Barn find is the real deal
On a wintry December night in 2009, I opened my issue of a local farm and ranch magazine and started to thumb through it.
There in the classifieds, buried in the back pages, was an ad that stated simply, “original 1947 Mercury convertible for sale,” followed only by a phone number. No name, address, price or picture.
The next morning I called the seller, who was surprised because he hadn’t even received his copy of the magazine yet.
It turned out he was the son of the registered owner, who by that time was living in a nursing home. I was the ﬁrst call he had received.
Like his father and grandfather before him, the seller lived on the family farm just a few miles south of the Canadian border, and the car was in a bam on the family homestead where it had spent the last 53 years!
The man sounded like a typically blunt, but honest, Montana rancher, and I was inclined to believe him.
After asking about the general condition of the car and leaming it had run into the barn under its own power all those decades ago, and that it had not been wrecked, I decided to buy the car right then, for the price asked, sight unseen.
My last word to the seller at that point was “Today, as soon as the banks open, I will send you a cashier’s check for your full price. I will be there to pick the car up as soon as possible.”
My home in Billings, Mont., was about 350 miles of icy highway and back roads from the car I was not to see for another two weeks.
The blizzards on the Montana high-line eventually subsided, and on the ﬁrst clear day, a friend and I took my trailer to the remote homestead near the town of Havre.
There, rolled out of the bam, was my 1947 Mercury convertible. It was exactly as described – very dirty, very original and very intact. The Tucson Tan paint seemed fairly decent from what I could tell. The filthy top was still in one piece. The dash and woodgrain looked potentially beautiful beneath the layers of dust.
Everything was present under the hood. I pocketed the radiator petcock, which was still sitting on top of the air cleaner. The odometer read 27,942 miles.
I then excitedly conversed with the rancher in greater detail about the Merc’s history. His father had purchased it from the Ford dealership in Havre in 1954, after the original owner traded it in. It was then used as the family automobile for about two years before the left rear shock absorber was somehow damaged and separated from the frame.
Intending to make repairs before long, the old gentleman (then young) parked his Mercury in the barn. That was in 1956, and the car, though occasionally started and run in place during the early years, was never driven again.
The repairs were never made. Over time, the car was eventually forgotten by the family and simply left where it was. The children and grandchildren, though, knew it was there, but were completely disinterested.
The For Sale ad I had answered was prompted ﬁnally by the seller’s need to help ﬁnance his father’s care. In parting that day, this honorable man told me he had received at least 15 phone calls after mine, but he kept his word with me. Our telephone handshake was as ﬁrm to him as anything in writing.
Once I got the Mercury home, I found a Carter Oil grease sticker on the doorjamb showing an oil change on July 8, 1954, at 24,529 miles.
First thing, after sweeping and blowing away the remaining loose dirt, I changed the oil and ﬁlter, and installed a new battery. I replaced the H-10 spark plugs and squirted transmission oil into the cylinders. New belts, hoses, thermostats and coolant came next (I was able to use that petcock).
After several days, I hand tumed the engine and found it to be free. Neither the gas tank nor the fuel pump were usable in their condition, though, so before startup, Jerry Koch contrived a gravity system that fed gas from a suspended gallon can directly into the carburetor inlet.
The time had come. I called in some of my friends of Big Sky Region #153 of the National Ford V-8 Club, consisting of Russ Anderson of Bridger and Jerry Koch, Al Jenkins and Larry Liptac of Billings.
Russ cautioned me not to switch on the ignition until I had ﬁrst spun the engine with the starter to see if there was oil pressure. There was almost immediate pressure, so we tried the ignition. The engine started, but it missed badly.
Russ then dislodged a large mouse nest that was packed in the tailpipe. In just a few more turns, the engine was running on all eight and better yet, it sounded great.
That was it for the day, but much work remained before I could test drive the car.
The entire fuel system was redone, from gas tank to carburetor. I found that other than a good ﬂushing, the radiator and cooling system needed nothing. To ensure no future ignition problems, I removed the distributor and ran it over to Al Jenkins’ shop. He put it on his K.R. Wilson testing device and found that it was set up perfectly.
Further examination revealed that it had a “Ford factory rebuild” label on it. The points looked new and as the distributors generally do not fail for at least 20,000 miles, Al surmised it must have been replaced shortly before the Merc was put in storage.
Countless hours were spent in cleaning up the interior and canvas top, which originally had been black. I removed both seats and had them professionally cleaned.
All wheel cylinders were honed and ﬁtted with new kits, as well as the master cylinder. The brake drums only needed a good cleaning and the original brake shoes showed so little wear that they were reused. The brake hoses, of course, required replacement. All chassis grease zerks, after some persuasion, did take grease. New gear lube was put into the transmission and differential, and then more cleaning.
Another item that needed replacing, in additional to the rear shock, was the muffler. I contacted Dan Krehbiel, who referred me to an outlet that still carried a few genuine Mercury parts. As luck would have it, they did have a NOS Ford script 1947 Mercury mufﬂer.
The old girl was now in good shape. Though the engine has never been opened, it runs strong and cool with good compression.
Some time in the car’s early life someone replaced the rubber rear fender shields with aftermarket chrome-plated ones. Over the long storage, these had rusted on the surface. But in the trunk, along with the damaged rear shock and a like-new top boot, I found the two original rubber guards in perfect shape. It was a simple matter to put them back on the car.
I repeatedly hand polished and waxed the exterior paint until it looked beautiful from 20 feet. The chrome and stainless trim, including bumpers, likewise responded to T.L.C. All the trim and paint work you see in the photos are 100-percent factory original. So is the nearly perfect glass. Only the tires are new.
My wife Cheri and I trailered the Merc to the Westem National V-8 Meet in St. George, Utah, in October 2010. At its ﬁrst showing, my “barn find” won a triple Rouge award for its all-original interior, exterior and running gear.
I have driven it very sparingly since. The odometer now reads 29,202 miles. I intend no restoration. The car will be preserved as is.