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Museum Pieces

John Estlow's "Mercury in a TV" display won the top award in the 1964 International Modeler's Guild contest. The Mercury featured dozens of operating lights (high and low beam, turn lights), plus a spinning fan belt, smoking exhaust, and other functions. Angled mirrors show off the entire unique model.
In an era before solid-state electronics, Estlow's uncle designed the complicated electrical system seen in the back of a vintage TV. his work remains untouched since 1964, and all 10 switches on the side of the TV still operate the working individual systems that John built.
Estlow's Mercury, which to this day still works perfectly, is on display at the International Model Car Builder's Museum in Utah. The model, its engineering drawings and dozens of associated details are part of the museum's extensive Estlow collection.
From left: AMT's Budd "The Kat" Anderson; contest director Ron Elkhorn; and John Estlow, as John wins the 1964 Guild contest. The model sits untouched and unrestored since winning the top IMG trophy.
John Estlow III: "Mercury in a TV"

The history of the model car hobby is peppered with great builders who set new standards for technical achievement, but who often aren’t well known.

These builders didn’t receive major media coverage so their great achievements often have been lost to history. One such builder is John Estlow III. He won the top award in the 1964 International Modelers Guild Modelrama Championship with his “Mercury in a TV.” 

The Guild competitions, which were featured at selected International Show Car Association shows, competed with the Revell-Pactra/Revell-Testor contest series that ran from 1962 through 1965. But the Guild contests were less well known.

To beat a strong field of competitors, John knew he had to build something spectacular and unexpected.

He settled on creating a relatively run-of-the-mill chopped and customized AMT 1949 Mercury, but one with a spectacular array of features, including quad headlights, a Corvette grille, opened and hinged doors, rolled pans, Frenched lights and the like, but with one enormous (and winning) difference. The Merc was fixed insider a hollowed-out TV and wired with a wide array of functioning lights.

The display featured 23 bulbs, each 1.5 volts. They were used as trunk and interior courtesy lights, trunk TV (with sound), door courtesy lights, back-up and brake lights, front and rear turn signals, tachometer, and high- and low-beam headlights. Even a close look at the model doesn’t reveal any of the vintage wiring running up inside the model!

Related features include a working horn, a spinning engine fan (Atlas motor), and smoking exhaust. Each feature was created before computer chips and without a transistor in sight.

Even though the model/backdrop isn’t left plugged in at the museum, we discovered that all of the lights and other functions still worked when the family donated the display to the museum. When the lights are ablaze they illuminate the car’s still brilliant candy red lacquer finish laid over a bright gold base.

John died in early 2009, but his nephew, Allen Taylor, and John’s family donated the “TV Merc,” all of the electrical drawings and wiring diagrams, and an incredible collection of John’s award-winning models to the museum. Additionally, the family donated boxes of historic memorabilia, including a written account of how the “TV Merc” was made and the electronic schematic that permitted John to build the systems.

Allen presented the Merc to the museum at GSL- XXII in 2009. However, since few in the audience knew about it, or John, you can imagine the collective gasp, and thunderous applause when it was unveiled.

For more info on this model, the Guild, and other historic references, visit and click the John Estlow link on the home page.


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