- The Washington Times - Friday, July 12, 2002

Even though Norris Waterfield's first 1954 Mercury Monterey two-door hardtop wasn't new when he bought it, it was his idea of the perfect car.
As a recent graduate from Old Dominion Technical Institute in Norfolk he was always tinkering with his Mercury, trying to improve its performance.
How was the young man to know that Betty Parrish was about to enter his life? Soon thereafter he sold his beloved Mercury to help pay for an engagement ring for his beloved Betty.
That was 38 years ago and, although the ring still sparkles, Mr. Waterfield has missed his old Mercury all those years.
On May 19 he saw an ad offering a 1954 Mercury Monterey two-door hardtop for sale in Stevensville, Md.
A telephone call verified the car was there but the owner was about to leave on a vacation trip. He suggested that Mr. Waterfield call back in two weeks.
Pins and needles barely describes the anxiety Mr. Waterfield endured during that time.
With the owner's vacation over, Mr. Waterfield hitched a flatbed trailer to his truck and set off for Kent Island.
A test drive revealed that the car could barely be steered. Although there were a few other deficiencies, none was so severe that Mr. Waterfield could not handle it. And, even though Mercury built 79,533 such models (the most popular model in 1954), how many could be left?
He loaded the 3,520-pound Mercury onto the trailer and hauled his prize over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge home to Manassas. He has yet to quit smiling.
The steering problem was quickly repaired and the few other maladies also were fixed, including adjusting the clutch. This car didn't have a Merc-O-Matic transmission.
While Mr. Waterfield was tending to the mechanical health of the Mercury, Mrs. Waterfield was working on the cosmetics. She complained that the indentations in the chrome bumpers spelling M-E-R-C-U-R-Y were filled in with fingernail polish.
Research shows that the white-over-red Mercury had a base price of $2,452 when it was first sold to a Tucson, Ariz., man. It was built March 29, 1954, in St. Louis and left the factory at a quarter-inch less than 17 feet long. Some time later, another owner installed a Continental kit that added another foot to the length.
This was the first year for Mercury to feature an overhead-valve engine. With a standard four-barrel carburetor on top and a five-main-bearing crankshaft inside, the 256-cubic-inch V-8 develops 161 horsepower. The car comfortably rides on a 118-inch wheelbase and has a ball-joint front suspension.
From the first instant Mr. Waterfield sat in the car, he was completely at home. Memories from 40 years ago flooded his consciousness. He had no reason to look for what the aircraft-type levers controlled on the dashboard pod he knew instinctively. Because there is no air conditioner, the controls operating the under-dash air vents take on greater importance.
The red-and-white exterior colors are continued on the interior with a red headliner above and red carpeting below. Door panels and seat share a red-and-white combination, while the steering wheel is black, highlighted with a chrome-plated half horn ring. The dashboard is black and white, in stark contrast to the chrome-plated windshield frame.
Opening either door on the 6-foot-wide car illuminates the two courtesy lights above the side windows. Somewhere in the past 48 years, the Mercury's original six-volt electrical system was modernized to a 12-volt system which Mr. Waterfield intends to return to six-volt.
He notes that the Mercury has a 19-gallon gas tank, a 20-quart cooling-system capacity and a crankcase that holds five quarts of oil and he has no intention of changing any of them not even the oil-bath air cleaner.
Mr. Waterfield had one difficult moment regarding his gas tank.
To fill the gas tank the rear license plate must be lowered. In this case the Continental spare tire must be tilted back to provide access.
Having gone through the required gymnastics to fill the tank, Mr. Waterfield was rewarded with the permeating smell of gasoline.
After pursuing several false leads, he discovered a paper gasket on the sending unit on top of the gas tank. Substituting a rubber gasket solved the problem.
When new, the 1954 Mercury Sport Coupe was capable of a true 100 mph. Mr. Waterfield has no intention of testing the validity of the 110-mph speedometer. He says he is satisfied simply working his way through the three-speed gears, appreciating the sound tumbling out through the dual Smithy mufflers.
With the exhaust note in his ears and Betty by his side, and rolling on 2-inch-wide white sidewall tires, Mr. Waterfield has finally got his Mercury and can cruise it up and down the road.


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