Monthly Archives August 2016

BLOB #5 – How We Got The 51 Merc In The First Place

A follow up BACKSTORY to BLOB #4 about the Merc and more images and Backstory of our design in Taipei from BLOB #2 – the connection will reveal itself…

We had been commissioned to design the interior, exterior and graphic designs for FAST LANE, a 3 story teenage department store in Taiwan ( BLOB#2 “TAIPEI … FENG SHUI”). Along with the architectural designs we were required to create four 7 foot paintings, one for each end of the principal aisles. These paintings gave shoppers a “sense of place”.

Painting by Tony Barone, “Karen as Marlon Brando” in The Wild One
Photo: ©Barone
Painting by Tony Barone, “50’s Karen”
Photo: ©Barone

Also in the mix of responsibilities was a centimeter scaled maquette for a three-story mural to adorn the customer’s journey up and down an open half circle stairwell. The Taiwanese artist interpreted our maquette beautifully, scaling it up with perfection. The mural started with the front half of a ’51 Mercury two door sedan coming out of the wall underneath the stairwell on the 1st floor.

Barone Mural
Photo: ©Barone
Barone Mural
Photo: ©Barone

Because the theme was “America of the 50’s – meets American teen movie idols of the ’50s – meets American Rock & Roll of the ’50’s-’50’s- ’50’s-’50’s, we cleaned out several of LA’s Melrose Ave. antique shops of any quirky 1950’s memorabilia. Anything that was not nailed to the floor was destined for Taipei.

Using a Mondrian patchwork of bright shiny vinyl’s, we re-upholstered rows of theater seats removed from the Shubert Theatre in LA. They became the seating for an ultra hip shoe department. We bought big bulbous 1950’s car bumpers, also for the shoe department, had them restored and painted in pastel colors, hung them projecting from the wall, filled in the void area with glass, and the bumpers became shoe display shelves.

Shoe Department at FAST LANE
Photo: ©Barone
Shoe Department at FAST LANE
Photo: ©Barone

In addition to the bumpers, many components of the design were sourced out from auto parts graveyards near our horse farm, The BAR – ONE, in the rolling hills of East Tennessee. We engaged a father and son who worked out of a back road pole barn to bring new life to the large car parts and junkers we rescued. We had met at a Rod & Custom Car Show competition where they were showing “The Stray Cats”, the name they had given what would one day be our ’51 Merc.

During this department store design and buildout process, I would stop in on the father & son custom car magicians to check on their progress. There it was, sitting inside the pole barn, the pink Merc, just as pretty as when I first saw it. It was magnificent.

However, each time I saw it, it had changed. They were always adding and tweaking. I wanted to own it and I knew it was a “Karen car”. Karen has never been drawn to anything commonplace. I told them “it is perfect and I would like to buy it”. I made them an offer – They turned it down!

By this time Karen and I had already taken Horace Greeley’s advice and were set to move to Los Angeles. We had found an amazing 3 story open space 5000 square foot brand new residential structure that was beyond modernist. It was a pure, “less is more”, Mies Van der Rohe minimalism structure that would become our Studio. It was on “The Grand Canal” in the California ocean side beach community of Venice. It was perfect, except for one big inconvenience. It only had an average size two-car garage.  The garage was not deep enough to accommodate what was our “dress up car” at the time – a midnight blue Cadillac limousine which we would use for our  Barone Cosmetics openings at Bloomingdales and Macy’s in Miami and Dallas, etc. etc. and to play country stars in Tennessee.

When I again returned to the father and son auto shop in the pole barn, they had added a “continental kit”, an extended bumper and pink and chrome spare wheel carrier to the 51 Merc. The very next visit after adding the sexy bumper they had added immense rear bubble skirts. Finally I told them I loved the Merc and again made them an offer. They once again turned it down.

When it was time to ship off everything they had completed for Taiwan, Karen needed to go to the shop for the final approval on the workmanship or what we euphemistically refer to as a “brocheh” (blessing in Yiddish). I told her she was now going to see the car which I loved and couldn’t buy. I was suffering from automotive unrequited love. I  told her “be COOL, pretend you don’t even see it, we don’t want the price to go up any further.

