The Famous Doodlebug! 1939 Mercury 99A Racer

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The concept of a doodlebug is widely recognized by automotive enthusiasts of a certain age. The concept of stringing together a batch of disparate parts and components to create a running vehicle (or a tractor, as was often the inspiration for a doodlebug in the Depression era) left only the limits of your own ingenuity to determine what would emerge from the garage the next morning, and in the case of this storied 1939 Mercury 99A Racer listed here on eBay, one enthusiast’s vision led to the creation of a celebrated motor that would achieve a respectable level of fame courtesy of the female racer who owned it. Today, it has retained its DIY appearance and upgraded flathead V8, and looks like a hoot to drive. Bidding is at $14,500 with no reserve.

The Doodlebug was reportedly built in the Philadelphia region sometime in the 1950s, eventually purchased by a woman named Grace Curry who was apparently an amateur racer. After being recognized as the “Queen of the 1956 International Autorama” in 1956, the home-built hot rod would go onto earn multiple magazine appearances and effectively be baked into hotrod folklore all the way to the present day. The enthusiast scene in the 1940s and 1950s was a golden era of engineering and resourcefulness, with owners not afraid to dive in and rip their cars apart in hopes of building something better. And even if you didn’t, it just meant you could try again the next weekend. Following World War II, America was on a high, and there was nothing a young man who flew fighter jets over Europe couldn’t do with a wrench and a Model A body. It must have been a glorious time to be alive.

The Doodlebug seen here looks remarkably well appointed and screwed together for what amounts to a homebuilt hot rod, with a complete interior featuring nicely preserved bucket seats; complete dash with gauges; and even seat belts. Now, I’m sure it wasn’t nearly this complete when it was originally built, but I can’t say for sure. Despite making a few appearances in online journals (and apparently being featured in Hemmings not too long ago), there’s not a ton of information out there about it, like whether the Mercury features the same gold lacquer paint it was finished with in the 1950s, but it certainly looks darn close to the finish it wore in 1950s magazine spreads. But remember: the whole point of a doodlebug is there’s no penalty for destroying originality – it’s in a constant state of evolution as subsequent owners find better ways to construct what the previous caretaker built.

The engine is a masterpiece, featuring an Offenhouser triple carburetor intake manifold and special heads. It was built to perform, and I’d love to find some photos of it from back in the day either drag racing or ripping through the surf on a beach with six other racers. A scan of a magazine article featuring the lovely Ms. Curry (where are you now, Grace?) confirms it “…made it through the traps at 118 miles per hour for the flying mile,” so this doodlebug could certainly hustle when asked. The seller reports it still runs great to this day, which is a testament to the original builder and subsequent owners who have managed to keep it on the road. I’d love to see this flathead-powered hot rod on the track some day, and pay tribute to the pioneers of the hot rod era.

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  1. Hoss

    Looks like Elmer Fudd should be driving this car. lol

    Like 12
    • Steve Clinton

      I would wuv to hear Elmer Fudd say ‘Doodlebug’!

      Like 5
  2. Terrry

    Those old flatheads had a sound all their own, especially when built. Would I put this on the track? No, I’d drive it just to hear that mechanical music.

    Like 12
  3. Miao Yin

    Looks like that top center pulley and belt might be cutting right into the radiator hose.

    Like 14
    • Solosolo UK KEN TILLY UKMember

      @Miao Yin. If it hasn’t done so by now then I doubt that it ever will.

      Like 1
  4. BlondeUXBMember

    When I see one of these Frankenstein home-builds it brings back visions of period Popular Mechanics feature articles.

    I still miss the small space ads for x-ray glasses…

    Like 6
  5. CCFisher

    I bet the sound it makes is amazing.

    Like 3
  6. That AMC Guy

    Cool homebrew car, but Americans who “flew fighter jets over Europe” during WWII? Yeah there were a few jet aircraft used towards the end but most were German. You’d be hard pressed to find an American pilot who even saw a jet during the war, much less flew one.

    Like 10
    • Solosolo UK Solosolo UKMember

      Even us Brits only had a few Gloucester Meteors flying in battle by the end of the war. Funny, only yesterday I was watching a video of Sir Frank Whittle and his exploits in getting his invention accepted by the Air Ministry and finally into production. The hoops that he had to jump through, and the little amount of money that was given to produce it, took him an extra two years to finally get a completed aircraft into the war zone. Just imagine how much damage we could have done to the Luftwaffe if we had of had the Meteor two years earlier.

      Like 0
  7. John

    Nice presentation of the car.
    Are there any race records with the car?
    Pictures or race track entry docs?

    Like 2
  8. MCH

    Yeah – not many fighter jets during WW2, but we get it and I appreciate the effort that goes into the Barn Finds narrative EVERY DAY. Thanks and this is an interesting old racer!

    Like 4
  9. Steve Clinton

    SOLD for $15,039 today.

    Like 2
  10. Rick

    At first glance I thought the car was a Jowett Jupiter.

    Like 2
  11. AMCFAN

    This is an unusual car and worth the price. It was built and enjoyed and cared for. It has history and authentic patina. What a great car. Will done in the fact it makes one it is actually only a pile of parts.

    How many times have we seen a pile of rusted parts with a room full of trophies and an old magazine feature? Then the seller of the then pile is trying to cash in on the history like a George Barris?

    Like 0
  12. Kenny

    Those are Studebaker truck fenders… late ‘40’s.

    Like 1
  13. t-bone BOB

    Aug 28, 2021
    Winning bid:
    US $15,039.00
    [ 6 bids ]

    Located in:
    Nevada City, California

    Like 0
  14. Grace Curry

    I’m still alive.

    Like 1
    • Solosolo UK Solosolo UKMember

      That’s great news Grace, and a great car. I hope the new owner enjoys it as much as you must have done.

      Like 0

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