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Lot 135

1946 Mercury Sportsman Convertible

  • Chassis no. 99A1140582

Sold for $368,500

Model 69M. 100 bhp, 239.4 cu. in. L-head V8 engine, three-speed manual transmission with Columbia two-speed rear end., solid front axle and live rear axle with transverse semi-elliptic leaf springs, four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Internal modification by way of four-inch Mercury crankshaft and later Mercury cam give additional horsepower but retain factory appearance for judging. Wheelbase: 118"

The 1945-48 period was a heady time in American automobile history. Automakers were struggling to fill pent-up demand for new cars while battling materials shortages and fending off labor disputes. At the same time, however, a few new prestige models were developed to accompany the bread-and-butter cars, which were barely changed from the 1942 models. Heading these prestige cars was a bevy of wood-bodied sedans, wagons and convertibles.

Chrysler Corporation had introduced a novel barrel-back Town & Country sedan-wagon before the war, produced as a Royal in 1941 and Windsor in 1942. A flight of five woodie styles was planned for 1946, but in the end only a Windsor sedan and New Yorker convertible were put on sale. Nash, meanwhile, put wood appliqué on an Ambassador sedan and sold it as the Suburban from 1946 to ’48, while Chevrolet offered a dealer-installed Country Club wood kit for 1946-48 models. At first glance it might appear that the Ford and Mercury Sportsman convertibles were conceived in envy of the Chrysler Town & Country, but the truth is not so simple.

During the war, Henry Ford II noticed a Model A chassis sitting in a corner of the Ford design studio. It had been there since the 1930s, an artifact about which the elder Henry Ford loved to reminisce. Young Henry asked chief designer E.T. “Bob” Gregorie to work up a body for it, so he could drive to the beach at his Long Island home.

Gregorie sketched up a wood-bodied convertible, with two doors, red leather interior and a khaki top over a Model A frame. It had a forward-sloped tail with Continental spare, which dropped down, tailgate style, and a stylish curved coupe pillar similar to that of the 1928-29 Model A closed cars. After the Fords had used the Model A for a summer on Long Island, it was given to Gregorie, who kept it and took it to Florida after his retirement.

That Model A convertible had a profound effect on the postwar Ford product line. Inspired by the jaunty little car, in the early part of 1945 Gregorie and his lead illustrator, Ross Cousins, worked up drawings for a wood-bodied 1946 convertible. A prototype was built at Iron Mountain by taking the skin off an early production convertible and fitting wood in its place. Using standard convertible parts to the extent possible simplified manufacture and helped restrain costs.

Because the wood framing was necessarily larger than equivalent steel, the back end ended up a bit bulkier, and convertible fenders wouldn’t work. Instead, rear fenders and taillights from the 1941 sedan delivery were used. Sportsman seats were upholstered in genuine leather facings in tan or red, with French stitching. The front floor mats had color-keyed carpet inserts, and power windows were standard. Announced in September, the first Sportsman was completed in December 1945 and presented to actress Ella Raines at Christmas.

The Sportsman became part of the Ford Super Deluxe line; at $1,982 it was about $500 more than a standard convertible. Mercury, too, got a Sportsman, in April 1946, selling for $2,209, about the same margin over a regular Mercury convertible.

This 1946 Mercury Sportsman was delivered new to an executive of the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company in Ohio, one of the largest manufacturers of steel. In 1949, he traded it, with 20,000 miles on the odometer, to Bartholomew Motors of Warren, Ohio. The dealership then sold it to Franklin Ledru Moody of Orwell, Ohio, for $1,495. In 1974, it was discovered by the Seventy One Society, an association of Sportsman owners, named for the body number of the Sportsman convertible. It was acquired by woodie collector Donald Narus of Parma, Ohio, and restored by Don Newby of Bondurant, Indiana. It later joined the collection of Curt Heaton in Corona del Mar, California. Nick Alexander acquired it from Curt Heaton in 2003.

The Mercury Sportsman Maple and Mahogany body is expertly varnished and beautiful to look at. The wood contrasts nicely with the deep Navy Blue paint, which exhibits a good shine. All body contours are correct. The top is black canvas with red piping, lined inside with tan canvas. The script glass shows slight separation on the right vent window and the running board rubber is new.

There are lap belts in front for two. The trunk floor is black rubber and the compartment is nicely detailed. A canvas top boot accompanies the car. The dashboard has restored mahogany woodgrain, the dashboard plastic and instruments are in excellent condition, and the electric clock keeps time.

The 59AB engine is painted in correct blue and is clean. The chassis and underbody are painted gloss black and are exceptionally clean. The car runs on Goodyear 7.15-15 blackwalls, and the matching spare is carried in the luggage compartment. Since joining the Alexander Collection, this Sportsman was painstakingly re-restored in the original factory navy blue with red leather and a black top with red piping. It received a Dearborn Award from the Early Ford V8 Club at Frederick, Maryland, in 2004. It was judged at 994 points. Like all collection cars, it runs and drives well, its Columbia two-speed axle enabling high speed touring. It is registered with California year-of-manufacture plates 1J7293, which go with the car.

Just 205 Mercury Sportsman convertibles were built between April and December 1946, when, due to disappointing sales, the model was discontinued. This car, whose body number dates from September 1946, is among the rarest of Ford-built automobiles. The opportunity to acquire another will not soon be repeated.


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Alexander Weaver

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Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

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