Mercury Charlie’s Sweet Nadine – The Price was Right

51 Mercury Coupe

1951 Mercury Custom, 1951 Mercury Coupe Custom, 51 Mercury
Charlie Runnels, better known throughout the kustom scene as Mercury Charlie, has a background as unique and colorful as his world famous ’51 Mercury coupe, the elegant “Sweet Nadine”.

Growing up on the wrong side of the proverbial tracks in rural Oklahoma, Charlie’s early days in the car scene began with him hustling to stock pile as many tri-five Chevy parts as he could get his hands on. Before too long, drag racers, kustomizers and repair shops alike came to know Charlie on a first name basis as he always seemed to have those hard to find pieces.

1951 Mercury Coupe, 1951 Mercury, Cheyenne Evans

Fast forward several years and lifestyle changes and Charlie found himself in Austin, TX appraising properties and working side jobs in the real estate business. While appraising a foreclosed property near the University of Texas one afternoon in 1987, Charlie would meet the lady he would spend the next 25 years of his life with. As he walked the property Charlie noticed an old abandoned car out back resting below a pecan tree. Upon closer inspection, the old car turned out to be a complete ’51 Mercury.

To complete the foreclosure, the city needed the car removed from the property. Charlie was happy to oblige and quoted the city a fee of $185 to tow the car off. So the city paid and Charlie took possession of what would eventually become one of the most recognized and award winning kustom 51 Merc’s in the world.

1951 Mercury, 1951 Mercury Custom, Cheyenne Evans

After some basic maintenance and a few repairs Charlie had Nadine up and running again and drove her as a traditional, mild custom for a few years. Budget and time constraints would postpone Charlie’s dream of transforming Nadine into a wild custom, but patience and perseverance are two of Charlie’s best qualities. Eventually the time was right and Charlie began formulating a plan for Nadine to become an icon of the kustom car scene. Fortunately, through his time and work in the Kustom scene Charlie had made a few friends and he assembled an “A-list” of builders and fabricators to help achieve his vision for Nadine.

1951 Mercury Coupe, 51 Custom, 51 Merc

Topping that list was long respected customizer Gary Howard. So Charlie rolled Nadine into Gary’ shop and her makeover was officially under way. Gary immediately went to work on her, chopping the top 3 ½ inches in the front and 3 ¾ in the back and re-angling the B-pillars to flow with the sleeker roof lines. The headlights were frenched and angled slightly downward. Gary then extended the front fenders and removed all badging from the hood.

Nadine’s custom grill was fabricated from two ’49 Mercury grilles and her chrome V-shaped bumper from four ’50 Mercury bumpers. The combinations of customizations up front give Nadine the perfect “pout”; a staple of award-winning kustoms.

1951 Mercury Custom Coupe, 1951 Mercury Coupe, 1951 Mercury

All the gaps in the body lines were filled by molding the fenders into the body and all jagged edges were rounded giving Nadine curves that rival those of Jane Mansfield. Of course the door handles were shaved and a set of ’55 Lincoln Capri taillights were frenched in out back.

Accentuating Gary’s stunning metal work is a custom paint blend from House of Kolor affectionately known as “Playboy Purple” topped with DuPont clear. The exact paint codes are a tightly guarded secret with no plans to be revealed any time soon.

1951 Mercury Custom, Cheyenne Evans, 1951 Mercury Coupe

Austin local Vernon McKean takes the credit for Nadine’s gorgeous white and black vinyl upholstery. The theme of black pleats on top of the white vinyl covers the seats, front and rear door panels and trunk. Charlie estimates there are just under 500 pleats total throughout the car. Charlie replaced the aged and scuffed knobs along the dash with his own custom aluminum knobs and retained the original factory Mercury gauges.

1951 Mercury Interior, 1951 merc, 1951 Mercury Custom Interior

Nadine’s long and lean stance is obtained through a “C” notched frame in the rear and a Street Rod Engineering Mustang II IFS with 2 inch drop spindles in the front. Nadine rolls on, what else but, wide whites with extremely rare ’58 Lincoln factory option only hubcaps. A closer peak in the wheel well and you’ll notice the same white and black pleated upholstery found in Nadine’s interior!

1951 Mercury Flathead, 1951 Mercury Custom, 51 Merc Flathead

Beauty is more than skin deep though with Nadine. Beneath her hood lies one of the cleanest and most unique engine compartments found on any car anywhere. Her flathead’s graceful enhancements include a one of a kind chrome intake manifold topped with 6 x 2 bbls carbs fabricated by Billy “Roach” Cockrell. Other accents include chrome, finned valley pan cover, heads and oil fill cap.

It’s the 2,264 individual, hand painted checkers though on her engine block that are a true testament to Charlie’s attention to detail and patience. All exposed wires are hidden via second firewall sprayed with the same “Playboy Purple” as her exterior.

1951 Mercury Custom, 1951 Mercury Coupe, 51 Merc Custom

Cruising in Nadine is almost as dangerous as it joyous. Speaking from a firsthand account, heads turn, drivers swerve and well bad things usually follow. Charlie has several other kustom and hot rod builds under his belt as well, but Nadine is by far his favorite and most famous.

His shop, Mercury Charlie’s, has been turning out first rate customs and hot rods for several years and even produces its own line of quality custom parts and accessories. After spending an afternoon talking shop, music and swapping crazy childhood stories with Charlie at his annual customer appreciation party and car show, Hot Rods and Honey’s, it’s easy to see why his customer base remains loyal and growing.

As Charlie would say, “Fast is fun. Style is King”, and based on the cars he’s built, he’s an authority on both.

Photos by Trent Sherrill. Model: Cheyenne Evans

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