- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2001

In 1946, after Ford Motor Co. resumed production of civilian cars following World War II, a total of 86,608 Mercurys were manufactured.

Of those Mercurys 24,163 were coupe sedan models, one of which was shipped to Fort Madison, Iowa. With a base price of $1,496, the curvaceous Mercury was purchased, according to the original title, by Grant Olson.

For reasons lost in time, the original owner sold the car within a year to a Mexican woman. She promptly drove the nearly new Mercury to Mexico, where she attempted to register the car with a bill of sale in English dated 1947. She finally succeeded in registering the car, but in the confusion, that Mercury became a 1947 model.

Records indicate this well-traveled vehicle had some engine work done in 1959 and again in 1974, the latter a complete overhaul of the 239-cubic-inch flathead V-8 engine so that it could continue producing 100 horsepower.

Eventually, the car was sold to another Mexican, who had restoration in mind. While waiting for the restoration time to arrive, he parked the Mercury in his brother's garage in Mexico City among a half-dozen vintage Jaguars his brother owned.

The U.S. State Department assigned Victor Abeyta to Mexico in the mid-1990s. While there, he met and befriended a Mexican who owned a half-dozen vintage Jaguars. Sharing an affinity for antique cars, Mr. Abeyta was invited to his friend's garage in the autumn of 1999 to see a collection of vintage Jaguars.

See them, he did. Admire them, he did. However, his eye kept returning to the Mercury coupe sedan parked off in a corner.

It reminded him of his first car, a very used 1942 Ford, back in his high school days in Blanco, N.M. He had spent many happy days and driven many happy miles near the Four Corners area in that old Ford.

He was smitten.

Mr. Abeyta asked his friend to find out whether his brother would consider selling the old Mercury.

Because it had been in the garage untouched for almost a decade, the brother decided to sell. Mr. Abeyta bought what he thought was a 1947 Mercury in November 1999 and had it trucked across town to a shop for evaluation. Despite the title's declaration that the car was a 1947 model, he learned it was, indeed, a 1946 model.

Unfortunately for Mr. Abeyta, the car appeared to be in better condition than it was.

He was told what was needed a lot. As he pondered the problem, his practical side knew the restoration would cost more than the car would be worth. His romantic side knew this was a desirable 1946 Mercury coupe sedan that had escaped the hot-rod crowd for half a century. When and where would he ever have another chance to own such a car?

Because his romantic side predominated, he gave the restoration shop the go-ahead. "The restoration began in earnest in January 2000," Mr. Abeyta recalls.

The car was stripped down to bare metal to uncover any hidden problems. Mr. Abeyta was pleased that a minimum of rust was discovered. The only evidence of body damage was on the trunk lid, so that part of it was leaded.

After all the dings and dents were ironed smoothly, the Mercury was repainted its original deep, dark Barcelona blue.

The stainless-steel trim, including the dual-band fender moldings, was polished to a like-new brilliance. What wasn't stainless steel was replated in chrome.

Two sets of seat covers were removed to get down to the original worn-out original gray fabric covering the seats. Mr. Abeyta decided to have the seats reupholstered in a tan leather for durability.

A 110-mph speedometer is visible through the big two-spoke steering wheel, which has a full-horn ring. A pair of ashtrays flank the plastic insert in the dashboard. Under the dashboard is a deluxe three-door heater.

The front-door wing vent windows are opened by turning a small hand crank, while the rear side windows are opened by pushing out on the rear end of the window. A pair of courtesy lights, one each at the top of the "B" pillars, illuminate the interior.

At the urging of his daughter, Danielle, 7, Mr. Abeyta has installed anchors preparatory to installing seat belts. He also has mounted a set of radial tires, which improve handling and traction. The 15-inch spare is mounted vertically behind the back seat in the cavernous trunk.

As the restoration progressed, a sense of urgency entered the picture because Mr. Abeyta was being reassigned to Washington in July.

Reluctantly, he left Mexico City and his Mercury knowing the car, although incomplete, was in good hands. "The devil was in the details," Mr. Abeyta exclaims.

Two months after he left Mexico, the restoration of the 3,190-pound car was complete, or as complete as any restoration project ever is. From Mexico City, the Mercury was trucked to Laredo, Texas, where an enclosed car carrier picked it up. In late September of last year, the truck delivered the car to an anxious Mr. Abeyta at his home in Alexandria.

He took the day off so he could be there when his car arrived. His wife, Susan, was able to contain her enthusiam and waited until after the workday to see the blue car.

Mr. Abeyta took his restored beauty for a test drive and declared, "It's a little stiff." The 118-inch wheelbase is 4 inches longer than in the similiar Ford model.

In the year he has had the car, Mr. Abeyta has driven it only 115 miles.

Not happy with the clutch, he found and installed a new clutch and pressure plate. While searching for a new steering wheel, he found four wingtips for his bumpers. They had to be replated, but they look great.

Additionally, he has had to address some carburetor and air-cleaner problems. That is just part of owning an antique car.

Now that the little woes have been addressed, a contented Mr. Abeyta intends to start rolling up the mileage on his 1946 Mercury.

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