Here’s the complete restoration story as told by interviewee Zach Straits:
“The Poteet Starliner – A Restoration Story.
This 1961 Starliner Z code FE 390/300 3 speed overdrive started life in California then to North Dakota and for the last 15 years in Mississippi as a part of the George Poteet collection. With only 61k miles this rust free Starliner was a real pleasure to restore for George. The intent was to over restore beyond factory original concentrating panel gaps, flat panels and a high-end finish but maintaining the stock appearance void of a few trim pieces. The chrome, aluminum and stainless trim re-installed on the original Cambridge Blue metallic paint begged to be perfect. That’s where the restoration started. All pieces except for a few stainless trim pieces was taken to Jon Wright’s Custom Chrome in Grafton, Ohio for a show chrome finish even on the aluminum parts. The car was completely disassembled bagged and tagged and after the undercarriage was dustless blasted the body and suspension parts were taken locally to Devils Bowl Autobody.
All agree Starliners have great lines but the eight-foot quarter panels, huge hood and trunk and all the sheet metal came from the factory a little wavy. Brad at Devil’s Bowl spent over 1,089 hours hand sanding and flattening every panel inside and out. Hours were spent on the panel gaps and getting the signature tail light surrounds and fin caps to fit perfectly. Axalta finishes were applied and wet sanded and buffed then after complete assembly Max from MX Autocare completed a final paint correction getting the surfaces perfect.
The original 390 FE engine was sent to Jeff Burns Racing Engines in Tupelo where with the help of Alan Hutcheson “Hutch”, the caretaker of the Poteet Car Farm Collection, did a complete rebuilt dyno-ed exactly at 300HP. The original 4 barrel carb was sent to ford expert and historian Don Brown for a complete factor finish and working order restoration. The original 3 speed overdrive was rebuilt by transmission experts Earl McCary and Richard Miller of Staunton, Va. Alan Completed the rebuild of the original 3:50 gear 3rd member. Hutch also sourced the many crates of restoration parts.
The frame was powder coated by Power Coating Solutions and all the suspension parts were body worked and shot with industrial single stage paint by Devil’s Bowl. 1957 Ford body mounts were lightly modified and the body was set back on the frame with the help of John and Kay at Classic Motorsports.
The interior seat insert fabric on any blue Galaxie is tough to get a good match to the SMS door panels so we used door panel vinyl on the get the correct match. George Folks of Waynesboro Upholstery did an excellent job making and installing the seat covers and installing the headliner before the glass installation. The original back package tray was taken to “Hemi” Eddie Strzelecki Jr. for the first fiberglass reproduction for a 1961 Starliner.
All new glass was purchased from Auto City Classic and installed by Augusta Glass. The stainless trim down the side and around the glass was polished by local professional polisher Stewart Peters.
This restoration would not have been possible without the help of a lot of friends. Especially Scott Balsley who partnered with me for a combined 1,217 hours of restoration time.”
JANUARY 15, 2022 – The Hirohata Mercury sold for a hammer price of $1.95 Million Dollars at the Mecum auction! It remains the highest price paid for any kustom car, and we were excited to see it happen.
When it comes to kustom cars, the 1951 Mercury built by George and Sam Barris for Bob Hirohata is about as legendary is it gets. The car innovated kustom design elements, and remains true to form today, even through an extensive restoration. Oh yeah, it also looks awesome! It’s long, low, chopped, clean, with Buick side trim, tuck & roll interior, Caddy Sombrero hubcaps, and a real Von Dutch stripe on the dash, and it’s boss. And now, it can be yours!
The spring, 2022 Mecum Auction in Kissimmee, Florida is where this amazing ride will change hands to the highest bidder.
The Hirohata Mercury, arguably the most famous custom car of the classic era
Named for the car’s original owner, Bob Hirohata of Los Angeles, California
Iconic custom car built by Sam and George Barris
Featured in Hot Rod Magazine in March 1953
Cover car for Hop Up magazine in March 1953
Class Winner at the 1952 Petersen Motorama
Featured in Rod & Custom in October 1953
Appeared in the film “Running Wild” in 1955 starring Mamie Van Doren
In the care of the McNiel family since 1959, when Jim McNiel purchased the car for $500 at the age of 16
Restoration completed in 1996 to exact 1952 Motorama specifications
Restoration detailed by Pat Ganahl in several issues of Rod & Custom magazine
Colors matched using spectrography and new paint was applied by Junior’s House of Color using PPG materials
Displayed at the “Hot Rods and Customs (The Men and Machines of California’s Car Culture)” exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California upon completion
Restored again by the original builders, including Herschel “Junior” Conway and Frank Sonzogni, in 2015 for Pebble Beach
First in Class at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 2015
Added to the National Historical Vehicle Register in 2017 and displayed on the national mall in Washington, DC
Previously displayed at the Petersen Automotive Museum
1953 Cadillac 331 CI OHV V-8 engine with three Stromberg carburetors
The B-pillars were removed and the roof was reshaped to create a hardtop
Top chopped 4 inches in the front and 7 inches in the rear
Front fenders extended 4 inches, incorporating frenched 1952 Ford headlights
Rear fenders extended and fitted with frenched 1952 Lincoln Capri tail lights
Trunk corners were rounded
Hood was filled, peaked and extended into the grille
Custom grille made from three 1952 Ford grilles
Factory dips on the doors were filled and the surrounding sheet metal was reshaped to flow with 1952 Buick Riviera trim spears
Functional brake cooling scoops on rear panels
Flush fit, flared fender skirts
Chopped front coils in front and the frame was kicked up in the rear
Springs were de-arched using two sets of 1.5-inch lowering blocks
Finished in two-tone Seafoam Green and Organic Green