Graham Bateman’s 1946 Mercury Convertible: Winged Messenger
At 82, Graham Bateman is happily retired and yet – like so many so-called retirees – just about as busy as he has ever been, spending much of his time working on cars. Housed in his two 20-metre by 12-metre sheds is a collection of interesting older models, mostly Ford or Ford-related. He currently owns 23, of which one of the most interesting is this resplendent 1946 Mercury convertible with the desirable Columbia Two-Speed Overdrive.
Graham hosts plenty of car clubs at what is probably one of the best collections of 1940s and 1950s Fords and Mercurys in Australia.
There was a good market for mid-range US cars in early postwar Australia. Fords, Chevrolets, Pontiacs, Buicks and a trio of Chrysler products – Plymouth, Dodge and De Soto – were locally assembled. From time to time you’d spot a late 1940s Mercury or very early 1950s Packard in the traffic. Hudson Hornets were quite popular in 1956-57. If you were really fortunate, you’d occasionally sight a Cadillac Eldorado. In 1963 your favourite teacher might have proudly parked his Studebaker Golden Hawk in the school grounds.
When Graham first set eyes on it, the Mercury was not really an ‘it’ at all. Rather, there were three trailer loads of parts, which he acquired at a Beenleigh swap meet about five years ago. There was no floor, not even some rusty scraps thereof. Graham’s description of what he had just purchased – these remnants of an early postwar Mercury convertible – as a ‘basket case’ could be considered euphemistic. To say the job of ‘restoration’ lay ahead of him serves as a wonderful example of understatement. More like reimagining.
Now, unsurprisingly, the Mercury seems to win prizes almost whenever it appears at a car show. Only quite recently, Graham displayed the Mercury in the NSW Riverina town of Leeton where it picked up Judges’ Choice and Best Restored.
The superb paintwork was done by Graham’s mate, Dan Lucas, who is a freelance panel beater who works two days a week for him. Dan handled all the panels including the missing floor! To complete the work Graham had to buy a donor Mercury from Victoria.
The original engine was a 59a Mercury 239 cubic-inch flathead V8 but this was upgraded to a later model with more power. Developed by the Columbia Axle Company in Cleveland, Ohio, the two-speed axle was first used as an option on the 1932 Auburn. Ford first offered it as a conversion for their 1934 models; it was later offered as a factory option on the 1937-1941 V12-powered Lincoln Zephyrs, Continentals.
Power was a hallmark of the Mercury marque from the time Edsel Ford conceived the idea of a new range of cars positioned between Fords and the Lincoln Zephyr. The debut year was 1939 and Mercury pricing was comparable with the Pontiac (straight) Eight but just lower than Oldsmobile – exactly where the visionary Edsel, who would mastermind the original 1941 Lincoln Continental (based on the Zephyr) had intended it to be. The name was derived from the winged messenger god of Greek mythology. The 239 cubic-inch engine, slightly larger than the flathead used in Fords (at least until model year 1948), having the same stroke and a larger bore, with 95 brake horsepower for the first three model years, then 100. The most powerful of the 1939 Ford V8s made 85. The 1939 Pontiac straight eight was good for 100. With careful tuning, these pre-war Mercurys could approach the old-fashioned ‘ton’, 100 miles per hour.
The wheelbase of early Mercurys was 116 inches, four more than for Ford. Not only were they bigger and somewhat faster than their lower-class cousins, they also boasted one especially modern touch, a fingertip-control column-mounted gearchange somewhat in advance of the dominant 1950s fashion.
Mercury production averaged 80,000 units per year in the early 1940s which propelled the new marque to 12th or 13th in the highly competitive Detroit industry. It would make the top 10 by the early 1950s.
The first serious facelift came for model year 1942. Mercury production resumed on 1 November 1945 just months after the conclusion of World War Two and for model year 1946 the 1942 cars were mildly facelifted with a new bonnet and a more stylish grille comprised mainly of thin vertical bars.
Edsel Ford died of stomach cancer in 1943 and there is little doubt that his poor relationship with his monomaniacal father, Henry, had contributed to his failing health; some say he died of a broken heart. Regardless, Edsel’s visionary thinking and impeccable taste played a major role in shaping the direction the Ford Motor Company would take under Henry Ford II.
Edsel’s son, Henry II, established Mercury as a separate division in 1946 and over the following few years vigorous product planning lifted Mercury clear of its ‘glorified Ford’ reputation: by the early 1950s Mercurys were at least as differentiated from Fords as Pontiacs were from Chevrolets.
It is easy to see that Graham Bateman is a big fan of Mercury. As well as this beauty, he also especially enjoys his more modern 1952 convertible. He owns two Mercury utes, one of which may be among 10 surviving examples in the world since only 72 were produced. Another rare machine is his 1938 Ford Business roadster. Thirty-two examples were made and they were sold only in Australia. Graham thinks his is the sole survivor.
Baby Boomers will recall the fabulous Aussie Mainline utes. Graham has a nice 1954 model.
Although Graham Bateman’s collection majors on FoMoCo products with numerous Ford convertibles and coupes, he also owns a 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass convertible and, perhaps surprisingly, an MGB roadster.
He drives this Member Spotlight feature car two or three times most weeks. ‘I have to give them all a turn,’ he says and you can hear his broad smile down the telephone.