Mercury from memory

Salina man has never forgotten the lines of the ’47 from his youth.

BY MIKE BERRY

The Wichita Eagle

SALINA — Don Reinsch started building hot rods when he was 15 years
old. He’s still going strong today, 55 years later, having just finished
his rare 1946 Mercury Club Coupe.

“This is probably the most ambitious project I’ve ever taken on,”
he says. “I had a ’47 Mercury when I was a very young man and I loved
the lines of that car.”

So when a friend spotted the ’46 coupe on an auction bill on the
Internet in 2008, it focused Reinsch’s attention in a hurry. “It was
north of Lincoln, Kan. There were 40 or 50 cars sitting out in a
field… it was pretty complete,” Reinsch said.

Missing was the flathead V-8 engine and most of the interior. But Reinsch knew he could bring the car back to life.

“I made up my mind I was going to buy it, whatever it cost,” he
said. The bidding got hot and heavy for a while, but Reinsch ended up
winning the car and bringing it home, where it sat for several months.
He attended another auction and
bought a 1986 Lincoln for its engine and transmission.

He had to find another 302 Ford V-8 engine since the first one
had a cracked block, but he pieced enough parts together to build a
fresh power plant. Reinsch had worked for decades as a master mechanic
for International Harvester and then
as co-owner of a Salina truck repair facility, so engine-building comes
easy to him.

“I had it bored and balanced… I went nuts and put a (Crane
roller) cam in it,” he said. He beefed it up further with a Speedway
Motors Power Plus polished intake, a 600 cfm Edelbrock carb and a set of
Mustang-style Summit chrome exhaust
headers, which empty into a set of Flowmaster mufflers.

He enlisted a neighbor, Joe King, to overhaul the automatic overdrive transmission.

“I took the body off, the front end off. I had stuff strewn all
over the place,” said Reinsch, who modified the frame’s cross member to
accept the bigger transmission. He also installed a ’57 Ford 9-inch rear
end outfitted with 4.11 gears, along
with a Mustang II front suspension with disc brakes.

“Yes, it will run,” he said. But he noted that with the overdrive
feature, at 70 mph, the engine is rotating at only 2,400 rpm. “That’s
just about right,” he said.

The body of the fat-fendered ’46 Merc was similar to the pre-war
’41 and ’42 models, but the front ends were heavily restyled, with a
horizontal “waterfall” style grille and lots of stainless steel side and
fender trim. Mercury built just over 24,000
of the 5-passenger coupes in 1946.

“There was no rust, but it had more lumps and hail thumps than
you could believe,” Reinsch said. “The stainless was all smashed flat…
I don’t know how many hours I’ve got in that… I had a little pick and
some tools that I made to straighten it
all out.”

Although he normally painted his own cars, Reinsch chose Brian’s
Paint Shop in Salina to apply the two-tone green paint scheme on his
rare Mercury, going with a dark Cadillac Polo Green on top, with a
Jaguar Seafoam Green below. The
grille was in good enough condition that he was able to clean it up, but
the Mercury emblems on the front and back of the car had to be sent off
to be welded and replated. That cost nearly as much as what Reinsch
paid for the whole car at the
auction, he noted.

Inside, he discarded the factory dashboard, which he considered
too ornate, and gave it to a friend. Reinsch fabricated his own simpler
design and filled it with black-faced Auto Meter gauges. A ’67 Ford
supplied the steering column, shifter
and steering wheel, while a Pioneer stereo unit went into the dashboard
and a Southern Air air conditioning unit was added below it.

A 1995 Mercury Cougar supplied the front bucket seats, while the
rear seat was sourced from a 1973 Thunderbird. JC Upholstery in Salina
reshaped the back seat to fit and covered the seats and door panels in
an off-white Ultra Leather, using
a square panel design. Goldfield Trim & Upholstery in Lindsborg
installed a custom-built headliner.

Reinsch was sidelined for several months after major surgery to
repair a broken hip, but with the help of a couple of buddies, he was
able to show his ’46 Mercury for the first time last weekend.

“It’s been a labor of love… I enjoy doing this,” said Reinsch.
“I know my work ain’t perfect, but it’s decent. I can’t compete with the
big bucks guys, but I like doing it myself.”

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