Station wagon was one of several body styles available for the 1963 Mercury Comet.

Mercury Comet

Once planned as an Edsel, the first Comet was basically Ford's hugely successful 1960 Falcon compact with squared-up rooflines, a double-row concave grille, and an extended stern with canted fins and oval taillamps. Wheelbase was 114 inches on two- and four-door sedans; wagons used Falcon's 109.5-inch span.

Comet wasn't exciting, but it sold well: over 116,000 for the abbreviated debut season. Sales set a record for '61 at 197,000 and were strong for '62, which hurt Mercury's new Meteor model. In fact, one reason Meteor didn't sell well is that Comet was comparably sized yet more affordable. Mercury was thus wise to make Comet its only small car after '63. Sales jumped by 55,000 units for '64 and remained high into '67.

Early Comets ran less than $100 above comparable Falcons, yet were more elaborately trimmed. S-22, a $2300 bucket-seat two-door sedan, responded to the sporty-compact craze beginning in 1961, when all Comets gained an optional 101-bhp six. Custom sedans and wagons and a posh Villager wagon with imitation wood trim aided '62 sales.

The following year brought Custom and S-22 convertibles and Sportster hardtop coupes. A squarish facelift arrived for 1964, when S-22 was renamed Caliente and any Comet could be ordered with the outstanding 260-cid small-block. A midseason Caliente offshoot, the $2655 Cyclone hardtop, offered even higher perform­ance from a standard 210-bhp 289.

Comet received its first major overhaul for 1966, going from compact to intermediate by shifting to that year's new Fairlane platform. This underlined a basic marketing assumption: Mercury buyers were wealthier than Ford's, and thus probably wanted a compact larger than Falcon.

This 116-inch-wheelbase platform continued on Comets through 1969, but sales waned. By 1967, the Comet line started with a pair of very basic "202" sedans. The rest of that year's line comprised Capri (borrowed from Lincoln to replace "404"), Caliente, Cyclone and Station Wagon.

All gave way for 1968 to a three-series Montego line on the same wheelbase. This offered a standard sedan and hardtop coupe; MX sedan, hardtop coupe, convertible, and wagon; and top-line MX Brougham sedan and hardtop. The last was furnished with a high-quality cloth interior and other luxuries. The Comet name was retained for one price-leading two-door hardtop, then was temporarily shelved after 1969.

Mercury jumped into the midsize muscle-car market with both feet and won several racing laurels. Model-year 1966 brought a smooth Cyclone GT hardtop coupe and convertible powered by Ford's 335-bhp 390 and offered with a variety of useful suspension upgrades. The '67 was even more thrilling with optional 427s delivering 410-425 bhp.

Similar street racers were available for '68, though the 427 was detuned to 390 bhp. Besides Montego, that year's midsize line included new base and GT Cyclone hardtop coupes with curvy new lower-body contours and racy full-fastback rooflines a la Ford Mustang/Torino. There was also a one-year-only GT notchback hardtop.

For 1969, Mercury unleashed the Cyclone CJ with Ford's 428-cid big-block Cobra Jet engines. GTs and CJs had black grilles, special emblems, bodyside paint stripes, and unique rear-end styling. CJs carried a functional hood scoop when equipped with optional Ram-Air induction.

Although Ford won the 1968-69 NASCAR championship, Cyclones turned in some of the most notable performances. A memorable highlight was Cale Yarborough's win in the '68 Daytona 500 at an average speed of 143.25 mph.

For more information on Mercury models, see: