1939 Ford Mercury: Just an old Merc
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She's not a classic
Get two classic-car lovers from different eras together, and you can almost guarantee a heated debate about whether it's a car's qualities that make it a classic, or its age.
Either way, few would deny a 1930s vehicle would make the grade.
But Neil Lucas takes a slightly different view.
His 1939 Ford Mercury was an all-new design that debuted the now defunct Mercury name, which bridged the gap between Ford and its up-market Lincoln brand. You'd think that would make it a collectible classic, but according to him, it's just an old car.
He's using the Classic Car Club of America definition, for distinctive or "fine" automobiles produced between 1915 and 1948 which appear on a specific list, and he won't be drawn on any other definition.
He says that by age, his Mercury is a vintage car (1931 to World War I). "If you take the word classic from the dictionary, you're talking classical music, or literary classics, and those are specific works."
He bought the car two years ago, because he liked it, "And my mates encouraged me." He says he'd "never owned 'a real Ford', British ones, but not American," although he's had pre-1980 cars all his life -- mostly from the late 1920s to the 1930s.
His shed also contains a 1934 Chevrolet he's had since he was 21, "longer than any of my kids, or my wives," and a 1930 Dodge DD. And he's long been editor of the Chev Club of NZ's magazine.
A mate spotted this car online. "We were at the Warkworth swap meet, my mate bought a 1939 Ford V8 and said I should have one, too. This was on the internet and we went and had a look, in Pakuranga, and I bought it."
It was from the deceased estate of, "an old guy I'd met when delivering concrete to his neighbour".
It's powered by a 3.9-litre V8 developed from Ford's 3.6-litre Flathead V8, but it uses a unique body. Lucas says Ford and Mercury shared bodies from 1941 to 1948, and with Lincoln after that.
There's a floor-mounted three-speed synchromesh manual transmission, and although it was a totally new car it used Ford's earlier suspension set-up. "I think old Henry didn't like doing away with the cross-type cart springs and had his engineers work and work on it, and they got it working well, compared to other cars of the era."
This was the first year for hydraulic brakes for Ford, but there's no power steering, though Lucas says it's so well set up, it's the next best thing, and he didn't seem to have any trouble manoeuvring for our photos.
These are the original wheels, but with radial tyres -- one of his concessions to modernity. "Radial tyres weren't invented in the 30s, but if they had been, they'd have used them, and I'll never go back to crossplys."
The electrics are still six volt, and there's no radio or heater -- they were only options when the car was assembled, in NZ, at Ford's Seaview assembly plant.
There is a fuel gauge, which does work, although the temperature and oil pressure gauges are new. "I wanted peace of mind". Naturally there are no seatbelts as the car was first registered before 1955. Nor does the car have indicators, though Lucas plans to fit some. "As nowadays nobody knows what hand signals are."
He likes to get all three of his "old" cars out. "There's no point having a car unless you use it," so the Mercury has to share the love. He drives it at best once a week, to visit mates or for a cruise, and has been as far afield as Tauranga. "I'd have no problem going to Wellington in that car, it's comfortable, and though it's nearly 80 it'd cruise close to 100km/h if I wanted to, though I cruise at 80 or 90km/h, usually."
A mate in Ramarama does the servicing, a retired mechanic who does "mostly old stuff". And it's usually reliable, "Though I had an unpleasant experience last year, on my way back from Tauranga. Second gear was making a hell of a noise, and I got back bypassing second, going from first to third -- it's got so much torque that you can. Buying another gearbox was expensive, and someone said to try some Morey's in it."
First he checked there were no iron filings in the oil that would indicate serious damage, then he poured the "very slippery" oil in, "and it's been okay ever since."
Would he sell the car? After all, he has space for only three, and what if he spots another one he likes? "No. If I sold my car I'd have money, but you'd have my car," he says, with irrefutable logic. Anyway, "I determined what I wanted, and I've got what I want."