We continue our coverage of the National Street Rod Association’s (NSRA) Western Street Rod Nationals. This is part two of our three-part coverage of the event. Part one featured the pre-war vehicles. In this part, we take a look at some of the best cars representing the 1950s from the NSRA show.
1950 Mercury Eight Hardtop Kustom
Nothing says “Lead Sled” like a third-gen Mercury Eight. The first postwar Mercury came out for the 1949 model year. The styling was so different from the pre-war cars that these Mercs were popular to customizers immediately. Self-proclaimed customizer king Chuck Barris and his brother Sam latched onto the idea of “Lead Sleds” when these cars rolled off the assembly line. In fact, Sam is credited with building the first “sled” from a 1949 Mercury Eight.
Mercury was to “Lead Sleds” what the 32 Fords were to “Deuce Coupes.” These two-door sedans remain a popular choice for custom builders. As a result, Unaltered and untouched versions are almost impossible to find these days.
This 1950 Mercury, named 1Radd50 by owners Jeff and Debbie Smith of La Mirada, California. Jeff claims to have always been a fan of the early 50s Mercs. This probably came from his time working for the late, great, customizer Bill Hines at his Kustom Auto shop in Lynwood. Not only did he work for Hines during high school, but he also went to school with “the Leadslinger’s” oldest son Mike. Bill and Mike indoctrinated the young driver in chopped Kustoms.
This Mercury hardtop was built by Cypress Auto Body with a seven-inch chop. The chassis came from a 1979 El Camino, which assisted in drivetrain selection. A small-block Chevy 350 with TH 350 transmission provides the heart of the drivetrain. Air suspension was added to support the stance and ride.
It is finished with House of Kolor Brandy Wine paint. Features include frenched skirts and headlights, frenched antennas, and tail lights. For the creature comforts, this Merc has power windows and seats, power steering and power brakes, and air conditioning. The interior was done by Gabe’s Custom Interiors.
1951 Ford Woodie
Automobile styling started with wood. Wood was the choice material in early automobile construction and it made a lot of sense. Chariots and wagons were made of wood … so why not cars? Most early cars used wood frames that were covered with canvas then eventually sheet metal. It took craftsmen to make these automobiles.
At some point, there were not enough craftsmen to manufacture cars this way and steel and aluminum began seeing more use. However, most American Automobile manufacturers worked with coachbuilders and third-party companies to provide these utility vehicles and wagons with wood bodies.
Things began to change in the 50s when Plymouth discontinued their woodie wagons. Soon after, Buick stopped producing their woodie line and by 1955, only Ford and Mercury offered a woodie to the public. This is what makes Woodie wagons something very special at car shows. They are rare.
We managed to find a 1951 Ford Country Squire Woodie Wagon at the Western Street Rod Nationals. The first generation of the Ford Country Squire only lasted two years (1950,1951). These two years were the only Country Squire Wagons to feature real wood body panels. The ones that followed used wood trim with woodgrain inserts. This particular Woodie Wagon, owned by Pat and Carolyn Kelley, sported a spectacular copper sparkle paint on the metal bodywork.
The thing to really like about this vehicle is the owners actually use the car. We saw it cruising around the grounds all weekend long. There’s nothing better than watching a car owner enjoy their ride.
1955 Ford T-Bird
The first-generation T-Birds are the coolest cars from the Fifties in many enthusiasts’ hearts. We found a highly modified ‘Bird with major homage to its sporty heritage. Entering production as a two-seat convertible, the Thunderbird was competing in the market with Chevrolet’s Corvette. Unlike the Vette, the T-Bird was not marketed as a sports car. Instead, Ford made the car an upscale two-seater and called it a personal luxury car.
The 1955 version came with an overhead-valve, 292ci (4.8 L) Y-block naturally aspirated V8. The original powerplant was rated at 193 hp at 4400 rpm and 280 lb/ft at 2600 rpm. The power was transmitted to the wheels through a 3-speed manual transmission.
The modernized version, created and owned by Dave Ward, is equipped with a 5.4L DOHC supercharged V8 from a 2011 Shelby Mustang. Dave told us he is still tweaking and adding to the performance of this engine. His goal is to make 2 horsepower per cubic inch.
Original Paint Plus
What caught our eye initially was the incredible paint job on this beauty. Dave swears it is the original Thunderbird Blue (Turquoise), except he added a violet pearl and clear coat over the entire body. This included the white roll bar which shows off and highlights the violet pearl in sunlight.
This Bird also has a beefy Tremec 6-speed with a dual-clutch, and a heavy-duty Ford 8.8 limited-slip rearend with 3.73:1 gearing and Currie Axles. He added rack and pinion power steering, tubular A-Arms, QA-1 coil over shocks with the 3-link rear suspension.
We will probably see this car, dubbed “The Thundersnake GT500,” at another car show in the near future, with some more fine-tuning.
Stay tuned for part three of this series when we take a look at the cars from the sixties at the NSRA Western Street Rod Nationals. For more information about the NSRA and their schedule, please visit them online at nsra-usa.com.