In 1952, a young Bob Hirohata purchased a 1951 Mercury and delivered it to the era’s most famous customizing duo, brothers Sam and George Barris, for a radical overhaul that almost instantly became the most prominent and well-known customization of the classic car era. Now, more than a half-century later, the 1951 Hirohata Mercury Custom (Lot S152) continues to be celebrated as a timeless and unforgettable work of art, and it will soon cross the auction block at Mecum Kissimmee 2022, the world’s largest collector car auction, slated for this Jan. 6-16 at the Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimmee, Florida, along with approximately 3,500 other classic and collector cars and 1,000 items of Road Art and memorabilia.
As the uncontested king of the classic custom era, this car’s history is well-known, documented through the pages of numerous magazines during the past 70 years. It started with delivery to the Barris brothers’ shop in Lynwood, California, where Hirohata directed Sam and George to “go all out” on the customization of his car. That’s exactly what they did, turning the car into an entirely new machine unlike any to come before it. That same year, it made its debut at the 1952 Petersen-hosted Motorama, where it was named the Class Winner, garnering feature stories in Hot Rod, Rod & Custom, HOP UP and even the cover of MotorTrend.
Following its success at Motorama, the car became Hirohata’s daily driver. More magazine coverage followed, including a Route 66 road trip to the Indy 500 in 1953, where it won the big car show there, earning the moniker “Mercillac” as a result. Meanwhile, George Barris arranged for the car to appear in the teen car film “Runnin’ Wild,” featuring Mamie Van Doren, and he also repainted the upper area in Avocado Green for better contrast on-screen. This is how it appeared when Hirohata sold it in late 1955.
The car eventually found its way to Jim McNeil, who put it into long-term storage in 1964. He later decided to restore his prized possession to its 1952 appearance at Motorama, an effort that took several years and was covered in Rod & Custom magazine. The reappearance was quickly recognized by the hobby, resulting in the vehicle being on display at several events after its completion in 1996. It was a star at the 2011 Customs Then and Now display at the Grand National Roadster Show and was shipped to the noted Custom Motor Show in Elmia, Sweden, in April of that year.
Refreshed for its invitational entry at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 2015, the car retains the 1953 Cadillac 331 CI OHV V-8 engine with three Stromberg carburetors and all the special tricks of the Barris crew, resulting in both First in Class and the Dean Batchelor Most Significant awards at Pebble Beach. Soon thereafter, the Hirohata Merc was added to the National Historic Vehicle Register and displayed for a week in a glass enclosure on the National Mall in Washington D.C., and it then traveled to the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles, where it was again presented to the eager viewing public.
“Few vehicles ever built have received the global attention and jaw-dropping awe that the Hirohata Merc has,” Vice President of Consignments Frank Mecum stated. “Mecum Kissimmee 2022 has many headlining consignments, but this iconic gem will draw the appeal of everyone for its ageless beauty and unique, history-making design, craftsmanship and presentation.”
In addition to the vast display of vehicles and Road Art, Mecum Kissimmee 2022 will feature the Mecum Midway of food, exhibitors and various live entertainment acts, the Dodge Thrill Ride, and, of course, the ceaseless high-energy Mecum auction action. Kissimmee 2022 will also mark the beginning of a multiyear partnership between Mecum Auctions and MotorTrend Group with Mecum’s debut on MotorTrend+ and MotorTrend TV.