Ted Wells: My Souped Up 65 Mercury Comet

Thursday, April 9, 2020 - by Ted Wells
1965 Mercury Comet Caliente
1965 Mercury Comet Caliente

In 1974, when I turned 16, I was able to buy a 1965 Mercury Comet at what was a very advantageous price from my grandfather’s used car lot.  It was a 4-door sedan, painted a metallic blue/green, had the 289 cu. in. V-8, with no air and no power steering, but man what a car to me! 

I remember the day I got it, sitting outside in the driveway listening to the radio (AM only of course), and I even remember what was playing, “You’re 16, you’re beautiful, and you’re mine,” by Ringo Starr, 1973…as I was looking at the greenish illuminated instrument panel.  It was a kind of ugly family-type car, really, certainly with no sporty attributes at all.

My father and I (him, really) painted it candy apple red, installed 1974 Camaro bucket seats in it, and changed the interior color to black, with red shag carpet.  We put in an 8-track tape player, and an AM/FM radio, extra speakers, a tiny steering wheel and a chrome barefoot accelerator pedal from Honest Charley’s Speed Shop, when it was out by the airport.  When I raked together the money, I got new Tiger Paw fat tires (so fat they rubbed the fenders when you went over bumps), and the cheapest steel wheels in the J.C. Whitney catalog. When we got done with it, the car really did look pretty cool, and I remember I sold it for about twice what I paid for it, so the loss was only a few thousand dollars!  I cannot find a picture of that car.

In 2017, when I was 60, I had probably watched a bit too much Mecum’s and Barrett-Jackson’s classic car auctions, and actually made the trip to the January 2017 Mecum’s auction at Kissimee, Fl., near Orlando.  I don’t like crowds, so I didn’t go in the auction room, but did look at several tents full of cars over the three days I stayed.  With 3,500 cars there on display, it was physically impossible to see all of them, but I checked and there was not a single Mercury Comet.  I asked, and was told, “They are relatively rare, but don’t usually bring much money.”

I went down to Kissimee again in 2018, and again there were no 1965 Comets.  There were some 1966 Comet Cyclones, which look completely different.

When I got home, I casually mentioned to a friend who had a few antique cars that I might be interested in buying a 1965 Comet if I could find one, and that so far I hadn’t. In a few days, he told me a friend of his in Cleveland, Tn. had a car and was almost done with it mechanically, and he thought it might be a Comet, and furthermore thought it was a 1965.  He gave me the guy’s number.

I called and left messages and called and left messages.  He would call me back occasionally, saying he was up in a tree somewhere trying to shoot a deer.  I was patient, and waited.  Nine months went by, and I finally got him on the phone in person, and he seemed like he wanted to talk to me about the car.  I asked if he could send me a picture.  He sent one of the rear of the car sticking out from under a cover in a garage.  I could see from the distinctive rear end that it was definitely a 1965 Comet, but could tell nothing else about it.

I made arrangements with the guy who owned the car to meet him and then together we would go to the shop where it was supposedly “just not quite finished yet.”  He said it had mostly new glass, window mouldings, fuel pump, alternator, intake manifold, brakes, etc…. to hear him talk it was rapidly becoming a new car.

I took a check!  I drove up there and after stopping by the Denny’s for just about the best omelette I’ve ever had, drove up the road a little bit to the house where the owner of the Comet lived.  There was an immaculate ’69 Corvette I the driveway.  He invited me in, and I was a little overwhelmed by the number of sets of deer antlers and artillery hanging on the wall. 

We drove to somewhere not easily found, to the shop.  The Comet turned out to be a 1965 Mercury Comet Caliente, a two-door hardtop, with the 289 cu.in. V-8.  It had power steering.  The Caliente was the luxury edition of the Comet, which included an interior lighting package unlike anything in 1965, including Cadillacs.  This car was a lot nicer than my first car.  The mechanic was there, like a proud father letting his daughter go out for the prom.  He invited me to jump in and fire it up.  It started on the first turn of the key, with just slight pressure on the accelerator.  I then asked if I could buy the car.

What then ensued was the longest three hours of my life listening to this guy tell me the whole story of the car, how he went out to Kansas to hunt deer and since they didn’t find any, deciding to look for cars instead.  The Comet was in a barn somewhere out there along with about a dozen other cars. The Comet was the only one of interest, and the barn owner sold it for some amount I have not been privy to.  We finally agreed on an amount and I gave him the check.  The title, from Kansas, showed just 20,000 miles.

The car was trailered all the way home, and here’s a picture of it as it arrived.  I sort of didn’t hate the mag wheels, but they were too wide for the car.  You couldn’t actually steer it, and the front had been lifted up, so it really looked like an old gasser, and since it had to be going almost 80 mph to shift into high gear, it kind of seemed like it might have been set up for drag racing.

After I got it off the trailer I filled it up with gas, and left it outside that night for no particular reason.  I am glad I did, because the next morning all the gas was in the driveway.  So that’s the way things started, and I have chosen to believe the seller had no idea about the gas tank.  

The first thing I did was get rid of those wheels and tires, and lowered the front end.  I opted for Coker Tire Silvertown Redline Radials, and though I have the original hubcaps, I cannot bear to put them on.  I thought the Redlines would set off the red in the interior.  I accidentally had the chrome lugs put on from the mags with the new tires and wheels and initially liked the way it looked so I left it that way for now.  I also discovered a little air valve in the trunk which inflates rear air shocks, so the stance of the car is now correct, or it is at least a lot better than it was.

In the spring it got warm, and then in the summer the warm turned hot.  I had heard of a company out West called Vintage Air, which makes air conditioning for just about every car ever made.  I looked on their website and it led me to Honest Charley’s, now on Chestnut Street.  It took a while, and more than a little bit of money, but by mid-summer the air had been installed, and it was nice.  I also had power brakes installed, also at Honest Charley’s.  Next, I had the original AM radio rebuilt by Charles Forgey of Old Car Radio, and installed by Radio Clinic, so it looks the same but is really AM/FM and also has a cord so you can connect to a phone.  Also real nice, but not cheap.

The last thing I did that year was to have the upholstery replaced.  This year I had Quick Everett’s Garage install a Holley Sniper Electronic Fuel Injection system, and also had the front suspension rebuilt, so the steering is no longer sloppy.

Currently, I drive the Comet on average about twice per week, as I am told it is great for the car to be driven, and that brings me to what I was going to write about anyway.

During this infernal pandemic, while the weather is great and the traffic is less than it was in 1974, it’s a great time to go for a drive!  I suggest staying within the law, but this is a great time to drive your collector car.  

* * *

twells@ewtcaters.com


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