Remembering the sleds

Ken Simmons
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Why is it, do you suppose, the leadsled has never made it big in this fine province of ours?
Leadsled? That's a (generally) early '50s car, most often a Mercury but could be any marquee. Sam Barris (George's brother) is credited with creating the first of the breed, the Hirohata Merc, a 1951 model with some very heavy modifications: top chopped, pillars reshaped, frontend reworked and parts repurposed from Buicks, Chevys and just about anything else that could take a mundane grocery getter and turn it into a luxurious cruiser.
The car was a hit at the shows of the time, upstaging new models from the established manufacturers, and probably hastening the split between the custom and stock worlds. Can't have some grease monkey making better-looking car than Detroit, after all.

And it resonated. The lowered roof and cleaner lines offered a package that Detroit couldn't match until the fins of the late '50s changed the game again.

The style remains popular on other islands, like the rest of North America. You may have seen a sled in "American Graffiti," driven by young Bo Hopkins (him you've seen as a dozen '70s TV sheriffs) with Jai from the Tarzan TV show and some guy named Richard Dreyfus as passengers.

Dreyfus, as character Curt, sits up a little too straight for the delinquent members of the Pharaohs "car club," and is told in no uncertain terms.

"Hey, creep, scoot down. Sitting up like that, it wrecks the lines of the car, you know what I mean?"

Sylvester Stallone drove one in one of his movies, too. But since it wasn't a "Rocky" or a "First Blood," you probably haven't seen it.

The sled is perfect for Newfoundland. It's a full car, not a leaky-roofed roadster or cramped coupe. You can take one out in the morning without checking to see if you'll need an umbrella to drive home.

The space lost above the beltline is more than made up for in the cavernous '50s interior. Heck, some of us have lived in smaller apartments. Makes no sense that there wouldn't be one in every car guy's garage, as far as I'm concerned.

Something else about this custom culture, though, that's been bugging me for a while. The Hirohata Merc was revolutionary, and unveiled in 1953.

Did you get that? This classic style was unveiled in 1953. The car was a 1951 model, basically a new car. OK, so no one seems to be building sleds here, but no one seems to be putting that kind of effort into reimagining any kind of new sedan.

Have you seen a chopped and channeled Focus? Are there metalworking artists carving new lines for the latest Impala? Will that fish-mouth Mustang grill find its way to the frontend of last year's 200?

Nope. We all seem to forget the cars we think of as classic hot rods today were built from the cast-offs of the time. Cheap to buy, no loss to ruin, fun to work on. Don't see many of those on the roads today. Or any year.



Geographic location: Detroit, North America, Newfoundland

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