A Custom Mercury Heads to Auction ~ NYT

The “Hirohata Merc,” commissioned in 1952 and one of the most famous custom cars of its era, is up for sale for the first time in over 60 years.

The Hirohata Merc, a Mercury custom built nearly 70 years ago, is expected to fetch at least $1 million at an auction this month. Credit…Mecum Auctions

Nearly 70 years ago, a 21-year-old Navy veteran commissioned a custom Mercury, with a chopped-down roof, smoothed-out body panels, a lowered stance, novel chrome trim, two-tone paint and a meticulously handcrafted interior. It was built by the same shop that would later create the Batmobile for the “Batman” TV series, and James Dean’s Merc in “Rebel Without a Cause” cut a similar style.

This 1951 Mercury stood out when the young vet, Masato Hirohata, who went by Bob, had it customized in 1952. And it remains an exemplar of a type of custom coach-building that developed around Los Angeles in the mid-20th century. Now, for the first time in over 60 years, the car — known as the Hirohata Merc — is for sale. It will cross the block on Jan. 15 at Mecum Auctions’ sale in Kissimmee, Fla.

“Among custom cars, the Hirohata Merc is as significant as they get,” said Casey Maxon, senior manager of heritage for the Hagerty Drivers Foundation. In collaboration with the Interior Department, the foundation administers the National Historic Vehicle Register — an inventory of individual automobiles with key significance in American culture. One of just 30 entries in the register, the Hirohata Merc epitomizes what Mr. Maxon calls “this masterful vernacular art form that came out of postwar California.”

Jim McNiel and his son, Scott, restored the Merc to its original glory. The McNiel family decided to put it up for auction.Credit…Mecum Auctions
“I have the ultimate hot rod, but I can’t do anything with it,” Scott McNiel said.Credit…Mecum Auctions

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