- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 27, 2004

Bill Paris had a 15-year-old yellow Plymouth convertible in 1955 when he graduated from high school in Pembroke, Mass.

A defining moment in his life occurred that summer when his father, Wynne, drove home in a new yellow Mercury convertible. Not only was the car spectacular, but his father gave him the keys to the car on a liberal basis. Life was good for the 18-year-old the year that he got hooked on Mercurys.

After college and a globe-spanning career in the Army, Mr. Paris settled in Burke. Soon after he purchased a 1955 Mercury Montclair two-door hardtop and commenced the restoration process.

As he encountered problems, he would seek out restoration specialists who could offer assistance or at least point him the correct direction.

More often than not the people from whom he sought help referred him to Crandall Bookman in Marietta, Ohio, a man who specialized in the restoration of 1955 Mercurys and knew every minute detail of the car.

Mr. Bookman was generous with his expertise and offered a solution to every dilemma Mr. Paris presented. At one point he even travelled from southeastern Ohio to Northern Virginia to offer advice in person.

Mr. Paris was slowly progressing with his restoration when he learned that Mr. Bookman was advertising his own 1955 Mercury for sale.

On the theory that the cobbler’s child either has no shoes or the best shoes, he decided to abandon his own amateur restoration project and buy the master’s car. The deal was done and the 17.2-foot-long Tuxedo black-over-Yukon yellow “bumble bee” Mercury was rolled into a closed truck in Ohio.

As the gorgeous Mercury was rolled off the truck in Virginia on its 7.10x15-inch white sidewall Firestone tires mounted on red wheels, Mr. Paris’ wife recalls her thought that day. “It was beautiful,” she says. “It was exciting.”

The odometer had just recorded 47,000 miles. While unauthenticated, it seems plausible considering the condition of the car when Mr. Bookman began the restoration.

For years he had been gathering new or like-new accessories that had been available on 1955 Mercurys. Once he found a good, solid Montclair two-door hardtop, Mr. Bookman loaded the car with all of his accumulated factory accessories.

When new, the Mercury carried a base price of $2,631. When loaded, Mr. Paris says, that price could be doubled.

For example the power brakes cost $38 extra, the AM radio with rear speaker was $90. The power windows were $95 and power steering an extra $100. The Merc-O-Matic transmission added $189 to the escalating price but the killer accessory, price-wise, was the first-year offering, from Mercury, of air conditioning for $650.

Mr. Paris’ 198-horsepower Mercury is also equipped with:

• Heater.

• Seat belts.

• Fog lamps.

• Continental kit.

• Tinted windows.

• Day/night mirror.

• Windshield washers.

• Illuminated compass.

• Four-way power seats.

• Automatic chassis lube.

• Dual spotlights/mirrors.

• Door handle nail guards.

• 292-cubic-inch OHV V-8.

• Accessory steering wheel.

Serial numbers on the 3,490-pound Mercury indicate that it was built at the Wayne, Ind., plant, one of a total of 71,588 such models manufactured at four facilities..

The extra-cost steering wheel is white with chrome grips with “Power Steering” emblazoned on the hub.

Visual clues that this Mercury is air conditioned are the chrome-plated vents on the flanks that draw air into the compressor, which is in the trunk.

Clear plastic tubes between the rear package shelf and the headliner deliver cool air from the unit in the trunk up through ductwork in the roof and out through four oval chrome-plated vents down into the passenger compartment.

The heart of a “Multi-Luber” system is a vacuum pump in the car that, when activated, lubricates all the grease fittings under the car.

“The features that appeal to me,” Mr. Paris says, “are the hooded headlights and the bib on the side of the car matching the roof color.”

In order to refuel the Mercury Mr. Paris must unlock the spare tire on the Continental kit and swivel it off to the left to expose the gas filler tube in the center of the car. A pair of stainless-steel exhaust tips are mounted under the ends of the bumpers on the Continental kit.

“They got the chrome just right on this car,” Mr. Paris says. Of course “LOSTN 55” on his license plate reflects his opinion.

Whether an antique auto aficionado buys a rusted-out basket case or a previously restored care, Mr. Paris offers a word of advice: “When you buy an old car, you better learn to be a mechanic,” he says.

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