1961 Mercury Comet

On the heels of the Comet's successful launch, there was little to do to get the 1961 Mercury Comet ready for market. The most significant appearance change involved the grille, which gave up its twin rows of concave bars for a flatter array of elongated diamond-shaped segments.

The 1961 Mercury Comet offered several performance improvements.
The 1961 Mercury Comet offered several
performance improvements.

Three chrome-plated ornaments replaced the series script on each front fender; Comet nameplates were relocated to the rear-quarter panels. On sedans, new "shooting star" ornaments were affixed to the C-pillars, deck lids sported a more ornate escutcheon with a stylized letter "C" (that more than one observer has stated looked like a reworked "E"), and a full-width stainless-steel panel bearing the name Comet below the deck lid took over from the individual letters of the 1960 models.

If the outside of the Comet wasn't changed much, the same didn't hold true under the hood. There was now an alternative to the standard 144-cid "Thrift Power Six," the "Thrift Power 170." Thanks to a longer 2.94-inch stroke, the new engine displaced 170 cubic inches and developed 101 bhp. The division claimed the optional powerplant provided an 11-percent improvement in highway-passing speed and acceleration on hills that was 22 percent better.

Several new options were also offered including dealer-installed Polar-Aire air conditioning. Available only with the larger engine, it was quite a power robber and it wasn't cheap; at $270, it cost 13.5 percent of the base price of a two-door sedan.

Comet needed some new tricks for 1961 because it wasn't alone in the medium-price compact field any longer. In fact, the market was suddenly quite crowded. General Motors made a three-pronged assault with the related Pontiac Tempest, Oldsmobile F-85, and Buick Special. Chrysler decided the Valiant was now a Plymouth and, to keep the corporate peace, cooked up a slightly more expensive spinoff of it for Dodge, dubbed the Lancer. Meanwhile, Studebaker added a larger Cruiser four-door sedan (built on a 113-inch wheelbase previously used only for station wagons) to its Lark VIII line.

Compared to these new rivals, the Comet was narrower than all of them, and its base engine had the smallest displacement and least horsepower. (Even the Tempest's standard four was larger and more powerful.) However, Lincoln-Mercury's compact had the longest wheelbase in the field -- from one to 7.5 inches more -- and was substantially longer overall. Price-wise, the Comet was undercut only by the Lancer, and then just barely at that.

The Comet also proved itself ready to keep current with new trends in the compact market. Chevrolet's Corvair Monza, a mid-1960 introduction, showed there was interest in sporty small cars. When the Tempest, F-85, and Special followed suit during 1961 with flashy bucket-seat coupes (the LeMans, Cutlass, and Skylark, respectively), Ford matched them stride for stride with the Falcon Futura and Comet S-22.

Available only as a two-door sedan, the S-22 featured all of the Fashion Decor items plus contoured front bucket seats and a foam-padded back seat. A storage console topped by a ribbed metal panel was placed between the front seats. The vinyl-clad seats, console, and interior side panels were available in a choice of five colors matched to wall-to-wall deep-pile carpeting.

Also included were deluxe armrests, a four-spoke steering wheel with vinyl-covered handgrips in a contrasting color, special exterior badges, and factory undercoating to help quiet the ride.

The S-22 rode on new narrow-band whitewall tires and sported unique full wheel covers. Priced $284 more than a base two-door Comet, the S-22 still garnered 14,004 orders, enough to outsell its direct competitors from Pontiac, Oldsmobile, and Buick.

With four assembly plants working to meet demand, total Comet production came to a very healthy 197,263 units for the 1961 model year. Comet was the best-seller in the medium-price compact market, nearly doubling the total of its nearest competitor, Pontiac's Tempest. When Comet output was combined with Mercury, it gave the brand its most successful year since 1956.

The Mercury Comet underwent major changes for the 1962 model year. To learn more, continue on to the next page.

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