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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

What's your ride? Jim Alspaugh's is a 1953 Mercury coupe

Monday, October 6, 2014 - 7:11 am

Jim Alspaugh's first car was a 1953 Mercury coupe. While many people wanting to relive their teen car must go out and find one of a similar year and restore it, Alspaugh was able to track down the original one.

In 1964 when Alspaugh was 17 and a senior in high school he purchased the Mercury. The car was a pale green so he had it painted black. He drove it for a year and then he sold it. Why? Because he had gone to work at International Harvester and wanted a new car. It wasn't until 1974, after a tour of duty in Vietnam, that Alspaugh decided to buy it back. He was talking with an acquaintance in Churubusco who told him he thought the car was still around. Sure enough Alspaugh was able to track it down; turned out it was in a barn near Kendallville. The owner lived in Texas and Alspaugh was able to buy the car back for $20.

Although the car had been stored in the barn it still needed a lot of work. So Alspaugh started to restore it, but in 1984 he ran out of money for the project. He stored it in his barn near Churubusco until 2006 when he got the car out. A year and a half later the restoration was finished.

Alspaugh had worked on the line at Harvester and his dad had worked in GE. His dad had passed on his mechanical skills to his son. He was able to do about half the work, but things like the reupholstery work and paint had to be done by someone else.

The car now has original parts throughout. On the back is the license plate tab that would have been on the car in 1953, during the Korean War. It is a narrow strip of metal that now sits at the bottom of the current plate.

The engine came out of a '52 Mercury, which Alspaugh said was the same type of engine. When he got the car back in the '70s the former owners had the wrong engine in it. Alspaugh explained a lot of people would buy them and turn them into hot rods, switching out the engine for a more powerful one and putting shifters in the floor. The car's engine now is 255 cubic inches with 110 horse power. The car is a standard shift with dual exhausts. One of the rare things about the car is it has a windshield washer. This was unusual in cars of this age. Alspaugh had the motor and the firewall in the engine detailed and painted black.

"Everything you see on the motor is just the way it would have come from the factory in 1953," Alspaugh said.

The car originally came with no side mirrors so Alspaugh installed one, bolted to the wing window. The "peep" mirror allows Alspaugh to see who is passing him. It is one of the few things that has been added to the car that was not originally there. The backseats still had the original upholstery. When it came time to reupholster the car seats Alspaugh and the upholsterer went through the catalog to match the fabric as closely as possible to what it had been.

"It might not be the original fabric, but it is the original colors," Alspaugh said.

Alspaugh likes to take the Mercury to car shows and parades. He and his wife have been getting a lot of fun out of the restored vehicle. If you ask him why he went to all the trouble to restore the car he will tell you with a smile, "Because it was my first car."