CLEARWATER — Fred Speer's eyes twinkle as he recalls seeing the brand-spanking new 1949 Mercury convertible for the first time.
"I was fresh out of the service. I came back in 1948 and Dick Price had a new building on Waterman. I got to talking to him and I said I was looking for a car. New cars were hard to find at that time," Speer recalled.
"He took me down to the basement... there were no lights down there at the time. I had to look at it with a flashlight. It was the first car sold out of that building. They cleaned it up and delivered it to me a couple of days later," he said.
A former Air Force A-26 bomber pilot stationed in Japan, Speer paid $3,036.95 for the Lima Tan Metallic convertible. He met his wife, Connie, and courted her in the car, with its luxurious leather and tan cord interior.
"We met and six months later we were married," Connie said. "It was more him than this car," she said, grinning.
"We used it as a family car for quite a while," said Fred. "But it was not a very good car for babies... it was too cold in winter," Connie added.
"We put 100,000 miles on it... and for a '49 model, that's a lot of miles," he added. "It was a very good car."
Sometime in the early 1960s, the old Mercury ragtop was retired to a farm shed. It wasn't long before it literally was a "rag top," as the roof deteriorated and critters began taking up residence.
Fast forward a half century.
Joshua Moyer, the Speers' grandson, had his eye on the old convertible. "He and his grandpa are about as close as they can be," said Clinton Moyers, Joshua's dad. "He's a mechanic at Cummins Diesel, so we pulled the car down here and tried to restore it," he said. "It was full of sticks and trash and there were three or four possum skeletons in it."
About two years into the project, with the car half disassembled, they realized they needed a professional to finish the job.
"We took it to Steve Nicholson at Classic Body Works in Wellington," Clinton Moyer said. "He took it clear down to the frame. He said the $25 undercoating had saved the frame. He did a lot of rust repair on it... the rocker panels and the spare tire well, which he fabricated himself. He did just an unbelievable job on it," Clinton said.
Moyers, who is a colonel in the Kansas Army National Guard, as well as a special education teacher in Clearwater, was deployed to Iraq during the restoration. Joshua took over as the parts-runner/project coordinator, keeping in touch with his dad with daily e-mails.
The 255-cubic-inch flathead V-8 was rebuilt and the 3-speed overdrive transmission was taken to Fisher's Transmissions for a complete rebuild.
All the chrome trim was removed and shipped to Paul's Chrome Plating in Evans City, Pa., for show-quality replating. Choctaw Buffing Co. in Clearwater handled polishing the stainless steel and other trim pieces to a high shine.
The car, one of only 16,735 Mercury convertibles built in that landmark 1949 body style, was outfitted with hydraulically controlled windows, top and front seat, which all needed attention. All new glass was also in order.
With the body work done and fresh two-stage paint applied by the Classic Body Works crew, that left only the interior restoration. But a deadline was looming: Joshua Moyer was getting married and everyone wanted the Mercury convertible done in time for wedding photos.
Scott Downey at Downey's Upholstery took on the task and recreated the beige leather and fabric seats and door panels in exacting detail. A new folding cloth top was fabricated and mounted over the beautiful chromed top ribs. The Merc was finished just in time for the festivities.
And Fred Speer was almost giddy when he saw his old car made new. "I never expected to see it that way... it looks better than it did when it was new," he said.
Clinton Moyer said the car was restored as a tribute to his father-in-law, out of his respect for the man and his family. For now, Clinton is the caretaker. One day, Joshua Moyer will park the car in his garage and take it out for an occasional spin.
But it will always carry the personalized license plate that reads "FREDS49."