1963 Mercury Comet

The 1963 model year ushered in the widest array yet of Mercury Comet models, with more available power to boot. The big news at the start of the year was the addition of a convertible for the Custom and S-22 lines.

The 1963 Mercury Comet offered an optional V-8 engine.
The 1963 Mercury Comet had an optional V-8 engine.

All-vinyl interiors were available in six color combinations. The power-operated fabric top came in a choice of black or white with any body color; a blue top was available for cars with blue interiors. Convertibles came standard with the station wagons' larger tires and -- eventually -- beefier rear brakes.

The sprucing up of the Comet line continued partway through the model year with the introduction of a "Sportster" two-door hardtop that featured a sloped backlight and slender rear pillars. Many dealers felt these sportier body­ styles were long overdue in light of the competition's offerings. They were well-received by customers, who snapped up 13,111 ragtops and 15,239 Custom and S-22 hardtops.

Around the time of the announcement of the Sportster came the introduction of a V-8 option. The 260-cid Cyclone (as Mercury dubbed the engine) made its debut in Fairlanes and Meteors in mid-1962 as an upgrade of the thin-wall 221-cube V-8 created for the intermediates. Equipped with a two-barrel intake and an 8.7:1 compression ratio, it was rated at 164 bhp at 4,400 rpm and developed 258 pound-feet of torque at 2,200 rpm.

The V-8 was available on any Comet. Those so equipped came with 10-inch-diameter brake drums; a larger ring gear in the differential; five-lug 7.00X13 wheels; and underbody torque boxes for added chassis rigidity, a concept picked up from the Fairlane/Meteor design.

The standard transmission with the V-8 was Ford's new fully synchronized three-speed manual; options included the two-speed Merc-O-Matic automatic and a Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed stickshift. The new powertrain did wonders for the little Merc. Motor Trend nearly halved its 0-60 time (to 11.5 seconds) in a V-8/four-speed S-22 hardtop and ran the quarter-mile in 19 seconds at 75 mph. Motor Trend also liked the ride and handling of the V-8 car's fortified chassis.

When the V-8 joined the options list, the underpowered 144-cid six was dropped as Comet's base powerplant. (The 170 six had already become the standard engine in station wagons soon after the start of the model year.) Hydraulic valve lifters were newly fitted to both sixes for quieter operation.

External changes began with a revised grille pattern of horizontal bars overlaid by three thicker vertical bars between the headlamps. A cursive Mercury script replaced block letters on the hood, and the crosshair fender ornaments were replaced by bladelike decorations.

Per industry convention, parking-light/turn-signal lenses were shifted from white to amber. A new spring-supported hood replaced the prop-rod style of the past. On the sides of sedans and coupes, the bright trim now followed the edge of the sculpted cove. Wagons added a bright spear along the lower-body character line. Mildly revised taillights and rear-fascia panels were seen in back.

Customs and S-22s added a stack of three die-cast chrome-plated speed lines to their sides. Wagons wore them on the front fenders just ahead of the doors; all others sported the trim on their rear-quarter panels.

New wheel-cover designs were ushered in, too. The new S-22 wheel trim included red, white, and blue centers. ID badges for the sports model migrated down to the front fenders. Thicker foam padding cosseted those who settled into the S-22's bucket seats. On Villager wagons, a trio of fine light-colored contrast stripes ran through the dark woodgraining on the bodysides.

Despite everything Mercury did to make the 1963 Comet faster and flashier, it wasn't enough to stave off a further sales decline. Model-year orders for the little Merc came to 134,623. (Just 895 two-door wagons were produced in what proved to be the final year for the style as a Comet.)

It was still the most popular branch of the Mercury family -- it did more than 2.5 times the business of the Meteor series, which would go away after this season. But it had fallen behind Buick's drastically facelifted Special and the all-new Dodge Dart compact, successor to the Lancer. Then, of course, there was Rambler's restyled Classic built on a longer new 112-inch wheelbase and priced to match the Comet. More than 300,000 of them came off the assembly line.

The Comet would be due for a drastic makeover of its own for 1964. However, the market in which it competed would be quite different, with some of its former adversaries transformed into intermediates to cash in on that lucrative new market niche. That ultimately would be the Comet's fate, too, but it would have to hang on as a senior compact for a couple more years before Mercury could pull off the switch.

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