Indy Pace Car? 1950 Mercury Convertible

This is a nice find, a lead-sled rag-top! And best of all, based on its flanks, it appears that this example was an Indy pace car for the 1950 Indianapolis 500 race! But there is no claim to that notoriety in the body of the listing, how odd! The seller further claims this is a 43K mile example, so let’s check it out. This 1950 Mercury convertible is located in Merced, California, and is available, here on Facebook Marketplace for $45,000.

Technically, this ’50 Merc is known as a “Mercury Eight” a designation first employed in 1939 and continuing through ’51. The year 1949 introduced the first of the post-war Mercurys and this car is the sophomore entry, similar to both the ’49 and ’51 model years. Of note, the upscale “Monterey” model was new in ’50, and positioned at the top of the totem pole, in a similar position as the Ford Crestliner. The seller claims this car to be a Monterey but I can’t find evidence of a Monterey badge affixed to either door and research indicates that the Monterey trim-line was only available on a two-door sedan.

This particular example is stated as a barn find but there is no further explanation so maybe it is and maybe it’s just a typical descriptor. The exterior is in fair shape with faded paint, some minor scrapes, surface rust, and dull stainless/chrome. All-in-all, the body is straight and appears to be free of crash damage or serious rot. The trim pieces, always so obvious on cars of this era, are all in place too. There are no images of the folding power top so that would be an item of inquiry. The red Indy proclamation is still legible, though the authenticity is questionable without proper documentation.

The one image of the interior shows some very bright red seatbacks, almost too red as if they have been reupholstered and that may well be the case. The rest of the interior is not discernable though the ornate instrument panel appears to be complete. The driver’s door card looks off, either faded or fabricless, hard to tell for certain. The seller does mention that this Mercury is equipped with power windows and a power seat.

Pace-power is handled by a 110 HP, 255 CI, flathead V8, working through a three-speed manual transmission. The listing references an automatic gearbox but that’s not the case. The seller laconically advises, “runs and drives“. The underhood image isn’t very clear but from what can be seen the engine looks to be complete and original with maybe newer sparkplug wires.

So the seller claims that he has this convertible insured for $100K, while he’s asking $45K – I would think it would be hard to get an agreed-to policy underwritten for such a spread in value but maybe an alternate insurance product is being employed. Most confounding is the Indy pace car disguise with no mention of that provenance in the listing. What’s your thought, is this Mercury convertible the real thing?

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Comments

  1. Howard A Member

    I’d be interested in the history of this car too, how long it’s been in Cal. I’m almost positive, this may have been one of Dick Tarnutzers cars. Dick was a prominent figure in my small town, ran a successful dry cleaners and also ran the Wis. Dells Auto Museum for many years. His collection specialized in Indy pace cars, the largest in the US, he claimed. I think this Mercury was his favorite, and saw it in parades many times. I knew Dick personally, and all his pace cars were the real thing. Unless this is a clone, this was one of his cars. Sadly, a space heater fire destroyed many of his non-pace cars, and it upset him so, we think it eventually killed him. After he died, the pace cars were sold off and it could have ended up in Cal. Neat historical find.

    Like 21
    • Michael

      judging by the Cali black plates it has been in California for many many years

      Like 3
      • Howard A Member

        Dick’s cars came from all over, and his may have had a Cal. black plate. I just don’t think there would be a call for a clone 1950 Indy pace car.

        Like 3
  2. Dusty Stalz

    Hasn’t had any custom body work done so it ain’t a leadsled. Cool car tho.

    Like 13
    • Phlathead Phil

      Out west we were always taught a “Lead Sled” was a big old blunderbus. So heavy it was hard to push and so it must have been made of lead. Never heard about your define.

      Like 1
  3. Dennis

    I was doing a search and came across a picture on the indymotorspeedway site. It shows the “Mercury” name in black rather than the red in this barn find has.

    http://indymotorspeedway.com/v1/06pics/pacecars/pace50.jpg

    Like 7
    • John Campbell

      In addition, to the lettering a driving light is shown above the bumper not shown on the BF car.

      Like 4
    • Courtney Sutherland

      The car you have in the picture is not one of the pace cars note the yellow fog lights. Those were not on the pace car there are photos of the car on race day and no fog lights.

      Like 2
  4. pwtiger

    I wonder how the factory applied the lettering? Did they have decals in 1950? This one looks like faded paint

    Like 1
    • DON

      All hand painted back then ; its fast becoming a lost art

      Like 7
  5. Will Fox

    At the very most, this may be one of the parade cars used at the track in `50, but very likely not the actual car that Paced the race. This color combo probably was used on a few hundred cvts. by Mercury that year, and another likelihood is that perhaps a Mercury dealer put the decals on this as a sales draw for the showroom that year?
    Not sure, but I bet Indy records don’t have any VIN # info. of the actual Pace car that year to confirm with.

    Like 3
  6. Jeffery Watts
    • Courtney Sutherland

      Those are not the pace cars those are the parade cars.

