Very Special Things: “The Merc”
Read the stories behind the passion projects of the people of Specialized.
Talk about a labor of love. This father/son project spanned many weekends over many, many years, but the end result was definitely worth it. The Merc — a custom 1950 mercury — is a real head-turner of a chop from Specialized R&D engineer and industry veteran, Chuck Teixeira.
What’s the neatest thing you’ve ever found at a swap meet? A Dogs Playing Poker print? A barely scratched Led Zeppelin I LP? Well, whilst awesome, chances are those treasures won’t transform into revered works of art, destined to be salivated over at every car show they attend. The Merc will. The Merc will attract eyes and hearts with one twinkle of its pristine, glittery paint job.
So when we say many years, just how many are we talking about? And what took so long? This Very Special Thing shows what’s possible when a man is determined to never EVER become a member of that ‘Unfinished Cars on Blocks in Backyards’ club.
Background and Inspiration
Let’s go back. The year is 2001. We see Chuck Teixeira and his 14-year-old son, Kyle, at the Pomona Swap Meet at the Fairplex, in Pomona, California. For those unfamiliar with this particular swap meet, scratch from your mind any idea of Trash & Treasure items laid on blankets. Replace it with what can only be described as vehicular nirvana for car freaks. Fifteen miles of car parts, car accessories, classic cars, and what’s termed as ‘automobilia’, to peruse and admire. It is in this scene that Chuck and young Kyle experience their moment of father/son bonding.
“He picked it out,” says Chuck, describing the moment they found the 1950 Mercury. He then goes on to say a sentence that must surely have earned him immediate admission to the Cool Dads club. “I bought it for him so he could have a cool car to drive to high school.”
“I bought it for $2,500 and it was kind of a beater, to tell the truth. There was no motor or transmission — it was just the body, and it was in OK condition. I was divorced at the time, and Kyle spent every other weekend with me, so it was just gonna be a good father/son project for us to work on.”
Kyle was a lad with big ideas, and shared his thoughts for the car with his dad.
“It was an enormous project,” says Chuck. “And he had big dreams. He wanted to put a Hemi engine in it — that’s major surgery to put a gigantic Chrysler engine inside of the thing, so that added scope — but I was like, ‘OK. Yeah, sure. I’m in!’ I always wanted to chop the top, so that was me, but there was just all this stuff we both wanted to do.”
Chuck will be the first to tell you that a car project is a big commitment for an adult, let alone a teen. Fortunately, Kyle and Chuck had set no deadline for completion.
“Kyle worked on it pretty steadily with me, but you know, then he started losing interest and steam. There’s just no way a teenager has the fortitude to stick to a project like that. In fact, most sane adults don’t either! [laughs] Honestly, there are garages full of unfinished projects, and I just refuse to be a statistic. Anyway, Kyle eventually kinda stopped working on it with me, and I wouldn’t work on it if he wasn’t there. I would just let the car sit and I told him, ‘If you’re not into it, that’s fine. It just sits, and that’s fine’.”
And sit it did. Until one day…
“I looked at it and I just thought, you know what? I’m just gonna take it over. By this point Kyle had a car to drive already, so I basically just took it back. I will give it to him when I’m done with it. [laughs] When I’m not capable of driving it anymore — I will definitely give it to him.”
“You don’t really step back and stay ‘Well how big is this project, what is my budget?’ You just do it.”
– Chuck Teixeira
Laying the Foundation
“I made my very first purchase on ebay for this car,” says Chuck. “I bought a motor for it. Then Kyle and I took it apart and put it back together in the garage and got the thing working.”
Before installing the engine in the car, they made a few modifications to the body, removing the whole front of the car and putting in all-new suspension.
“I dragged it over to a friend’s place,” says Chuck. “He had a good shop, so we cut the front of the thing off and welded on this new piece so we could put modern suspension, modern brakes and everything, on it.”
And then the first stages of bodywork began, which in typical Chuck fashion, he did himself. In fact, there’s not much on the car that Chuck didn’t work out how to do himself.
“We stripped it down to bare metal so that we’d have a good base foundation and could find all the damage — all the rot and any prior bodywork. And there was a lot of bodywork. One side of the whole car was all side swiped and just crushed.”
A chop job is a marvelous thing. But it’s an enormous undertaking, and not for the feint of heart. While the roof is the biggest surgical change to the car, the second most noticeable aesthetic change would have to be the grill. Like gnarled and gnashing teeth, it looms large on the front and really gives the Merc some serious style chops.
It was a stroke of luck that he was able to get it at all.
“I found the grill at a swap meet and it was a thousand bucks. I hadn’t anticipated finding such a cool piece on that day and I only had a couple of hundred dollars on me, but I had friends at the swap meet so I called ’em up and borrowed the money.”