Well, asking Karen not to respond to a work of art that sent her endorphins on a tailspin, did not work. She walked into the pole barn and unabashedly blurted out “that’s the most beautiful car I’ve ever seen – I have to take it to Hollywood!” The father immediately responded “Karen, you want to take this car to Hollywood? There was a long silence while the father and son looked at each other. Then the father turned to Karen again saying “Karen, you want to take this car to Hollywood? Well. Okay!”

And there you have it – no more negotiating, no more pleading – the car was ours and at the original price. All it took was Karen’s pure honest emotional reaction and the father and son wanting to please her. The feeling of achievement and experiencing satisfaction of accomplishment combined with appreciation and recognition to someone creative is more important than sums of money. The father and son had achieved an unimagined goal. They had created their “Masterpiece” and it was going to Hollywood.

Driving the hot pink Mercury from our horse farm in the rolling hills of Tennessee with Karen, the girl of my dreams, sitting next to me, riding shot gun, was exhilarating beyond divine intervention. Heading for our next love, art and life adventure together was the best road trip ever. It was better than Thelma & Louise, better than Bonnie & Clyde, and ever better than Jack Kerouac.


Dedicated to BOYD HAIGLER (a beautiful man who loves beautiful cars)
and DAVID BRYANT (who loves Rod & Custom Magazine, still!)

Karen & Tony Barone’s super cool ’51 Merc
Photo: ©Barone

50’s teen movie idol James Dean had a ’51 “Merc” – and so did we!  The one James Dean drove in the film “Rebel Without A Cause” (1955) was black. Ours was HOT PINK and ours was a LEAD SLED and ours was the coolest car on the planet.

The criteria that allows a car to be considered a LEAD SLED is it must be super cool, souped-up, tricked-out and be a 1950’s “customized” car using all ‘50’s automotive parts.

Our ’51 “Merc” was “lowered” to within inches above the road and “chopped”, leaving only a 5” high windshield and side windows. It was totally re-imagined using all ‘50s car parts: ’53 Buick front fenders, ’55 Chevy rear fenders with “Frenched” tail lights and giant bubble skirts covering the rear fender wheel wells, a 15” deep rear bumper “continental kit” with a pink and chrome spare tire case. The door handles had been removed, “shaved”, and replaced with small electronic chrome buttons which were hidden under the “baby spots” at the upper front edge of the car door. The button lowered the power windows which allowed one to reach into the interior door handle and release the door lock from the inside. The hood was also shaved and so was the trunk. Large chrome trim from a ’53 Buick was attached to each side of the car starting at the back of the front wheel and travelled almost to the rear wheel. The chrome hub caps were 50’s Olds “spinners” painted pink in the recessed area. The entire car was HOT PINK except for the “baby pink rocker panel” area trapped by the chrome. The chrome resembled a giant upside-down version of the Nike woosh. The “piece de resistance” cantilevered a good 12 inches off the rear end and positioned to hover inches above the pavement was a “continental kit”, an extended bumper with a pink and chrome spare wheel carrier – James Dean eat-your-heart- out!

Sketch of James Dean
Photo: ©Barone

The Merc was lovingly built down a gravel back-road in a pole barn in East Tennessee, where, in the day, almost everything was built in that part of the state.  “Rods & Customs” are a major cash crop and the principle “vehicle” for creative expression. In East Tennessee customized cars and pickups are ubiquitous – and they are everywhere.

Our LEAD SLED was called “Stray Cats”. A reference to the cartoon painting under the hood. The hood itself was hinged behind the front bumper and would tilt up at the windshield to open, hands-free, under hydraulic power. The hood slowly powered upward to reveal a color cartoon logo painted on the underside of the hood. It was of the “Stray Cats”, a 1979 American rockabilly band. Also under the hood purring like a cat sat a ’76 Chevy 350 engine completely tricked out with chrome parts. It was the only thing on the Lead Sled that wasn’t from the 1950’s.

Our HOT PINK LEAD SLED was a masterpiece!



Karen Barone’s “Pooka-Dots” Beetle
Photo: ©MMXVI Barone

These days Karen drives her hi-tech-smart turbo-charged Beetle. She calls her black & white vunder vehicle “Pooka-Dots”. In this time of specialization some people are amazed that we were able to personally polka dot custom-eyes the vehicle ourselves. For us everything has the potential to become art. So! We signed the artwork “by Karen & Tony Barone ©2015”

Photo: ©MMXVI Barone