As reported in a previous post, the mid- to late-teens saw a rise in a more enclosed body for production speedsters, so it was only natural that kit-built aftermarket speedsters progress to that. Hence, two arms of the sport-bodied speedster developed.
Coachbuilders that formerly built horse-driven carriages and whatnot were becoming an emerging supplier to the speedster-minded crowd who wanted to build their own contraption. Many companies made or franchised body designs that were initially fitted to the Ford Model T chassis, and later, to the Chevrolet 490. One such company was the Mercury Body Corporation of Louisville, Kentucky.
Organized by Charles E. McCormick of Lexington, Kentucky, the initial patents were granted in late 1920 and early 1921 for innovations in body design. The initial objective was “to provide features whereby a Ford car may be so modified in appearance and so improved structurally as to combine simple, comfortable, and substantial qualities with pleasing streamline effects.”
The salient features of the Mercury body listed in the patent papers:
1. A lowered chassis using a dropped front axle and a bent frame to accommodate the rear axle.
2. A taper tail
3. Overall body shape that “greatly decreases the unavoidable head-on air resistance of the car”
Other details of the body revealed some innovation. The body pieces were die-stamped, a new process for this period. Eighteen-gauge steel panels were electrically seam-welded and built with two channels that attached to the bare chassis in four places. The floor was 14-gauge and covered with linoleum.
The earlier models did not have doors, but later models featured a 21” wide door on the passenger side only. The Fedders-type radiator provided twice the cooling capacity of the standard Ford unit, and it was housed within a solid nickel silver radiator shell. Louvers were cut into the engine cowl, and ventilators kept air flowing to the passengers. A well-made top was provided with side curtains to form a completely weatherproof enclosure. Attention to detail and quality materials were hallmarks of the Mercury body.
Mercury Body Corp opened for business on March 18, 1920, with its initial patent application filed at that time. It was incorporated by September of 1920 with a $100,000 capitalization, principal partners being C.E. McCormick, Guy Hugelet, and L.G. Pulliam. Motor Age reported in its Dec 23, 1920 issue that Mercury planned to employ 150 workers and build 6000 bodies per year at its Louisville factory. Mercury bodies were numbered, and although enumerated to almost 1600, it is believed that only 1065 total bodies were actually manufactured, 472 Ford bodies and 593 Chevrolet bodies. Less than 75 total examples exist today.
Although Mercury initially produced bodies only for Ford Model Ts, in 1923 they also made a body for the Chevrolet 490 chassis.
The Chevy had a wider wheel track, and thus the taper tail was given a boattail effect by virtue of spacers that filled that gap and connected the rear fenders to the body.
The early 1920s limped along in recovery from a brutal world war that had chewed up a good part of Europe and wasted the capitalized world’s economies. Although relatively unscathed, the United States saw 1921 begin with a recession and progress to a depression by 1922. Following this, a mini-boom led to another economic slowdown in 1924-25. Choppy economic seas like this drowned many a company, and Mercury could not maintain its footing nor remain afloat. Automotive Industries in its June 25, 1925 issue reported that the newly-incorporated Mercury Body Company took over the Mercury Body Corporation for the purpose of rehabilitating its liquidity. Or maybe just to prepare the company for sale. In any case, Mercury was in trouble.
The following year saw no improvement in Mercury’s prospects, and on July 22, 1926 Automotive Industries reported that the Jackson Body Company of Louisville, maker of hearses, had purchased the entire rolling stock of Mercury Body at a bankruptcy auction. At some point, this same fate was shared by all aftermarket suppliers of coachbuilt kit bodies for the Model T and Chevrolet.
By 1928 Jackson Body of Louisville had also ceased operating. Such were the times…
Jarvis Erickson’s extensive scholarship in the world of Ford Model T speedsters has made him a renowned historian of the Mercury Body Corporation. Many thanks to him for his contributions to archiving and preserving the Mercury story!