1940 Mercury customized by Harry Westergard

Jack Walker must feel like an automotive archaeologist. His collection of 1950s custom cars is a living testament to the “lead sled” era that was popularized by folks such as George Barris and Ed “Big Daddy” Roth.

 Walker, of Belton, has commissioned replicas of two famous Barris cars, the Hirohata Merc and the Blue Danube Buick. He also has original cars customized by luminaries such as Harry Bradley and John D’Agostino. Now he and a friend, Ed Guffey, own one that was built by Harry Westergard in 1940. Westergard was one of the early pioneers in the custom-car business, and his cars are significant for the way they influenced customizing in the 1950s and1960s. 

 Two years ago, Walker saw an ad for a customized Mercury convertible that was reputedly built by Westergard of Sacramento, Calif. He thought his eyes might be deceiving him.

Walker called his friend Barris after reading the ad. Barris worked for Westergard as a young body man, and probably helped do some of the work on this particular Mercury.

 Barris said if the car was truly a Westergard, Walker should buy it. When a California friend verified the car’s authenticity, Walker and Guffey went ahead with the purchase.  The car had been modernized with a late-model V-8 and a different front end. Walker wanted to put it back like it was originally. 

 This 1940 Mercury is unusual because its first owner, Butler Rugard, brought it to Westergard’s shop for customizing when it was nearly new. Custom cars were very unusual then.  Rugard wanted Westergard to add a set of “fade-aways.” A fade-away is the continuation of the front fender line across the door and into the body at the base of the rear fender. Westergard must have talked him into doing much more, because the car has a chopped Carson top, 1942 Buick grille, Packard bumpers, rolled and pleated interior and fender skirts.

 The car was shown at Sacramento’s Autorama in 1950.

 Walker has spent two years putting the car back to its original look. A flathead V-8 is under the hood once again, a ’42 Buick grille adorns the front and the bumpers are Packard. Dave Dolman of Nebraska did the body work and Bob Sipes of Pleasant Hill did the interior. Danny Wheeler of Independence did the wiring. Walker said Sonny Rogers of Independence installed the engine and helped him pull all the loose ends together to get the car finished.

 Walker’s car is as close as he could make it to the way it was when Harry Westergard finished it.

 Walker’s Westergard Mercury is currently on loan to Championship Auto Shows and it is traveling to shows all across the country. It will be one of the featured cars at the World of Wheels car show in Kansas City on March 11-13. For information about its other show appearances, go to www.autorama.com.

Jack Walker, above right, has an enviable collection of early custom cars.