Since the grill comes from a much bigger car — a DeSoto — Chuck had to perform a little bit of reconstructive surgery to graft it to the front of the Mercury. The result is nothing short of a perfect look for the Merc.
“I mean, the stock Mercury grill was a nice grill, but I really like the DeSoto. It’s just a little more [growls]. A little more snarly.”
Now for the roof, something Chuck repeatedly describes as an ‘enormous’ project throughout this interview.
“Take an egg and make it smaller,” he says, describing the daunting task of chopping the roof and reattaching it three inches lower. “We cut the roof off in an afternoon and my son said, ‘Oh, that was pretty easy’, and I’m like, “Yeah? You wait until we have to put it back on.”
So how long did it take to get it back on?
“Probably six months, but we were only working weekends, and on and off. The roof was split open, and things have to be reshaped and everything to fit it,” he explains. “I did it all in my garage. It’s just a crazy amount of welding. But the chop on this car came out really good, and now, when I take it to car shows I always, always, always get complimented on the quality of the chop.”
Many of those compliments stem from the knowledge of how difficult a chop job on a car like the Mercury is.
“Because my car’s a four door it’s more difficult, and a Mercury is particularly difficult. I didn’t know any of this when I started. And people tell me all the time: ‘That’s the best four-door chop I’ve ever seen.’ But when they ask me if I’d do it again, I always go ‘Nope.’”
He laughs. But knowing Chuck and how he obviously likes a challenge, we highly doubt that’s entirely true.
“So, this is a cool little thing I did, and really pretty unique to my car. My taillights are put together backwards, so they’re inside out. Normally there’d be a big bullet looking thing sticking out, but I put them in backwards, ’cause I wanted this kind of 3D effect. I made this tube and then the light goes in backwards and the light bulb sits at the back. It’s days work. Days to do just that. There’s like 100s of just little stupid things like that on the car.”
Paint on, paint off
With the foundation laid and the patient out of surgery, the project moved on to paint. Priming, sanding, priming, sanding — over and over again.
“I’d paint it on, then sand the whole thing and find little imperfections,” he says, talking about slight waves, pits, and pinholes that sometimes appear in the paint. “And because the car is nearly sixty years old, it’s had a lifetime of trauma and damage. There are lots of little things you can’t see when it’s a flat color, but when you paint it shiny, it’s like, ‘ohhh.’
“I don’t know how many times I did it, but I put two gallons of primer on the car. Maybe half of it gets sanded away and turns into dust, but that’s just how you get it looking nice and straight.”
Once that was done, the fun could begin. Time to talk color and the flames that give the car its distinctive look.
“I knew I wanted to do flames,” says Chuck, “But I didn’t know what kind. I looked at countless photos and settled on blue because I thought it would look good with flames.
“Everybody hated the red, though,” Chuck says, telling the story of showing the red swatches around to his friends and getting quite negative reactions. “It’s really funny. But I could just see the red looking cool.”
With color choices made, it was time to get cracking. But first, a place to paint it.
“I built a spray booth in my garage.”
Yes, you heard correctly. Chuck, the man who always finds a way, built his own paint booth in his garage.
“You don’t see all the backstory, right? All the stuff you have to do to make a project work,” says Chuck, laughing. “But I built this big box — I took all my bicycles out of the garage because they hung too low — and I built this big box in there. It has a door that comes out so I can actually roll the car outside and do work on it, and there’s a little door on the side so I can get in and out without disrupting anything.”
Once that was done, painting the Merc became a race against time, because of the paint itself.
“I chose a very difficult type of paint. I went and bought it, and it was really expensive. I think it was $2,500 for the raw materials, and that’s just the color, not including the flames, and certainly not including the primers. I have a very good friend of mine who’s a painter, and he was like, ‘Oh, my god! Do you know how hard it is to paint that?’ I had no idea. But it comes with a book, I read the instructions, and I just thought, “It’s OK. I think I can do that.
“To paint this color,” he explains, “You have to paint the whole car black first, and then you spray this ugly looking blue base color down, and then you spray this candy apple, translucent color over. Then you spray clear on it so it kinda completes. But you’ve got to do it in rapid succession. You CANNOT stop. And with one person doing it, it’s not an eight-hour job, it’s more like a twenty-hour job. Which I didn’t know! [Laughs]
“My poor son, he was mixing paint feverishly so I could keep painting. I remember messaging my buddy Tony, who’s a painter, and he’s like: ‘No, no, you can’t stop!’ I asked him how bad it would be if I did, and he replied ‘It might not stick AT ALL! You cannot stop, or you’ll have to re-sand everything.’ I did NOT want to do that.”
