by David Grainger
"No fiberglass, no vinyl, nothing off the shelf..."
When the owners, Nick & Terena Shaw, first brought their 1950 Merc to us, she was pretty rusty. Before we could do anything to the car, we had to restore the basic shell and make it structurally sound. Nick wanted us to do a radical custom job using no fiberglass, no vinyl, and nothing off the shelf. He wanted it to still be a real car.
We consider ourselves coachbuilders and draw our inspiration from the twenties and thirties. We don't, for example, cut and paste -- we don't take a part from, say, a '38 Cadillac, another part from a '53 Chevy, and put them together with parts of other cars. There's not a recognizable part on the car when we're finished. I strive to come up with original work, so I deliberately try to avoid being influenced by what other car builders are doing.
The "Ghost" body is handcrafted including, for example, a small air scoop we molded in the chin air dam under the grille, and the French cut on the rear fender (which wasn't completed in time for "Eyes on Design").
Next, we'll fit the car with a feature from the 1920's: louvered belly pans to cool the bottom of the car, hide the clutter, and improve its aerodynamics.
The art deco "fan" design runs throughout the whole car: the rear window, the taillights, and front parking lights. The fan also shows up in the interior on the armrests, the ceiling, and even on the compressor box in the engine compartment. There are 30 invisible neon lights that glow inside and on the exterior of the car.
The paint is all Sikkens. We used experimental flip-flop, non-catalyzed paint. Each flame is a combination of five different layered pearlescents: purple to blue to green to yellow, and ending in red. Tinting is done in clear coats. We started with Cadillac "blue pearl" for the base paint and reinforced the blue. The base color changes from blue to lilac as you move front to back, as if it is heating. The car actually flips from green to yellow, as well.
Nothing in the exotic, all-leather interior is from a 1950 Merc. The tannery experimented with dyes on 17 different hides to pin down the right colors. Vinyls come in those colors, but Nick wanted all leather. The headliner at the back comes down and forms the head rests behind the rear seats. The dash is our design - all the switches are crystals with blue diodes.
There's nothing factory made under the hood. All the spark plug lines, for example, run through polished aluminum tubing. The tubing and all the wiring are all lined with leather harnesses, like the Bugattis were in the '30's. The leather matches the green, pink and white leather used in the interior. And, like the Bugattis, the firewall is hand scraped, square by square, in two directions, using a rubber hammer and chisel.
The car is a driver, and Nick likes to drive it and make it scream! We had to insist that he give it back to us so we could get it ready for a tour. One time when he was enjoying it on the highway at a speed that the police would frown on, he accidentally hit the button that automatically opened the suicide doors. He couldn't get over how quickly the car slowed!