We’re still showing some custom cars from this year’s Grand National Roadster show, and we would be remiss if we didn’t feature the Keith Dean built 1940 Mercury Kustom. This Merc was designed and built by Keith Dean for Harold Saul, and was displayed prominently at the 2017 GNRS.
South End Kustom
First, a little about the builder, Keith Dean. A second generation builder, Keith is the son of legendary custom builder Dick Dean, the founder of South End Kustom. Dick worked with many of the storied hot rod and custom builders during the hey day of hot rodding. George Barris convinced Dick to move his business to California and had a long fruitful career. Set to retire in 2005, son Keith decided to keep the Dean tradition alive and reopened South End Kustom in honor of his father.
The decision to open his own shop turned out to be the correct one as Keith developed a reputation as a top shelf builder. In June of 2015, he was inducted into the National Rod & Custom Car Hall of Fame as Builder of the Year. Dean continues to produce cars that are award winners, often winning the “Best in Show” when they appear. Dean can almost always be found working in his Hemet, California, shop – fabricating his next Kustom creation.
The Mercury Build
Ford introduced the Mercury brand in 1939 as a competitor for the Buick and Oldsmobile in the GM line. This closed the gap between the entry level Ford and the expensive Lincoln brands. A car that was designed for the middle class that existed between the day-laborers and the bank presidents.
The Mercury brand was discontinued in 2011, but the Mercury name remains an active and registered trademark that is owned by the Ford Motor Company. During their 72 year run, the most popular Mercury cars were the 1939 through 1951 model years. The kustom scene has ensured that these early Mercury models remain popular.
Hot Rodder Harold Saul, owner of several kustoms, has had a couple of Mercury Eight Kustoms built for his enjoyment. Keith found this particular Merc not far from his shop in the Inland Empire of SoCal. As the story goes, an enthusiast owned the car but discovered that he would be unable to restore it. Probably due to the same malady that other project car owners find themselves in; lack of time, money, or both.
With a red spray painted message on the car that read “For Sale, $500,” Keith picked up the next project. The car had sat for many years and had some rust damage and was missing some parts. The next few months were divided between fabricating and finding parts at swap meets.
Every great kustom must have a theme, and every great builder stays true to the overall theme of a build. This kustom was designed to be a something different, something that Mercury never built, but maintain traditional looks and standards. Opting to build a roadster out of the coupe, the project took on the name “Roadstar.”
Keith got rid of the top then reworked the body to look like it came from the factory as a roadster. The windshield has been chopped and v-shaped to cut the wind aggressively. Overall, the car has been flattened, keeping with the tradition of original lead sleds. The fenders have been shortened and smoothed, the body channeled by five inches with the floorboards relocated.
Going topless requires a few tricks that might get missed by most casual observers. The door tops were rolled and smoothed to make the look fluid and seamless as it transitions to the body. The space behind the seats were reworked to make the roadster appearance complete. Obviously, the body was shaved and smoothed of any external handles.
A custom fabricated front bumper was built by Dean, and rear lights from a 1958 Chevy were adapted to the back. The wheel covers were taken from a 1949 Pontiac and Mercury emblems added to the centers. The dash remained fairly original.
The seat is from a Buick but the interior and seat coverings came from Joel’s Upholstery in Riverside, California. The painting was performed by Dean himself, but the pinstriping was done by Jones Custom Lettering and Striping. The brightwork was done by Ultra Mega Chrome in Los Angeles. Keith installed a small-block 350 cubic-inch Corvette engine and three-speed TH400 transmission.
Thankfully, we get to travel around to different events and see works of art that harken back to a day when kustoms were thoughtful, clean, and simply well done. This Merc hits all of those targets squarely in the bulls-eye.