Rolling History The Hirohata Merc Clone

The Hirohata Merc clone is a  piece of rolling Custom history and it is leaving our fair shores and heading out on a world tour.  We were lucky enough to take it in before she set sail earlier this year at the GNRS.  The Hirohata Merc clone is almost as famous as the original with both rides sharing interesting histories. 

The original Hirohata was crafted to Custom perfection by Sam and George Barris.  Fortunately, Mr. Hirohata allowed the shop to flex their creative muscle and unbeknownst to the brothers once completed, the Merc would become the gold standard for style and attitude in custom car building. 

The list of what the brothers Barris did to the original ’51 Club Coupe is extensive.  The Merc was nosed, decked and shaved.  The top was chopped 4 inches in front, seven in back.   The vertical B pillar was reshaped to curve forward.  Functional hood scoops were added.  The V-butted windshield, rear skirts, frenched headlights and antennae, and Cadillac Sombrero hubcaps flow seamlessly together to create the iconic pillarless “hardtop” look.  With the two toned paint scheme, tuck and roll interior and pinstriping by Von Dutch, it’s no wonder the Hirohata Merc earned the the title as “the most famous custom”.

After cleaning up on the show circuit, and making an appearance in the 1955 film Running Wild, Mr. Hirohata sold the car.  In 1959 the car was purchased by a 16 year old Jim McNeil for the unheard of sum of 500 dollars.  From there on out the car faded into urban legend, ultimately thought to be lost forever.

Fast forward to 1985, and enter Custom Car designer and builder legends Jack Walker and Doug Thompson.  The Hirohata was a bit of an obsession for Jack and when he and Doug were looking for a new project, Jack asked Doug if he was into building a replica of the Hirohata and the rest is history. 

Creating all the aforementioned mods on a car while building it is one feat, but recreating the exact same thing based on magazine features from the early 1950’s and a few photos from a private collection is something else all together.  Thompson’s craftsmanship, with a perfect eye for proportions and Walker’s love for the original Merc brought the clone project to life.  

Some credit Walker and Thompson and the Hirohata clone for the resurrection of Custom Car building the 80’s.  The Merc was an instant hit, with many people believing it was the original.  In the August 1989, it was announced that the original Hirohata Mercury had been “found” and that the car would undergo a full restoration.  By found, it meant that Jim McNeil had had the car the entire time.  He knew he had a significant piece of history in his possession and ensured it’s safe keeping.  Incidentally, McNeil did most of the restoration himself, except for the final coat of paint!   With the original car restored, a comparison was possible.

There are only a few obvious differences between the original and the clone.  The original has sectioned front bumper guards, while the clone does not.  The color of the original is more vibrant.  During the restoration they were able to match the paint to the unrestored car.  The color of the clone was based off of faded photos and archival magazine cover images.  The rear bumper on the original has a v notch to flow around the taillights better while the clone has a stock rear bumper.  Lastly, the dash on Hirohata’s original Merc was striped by none other than Von Dutch himself!  Needless to say that was not an option with the clone. 

To illustrate the efforts Mr. Thompson went to to recreate the original here is just one example.  At the time of the build,  no one recreated old license plates.  A “generic” ’52 California plate was smoothed out and the right numbers were hand hammered into it.  Fortunately for Doug the car only used one plate!

In 2016, noted Customizer John D’Agostino convinced Mr. Walker to part with the Hirohata clone.  His plan is to travel with the car so that people all over the world can enjoy this historical Custom.  The last time the ride was shown in the U.S. was at the 2018 Grand National Roadster Show, where we were very lucky to catch an eyeful of this piece of Custom history.   

Take another opportunity to check out this dope doppelganger.

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Till the next time – Keep on Kruzin!