Getting Back the One that Got Away
It’s the story of a first love told once more, another car guy who started with his first car and slowly tricked it out as he went, installing a few items when he could afford them. What were the popular era personalizations or add-ons? Torching the front coil springs and adding lowering blocks to the rear to drop it down to give it an attitude (and altitude) adjustment. Adding Moon discs that were a fast addition to look fast. Wayne Poe, then in Ohio in 1957, did just that to his first car: a powder-blue 1954 Mercury sedan.
He had been inspired by a custom car magazine cover in 1955 that showed a black and gold 1954 Merc. “I immediately fell in love, and have been looking at ’54 Mercurys ever since,” he says. But car guys back then were not long-term loyalists. He traded his Mercury two years later and tried other cars. A total of 110 cars in all, in every category. Poe has had street cars, hot cars, Cobras, Shelbys, Vipers, road race and drag cars, and nearly all forms of Ford Motor Co. performance brands. Poe has been through a list of cars that most of us can only dream about. All the while he was going through this list, he remained smit- ten by the lines and look of the 1954 Mercury. He was constantly afflicted with a bad case of the Mercury blues.
Four and a half years ago, when his wife was lounging nearby with her laptop, Poe asked her to pass it to him for his favorite website pastime: looking at cars. The adage “If you look, the car will find you” proved to be true once again; up popped a ’54 Mercury Monterey. In 1954, the Monterey hardtop was a specially trimmed V-161 8-cylinder model that introduced the new deep-skirted architecture 256-cubic inch Y-block rated at 161 hp. Mercury, named after the mythological messenger of the Gods, abandoned the flathead and replaced the old ways with overhead valve technology for more speed and power. The Mercury on the computer screen was treated to typical East Coast custom styling, right down to the continental kit, fake side pipes, dual spotlights and a necker’s knob. The headlights and the dual antenna were frenched and the nose and tail were decked, while the fender skirts were of custom bubble design. The eye-catching element was the elongated fins on the rear quarters, formed to accommodate a set of 1956 Packard taillights. “The taillights are the custom giveaway, although it looks like this Mercury came this way from the factory. While I love the stock rear fender lines of the ’54,” Poe says, “the extension and taillights on this car are just the perfect form.”
Timeless elegance deserves a timeless backdrop. This ’54 Mercury was first customized more than 18 years ago; still looks great. Wayne’s world became larger with his first car, a ’54 Mercury, in 1959.
Over 18 years ago, the body was draped in a coating of metallic garnet, a deep red that some viewers might refer to as a tone of candy apple. Going back to the science lesson that mercury, as a metal, occurs in the red-pigmented cinnabar, perhaps the color selection on this custom was chosen to signal an indirect connection.
The owner had the Mercury tricked-out 20 years prior, though he had recently passed away. The owner’s son was offering it up for sale on the Internet. “I bought it sight unseen and had it trucked from Detroit to California,” Poe says. “I’ve traced the 20 years of history, identifying the original customizer and upholsterer.” Twenty years of neglect needed to be addressed, so he went for a full re-do while preserving many existing features. Wheels, suspension, trunk, upholstery were all addressed, along with some paint refurbishment.
While the customizing and color choices were made by the previous owner over 18 years ago, Poe has been on a mission to finesse the Mercury to make it his own, and to make it more enjoyable. Like the previous owner, Poe retained the stock 252 Y-block and entire drivetrain, and the stock suspension that had been fitted with shorter coils and lowering blocks. Poe kept all the major modifications to the body, although he eliminated the continental kit and asked Jim Benitez of Coastal Auto to reshape and shave the rear bumper while keeping the Mercury script. The garnet red color is retained, with 50 percent of the original application still intact; the balance has been perfectly matched after various required corrections by both Marc Greely and Benitez.
The interior is another time warp, with the red and white interior (rolled and pleated), going all the way back to an installation in the 1960s. The mystery is the attention-getting genuine scorpion in the dashboard detail; Poe decided it should stay along for the ride after all these years. Roberto’s Auto Trim was called upon to stitch up the trunk to match the interior.
The Mercury moves on down the road on Coker wide whites, with early Thunderbird wire wheels up front. Steel wheels are hidden by the bubble skirts at the rear.
Preserving a classic car and restoring it to show quality comes at a cost. “I tried to keep it authentic to the era and respect the original build. I’ve put more in it than I paid for it,” admits Poe. A two-inch stack of receipts confirms this fact.
When asked for the dream list of future items for his Dream ’54, Poe immediately responds: “A souped-up 312. It always should have a Y-block. Power windows. Upgrade the brakes to power discs.” And as a concession to modern motoring, air conditioning. “It’s hard to look cool in a hot car,” Poe says, with his wife affirmatively nodding in the background.
“I have a beautIful wife, a home with a view of the sun setting over the ocean and my dream ’54. I am still driving cool cars and making music.”
The title of this article borrows from the lyrics of one of the top 10 car songs of all time: “Mercury Blues”. The music was originally called “Mercury Boogie”. Poe validates this by boogieing on down the road to work two or three times each week. This is no garage queen; he drives it to car shows, where he identifies it on his placard as Dream ’54. It has been rewarded with trophy recognition at the Grand National Roadster Show and at various concours d’elegance. His proudest award was presented by George Barris as his choice for Best Custom.
“Mixing my two passions of cars and music—I started making music in my early 20s and am still singing in clubs and cabarets today—I park my Dream ’54 in front of many venues, after unloading my Fender Telecaster guitar and amplifier from the trunk,” Poe says.
While his collection of photos of previously owned and enjoyed vehicles would qualify him to bleed the same hue as in the blue oval, when he opens his garage, all of his current cars are some shade of garnet red. “I am living the American dream,” Poe agrees in a voice of humble gratitude and sincere amazement at what he is revealing. “I have a beautiful wife, a home with a view of the sun setting over the ocean and my Dream ’54. I am still driving cool cars and making music.” While he might play the blues from time to time, Poe’s Mercury is certainly no cause to have them…