Dave Pareso’s ’51 Mercury: Traditional With Modern Conveniences

What does Hollywood’s Sly Stallone and Colorado Springs’ Dave Pareso have in common? One has stardom, the other … well, he’s a star in his own mind. Seriously though, the actual answer is hot-rodded Mercury’s. While Dave isn’t exactly a movie star, his 1951 Mercury has appeared in countless videos, so you could say he has a supporting role in the world of stardom.

The custom 1950 Mercury driven by Stallone, who played Marion Cobretti in the movie Cobra, was actually owned by the actor. That Mercury was built in a traditional style, and so is Dave’s. Wow, another commonality. The only difference between the two, is that Dave’s Mercury is a ’51 and Stallone’s was a ’50.

Rebel Without A Cause, Cobra, and American Graffiti. Photos from www.imcdb.org.

However, both cars were built as “kustoms”, only in different decades (Stallone’s Merc was built in 1985 for the movie), but tradition dictates both builds adhere to the same style. Were it not for the traditionally-hot-rodded Merc, Sly’s ride would have been just another cop car in the movie, James Dean would have faded into oblivion in Rebel Without A Cause, and the Pharoahs would have looked mighty silly piling into a plain Jane four door sedan in American Graffiti.

His Calling Card

When it comes to Dave Pareso’s ’51 Merc, it is definitely traditional – and it gets looks, a lot of them. It also racks up the miles – a lot of them as well. These three things are a great trait for th e car to have, because his ’51 Mercury is also a calling card for his business, Back Street Kustoms in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Not only is the Merc his daily back-and-forth to work driver and around town to local fun runs cruiser, but Dave gets the Merc out on the highway, traveling to rod runs and events all across this country. He and his Merc logged more than 16,000 miles last year alone.

Left: Grille bars are '56 Chrysler, headlight doors are '54 Buick, and the bumper is '55 Pontiac. Right: taillights are '77 Ford LTD, and the rear bumper is also from a '55 Pontiac.

Back in 2000, Dave painted the Merc a House of Color Tangelo Pearl Orange after his girl friend, Chris Roberts (now wife), stripped and sanded the car herself. Then, Dave and Darren Koch laid gold, magenta, and purple flames – flowing the full length of the Merc body over that. Adding a touch of detail,  airbrushed shadows and accents really made the job “pop” from the car. It was then clearcoated and polished to a high luster. Eric of “Stripes by Eric” in Kansas City, then flew in and pinstriped the whole thing. “It was a bitchin’ paint scheme,” Dave admits. “But like anything else, things wear out – windshields get pitted, road rash appears on the hood, engines and transmissions get tired, and upholstery gets wear marks – so, it was time for a change.” In 2012 Dave tore the Merc down in preparation for a new look.

The Merc in its former glory. Tangelo Orange with flames.

The Merc in its former glory. Tangelo Orange body with gold, purple and magenta flames.

Some aspects of the original build are still incorporated, like the taillights that are from 1977 Ford LTD, which look a lot like traditional ’54 Merc, except these are totally smooth. The rear window is from a ’50 Mercury, which is smaller than the ’51, and lends itself better to the chop.

Sled tradition dictates that door handles are removed and all excess trim is taken off. The door and hood corners have been rounded, also keeping an era-correct style. The peaked hood has been punched full of louvers, and an antenna has been frenched into the front fender and topped with a plastic knob. The headlight doors are ’54 Buick that have been frenched into the body, and the grille is ’56 Chrysler. The split front bumper and rear bumper are from a ’55 Pontiac.

Out with the old and in with the new. – Dave Pareso

The Lakes Pipes are enclosed in shrouds and run the full length of the body, while the suspension has been old-school lowered with Posie’s leaf springs and 2-inch blocks in the rear, and cut coils up front.

The Drivetrain

Dave ran a 350ci small-block Chevy and Turbo Hydramatic 350 tranny with a stock rearend for years – adding over 200,000 miles on the car before he changed engines. He swore by the dependability of the SBC, but that, too, needed a change. Dave noted, “The only thing non-traditional is the engine.” Adopting an “out with the old and in with the new” mentality, he added an LS engine.

Color was based on Victoria's Secret lingerie.

The new custom mixed color was matched to a lingerie top from Victoria secrets by D&S Paints in Pueblo, Colorado.

The LS6 has been completely rebuilt by Robbie McCabe Motorsports, and Dave’s friend, Ritchie Lambiase, rebuilt a 4L60 automatic transmission for it. Reportedly, the engine boasts of 450 horsepower, and gets 22 to 24 mpg. Dave built the engine and transmission mounts, and while he had the front sheet metal off, he added disc brakes to the suspension by making his own kit to adapt Camaro disc brake rotors and calipers . A mid-’60’s Ford pickup gave up its power steering box. Around back, he added a 10-bolt Chevrolet Nova rearend, and added disc brakes to that as well.

“Of course, like any good kustom,” Dave said, “the hood is seldom opened at a show to keep the visual lines clean. That also means that few people know the engine and transmission are modern units.”

New LS6 was rebuilt by Robbie

New Chevrolet LS6 was rebuilt by Robbie McCabe Motorsports, and a rebuilt 4L60 automatic transmission is coupled to that.

As with any rebuild, the interior needed to be upgraded after Dave repainted the car. Pearl White vinyl now covers the majority of the interior, with matching pink piping that was stitched up by Ed Banes Upholstery in Littleton, Colorado. The headliner is a work of art, running horizontally instead of across…of course, the whole interior is done in traditional style – rolls and pleats, thank you very much! Black loop carpet covers the floor, and Vintage Air keeps Dave cool while cruising the car.

Interior features traditional rolls and pleats in Pearl White with pink piping to match the paint. Below: The headliner is a work of art with the rolls and pleats running the length of the roof instead of across .

The stock dash looks good, and the chromed tilt column from Gearhead Enterprises is topped with a Moon metal flake wheel. The only thing non-traditional, is the Kingfish Studios Tiki-head-topped floor shifter towering above the dash. The new custom mixed color was matched to a lingerie top from Victoria secrets by D&S Paints in Pueblo, Colorado. Dave sprayed the paint himself.

The interior sports power windows from Gearhead Enterprises, and a mid-‘70’s Olds Cutlass power seat, pinstriping is by Eric Campbell of Kansas City, and the wide whitewalls on stock rims are courtesy of Coker’s. To complete the traditional look, Caddy hubcaps were added as well as the dummy spots on the A-pillars. Dave wishes to thank Rafael Tafoya for his help completing the LS swap.

Trunk features pinstriping by Eric. Spray gun figures in because of Dave's business - Back Street Kustoms in Colorado Springs, CO

Trunk features pinstriping by Eric. The spray gun inside the stripes figures in because of Dave’s business – Back Street Kustoms in Colorado Springs, CO.

Tradition dictates that beliefs and/or unwritten rules are passed on from one generation to another to preserve ideas that are at risk of being lost. However, in the world of hot rodding, we know you can’t please everyone with this style of build, but what is more important – Dave is happy with his traditionally styled chopped ’51 Mercury.

About the author

Roger Jetter

Roger’s interests in cars started at 14 with a ’40 Ford pick-up until he bought his first ’57 Chevy at age 16. That car is featured in the first two books he’s written about the 1960’s and growing up in the Midwest. He’s authored several more books as well and has built several cars over the years that have received major coverage in magazines and won plenty of awards. His current build is a 1948 Cadillac Sedanet, although his current 'driver' is a '55 Cadillac Coupe DeVille.
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