Italian Barn Find: 1938 Mercury 8 Convertible

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This gorgeous 1938 Mercury convertible ended up in Italy by way of a service member who was stationed there. At some point, it was converted to what is called an “autostarter” for horse racing purposes! To say this Mercury has lead a colorful existence is an understatement, but it looks quite tidy beneath its unusual appendage. The seller notes it is missing its convertible top but otherwise complete. Find it here on eBay in Vicentina, Italy with a $24,500 Buy-It-Now. 

The Mercury arrived in Italy following WWII, and has been sleeping for the last 40 years. The roof-mounted autostarter is used as a means of leading horses into the start of a race, almost like a pace car for equines. How this Mercury was determined to be the best car for the job is a question I’d love to have answered; typically, a 4WD or truck seems better fit for slogging through the mud of a horse racing track. Speaking of traction, the seller notes the Mercury still wears its original tires.

That last part seems unlikely, but it’s not hard to see how complete this Mercury is. Though the missing top is a disappointment, it hasn’t been hacked apart and the autostarter system seems like it should be removable without leaving too many scars. From this angle, it’s possible the mounting points may have damaged the interior, of which there is only two photos that simply show layers of dust and dirt. If all of the sheetmetal remains original, this is likely one of the few Mercury 8s left with factory panels and paint.

Is it safe to assume where the autostarter mounts to the body that panels were punctured? I’ll leave that up to the readers. For now, I would have serious thoughts about preserving it in its current form and absolutely seeing it return to the U.S. An even more ambitious goal would be to track down the original owner’s family and let them know that their ancestor’s (likely a WWII Veteran, if I had to guess) Mercury was coming home. How would you restore it – or would you?

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  1. Anthony in RI

    This would be a 1939 Mercury as 39 was the first year of production.

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    • KKW

      You are correct.

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  2. S.S.McDonald

    I think this car is newer than 1938. Headlights in the fender are newer than 1938.

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    • KKW

      It has already been stated the car is newer than a 38, as 39 was the first year for Mercury. However, 37 was the first year Fords had headlights incorporated in the fender.

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  3. Duffy


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  4. Steve R

    The seller has zero feedback, nothing to worry about there or that the car is in Italy. What could possibly go wrong?

    Steve R

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  5. Classic Steel

    Not to beat this car like a dead horse but what does one do with the apparatus attached to the car? I guess you could have a two story window washing machine? Maybe you can also drive it down the interstate and offer severe traffic logged people sit in the back with a grille with burgers and lawn chairs during severe traffic jams on the 1 or the 5.

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    • Barry Klotz

      This is an American Classic. It should be treated as such. Just because someone did something like this to it, doesn’t mean that it can’t be brought back and restored.Thanks BLK

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    What Duffy said….wow….

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  7. Joe Haska

    Very interesting story and unusal car, but it would make no sense to buy this. Period! It is for certain, there never was a 38 Mercury, no big deal, it’s a 39. This certainly makes it rare, first year of Mercury and a convertible. Even if it were in the U.S.A. 24K s way too much for the car in its condition. A couple of facts, that would be fun to know is,when was it sent to Italy? When it was new? After the war? When was it there and who owned it? Why this car, it couldn’t have been cheap to ship. The mystery is more interesting than the car!

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    • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskeyMember

      Joe Haska:
      Considering the state of politics in Italy in 1939, I seriously doubt it was sold new there. Probably brought over by a US Army officer after the war, when he was stationed in Italy. The Army typically paid for an Officer’s POV [Privately Owned Vehicle] to be shipped from/to stateside. However an American Convertible anywhere in immediate postwar Europe would be worth at least triple what it would bring in the US. Not surprisingly it stayed behind with a new Italian owner!

      Back in the mid 1970s I met an American who owned an early production 1946 Packard Clipper Super sedan, he paid about $2,800 for it new, with delivery to Europe. He was one of the people in charge of the Marshall Plan & needed a very reliable car for immediate postwar Europe, as he had to drive all over central Europe. He said he kept getting serious cash offers of well over $8,000 for the car. He had to turn down the offers because he needed the car.

      Packard wisely installed 2 head gaskets when building that wonderful 9-main bearing 356 engine, to handle the very poor fuel available in postwar Europe. He said when he came back to the US, they removed the head gaskets and replaced them with a single gasket.

      Eventually my best friend convinced the man to sell him the car. It’s still running today, with over 300,000 miles on the original engine.

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  8. Kem Jones

    My 1939 Mercury Body no 11 C 94 The 94th Mercury built in Canada. I doubt I could get $50,000 for it fully restored. I think the seller must be deaming

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  9. leiniedude leiniedudeMember

    It would be cool parked at Churchill Downs, Louisville, Kentucky.

