The cars we loved.
Badge engineering was and is a fact of life for many large car companies. In the 1960s, Ford like GM and Chrysler had many variations of the same car sold under different names. The Mercury division, seen as somewhat upscale over Ford sold a compact Comet, which was based on the Ford Falcon. The trouble was that most buyers knew the Comet was nothing more than a tarted up Falcon and usually went for the original item.
Mercury tried to solve this perception problem by moving the Comet up one size to intermediate status. The ploy was not as successful as it might have liked and the Comet once again became a compact. While smaller, the company focused on developing a niche for the Comet. Racing became the common answer to most image problems, but with the Comet Mercury decided on a different track. By focusing on endurance events, Mercury established the Comet as a durable car by breaking records at the Daytona International Speedway in 1964. Four Comets made a 100,000 mile run at average speeds of 105 mph. This feat was done in a time when many US cars lost steam (literally) when tasked with long distance endurance events.
A confident Mercury decided to step in to the intermediate arena once again. Now the Comet could get in on the popular muscle car action that was making the intermediate size the hot performance ticket in the US market. A new design with stacked headlights became the design hallmark of the new Comets. While the stacked headlight theme was first seen on the 1963 Pontiac Grand Prix, Mercury claims that it had developed the concept as early as 1962 for its full-sized cars. Copy or not, the headlight treatment became popular and would soon spread to Fords, making Mercurys look more like their corporate cousins. Ford originally planned to move to rectangular lights, but had problems getting them legalized, so Mercury’s stacked design became a corporate solution for many Fords.
The rest of the Comet was just as handsome. Available as sedans, wagons, coupes and convertibles, there were as many engine configurations as body styles. Base engines were either a 120 hp inline six or the Mustang/Falcon 289 V8 with 200 hp. Performance oriented Comets like the GT featured free-flowing dual exhausts and a 390 V-8 with 335 hp. The GT could be configured with any number of trick transmissions (usually 3 or 4 speed manuals or the Sport Shift Merc-O-Matic in the GTA). For the ultimate in straight line performance a drag prepped Cyclone 427 sent 410 hp to the rear wheels. While the 427 would be too extreme for daily street use, the standard Cyclone was easily able to reach 60 mph in the low 6 second range.
The largest sellers were the sedans and coupes, followed by the convertible and the station wagon. In addition to the sporty Cyclone, the Comet could be configured in any number of trims from the basic Comet 202 to the luxury oriented Caliente. The convertible as a Caliente was perhaps the most elegant version of the Comet you could buy, while the wagons in Voyager or wood panel Villager trim offered practicality and oddly exclusivity due to being seldom seen.
The fast-moving auto market that was the late 60s took its toll on the newly redesigned Comet. A big strike in 1967 cut production and reduced sales, while Mercury’s just released Cougar took more than its share of would be Comet buyers. The Comet was never able to put much of a dent in the muscle car market, especially when it was so easily overshadowed by the Mustang and later the Cougar. The Comet would continue with all new sheet metal in 1968 looking more like the full-sized Mercurys. The Comet name would be used less to the point of almost disappearing in 1970. In 1971 it would comeback once again as a compact.