  7. Rick Gilbert

    I cannot say for certain, as I was born in 1956, but having been an Indy resident since 1970, the practice since then has been to have a number of identical pace cars around during the month of May. Some go to the officers of the 500 Festival Committee and other dignitaries so if this was the tradition back then, the car is a legitimate pace car but maybe not THE pace car. Also, the car that paces the field today is tricked out to be capable of driving well over 100 MPH and is given to the winner of the race for the remainder of the year. None of the other replicas have the bells and whistles like the one that leads them to the green flag.

    Like 3
  8. Joe Haska

    I agree with most of the comments ,it would be very hard to confirm that this was THE pace car. I also think the asking price is high.

    Like 3
  9. 200mph

    This would have been hand lettered. Sign painters each have their “tells”, and the car shown was done by a different painter than the car in the Indy photo.

    Like 4
    • Jim Morris

      The word “Official” is different on each side, I would expect Indy to hire a better quality sing painter for their projects.

      Like 2
  10. Bellingham Fred

    I saw that car at the Turlock CA swap meet in January 2102. I just checked my pics from back then. It is the same car based on the rust spot on the LF fender. I don’t recall the price, I just know that it was more than what I had on me that day.

    Like 1
    • Phlathead Phil

      2102 Bro? Geeze, you are ahead of the game!!!
      🤣🤣🤣

      • Stan Marks

        I was thinking the same thing, Phil.
        That being said, I wonder what kind of cars, will be on BF, in 2102? LOL!!

  11. David Scully

    IIRC the Indy 500 race winner also got the pace car as part of the rewards package – at least up to 1957 because I remember seeing Sam Hanks driving his convert around Glendale, CA for quite awhile after that. Johnnie Parsons (the 1950 winner) was a SoCal racer who spent most of his year in the mid-west running the big car circuits, but I saw him in Burbank in the early 1980’s – never thought to ask about a pace car… Back then, there was no run-about clones like in later years – just the car selected for the actual race. These were not hopped-up versions as in later years, as the actual race cars were no where near as fast. I also seem to remember seeing this car at some car event in Visalia or Bakersfield (central California) sometime in the early 1970s.

  12. Greg W

    The term lead sled is a vehicle customized using lead.

  13. Gary Grossich

    This car has been kicking around the Central Valley for quite a few years and has been a fixture at the Turlock Swap Meet. As I recall, the first time I saw it, it was priced at $85,000.

    Like 1
  14. Thomas Benvie

    To correct some comments: There was no back-up Pace Car in 1950. That practice didn’t come about for a few more years. There were other cars at the track, such as the non-convertible Mercury shown on the truck

    The winner does not get the Pace Car. The last winner that received an actual Pace Car was 1989, the Turbo Trans Am. The practice started mid 30s, but in 41 the winner did not get a Newport Phaeton but a a Chrysler Royale. In 46 the winner did not get a car, and died shortly after the race. In 47 Nash kept the actual Pace Car for other events and the winner got another Nash. In 1962 Rodger Ward got the very first Avanti, but wanted AC so took Avanti #34 (And the Avanti was NEVER supposed to the Pace Car). In 63 the winner got the actual Pace Car but it was stolen stripped and junked. In 64 the winner wanted a car with AC so did not get the Mustang Pace Car. in 71 the winner selected a yellow Dodge Charger-the actual car was wrecked (but since restored). Etc, etc, etc.

    Th practice of the Festival or Parade Cars did not begin until 1958 with the start of the 500 Festival Associates. Most years there were not dealer replicas, but only the cars used at the track. In 1960 Charles Stuart supplied 100 cars-the actual Pace Car was an olds Ninety Eight, but there were also Olds 88 Festival cars. They all came from his dealership, so he ordered different colored interiors/options on the cars so they would be an easier sell. In 61 all the Thunderbirds were identical gold exterior and approx 40 were supplied to the track. In 62 the Studebaker Pace Cars were 4 speeds, the Festival Cars were all the same color except for different colored interiors (And Charles Stuart also supplied these cars). In 63 Chrysler made a run of Pacesetters as a blue exterior/white interior but the Festival Cars were not all blue Pacesetters, but painted red, white, etc. 64 Mustangs were supplied by Ford through Foxworthy Ford and were all the same color white but with different interiors. They also had sixteen of the Mustangs-all body styles-for display at the track they got from local dealers. Ford also made coupe versions that the dealers could acquire through two different sales promotions. Over 1000 of these coupes were made. Etc, etc.

