When the 14th Langley Good Times Cruise-in opens next Saturday, Sept. 10 with up to 2,000 special interest and classic vehicles on display, Jay Finlay will be front and centre with her 1953 Mercury Monterey convertible.
She will have driven 2,500 kilometres from her Sun City West, Ariz. home outside Phoenix.
Long-distance driving in her classy classic convertible with the top down is not a new experience.
She has driven her car 500,000 kilometres since receiving the convertible to mark her graduation from Miramonte High School in Moraga, Calif.
Finlay was 16 years old and had just gotten her driver’s licence.
The beautiful Mercury convertible was a gift from her parents on Memorial Day (last Monday in May) of 1959.
“I wanted a horse, but my parents said ‘no: they eat too much’,” Finlay recalled.
“They said they would get me a car.” She wanted her parents’ blue and white 1954 Oldsmobile Starfire convertible, which her father had purchased new and planned to sell.
“It was only recently that I found out from my sister why I got the Mercury convertible instead of the Oldsmobile,” Finlay said.
“Unknown to me, my sister had wanted the Starfire convertible the year before and ended up with a 1951 Oldsmobile hardtop. My parents didn’t want to show any favoritism.”
In 1959, her father sold the five-year-old Starfire convertible for $400.
Dick Merrill, a commercial artist who owned a sign company, loved cars and made sure his family rode in style. Jay’s mother got a new car every two years, including a pink 1956 Thunderbird.
The love of cars was passed on from father to daughter. Every year, he and young Jay would tour the dealerships to see the newest models. Convertibles were the favourite. They were ideal for the sunny California days and warm nights.
Among Dick Merrill’s sign painting clients was Parker Robb Chevrolet in Walnut Creek. He bought a lot of cars there, including a fully loaded red 1958 Chevrolet Impala convertible.
When it came time to buy his younger daughter her grad car, an ad in the local newspaper drew him to the 1953 Mercury Monterey convertible.
The car had been purchased by Walnut Creek realtor Jack Wolverton who picked the car up at a dealership beside the plant in Metuchen, N.J., where it was built on Jan. 20, 1953. The convertible was Tahiti Tan with a black top and black and red interior.
He and his wife drove the new convertible back to California and, in the six years he had owned it, the Mercury had travelled less than 80,000 km. It was equipped with factory fog lights, accessory steering wheel, and fender skirts. Dick Merrill paid the original owner $700 for the graduation gift.
“I loved the car but I hated the yucky colour,” Finlay recalled. She paid $60 to have the car painted black the next year.
The Mercury convertible went with her when the family moved to Oregon, and it would be her only car over the next two decades from 1959 to 1979.
She had her car repainted again in 1976 at a shop in Lebanon, Ore. for $700.
After marriage and the birth of her daughter, she would have other cars but kept her Mercury.
“Just sentimental, I guess,” she said. “I have only had six cars in my life, but I always thought my Mercury was the neatest thing.”
She drives her car, which she affectionately calls Nellie, to an average of six major car shows a year.
That has included visits to Keystone, Colorado, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and Bend, Oregon. And she visited relatives in Vancouver while displaying her car at the Expo ’86 Concours d’Elegance car show at BC Place Stadium.
In 2003, she drove her car on a 7,000-km round pilgrimage to the centennial celebration of the founding of the Ford Motor Company, which included a giant show in Dearborn, Mich.
It was at a 1983 show at the Anderson Fairgrounds near Redding, Calif. that her car caught the eye of famous rock ‘n’ roll DJ Wolfman Jack.
“He asked the promoters who owned the Mercury convertible. When I finally got to meet him, he was a big heavy guy with a big hat sitting in the back of a limo and he offered me $50,000,” she recalled.
“My car was only worth about $10,000 at the time, but I still said ‘no thanks’.”
The car has been amazingly reliable over the half million kilometres of travel. The only major trouble came after having the engine rebuilt before driving the car from Arizona to Tacoma, Wash. in 2007 to attend the Early Ford V8 Club’s Grand National Meet.
“The car started running badly while travelling through California,” she said. “By the time I reached Tacoma, the car was barely running and the automatic transmission was leaking badly.”
The mechanics failed to install the valve lifters correctly and added the wrong type of transmission fluid. After the show, the Mercury was trucked back to the shop in Arizona for repairs.
Finlay travels with a suitcase packed with parts: Generator, starter, points, condenser, water pump, belts, hoses, clamps, and other spares for emergencies.
“I have wanted to attend the Langley car show for years because it’s the largest one in B.C. and one of the top three in the country,” she said.
“All the cars I will see will be new to me, and I love Canada.”
How long will Finlay keep driving the 1953 Mercury Monterey convertible she was owned for 53 years?
“The car will probably outlast me,” she said. “I have no plans to ever trailer it anywhere. I just like to drive it.”
– Alyn Edwards is a classic car enthusiast and partner in Peak Communicators, a Vancouver-based public relations company. firstname.lastname@example.org