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1951 Hirohata Mercury Custom

2021 MCACN

Ever since I was a little kid in the 1950s crazy about custom cars, I remember seeing the Hirohata Mercury Custom. It was one of those cars you could not forget. The car was owned by Bob Hirohata of Los Angeles. Its real fame came from its builders, Sam and George Barris. Although George is the more famous of the two brothers, it was Sam who many say had the real customizing talent. He is well known for his own build of a similar 1949 Mercury. When Hirohata saw what Sam had done to his own chopped Merc, Hirohata ran out and purchased a 1951 and took it to the Barris shop for them to do their thing to it.

George Barris Custom Mercury

This particular car was a daily driver, seen in all the major magazines and even appeared in the movie “Running Wild” with the sexy heart throb Mamie Van Doren.

By 1959, it sold for $500 to a 16-year-old Jim McNiel. It wasn’t until 1996 that it underwent an extensive and accurate restoration back to its original Barris custom condition. One of the original builders, Herschel Conway and Frank Sonzogni, again restored it in 2015. After its second restoration it went to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 2015.

The modifications to the car were extensive and started a style of customization of “Lead Sled” Mercuries that continues to today.

After being displayed at the 2021 MCACN show in Chicago, the car is off to the Mecum Auction in Kissimmee, FL, for 2022, with an estimated sale price of $1,000,000 to $1,250,000. It sold for $2,145,000!

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I grew up and lived in Iowa for a good portion of my life before moving to Southern California. After 20+ years we now live outside Nashville Tennessee. I have been into cars since I was old enough to remember. I don't have a brand loyalty although I do prefer American Muscle especially the 1969/1970 NASCAR Aero Cars. (Check out our other web site at www.TalladegaSpoilerRegistry.com site) As long as it has four wheels and an engine I get excited. Few men are lucky enough to be able to share their passion for cars with the woman they love. Fortunately, my wife, Katriana, is also a gear head and many of our activities revolve around the cars. We have a small collection that includes at least one car from each of the Big Three. It includes a Best of Show winner, a survivor, a driver with lots of patina and several others. Katrina prefers all original cars while I like to modify them so we have a few of each. When we aren't playing with cars we are out working with or showing our miniature donkeys. You can see more about that part of our lives at http://www.LegendaryFarms.com.

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  1. The article has some errors in it. While Frank Sonzogni was one of the original people to work on the original build, Hershel “Junior” Conway was not at Barris’ at that time. He started working there later. The restoration was done in the mid 90’s at “Junior’s” shop Junior’s House of Color. Frank was very involved in the restoration. Pat Ganahl of Rodder’s Journal was instrumental in putting everyone together for the restoration.

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