“After I painted it, I kinda went through the process [of choosing a color for flames]. I made a panel where I painted what are called traditional hot rod flames. They usually start as a white color then they fade to an orange and to red. It came out pretty good but all classic cars have those. I wanted something different. So I painted the color of the car on a panel, then I painted black swatches, then I sprayed various glitters on top to see what it looks like. And then I went ‘What looks good? What doesn’t look good? What do I like?”
The flames are very unique to Chuck’s car. He’d initially tried to recruit some artist friends to help design them, but couldn’t get any commitments.
“So I just went screw it, I’ll just do it myself,” says Chuck. “I just covered the whole car with tape and drew out the pattern in pencil and erased it, and drew more, and erased it and drew some more, until I liked the shape.
“The glitter itself was a real bitch because I had to paint the car black again, which I did because that gave me the best contrast for the red flake. The red flake is like glitter that you buy at the hobby store and you mix it in clear before spraying on. It makes big, giant flakes and turns your really smooth surface into the texture of an orange or something,” he says, describing the initial stages of getting the red glitter onto the car.
“And then you put like one million coats of clear on top to bury all this rough surface. Then guess what? You sand, and sand, and sand, and sand, to get it smooth again. More sanding — just endless sanding with this thing. Basically you just have 400 opportunities to just screw everything up. And it’s expensive, so I think I just got lucky that I never did. I do get lots of compliments from painters who do flames, saying I did a good job.
“I had no room in the garage once this was going on, by the way. And it took about three months to do the paint job, from priming to the finished car and all the other bullshit pieces, which I also did in the booth. Like the dashboard, fender skirts, and stuff like that. But when I finally rolled the thing out into the yard, it was like…
“‘Maaaaannnn. That’s sooo cool. I just love it’ you know? It was just so vibrant.”
Reap what you sew
The problem with playing the long game on a project like this is time itself. What if eight years have passed since you first removed the interior of the car? What if you can’t quite remember how it came apart/goes back together?
If you’re Chuck Teixeira, you work it out, that’s what. And if you want to make the interior as impressive as the exterior, you also teach yourself how to sew and upholster.
“I sewed up my stock seat, but before I cut it open, I took some pictures just so I kinda knew how the patterns would go. I took over my wife’s living room to do all the upholstery for the seats, and she was not super happy about that, because the garage was already a wreck and now the house was just full of stuff.
“And then there’s also 160ft of piping I had to sew — basically you cut these long strips of vinyl and sew them around a little piece of tubing. That was kind of a warm-up to learning how the sewing machine worked.
“The headliner was impossibly difficult. I would never ever, ever, ever do a headliner again because you’re working overhead the whole time. And because I re-contoured the shape of the roof, I couldn’t use a stock pattern — it wouldn’t work. So what I did was I made a paper pattern for whole thing, and then I made one of muslin and test fitted in the roof, and then cut the muslin pieces apart and made the real one.”
And there you have it. The Merc, inside and out. It’s a true work of art and a testament to stick-to-it-iveness. To see it is to fall in love. Thud. Double-Thud.
A.B.C = Always. Be. Creating.
“I like the journey,” says Chuck, when talking about what it feels like to finish a massive project like this. “The end result is great, but I always like the journey. It’s almost a letdown when you finish a project, because you’re like ‘Now what?’ What are you going to do? How do you beat that?”
For someone like Chuck, the answer seems to be to start another, and he’s already taken on a VW bus as his next build.
“I’m full of passion projects,” he explains. “I never stop. My wife is so amazingly tolerant, because once I get going on something, she knows I tend to do my own thing and just not be bothered with anyone else. And I don’t mean to, I do like people! [laughs] But I just get so excited about doing something, I can’t sleep.
“So, I always have dozens of projects. If I sat down and actually wrote them all out, I probably have 100. But I could probably rattle off 20 that are on the go right now.”
He takes a moment to reflect on this statement.
“I know I would’ve been a better athlete in my racing days if I could just focus on one thing,” he says, “But I couldn’t do it. I had thought I might be a pro rider at some point in my life, which was a big ask for my physical attributes, but I just couldn’t focus on one thing. I was always such a scatterbrain just trying to do too many things.”
Well, Chuck, we love you for it. We love anyone who brings beautiful things into the world. Creators, create!
“All my life, I’ve behaved this way. I have no fear. It’s like with any project, I know I can figure it out. I’ve always tackled nutso projects, but the Mercury was by far my biggest because I just did it top to bottom and did everything myself.”
SPECIAL THING RAP SHEET
Chuck and Kyle Teixeira
WHAT IS IT?
Custom chopped 1950 Mercury Sedan
1956 Chrysler Hemi, 354ci
Ford 15×6 wheels with 205/75R15 whitewalls
House of Kolor ‘Stratto Blue’ paint, Oriental Kosmic Kandy, Roth Retina Red metal flake. Pinstriping by Ray “The Vulture” Peoro
TIME TO COMPLETE:
Purchased in 2001, completed in 2012