While many associate custom cars with 1950s California-based customizers like George and Sam Barris, Bill Hines and Gene Winfield, they really followed in the footsteps of an earlier generation of customizers who operated in the pre-war years without much fanfare or national recognition. Many of those cars today are thus nothing more than memories, but one, a Harry Westergard-built 1940 Mercury, will head to auction this weekend.
Westergard is perhaps one of the best-known pre-war California customizers. Born in Detroit, he moved to Sacramento in his teens and began to perform bodywork and to customize cars in the late 1930s out of his garage. While he raced hot rods during the 1930s, he also became known for applying then-radical custom touches to cars, including shaved door handles and trim, mix-n-match bumpers and grilles, padded tops and taildragger stances. He counted Dick Bertolucci among his contemporaries and the Barris brothers among his pupils.
When Butler Rugard took his then-new 1940 Mercury convertible to Westergard’s shop, he initially wanted Westergard only to apply a set of fadeaway fenders, a styling touch that the Buick Y-Job concept car hinted at, but that wouldn’t enter production until 1942, with the Buick Super and Roadmaster. Over the next few years, Rugard would keep taking the Mercury back to Westergard for more custom touches, including a chopped removable padded top, a three-inch windshield chop, a 1942 Buick grille, an extended nose above the grille, Packard headlamps and hubcaps, 1941 Chevrolet taillamps, fender skirts, 1937 De Soto bumpers (and later 1941 Packard bumpers), a pleated interior, and a taildragger stance via a de-arched rear spring. Under the hood, the original Mercury flathead V-8 remained, but benefited from an overbore and triple-carb Offenhauser intake manifold with matching Offenhauser finned heads.
Though it didn’t appear at a show or in the pages of a custom car magazine until 1950, that’s only because custom car shows and magazines didn’t really exist until about that time. By 1960, Rugard had passed on the Mercury to his daughter, Marie Fernandez, who, according to Kustomrama, added her own touches, including a leopard-fur Carson top, sidepipes, and a chrome dashboard to go with its black paint. Its next owner customized it further over the next 30 years, tunneling the headlamps, replacing the Buick grille with a 1950s De Soto grille, installing a Chevrolet 283-cu.in. V-8, and painting it white. It wasn’t until custom car aficionado Jack Walker of Belton, Missouri (known for commissioning the re-creation of the Hirohata Mercury), bought the Mercury in the 1990s did it revert to its original Westergard configuration over the course of a two-year restoration.
While it won no award (entered for display purposes only), the Mercury did participate in the first custom car class at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 2005. Four years later, it crossed the block with no reserve at RM’s Icons of Speed and Style auction of the Ralph Whitworth collection, where it sold for $82,500.
Coys is offering the Westergard 1940 Mercury with a pre-auction estimate of €80,000 to €100,00
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