BY VERN PARKER
Ford Motor Company no longer produces the Mercury brand, however, one of the first ones built continues rolling on after close to 80 years. This tale involves Clem Clement and the 1940 Mercury Convertible Sedan that he bought twice.
In the spring of 1956, the car was parked on a side street in Hoboken, N.J. “It was worn out, abused, and tired,” he says. The top had been replaced with a painter’s canvas.
With youthful logic, the unemployed student with no money thought buying the car was a great idea. He left a note with a monetary offer on the windshield, not expecting a response. Two weeks had passed when the call came informing Clement that he was the new owner of the 1940 Mercury. Clement scraped together $25 and, he says, “I made the first major purchase of my life.”
The manual transmission and clutch were shot, but the new owner still had to get it home. His sympathetic and understanding father came to the rescue and towed the prize home. Clement reports that his mother was somewhat less than thrilled. “No matter what you do with it, it is still an old car,” she admonished.
The front bench seat was in tatters and was replaced with an ill-fitting seat from a junkyard. That same junkyard provided a radio speaker, which Clement installed in a hole cut in the back of the front seat. Another hole was cut in the floorboards under the driver’s seat to accommodate an underseat heater salvaged from a 1940 Buick.
A replacement engine hood was found for $15 after the original came unlatched with the car in motion and bent over the windshield frame. Work progressed on the Mercury until the untimely death of Clement’s father.
Family finances were strained at that time so the Mercury had to go. Clement sold his beloved car to a cousin for $25, the same amount he had paid. Years passed and the whereabouts of the Mercury were unknown.
After college, Clement served more than two decades in the United State Air Force but he never forgot his first four-wheeled love — the 1940 Mercury. He commenced searching for his old car, uncertain whether it had survived after all these years. All of his efforts led to dead ends.
As a last resort, Clements says, he wrote a letter to a publication specializing in antique cars hoping to learn what had happened to his Mercury. He was beyond surprised by a telephone call from Bob Aufderheide in Ohio regarding the car he had written about. The car had gone through a handful of owners and had traveled to New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.
Aufderheide asked Clement if there were any unusual characteristics about the car he was calling about. Clement mentioned the hole he had cut in the seat for the speaker and the hole under the driver’s seat for the heater. “I have your Merc,” Aufderheide said. “I was so excited the ’40 Mercury survived,” Clement said.
For 26 years he parked the car, unchanged, in an Ohio garage. In 1997 Aufderheide had the rare car restored. Less than 1,000 such cars reportedly were manufactured.
A rebuilt 239.4-cubic-inch V-8 engine under the hood delivers 95 horsepower. The 3,249-pound Mercury rolls on 6.00×16-inch white sidewall tires mounted on a 116-inch wheelbase. Fuel from a 17-gallon tank flows through a single-barrel carburetor. Atop the engine is the oil bath air cleaner.
The convertible sedan wears the same shade of Como Blue Poly paint that it had when new. The dashboard is covered in a Cloudmist Gray. The 110-mile-per-hour speedometer is clearly visible through the two-spoke steering wheel.
Clement saved the 1940 Mercury off the streets of Hoboken in the 1950s and Aufderheide had it restored in the 1990s. Upon Aufderheide’s passing, the family contacted Clement, knowing he would be the most likely caretaker for the Mercury cared for by both men. Today, the old Mercury is once again in Clement’s garage.
For your car to become the subject of the Classic Classics column, e-mail us your .jpeg image, plus brief details and phone number. Type “Classic Classics” in subject box and send to [email protected] Or, send a photo (frontal 3/4 view) plus brief details and phone number to Vern Parker, 2221 Abbotsford Drive, Vienna, VA 22181