Dreams Do Come True After All

Feb. 1, 2008
1949 Mercury warms Jim Spencer’s heart.

The reunion with a love that had blossomed while Jim Spencer was a central Pennsylvania teenager almost didn’t happen. But a sweet twist of fate finally brought the object of a lifelong passion into his arms and into his garage.

This wasn’t an old girlfriend that Spencer had waited for but a 1949 Mercury, just like the one a good friend had when they were juniors in high school. Living in Tucson, Ariz., for the past 25 years, Spencer had looked at car shows, on the Internet and in the paper for just the right ’49 Merc to fix up and call his own. But no luck.

“A lot of them are so overpriced or rusted up they’re not really worthwhile,” says Spencer, a retired U.S. Postal Service employee. “This one here, I got it in Tucson. It was advertised in the paper once and I missed it. Another guy had bought it for his son and they started working on it. Then the son decided he wanted a pickup truck instead, so they put it up for sale again.”

Spencer didn’t miss the ad a second time, and, seeing that the vehicle might truly be the car of his dreams, he brought it home. He drove it for a couple of years in the condition he’d found it before dismantling and rebuilding it from the ground up. This entailed welding in the seams and converting the two-piece fenders in front and back; shaving the hood, trunk and door handles; rounding corners on the hood; creating a new centerpiece for the grille and making custom fender skirts.

Spencer painted the car burgundy, but not just because it’s his favorite color: “The car my friend had in high school was about that same color,” he says. “I think that color really looks good on that particular car.”

And he didn’t put the paint gun down there. He recalls: “All my friends thought I was crazy when I told them I was going to paint the engine compartment bright red. They said it wouldn’t look right, but after it was done, they all admit that it really looks nice. It really sets off the car.”

Just about everything on the vehicle that isn’t burgundy or red is chrome. The engine is totally chrome except for the red block: chrome fan, master cylinder booster, intake and carburetor. The dashboard has the original gauges, although converted to a 12-volt electrical system. And when the air comes out of the suspension (at the push of a button), the car sits so low “you can’t get your fingers under the lake pipes on the side,” he says.

All told, it took about three years to rebuild the car, though the labor of love had started long before that.

“I’ve looked at a lot of them,” he says. “By the time I got mine and started working on it, I pretty much knew just about everything about this car.”

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