balls

    This a story about a 1950 Mercury…

    As a teenager, I was influenced by the cars in the pages of Hot Rod, Rod and Custom, Car Craft, etc. California was the hot spot for cars. With the return of soldiers from overseas, interest in the automobile accelerated.

   They wanted their vehicles to go faster and look different. They lowered the roof (chopping), dropped the body over the frame rails (channeling), and removed unnecessary parts (fenders, hood, bumpers etc.). Speed equipment was available (multiple carbs, high performance heads and cams, headers etc.), which eventually led to engine swaps.

    My favourites were the ’32, ’33 and ’34 Ford 3-window coupes and the 1949/50 Mercs (Mercury). As it turned out, my daily driver during high school was a grey-primed ’50 Ford convertible. I traded that, in grade 12, for a black-primed ’34 Ford 3-window.

My Secondary School Transportation
My Secondary School Transportation

   For the remainder of this story, I am not going to refer to people by name. Instead, I will use initials.

   In the summer of 1977, I attended a rod run that was held on the grounds of the Ontario Police College in Aylmer, Ontario. On the grounds, was a chopped ’50 Merc with a “For Sale” sign. This was the ultimate Merc – chopped, nosed, and decked, tunneled headlights, slanted and rounded door posts, rounded hood corners, and a DeSoto grill all wrapped in shiny black. The Merc was from Ohio.

   I introduced myself to the owner, JL, and expressed interest in purchasing the Merc. The price he quoted was reasonable. At the time, I was not in a financial position to purchase another vehicle. If he was interested in a trade plus some cash, we may have been able to make a deal. JL stated, “Cash only. No trades.”

   I said that if anything changed on my end, I would be in touch. Driving home from the event on Sunday, I realized that I did not get his contact information.

   During the mid to late seventies, there was an increased interest in custom vans. Events for vans and trucks were very popular. The Vantastic Custom Vans shows, held indoors in Toronto and London, drew large numbers. Outdoor events like the N.A.V.A. Nationals at Mosport Park and the Dream Valley Truck-In, were well attended.

   During this time, I was living in Enniskillen, which borders onto Mosport Park. On the weekend of September 2, Mosport was hosting the N.A.V.A. Canadian event. Curious, I decided to check it out. Wandering through Manufacturers’ Row, I came across a vendor that I knew from Ohio.

   Catching up on old times, I happened to mention a 1950 Mercury that I saw in the summer that was for sale with Ohio plates. He asked me to describe the car – chopped, DeSoto grill, tan interior painted blacked.

   “Wow, that sounds like JL’s car,” he said. I explained that I forgot to get JL’s contact information and would he know how to contact him. He said that he thought JL still had the car, and he gave me JL’s phone number.

   I called JL that evening and inquired if he still had the car and was it for sale. Yes, he still had the car and quoted me a price that was lower than I expected.

   I said that I would take it. He said that he was waiting to hear back from another individual and if he did not hear back by 5 p.m. on Monday, the Merc was mine. JL called me on Monday and said the deal was done.

   It’s at this point the story gets interesting.

   JL requested that I send him the money and that we arrange a date, and he would drive the car to Buffalo, and I could drive home. I was not prepared to do that. I would send him a deposit immediately and pay the balance in cash when we met in Buffalo. He explained that there was a lien on the car, and he needed the cash to pay off the lien before he could do the required paperwork.

   Wow. I had not planned on this. Being polite, I said I would get back to him.

   The following week, I talked to some knowledgeable people with regards to importing cars. Because of the lien, the consensus was do not get involved. I even talked to my lawyer. He said he could not tell me what to do – that it was my decision – but his advice was to walk away.  He also said something to the effect, ‘if you are just finding out about the lien at this late date, what other surprises could there be?’

   Sometimes, obstacles are put in our way to discourage us from obtaining material things and achieving goals. But I have always believed that if you are determined, work hard, and don’t do anything illegal, you will succeed.  And I wanted that Merc!

   I called JL and inquired about who held the lien and would he have any objection if I talked to them directly. He said go ahead and gave me the name and contact information for a trust company in Ohio. After numerous conversations with the trust company and JL, an agreement was reached to purchase the Merc.

   The agreement stated that I was to make full payment (direct to the trust company) and upon taking position (ownership in hand) of the Merc in Buffalo, I was to call the trust company and they would release the balance to JL.

   As it turned out, the lawyer was correct… JL had another surprise. When we hooked up with JL in Buffalo, there was considerable damage to the Merc’s trunk lid. JL stated that he had been rear ended. CA, a friend that was with me, assessed the damage and we determined that the trunk lid could be saved, and we headed for the border.


   I was nervous and concerned about bringing a car into Canada for the first time. I talked to a custom broker and he assured me that as long as my paperwork was in order, there shouldn’t be a problem. He said I needed a dated bill of sale, signed ownership, lien release documents and the required custom forms. Also, you were to be importing the car for your use and it was not for resale. I was also advised to arrive at customs 20-25 minutes before a shift change.

"Finally got my Merc"

   As it turned out, there was nothing to be concerned about, I was in the customs office for about 1 hour, paid the duty, sales tax and document fees and we were on our way. One thing that I always remember about that crossing was when we went outside with the customs official to look at the black chopped, lowered lead sled, one of the first questions he asked, “what options did it have when it was new?”

   The Merc was a wonderful car, basically maintenance free. We eventually replaced the Olds engine with a small block Chev and the family really enjoyed the car.

   In 1977, the Merc was part of the Time Travelers Street Rod Clubs display at Speed-Sport, held in the Automotive Building on the CNE grounds in Toronto. Just after I arrived at the show on Saturday, I got a tap on the shoulder. I turned and there was Jack Kampney. He said if I didn’t like it, it was easily removed.

   I had known Jack from our days working together at Championship Auto Shows. He is a very talented artist, well known for his monster T-Shirts, air-brushing, pinstriping and automobile design. It was Jack’s design sketches that lead to the first Canadian to win the prestigious Detroit Autorama Ridler Award. In 1971, John Greer won with the Brinks Express, which was based on 1912 C-Cab Model T truck. Jack also built Search, the Indy Coupe, Mummy Machine, and with the help of Sam Wade, built Rudy’s Green Flame 1950 Merc for Championship Auto Shows.

   As we approached the Merc it was obvious that Jack had laid some lines (pinstriping). The combination of the red and blue pinstriping on the black lacquer was outstanding; just what the car needed.

   On the lower right corner of the trunk lid, he had painted the word “BALLS”. I asked him how he came up with the name. He explained that a ‘custom’ had to have a name. And to be cool, it had to have attitude. He liked the way the car sat, the smooth lines of the chop, the custom touches, black lacquer, and he concluded that the Merc had “BALLS”.

   “BALLS” was destroyed in a body shop fire in 1985.

Yes there’s a “BALLS 2” stay tuned…

BALLS 2

I would love to hear your Hot Rodding experiences. Please comment below or email me at sled1949@rogers.com

                                                                                                                                           For now,

                                                                                                                                                         Gary Challice

1 thought on “balls”

  1. Great story! Love the references to the custom van events. It’s something how the van and hot rod worlds intertwined so much. I was talking with one of your old friends a couple of weeks ago and he mentioned that you may know where Bruce Robertson’s Prime Cut chopped Ford Econoline might be. It was built by Jack Kampney back in the late 70’s and hasn’t been seen in at least a decade. Any help locating it would be appreciated.

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