dreamed of for so long.” Those words quoted from David Trent are ones that many a hot rodder utters when asked the proverbial “how long?”. More often than not, fathers are their son’s first idols-they’re looked up to for what they do … and what they may have out in the garage, as well.
For David, that initial type of idolism on four wheels was muscle cars-his very first car, a 1972 Chevelle he bought as a high school senior. But that fascination with American muscle, something rather synonymous with many young males in years past (especially in areas such as Moorehead, Kentucky, where David grew up), soon gave way to something else-something not quite as fast, but looked much faster.
“This particular car caught my eye because of a chopped 1940 Merc that I had seen at the Louisville Street Rod Nationals one year … it made my mouth drop. The chop, the stance, and the overall look made it stand out like nothing else. It literally looked like it was heading out of ’50s doing 100 mph just sitting still!” The traditional custom, with its sleek, sexy, streamlined styling, had drawn David in.
“I found the Merc already chopped and well on its way [to being finished] via an ad on the HAMB … or so I thought it was [close], at least,” David recalls. Much of what he assumed was well on its way was actually in need of some technical attention, or completely being redone. Fortunately, David turned to the right folks to get things on their way and properly finished.
The presumed rebuilt 1951 Merc Flathead that came with the coupe was handed over to Fox Valley Hot Rods (Barrington, Illinois) for a complete go-through. Retaining its 4-inch stroke crank, the 255ci V-8 received an Isky 400Jr cam, Edelbrock aluminum heads, an Offy 2×2 with Stromberg 97s, Red’s headers, and a Mallory electronic ignition. Fox Valley matched the engine up with a later-model Ford C4 automatic using a Flat-O-Matic trans adapter-it links up to 3.08-geared GM 10-bolt rearend, which brings us to the second party involved in turning the project around: Jason Graham.
Portland, Tennessee’s Jason Graham Hot Rods may sort of have a reputation for building some of the lowest/sleekest Model As around-but Jason also does customs … and does them very well at that (recall a certain metalflake green Willys from a couple years ago?). Knowing this, David enlisted Graham to finish up the Merc for him-in less than a year’s time no less.
Believe it not, while the Merc does ride on air-ShockWaves up front with Firestone airbags in the rear-it does so via a dropped, drum-brake-equipped I-beam front axle. Graham heavily C-notched the rear of the stock frame to make room for the open-diff rear and its triangulated four-link. The four-wheel drums are operated by an underdash Mustang dual master with an 8-inch booster and 90-degree swing pedal setup; steering remains 1940 stock. Chromed artilleries with baby moons from Wheel Vintiques wear 6.40-15 BFGoodrich Silvertown wide whites at each corner, though the rears are properly concealed by full teardrop skirts.
As for the in-progress custom body, Graham worked his magic to the roof, reworking and reflowing it with a streamlined chop (6 inches at the A-pillars and 7 inches in the back with a 1941 Ford rear window; hardtop side window frames are handmade) before doing the usual shaving/nosing/decking/frenching. Graham also added in custom bumperettes up front to complement the custom Merc-based grille, while the rear was fitted with a narrowed 1946 Chevy bumper and those custom fender skirts atop an “enhanced lip” wheel opening. But for David, the moment things really turned around is when Graham picked up his spray gun: “The light at the end of the tunnel shown bright the minute Jason laid down the beautiful blonde pearl!” That silver-white PPG pearl was laid down over a custom-mixed PPG yellow base. Leonard’s Plating in Nashville provided all the necessary brightwork to accent the exterior finish. Shane at Sewn Tight Custom Interiors (Shepherdsville, Kentucky) added his touch in finishing the Merc by creating and installing upholstery fitting of a custom: white vinyl tuck ‘n’ roll.
Seeing a project finished is one thing-it’s the icing on a cake that may have been difficult at times to bake. However, that feeling is only further enhanced by seeing it displayed in public, like maybe the Detroit Autorama, where David and Graham brought the Merc out for its unveiling, something David considers the most memorable moment of the entire build.