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  10. Dan in Texas

    A different way to carry ladders than the vans and trucks I see plodding down the interstate every day?

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  11. Del

    Rare piece with mystery story.

    Maybe too expensive to ship home so got left there.

    Price is ridiculous if it has to be shipped home on top.

    Fugged aboutit

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  12. Canadian Mark S. Eh!

    If it could be bought for a reasonable price then I suppose it would be worth shipping. The first thing I would do is take all that horse track junk off and scrap it. Then I’d restore it back to as close as original as possible. I guess when it was converted it was just an old car but big enough to handle the horse gate hardware. Maybe the owner will realize that this price is to high and lower his price, I guess the market will tell what it’s worth.

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  13. Paul Duce

    Hi all, if anyone is really interested I do have a personal friend who is a very knowledgeable classic car owner and sources classic cars for me in Italy.
    He is based in Pordenone near Venice and has many contacts in Vicenza so can check the car out. Naturally if its just a call to confirm its true existence and check its old ownership history he won’t charge but if you want a personal inspection he will. Through him I am always bringing cars from Italy without any problems back to the UK and then sending back the world-over.

    Paul at Classics and Cabriolets Collection

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  14. George Soffa

    Yup, that would be the most valuable Mercury in history , being the one and only 38 !! Maybe Edsel was sneaking around and had another team Mercury in Europe so Nutball Henry couldn’t stop development ! I wish he’d done anything to keep his health !

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  15. BOP_GUY BOP GuyMember

    I’d like to imagine that the original owner, in his 20’s, bought it new in America to enjoy. But then, recruited into the military with so many others, he put it in storage as he shipped out to the European front. After years of war, and seeing the worst of people, the war finally ends. He found himself in Italy, in a beautiful oceanfront town, in love with a gorgeous Italian he wants to be with forever. So he dispatches his family in America to prep this beautiful Mercury convertible for a voyage to his new home. He and his love drive top down on the little windy roads along the Mediterranean, enjoying life and all the beauty Italy has to offer. Eventually, he must sell it, as his sight isn’t what it used to be. And the new owner takes this Mercury on a very different path, until finally it was parked, sitting for decades. And now it’s looking for someone to bring her back to her former glory. That’s the background story I imagine !

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  16. Jim Benjaminson

    Not unusual for convertibles to be used for this purpose. The starting gate was used for sulky racing — line ’em up so they are even, circle the track, then speed up when the green flag drops, fold the wings in and the horses take off. Local fair racing association used a ’56 Buick convertible until it rusted away – when convertibles became hard to find, they used an Oldsmobile sedan with modifications and before they quit they were using a pickup – which probably carried the weight of the starting gate much better than a passenger car chassis! I rode in the back filming some of the races and when the gates were spread out the handling became fairly squirrely.

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  17. Roscoe Conway

    I recall the mobile starting gate at Historic Track, Goshen, NY during the ‘70s – a great looking white 1958 Oldsmobile convertible. (Track announcer: “And the horses are in the hands of the starter!”)

    Sorry, leiniedude, but Churchill Downs only races thoroughbreds, which race from a standing start. A rig like this is used to pace the beginning of a standardbred (harness horse) race.

    It might look great at the Meadowlands in Jersey, though. I have no idea how they’re doing it now.

    Never saw a canopy arrangement like the one on ths car, before. Might have been handy on a muddy track, I suppose.

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    • Mountainwoodie

      They must have been some slowwww horses!

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      • KKW

        I do believe a Flathead could handley outrun a horse, geeze almighty, some of you guys and your comments are hard to figure

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      • Mountainwoodiegi

        That’s a joke, son…

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    • leiniedude leiniedudeMember

      Thanks for the heads up Roscoe, not much of a horse guy. I once got a tounge lashing from a horse buddy of mine for calling a good looking girl a nice looking Filly. I don’t recall his reasoning now.

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      • Roscoe Conway

        Just as long as he didn’t call you a “gelding” in return! That’d be a fighting word.

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  18. Clay Bryant

    Get rid of the “starting gate” stuff……… way. Restore it the way it is,get 4 or 5 buddies to line their trucks up behind the gates, start down the track, release the gate and watch the trucks take off. Then take the video to Ford and rep it to them as a way to introduce that years pickups. I guarantee you would pay for the cost plus restoration, maybe more. Marketing is visuals and that’s what makes brand i.d. Your’e going to restore it anyhow. Do the other stuff first and if your marketing “plan” doesn’t work, you haven’t lost a cent. Just finish the restoration. 55 years of marketing has shown me things I never would have believed to work…………….

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    • Pete

      I would think using Mustangs would be more appropriate………….:-)

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      • Clay Bryant

        Not work horses………..moneymaker trucks..

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