By fall 1958, basic engineering of the Mercury Comet had already been set with the Falcon project. Things were kept simple with just four basic models: two- and four-door sedans, plus two- and four-door station wagons.While all Falcons were mounted on a 109.5-inch wheelbase, the "Edsel B" chassis was stretched out to 114 inches for the sedans. This translated into a bit more room for rear-seat passengers and more trunk space. As a cost-cutting measure, it was decided that the small Edsel wagons would share bodies with the Falcons, which kept their wheelbase at 109.5 inches.
For financial reasons, it was deemed necessary to make the outside of the Edsel compact as different as possible from that of the Falcon, yet not be so radical as to turn off potential customers. I.B. "Bud" Kaufman was tapped to head the team that would style the small Edsel.
As with any automotive project, dozens of proposals, styling ideas, and even a bit of fantasy made it as far as the mock-up stage. However, when it came time for approval for production, the final product was quite tame. It did have a couple of inspirational flairs applied, just a little something to tie it to the full-size Edsel.
Conservative, but attractive, front end styling greeted those who saw the Mercury Comet. Though a small-scale variation of the infamous Edsel "horse-collar" grille was proposed early in the design process, it was ultimately rejected.
Instead, a simple stamped-aluminum grille featured a horizontal center bar that divided dozens of fine vertical bars that ran the width of the car. The grille also housed quad 5.75-inch-diameter headlights, which provided a little more of a "big-car" look than the two seven-inch lamps found on the front of the Falcon.
Topping off each front fender was a targetlike ornament. (Some styling and development photos show this feature filled with a letter "E" like the ornaments on 1959 and 1960 Edsels.)
Comet's profile was quite stylish for the day. Only after careful comparison could most people pick out that the front doors and forward portion of the greenhouse were shared with Falcon, while other touches were unique. A stainless spear ran the length of the high upper-body character line.
On sedans, this bright molding kicked up just before it got as far back as the C-pillar, then continued to run along the top of the rising tail fins. Sheetmetal in the sedan rear-quarter panels was stamped with a C-shaped accent scallop.
One of the most dramatic features that set the Comet apart from its Falcon cousin was its roofline. Instead of the Falcon's narrow, tapered C-pillars and wraparound backlight, Comets employed wide sail panels and a nearly flat rear window. This look was first seen in 1957 on the Ford Skyliner retractable hardtop, and adopted for the Thunderbird in 1958 and Ford Galaxie in 1959.
It allowed a bit more privacy for rear-seat passengers and gave the car a touch of elegance. In a memoir in the June 1999 issue of Collectible Automobile®, Edsel stylist Robin Jones wrote that late in the process, product planner Dick Kimball "decided there was money enough to replace the Falcon roof with a new Thunderbird-like roof [on the Comet]."
The most dramatic view of the new car was reserved for the rear. Here, 1960 Edsel influence was seen in elliptical taillights like those on full-sized coupes and sedans, but canted to follow the angle of the compact's fins. Between the fins, a sloping deck encompassed a hatch-style trunk lid. Chrome-plated diecast block letters spelled out the word "Comet" along the lower valance panel.
Station wagon styling was a relative snap considering it amounted to a Comet front clip on a Falcon body shell. In back, D-shaped taillights replaced the little Ford's circular lamps, and a pair of chrome strips on the tailgate served as a link between the taillight bezels on either end. Between these bright strips, free-standing block letters spelled out the car's name.
Interior detailing was a step above the low-priced compacts. Durable vinyl bolsters with nylon-based cloth inserts covered the seats. The dashboard featured an instrument cluster with an Edsel-inspired die-cast housing for the speedometer, fuel, and temperature gauges, and oil and electrical warning lights.
A close look found Edsel-derived parts inside and out the new compact. The parking/turn-signal lights in the front bumper were from the 1959 Edsel. So were the control knobs for wipers, lights, air vents, and radio. In addition to the taillights, Comet sedans also cribbed their simple trunk lock from the 1960 Edsel parts bin.
Naming the new Mercury Comet required some care. It was the start of the "Space Age," and attentions had been directed skyward. Since 1949, Ford of Canada had shown great success with its Meteor line, and already in the wings was Ford's upscale Galaxie series.
Keeping with the celestial theme, it was decided to name the junior Edsel after something small and fast in the heavens, and Comet seemed like the perfect label. There was only one small problem: The name was already being used by a well-established builder of hearses and ambulances.
Money talks, though, and Ford was willing to spend a few dollars to get the Comet name. According to one tale, the representative who negotiated the deal was able to come to an agreement over lunch by telling both partners that their last names would look great on the front of their business, and, supposedly, a coin flip determined who got top billing. In fall 1959, Comet Coach Company announced it would now be known as Cotner-Bevington.
Now that Ford had settled on a design and a name, all that was left was to see how the public would react to this new car. For more on the introduction of the Mercury Comet, see the next page.
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