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Comet Covered Ford’s Biggest Blunder

James Maxwell - August 11, 2014 09:00 AM

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Few know the actual beginning of the Comet, but its role was pivotal.

 

First offered as a mid-model-year 1960 introduction, the Comet compact from Ford Motor Company was debuted on March 17, 1960, and sold through Lincoln-Mercury dealers. Known at the time only as “Comet” (not labeled as a Mercury product per se), this new small car came five months after the launch of the Ford Falcon (October 8, 1959).

The base two-door sedan window sticker price was $86 higher ($1,998 for Comet versus $1,912 for Falcon). For the extra coin, the Comet featured five additional inches of length in wheelbase, a plusher interior, and more standard chrome trim, along with some extra perceived prestige and extra value.

This smaller-sized vehicle was the right car for the times, something Ford needed. The previous new car launch, the Edsel, was a total flop in the marketplace. The model year 1958 was when Edsel was released, unfortunately, smack-dab in the middle of a national economic slowdown. It was a premium-priced car that found few buyers, which caused its demise. There had been some thought to downsize it, but Edsel division was discontinued on November 19, 1959. 

The management at Edsel was working on a new plan in an effort to survive or save face for the company. 

Newspaper reports in late November 1959 detailed, “Ford plans to replace the Edsel with yet another ‘compact’ car, the Comet. The company already has the Falcon in the compact field, and early sales have been so promising that they have decided to produce a second economy car in hopes of picking up some of the Edsel’s loss.”

Time magazine printed this in their November 30, 1959, issue: “As a running mate for the Falcon, Ford plans a slightly larger, more luxurious compact model that it originally thought of calling the Edsel Comet. Now, the new car will just be called the Comet.”

So, the Comet was hastily de-badged from an Edsel (and fitted with a more traditional non-split grille) and put out as a separate stand-alone brand. It would not be labeled as a Mercury product until the 1963 model year.

The power came from an inline six-cylinder “Thrift Power” engine displacing 144 cubic inches and delivering 90 horsepower. It was designed by Edsel stylists, an instant success.

The success was a pleasant surprise to the beancounters as the small-sized vehicle sold more than all three years of Edsels, 116,331 vs. 110,810 (1958,’59 and abbreviated 1960 models).

The pictured 1961 Comet two-door sedan is a one-owner car that was owned by Lorraine Clark, who purchased it new from San Diego Lincoln-Mercury dealer Pascal Dilday. She kept it well maintained through the years, though four years ago she was involved in a minor “fender-bender” where the right-side front fender was crunched a bit. Nothing major, but she knew it was time to get the damage repaired and sell the car after close to 50 years of faithful service and enjoyment.

A visit to her local body shop (GA Coachworks in San Diego) is where she met shop owner George Ayoub. Seeing the car had fewer than 90,000 miles on the odometer in such wonderful condition, George approached her to sell it right then and there.

He promised to repair it and keep it in good running condition. They arranged a purchase price and she could sell the vehicle immediately without any out-of-pocket expense. George could take his time and not only replace the damaged front fender, but also give the car a fresh paint job.

Since George is a true car lover and appreciated the history of the vehicle, he eventually decided to give the Comet a little more tender loving care in addition to a new coat of paint. The extra attention included some new refreshed parts and pieces like a fresh exhaust system, new shocks, reupholstered front seat, new carpeting, new tires and some underhood detailing. Car guys do such things!

The car is currently taken to local car shows and enjoyed by all, most of which know these cars as “Mercury Comets”. They are surprised to learn the direct connection they have to the ill-fated Edsel. 

The Comet was a way for Ford Motor Company to get even more compact sales for 1960, as the Falcon was a run-away sales record-buster with 417,174 units sold. Comet was simply the icing on the cake.

 
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