    There were other cars also at the track. The medical car and photographer often got wagons, but there were also four doors, coupes, etc. And often the Pace Car and Festival Cars were not the same, In 78 the Vette was the Pace Car and four were supplied to the track, but the Monte Carlo was the Parade Car. In ’91 the Stealth was supposed to be the Pace Car but the UAW protested so the Viper was selected, but the white Stealths and Dodge Shadows were still the Parade Cars. In 96 the Viper was once again the Pace Car but Dodge Avengers were the Parade Cars-plus a few of the Indy Rams. In 1990 the Beretta custom converted convertible was supposed to be the Pace Car and Festival Car but severe body issues caused all the Festival Cars to be scrapped or donated to trade schools. As a result a number of teal or yellow Corvettes were used as well as a number of white 1991 Camaros. In 1992 the 93 Allante was the Pace Car, but both 92 and 93 Allantes were Parade Cars. In 1994 the Mustang GT was the Pace Car and Parade Car, but 1000 replica Cobras were also made. (And the Mustang Pace Cars had Cobra components so they looked like Cobras). At one time any company could try to be the Pace Car but as of late only if you also have a car powered by your companies engine-thus only Chevrolet the last number of years.

    And prior to 58 there were a number of cars at the track for promotion, mainly tied in with AAA and from all makes. One year there was even a Rolls Royce!

    Here is some research on a number of years thus far-more coming.

    1941 Chrysler Newport Phaeton
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/2622261764538413/

    1946 Lincoln Cabriolet
    Coming soon

    1947 Nash Ambassador
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/868761536958420/?ref=group_browse

    1952 Studebaker Commander
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/2622261764538413/

    1960 Oldsmobile Ninety Eight
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/2514427642167199/

    1961 Ford Thunderbird
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/418711765418459/

    1962 Studebaker Lark Daytona
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/507493020175121

    1963 Chrysler Pacesetter
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/2908524952544715/

    1964 Ford Mustang
    Coming soon

    1965 Plymouth Fury
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/984443498553870/

    1967 Chevrolet Camaro
    Coming soon

    1968 Ford Torino
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/795785424258927

    1971 Dodge Challenger
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/3712439078771718/

    1973 Cadillac Eldorado
    Coming soon

    1984 Pontiac Fiero
    Coming soon

    1989 Pontiac Turbo Trans Am
    Coming soon

    1992 Cadillac Allante
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/1810267675909744/

    1994 Mustang GT and Cobra
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/200776700706982/

    Like 1
    • Stan Marks

      Be truthful, Tom. Did you copy this, from another site & paste this article here?

  15. Thomas Benvie

    I am the one researching all of this. Those links are all created by me, and I wrote all this when I posted it. Want more? The first “replicas’ were 1929-six Studebakers were produced that resembled the actual Pace Car. The first mass produced replicas were 1953 Fords. The last was 2011 Camaros. There were a lot less 1967 Camaro Pace Cars than the enthusiast sits state. there is often almost 200 cars provided to the track for use during this week-to include trucks and safety vehicles. two weeks ago I worked with the Benson Ford Archive center and located the paperwork to the actual 1946 Pace Car. Followed up by locating the actual car, with the same owner since 1973. I worked with the Studebaker Museum and found the original paperwork on all the indy cars, to include the Willard Battery Pole Mechanic car. The 1941 Newport at Indy started out as the others, with hidden headlights. they were changed at the track to fixed headlights because of the bouncing of the headlight doors. two others were also converted. And Lana Turner never owned one, but her ex husband did. The actual back-up 1962 Lark was destroyed in an accident driven on the streets outside the speedway. Sam hanks severely wrecked hi 57 Mercury. The Pace car list released by Chevrolet for 1993 has some errors in the VINs. if you think I copied/pasted the info, then I challenge you to find the site that has any of this information.

    If you want to know anything about the 68-70 AMXs and Javelins I can prepare that for you as well.

    And I am always looking for the various spreadsheets that were created at the track listing the assigned cars, the plate number, and who was assigned the cars. I have most of the post 1990 lists, looking for prior to that. Thanks

    Like 1
  16. Stan Marks

    Thanks for clarifying,Tom.

  17. Thomas Benvie

    Not a problem-So far every single year I have researched has been filled with myths and legends-and some groups do not want to know the truth. there are also a lot of “clone” cars out there, with some claiming to be the acatual Pace car. the saddest part is there are so many cars out there that nobody knows about. the Allantes all had the decals stripped oof of them and sold, so most people do not even know their car was a Festival Car. same as the Auroras for 97 and 2000, the Bravadas, etc. there is a Mustang on ebay right now that was originally posted as a Mustang Gt with pace car graphics. I told the owner not only is it a festival car, it was one of five sent to Jack Roush for modifications to be used as a Pace car. though the lowest VIN of all, it was not used during the race but was a back-up. And of course so many Mustang experts called him out on it and said only the Cobras were at the track-when the truth is all the Cobras were manual shift which are not used anymore at the track, so thus the Mustang GTs were the parade cars-and I posted every VIN in the 1994 link I posted. Sometimes I feel like Don Quixote trying to educate people on these cars, but more importantly pointing out what the car is so it can be saved.

    Like 1
  18. Thomas Benvie

    I should also add that in an interview dec 10, 1950 before the Darlington race Johnny Parsons mentioned he has had a string of bad luck, to include having the Pace Car he won totally destroyed in a suspicious fire in front of his house in California.

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