Icons of Speed & Style

26 September 2009

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Lot 271

1940 Mercury Westergard Custom

  • Chassis no. 99A187247

Sold for $82,500

Est. 150 bhp, 245 cu. in. over-bored Flathead V8 engine with ¾ camshaft, Offenhauser triple manifold and high-compression heads, three-speed manual transmission, semi-elliptic transverse leaf springs front and rear, solid front and rear axles. Wheelbase: 116"

In the pioneer era, when hot rodders were stripping roadsters and coupes of superfluous parts so they could run fast at California’s dry lakes, the custom car crowd was equally zealous about removing garish chrome trim, shaving door and decklid handles and jettisoning staid, factory designed grilles they thought weren’t cool. Customizers strove to improve the look of lower-priced “Detroit iron,” especially Fords, Mercurys and Chevrolets, to achieve the clean, “classy” appearance of more expensive models.

The customizing craze began on the West Coast in the mid-1930s and reached its peak as a national trend in the 1960s. The formative era was the period immediately before and directly after World War II. Radical customs required major metal surgery. Chopped and filled hardtops, or padded soft tops, sectioned bodies, fadeaway and/or completely molded fenders, fender skirts and partial-to-complete body dechroming were just a few popular custom trends.

Chopping and sectioning, where a portion of the roof pillars or body panels were removed, required immense skill. Before fiberglass and plastic fillers became popular, alterations were commonly done using soft, malleable lead. Melted and reshaped, lead was also used as the basis for artfully sculpted bodywork. That led to the name, “lead sled,” a semi-derisive term still used to describe ’50s-era customs.

In addition to bodywork, suspensions were lowered so custom cars took on a more streamlined look. A few cars were channeled - an extensive operation that involved dropping the entire body over the frame, then remounting it for an even lower appearance. Customizers developed attention-getting hues like Candy Apple Red, along with pearlescent and metalflake paint processes, to further distinguish their cars.

Although the first professional customizers started as basic body and fender men, once they began selling their ability to perform metal magic, they were often able to drop collision repair and just concentrate on restyling. Some became legends. Harry Westergard, a Sacramento-area bodyman, pioneered the earliest cool look. Many shops copied his work, and George Barris worked for him to learn the trade. Harry favored vertical LaSalle or prewar Packard grilles, fadeaway fenders, filled door handles, inset rear license plates, fender skirts, twin spotlights, and hand-rubbed lacquer finishes.

In 1940, a Sacramento man named Butler Rugard bought a brand new Mercury convertible and took it to Westergard’s shop to have fadeaway fenders crafted and installed. Two years later, Rugard commissioned Westergard to chop it, using the original framework to accept a custom padded, Carson-style unit, with a “mail slot” rear window. The work was done some years ahead of Glenn Houser, who built many such chopped tops after WWII.

It’s believed this car’s ‘42 Buick grille was installed at the same time. One prominent feature is its extended and reshaped hood, reminiscent of a “Sharknose” Graham, or even a Figoni & Falaschi “Narwhal” Delahaye. Packard bumpers and hubcaps give it the look of a more expensive car. The tunneled taillights were originally on a 1940 Chevrolet.

The custom ‘40 Mercury’s classic “taildragger” silhouette was achieved by leaving the front end height alone and lowering the rear with a de-arched spring and long shackles. Under the hood is a bored-out Mercury flathead V-8 with an Offenhauser triple intake manifold and finned aluminum heads. Dual exhaust tips peek discretely out from beneath the bumper.

Judging from old photographs, this Mercury may have originally been painted black or dark maroon; its present-day bright candy apple finish would likely have been a mid-‘50s modification. Custom car aficionado, Jack Walker, who restored this car, bought it from Ron Marquardt, who owned it for more than thirty years, and in turn, had bought the Mercury from the Fernandez family; Mrs. Fernandez was apparently Butler Rugard’s daughter, so the ownership trail is completely known. Pictures exist of this car on display at the 1950 Sacramento Autorama, and at one time, it was fitted with ribbed ’37 DeSoto bumpers. It was also displayed in 2005 at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and featured in Rod & Custom.

Surviving pre-WWII custom cars are extremely rare; finding a Westergard original, replete with several unique modifications, is significant indeed.

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver


+1 864 313 6844
California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat


+44 (0) 74 1511 4179
United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht


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Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

David Swig


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California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose


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United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould


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Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff


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Ontario, Canada

Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Jake Auerbach


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California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry


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California, United States

Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut


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California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire


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United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn


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Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin


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United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill


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United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher


+1 519 784 9300
Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers


+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden


+31 653 84 19 60
United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more