I have always had an interest in older American vehicles and rare ones at that. In the 80/ 90s, my wife Faye and I had a caravan down the bay where we used to spend many a relaxing weekend away from the normal work routine. In 1993, I had noticed an old 1946 Mercury Utility parked out the back of the caravan park where some of the permanent residents lived.
Although from a distance it looked in reasonable shape, closer inspection showed the usual tin worm and age had taken their toll, especially as for some time, it had been parked in the open. The bodywork was dented and filled with bog, the wooden tray was rotted and many trim parts were missing and the interior was a bit shabby. The engine and suspension looked Ok from an external point of view and the general appearance suggested it had been well used but most likely in the urban environment and not on a farm. My assessment proved to be reasonably accurate as I found out years later.
At the time, I had just liberated the 1942 Chrysler Windsor from its unsheltered graveyard so the last thing I needed was another car to restore. I made a few enquiries about the model and discovered that the ute was rather rare as there had only ever been 90 built at the Ford plant in Geelong and that the utility version was never built in the USA. So it was a unique model built for the post WW2 Australian market. The owner, a Brian Lane, was reluctant to part with it but eventually I recall about $500 changed his mind.
Although I didn’t give it a test drive, it started but used about three of its eight cylinders and at least I found I could move it under its own power. The next challenge was to get her back to my Queanbeyan workshop. Driving or towing was out of the question so I rented a truck for the job. The big problem was how to get the ute onto the flatbed. A little ingenuity with a local dirt mound and the loan of some ramps helped and fortunately she had just enough power to get on the truck. Soon we had her on the way to her new home.
I decided to do the restoration in two parts. First to get her back on the road again then later a full restoration down track. I started to have a look what was needed and although the temptation of falling into the shipwrights disease trap was there, I avoided it and did the essentials only. Mind you, this was no simple task as to preserve the chassis, I had the underside sandblasted, fully rebuilt the engine and brakes apart from the need to do a bit of cosmetic bodywork repairs and clean the interior. All this was achieved concurrently with the initial restoration of the Chrysler Windsor, and simultaneously doing the rebuild of Graham Bates’ Mainline ute and running the shop with Andrew and Faye.
I started in 1994 and by about four or five years later she was in reasonable condition. Although I drove her sporadically, I didn’t take her to Wheels until about 2000. As I spent a considerable time on the restoration of the Chrysler, the Mercury did not get much use or attention apart from the annual trip to Wheels and its regular maintenance.
So about 2006, I decided to complete the second phase of my project and do the complete nut and bolt restoration of the ute. I thought that in view of its uniqueness, a full restoration was warranted. As I had done the engine only a few years before, I concentrated on the gearbox and drivetrain this time.
I was fortunate in that all the lights and most of the electrical items were in reasonable shape. A bit of polishing and new mounting rubbers and bulbs was all that was needed. The wiring loom had to be rebuilt but I had done more complex types than utes before and it was not too much of a problem.
When I pulled her to pieces, I found that the body needed quite a bit of panel beating to fully dispose of the rusty bits that were previously hidden. I dismantled and rebuilt the suspension with new bushes etc, along with the brakes again to ensure she would be in top condition, not necessarily Concours’ but close to it. Some of the decorative strips from the panels were missing so I found one good one and using it as a template, manufactured the others out of parts and bits of similar steel that I could find. I had the strips polished by a fellow in Sydney.
The bumper bars were in fair condition but needed a bit of repair, which I did and Shane at Electroplating Technology in Queanbeyan did all the chrome work on the grille and trim for me. As the rubbers on all the doors and windows were a bit shabby, I sourced all the replacements from the US and replaced only the glass in the doors as the front screens and rear window were OK. I rebuilt the window winding mechanisms as the play and wear was excessive. Some metal build up and shimming of door handles and other well-used controls was also necessary due to wear and tear over the years.
Fitting the doors was a problem as the hinges had sagged and worn a bit but it was a challenge I overcame with a few skinned knuckles and good luck. Fortunately, the instrument panel and fittings were in good condition although I had to rebuild some of the instruments as the dial and letters/numbers had faded a bit.
The rear tray was reframed and lined with new wood and I had a cover with tie downs made for the top. The upholstery work was done by Norm Betts before he retired to the hotel trade! I rubbed the body down and had it all resprayed in the original maroon colour at MV spray in Queanbeyan.
With the rewiring and re-assembly, she was finally completed about 2011. She passed her registration check at the first go with no defects so I was really pleased with the result as I think considering that the utes were only ever built in Australia, preserving a little bit of our motoring history was worth the effort.
With thanks to Dave Rogers who prepared this story