Lead sleds are the epitome of cool customs in most car fanatics eyes, known for their sleek lines created by hours and hours of skilful metal work, ingenious and precise modifications from lowered and lengthened panel work through to frenched lights and aerials complimented by in your face front and rear bright work. Wild roof chops meant curious onlookers had to make an effort to take in the wild custom tuck n roll interiors with more mods than an aging celebrity.
Les Sherry first laid eyes on his custom Mercury at the start of the century. Located in the historical city of Ballarat, it was up for sale after the previous owner no longer wanted to pursue the “dream”.
“When I started with the car it was already painted ppg black with harlequin flames. It was all shiny on the outside but when you lifted the bonnet, it was all greasy and looked like shit. It didn’t have the dash in it and other bits were missing. I virtually bought it in bits and pieces. It had already been chopped but I had to remodify it.” The previous owners bought it in from America with the mods and just mucked around with it. The body had been grafted on to a 1972 Pontiac Le Mans chassis with the Le Mans running gear.
Once back home in Melbourne, Les stripped her down and virtually started from scratch. Retaining the chassis and running gear, he worked it over to bring it up to its show class best. The 400 c.i. big block Pontiac motor was treated to a performance package from Edelbrock consisting of alloy heads and manifold along with other performance goodies giving the thirty year old donk a new lease on life to the tune of 400 hp. Topped off with a 1957 Caddy air cleaner and plenty of bling, this engine bay pays homage to the custom work on the outside. Backed up by a strong Turbo 400 and Dana diff, she’s given Les many trouble free miles, twenty five thousand and counting to be exact! Ride comfort comes courtesy of a self-levelling AccuAir air bag system. Les was one of the first to have bags fitted as they were popular in the States but still in their infancy over here at the time. The chassis and running gear is finished in stunning Glasurit cherry micra.
The list of body mods reads like a George Barris special! As you run your eye over that toothy front end, taking in the De Soto grill with its hand crafted custom wrap around side bars housing the flush mounted indicators to the bumper holding those massive Desoto over riders! The shaved and decked bonnet with custom air vents is accentuated by the frenched headlights utilising F100 headlight rims. Gazing down those full curvaceous panels, you take in the Buick moulds outlining those pearl white scallops. Two sets of Buick moulds pre door had to be grafted together to give the flawless finish required for such a show car. Drawn in by the profile of her top lines, your eyes settle on the roof chop. Four inches out of the front with five out of the rear. It looks like it always was but Les will assure you it was no easy task fixing up the hashed up job done previously! “When they customized it, they didn’t do the chop in the roof properly, we had to re-chop it at the back. The back screen wouldn’t fit. Rob Stevens who painted it worked full time in my factory for twelve months to complete the modifications.” A new rear window was purchased from the States including green tint to stay with the period correct style of the day and was fitted. You’ll also notice the removal of the gutters enhancing that smooth look. Les has replaced the single piece windscreen with a two piece V screen, honouring legendary customiser, George Barris. And what about those mirrors? These unique items are known as passing view mirrors. Les explains “They’re a 1950s accessory and are as rare as rocking horse shit. You can only get them for the left hand side. What they do is that you can see behind you as well as forward when you are parking into a gutter. Looking into one mirror that will reflect into the other mirror. The one on the right had to be handmade and took four weeks to make! It was made out of brass and chrome plated by an old school beater who worked for my painter, Rob Stevens.”
Focusing our attention to that sexy rear, our peepers take in the bulbous rear bumper made up of a 1954 Kaiser bar enhance by 1954 Kaiser over rider cut down to frame the custom number plate to perfection. Again, the George Barris style is honoured with a set of frenched custom rear tail lights. The original modified fuel cap was a garish alloy race cap looking completely out of place but Les has since hidden it away behind a flush mounted panel. Full rear spats at the rear keep her looking low and heavy in true sled style while 1957 Cadillac wheel covers compliment the front.
Stepping inside, you’re hit with the gleaming white leather covering the door trims, head liner, split bench and rear seat. A contrasting maroon carpet laced with white piping breaks up the stark white as does the right hand drive customised tank Fairlane dash, XR Falcon steering column and wheel. The creature comforts extend to power steering and air-conditioning while the ambience is enhanced with tunes from a modern stereo.
“I knew exactly how the car was going to come out like from the start. I knew what colour I wanted and what I was building. The only thing done different which I have to thank my painter for was putting the white scallops in. I was going to paint it all one colour but he said what we should do is put a white pearl scallop in and I reckon it just makes the car. It stands out in two tone and looks awesome. He did a great job on the paint.” I have to agree with Les, that contrasting white sets this low riding Mercury off stunningly.
It debut at the 2006 Victorian Hot Rod show picking up 2nd in top show car and went on to pick up 1st place at the Maguires show. But as you read earlier, this is no show pony! As Les points out “I’m here for a short time, not a long time. People say to me you’d be too frightened to drive it. Well if I’m too frightened to drive it, I may as we’ll buy a poster of it, hang it up on the wall and leave it there. They’re meant to be driven, not to just sit there looking at them.” You’d hardly know it as he’s somehow managed to avoid every stone chip on his travels! Believe it or not, it’s about to be pulled down for a freshen up and respray!
This is not Les’ only toy as you can see another of his projects under way in the background. This 32 Hemi powered roadster will have all the good gear in it while at home is another five window 32 rod. All these rides share time with Les’ long-standing and accommodating wife of 38 years! She must be a saint and Les loves her for that and would like to thank her for not devoicing him during the build!