Did custom cars exist before '49-51 Mercs rolled down the assembly line? Of course they did. Has the custom car world been the same since their arrival? Definitely not!

Chopped Mercs are the very definition of custom cars to some connoisseurs, and names like Barris, Hirohata, and Ayala set the standard for cool. With such great originals to imitate, it's a little surprising that so many Mercs built these days seem to come up short. Maybe they're just trying too hard. After all, it was clean, simple lines that made these cars so appealing in the first place. It's easy for custom attempts to go too far--too much chop, unnecessarily elaborate paint, or a few too many bolt-ons cluttering things up.

Ron Box avoided such traps while building his slick '51 coupe, and went to great lengths to achieve his desired look. "The main goal," said the Denfield, Ontario, Canada-resident, "was to keep the lines clean and retain the Mercury look." After purchasing a rough unfinished project, Ron actually bought another Merc for its roof in order to re-chop the top to the proportions he wanted--about 4 inches in front and 5 inches in back. One-piece door glass, a '49 backlite, and a flush-mounted windshield with Audi moldings helped complete the cut.Lowering the lid was far from the only bodywork Ron performed. Starting up front, he frenched the headlights using '53 Merc rings, shaved the hood and dolphin-nosed its leading edge, narrowed and tucked the bumper (removing the license dip in the process), and extended the grille with two extra teeth and grille extensions made from bumper ends. Working his way back, Ron also rounded the lower rear door corners, shaved all emblems and handles, and filled the quarter-panel seams. Taillights from a '50 Lincoln capped off the back, while a '55 Pontiac overrider bar finished off the shaved, narrowed, and tucked rear bumper.

While Ron used classic-style mods to define the Merc's Viper Red body, he took advantage of more modern elements elsewhere. A Nova front subframe and a '77 Malibu rear suspension helped update the chassis, with hydraulics all around lifting it when necessary (we photographed it at ride height). Power came in the form of a '77 Chevy 350, rebuilt by BHP Automotive with Edelbrock induction parts and Hooker headers. A 700-R4 overdrive automatic gave the low-lid Merc longer legs, making it easier to keep those Diamondback Classic wide whites and '57 Cad caps rolling down the highway.

Butter-colored faux leather gave the interior some nice contrast, and was stitched by Classic Auto over Pontiac Grand Am bucket seats. Ron built a custom steel console to house the stereo and other controls, and updated the dash with Dakota Digital instruments and a '67 Cad tilt column topped with a Grant wheel. Air-Tique climate controls finished things off.

Thanks to the free time afforded by retirement, Ron was able to whip his Merc together in a scant 18 months. Since then, it has seen plenty of road miles, including trips to Ohio and North Carolina--not to mention at least one 100-mph blast around the high banks at Michigan International Speedway. Hmm, maybe chopped tops have aerodynamic benefits after all!