The Legendary Hirohata Mercury Heads to Kissimmee
Your opportunity to own a piece of American history, a staple of car culture, and an inductee into the Historic Vehicle Association is here—well, it will be in January 2022 at the Mecum Kissimmee sale. Announced at its Monterey, California, sale, the team at Mecum revealed that Bob Hirohata’s famed 1951 Mercury will be a featured lot at its flagship auction in Kissimmee, Florida next year.
Hirohata’s ’51 Mercury represents a pivotal shift in American car culture, and custom car culture as a whole. While this Mercury wasn’t the first radical custom Mercury to see the road, it has become one of the most significant. This radically modified ’51 Mercury was originally restyled by Sam and George Barris. The Barris brothers went to work on this low-mileage, lightly used ’51 Mercury in 1952, and turned the stock machine into a custom car icon in about three months. Adding to the car’s lore, it reportedly sat largely untouched for two months, and was essentially started and completed in about a month.
Ironically, none of the custom touches on this Mercury were revolutionary. Radically restyled Mercury coupes and sedans were already hitting a fever pitch and pillar-less conversions were nothing new. However, Bob Hirohata’s Mercury was finished in a pastel, ice-green finish that bucked the trend of darker finishes that was commonly covered customs of the era.
Just like the Golden Sahara and every other notable custom car, the Hirohata Mercury was updated throughout the decade and was eventually repainted in lime gold, which was captured in the 1955 film Running Wild. Despite winning trophies across the nation and countless invested dollars, the Hirohata Mercury fell into disrepair and in 1959 made its way to a used car lot where a young Jim McNiel purchased the car for a life-changing $500. McNiel drove the car while doing some repairs but wisely stashed the machine in 1964.
After the muscle car craze died down, and American Graffiti and Happy Days helped spark nostalgia for the good old days of the ‘50s, interest in vintage custom cars reignited. Naturally, icons like the Hirohata Mercury were put front and center because of its presence in magazines of the day, its prestigious pedigree, and its role in changing custom car trends. Unfortunately, Bob Hirohata’s Mercury was, effectively, lost to everyone outside of the McNiel family and their neighbors. The car was so significant that it was painstakingly cloned by Jack Walker.
The not-so-lost Hirohata Mercury was eventually tracked down and restored, and was even repainted by Junior Conway, the man originally responsible for the car’s finish. After the car’s restoration, the Hirohata Mercury was, again, on the front-page news in the collector and custom car world. The car’s pedigree has only grown since its restoration, and can now boast a stint at the Petersen Automotive Museum, a class win at Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, and a spot in the aforementioned Historic Vehicle Association. All the while, this car was owned by the same, albeit much older, Jim McNiel that spotted the dilapidated Merc at a used car lot.
After owning the car for most of his life, McNiel passed in 2018, with the car staying in his family. The McNiel family announced this legendary Merc was up for sale earlier this year, but was formally announced by Mecum at its recent auction in Monterey that it will be part of the Kissimmee sale.
Autoweek’s Mark Vaughn spoke with legends of hot rodding at Alex Xydias’s birthday party about why this car is important. Alex Xydias said, “I think it was a hell of a big of a departure from what we’d had. It was very creative. And not only the idea, but being able to do it. Because of (the car’s) success in magazines, and shows it probably created a new custom car era. And then it just went on from there. Customs got more creative and more beautiful after the Hirohata Merc.”
As for how much it should bring, Chip Foose weighed in: “It all depends on which two people are wanting it. I would expect that it’s going to be over $500 grand, at least, possibly over a million-plus. But if you get two guys that are fighting for it, you know, that’s a great car to have in your collection. If that car was sitting in here (in Bruce Meyer’s collection), it would be the car that would be a focal point because of the color and the stance.”
We’re not going to argue with Foose, so we’re going to guess he’s probably in the ballpark. Obviously, custom cars—even historically significant custom cars—don’t tend to be home runs at auction. That being said, the Hirohata Mercury is more than just a custom car: It’s a piece of American culture that’s at least partly responsible for the shifts in automotive trends. We’ll just have to wait until Mecum’s Kissimmee auction this January to find out the results.
Do you think the Hirohata Merc will bring big bucks? Let us know your thoughts below.
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