After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, America changed almost overnight. Congress made it illegal to build new cars, and all factories turned toward the war effort, a mobilization that is unprecedented in our nation’s history. Once the war came to an end in 1945, it still took automakers years to roll out original-looking designs. Mercury, Ford’s middle-child, was one of the first companies to debut a new-looking, post-war car, and it was an instant hit.
But why? Was it a case of right place, right time? If that was it, then these cars wouldn’t still be considered the embodiment of cool that they are today. For some reason, the 1949 to 1951 Mercury Eight became one of the most revered hot rods in Americana, launching what would become known as the “Kustom Kulture.”
As Carbuzz explains, the Mercury Eight had some help from Hollywood in establishing itself as a cultural symbol of cool. James Dean, the immortal symbol of cool, starred in the famous 50’s flick Rebel Without A Cause, and a Mercury Eight sedan was also featured in the film. Girls lusting after Dean helped make the Mercury a hot commodity. The actual car from the movie is still on display at the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada.
Hot rodders also took to the car with gusto, eager for anything other than the pre-war designs that dominated the American market from 1946 to 1951. This led to the creation of “lead sleds” slammed to the ground, painted in vivid and lively colors as a rebellion against the conservative look and feel of Eisenhower’s America. Sam Barris, brother of famed car customizer George Barris, built the first lead sled (pictured at the top of this post), so named because it used Bondo and lead to fill in gaps and make the custom body panels.
To this day, these old Merc’s have an older, but loyal following; owing it in part to Ford designers, early hot rodders, and of course Hollywood, for their coolness and immortality.