Tom Johnson speaks with a soft, unhurried drawl cultivated somewhere between West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, hard by the Ohio River. You rarely if ever hear of anything noteworthy happening in this neck of the woods. Most people go about their business like anywhere else while others try to make the best of seemingly odd situations, say, for instance, a guy who has been a Ford man from birth. Say, for instance, a guy who likes Mercury Marauders, for cripes sake.

Our almighty circulation department defines most PHR readers as those with a Chevrolet or two on their property, and that Ford and Mopar addicts run in distance races. Imagine getting up every day knowing that it would be crowded with thoughts of Fords. OK, our hero's not completely lost. He admitted that his daily driver is a Chevy truck. Tom said: "So there's hope for me, ya think?" We said: "No."

And so be it. Johnson's Mercury Marauder is a favorite of ours, too, mainly because it doesn't look like a Ford and because it could be ordered with a nasty dual-quad big-block engine. Ones like his are on the rare side. Despite big assembly-line numbers, ostensibly the Marauder was built as a NASCAR homologation special.

"When I was growing up, a guy who worked for my dad had a '62 Galaxie 406 car. He used to come and get me and take me for rides in it. I thought I'd always want one, but the day I saw the front end of a Marauder, that was it for me. I have four of them now."

Marauders like his were "special" Mercs, right, not too many of them around. There were Marauders that were 390s, too. All "Marauder" means is that it's got a fastback roofline. They made four-doors and top-of-the-line Park Lanes as well. There was also the Montclair Breezeway, with a notchback roof, the one that had a retractable back window that slid down in the trunk, space that these cars have in abundance.

"One of the guys who'd had the car before me had a 428 in it. He swapped in the C-6 because he'd already blown up three Cruise-O-Matics, but when I bought it, it had a 390, the C-6, and 3.00:1 open rearend."

It was a North Carolina car, which to some is the near equal of an Arizona lifer. These days, claiming a desert-air car is a bit more complicated. The price of fuel sucks, you miss a week of work, and you begin to crave solitude like a long drink of water. So you do this car foraying minimal, couple states away is it, ya grumpy toad. Tom and his pals Ellis Maynard and Randy McDowell, his stalwarts on this project, needed to patch the floorpan in one or two places and straighten out the battery box (they trashed it in favor of a trunk-mounted Optima cell). Otherwise, she was solid and tight. The '73 GMC red had been applied by an unknown painter years before Tom took it.

On the otherwise stock, straight body, that lumpy Thunderbolt replica hood brings an A/FX tang to the Marauder. It came from Crites Restorations. Whereas the Thunderbolt and other special drag racing Fords employed the inner headlight (high beam) socket as a conduit to the ram-air top for the carburetors, Tom couldn't resist the nostalgic nod. The ones on the Marauder are only for the puzzlement factor now, but the future includes a Blue Thunder 8V intake manifold and an occasional guzzle of juice, so function may eventually override form. "If I'm doing a night drive," confided Tom, "I've got it down to about 15 minutes to swap the high beams back in."

What does he do about the notoriously bad upper oiling system on these engines (Tom's is based on a 460)? "On the top of the engine on the left side we've run a -10 AN braided line. What we did was drill out a passage for a half-inch pipe fitting on the oil filter boss on the block to feed clean oil through that line. Then it goes across the top of the engine into what was originally the oil pressure sending unit port and feeds oil directly to the mains. "We got the idea from an article, and just copied it," Tom mused.

"We also did a dirt track motor trick. The steam lines, which are basically push-lock fitting lines that tap into the back water ports on the intake manifold, which on Fords are blind holes. We open 'em up to allow water to flow from the back of the cylinder heads to the custom thermostat adapter, which is a double-bypass water circulation, something done on NASCAR engines to help 'em cool. It gets rid of steam pockets that form in the heads, gets the water in and the air out," Tom added. The main cooling operation is rendered by a Weiand water pump, a Ron Davis double-pass aluminum radiator, and thermostatically controlled SPAL fans.

The heater and radio delete plates, says Tom, were very difficult to come by. There weren't many Marauders or otherwise in those days that came down the line without one. "I got the heater delete plate cheap, for about $40, but the one for the radio was $250. I'm crazy about things in the car that don't work, don't even like to drive it like that, and the radio didn't, so I bit the bullet and paid the money." Later, he installed a Sony unit in the glovebox.

We like the idea of the Gear Vendors overdrive auxiliary transmission, especially in a car of this girth and gravitas. In the portly Marauder, it doesn't mitigate the woe at the gas pump very much, but Tom loves it for its strength, the extra ratios it allows, and that it lets the engine relax over the long haul. Since the car was completed only last April, Tom's longest sojourn has been from Ashland to Columbus for the Goodguys event and then home again. "If you ever see the car on a trailer," said intrepid Tom, "It's broke ... or somebody stole it."

Back in the day, late '50s and early '60s, most cars were accompanied by a rudimentary leaf spring rear suspension system that worked fine for most drivers who just drove around like good citizens and usually never with malice of foresight. Millions of us always did that, from South Amboy to Cicero to San Pedro, we did. Peeling out it was called then. The burnout came much later. So, if you thought you were a cool kat, man, you were peelin' out or layin' rubber, ya hoodlum.

Even with the miserable bias-plies of the time (sometimes even sticky Atlas Bucrons), the geometric changes in the chassis would cause the leaves to rap up against themselves and make the wheels hop violent. Traction Masters were the answer, bars that bolted to the leaf spring pad at one end and at the front spring eye on the other. Welding the tab to the chassis was mandatory. "I got these off eBay for about 60 bucks, new in the original box and wrapped in yellowed L.A. Times from 1966, which I carefully unwrapped and read that evening."

So Tom's alright, see? Tom's just like the rest of us. He takes immense pride in the appearance and the performance of his street toy, and the part he likes the best is when his 5-year-old kneels on the front seat and looks out the back saying, "Do a big, smoky burnout!"