So as to not steal any thunder from the Ford Falcon, which was unveiled on October 3, 1959, it was decided that the introduction of the Mercury Comet would be late in the following winter.
The 1960 Comet was popular from its introduction.
Perhaps those in charge of the product remembered the poor initial quality of the Edsel, but a delayed release would allow production glitches to be ironed out. By mid November, Falcon was flying high, on both the production and sales fronts. Everything seemed to be going just as planned.
Then came a snag. On November 19, Ford Motor Company announced the discontinuation of the Edsel. The Comet was spared, however, and it was not going to be delayed. With production less than 50 days away, some tooling, chrome scripts, and other nomenclature had to be reworked in a hurry.
All references to the car being an Edsel in advertising, catalogs, service manuals, parts books, and all other marque-specific materials had to be changed quickly. Lincoln-Mercury dealers who had taken on an Edsel franchise were even sent a memo that instructed them how to convert their electric signs that read E-D-S-E-L to proclaim C-O-M-E-T.
The effort worked. Assembly began at the new Lorain, Ohio, plant in mid-February 1960. By the end of the month, just 2,240 units been produced, which allowed most dealers the chance at no more than one or two examples of the new compact.
Then came March 17, and Lincoln-Mercury showrooms around the country were ready to welcome the little Comet. While the crowds might not have been five or six rows deep everywhere, there was still a good turnout considering that in many parts of the country this was still deep winter.
Initial public reaction seemed to be in favor of the Comet's size, styling, price, and economy. For the time being, though, the Comet shared neither of the brand names of its showroom mates. Like Chrysler Corporation's new Valiant compact, it stood alone.
While the Falcon quickly established itself as the popular choice in the compact field for the low-priced three, the Comet got an effective head start on what by 1961 would become a contested field of medium-priced "senior" compacts. Base prices ranged from $1,998 for the two-door sedan up to $2,365 for the four-door station wagon, or $78 to $86 more than corresponding Falcons.
Comets came in a choice of 11 "Super Enamel" exterior paint colors. (Two-tones with contrasting paint on the roof were optional.) There were four interior-trim colors for sedans and two for station wagons, all with color-keyed rubber floor mats.A Fashion Decor Group option included exterior touches such as bright-metal surrounds for the door window frames, bright drip-rail moldings, and full wheel covers; the package's interior upgrades on sedans featured four additional color selections and richer seat coverings, while wagon buyers got a choice of two different colors plus color-keyed loop-pile nylon carpeting.
The Comet's powertrain was identical to the Falcon's. The engine was an inline six with a new thin-wall casting method. This lightweight powerplant employed a 3.5-inch bore and a 2.5-inch stroke for 144 cid. It developed 90 bhp at 4,200 rpm and 138 pound-feet of torque at 2,000 rpm. Sipping fuel through a single-barrel carburetor, rates of around 30 mpg had been reported. A manual-shift three-speed transmission was standard, with a two-speed automatic available at extra cost.
One apparent problem with the new six was a high rate of oil consumption. Some owners found the need of two or three added quarts between recommended 4,000-mile changes. The Lincoln-Mercury Division tried to explain this away with a service bulletin that recalled how, just a few years before, oil changes were recommended at every 1,000 miles, so it wasn't unusual to go that far without having to add lubricant. With the new longer service intervals, it was the factory's contention that an added quart for every 750 miles was not out of line.
As with the Falcon, unitized body construction was one of the Comet's strongest points. Each body was dipped in a zinc coating to resist rust. To save both cost and weight, simple hood hinges were used, which meant that a support rod was used to keep the hood open for servicing. This proved to be the source of a rattle from under the hood of early Comets; after some research, it was determined that the clip that held the rod when stowed needed minor reworking, a task easily accomplished with a file.
Up front, a ball-joint suspension and a recirculating ball-and-nut system controlled the steering, while road imperfections were taken up by shock absorbers mounted to integral shock towers and A-arms. Coil springs wrapped around the shocks.
At the rear, alloy-steel semielliptic leaf springs and hydraulic shock absorbers were used. Sedans rolled on 6.00X13 tires, but wagons rode 6.50X13s. Standard tires were blackwalls; whitewalls were available at extra cost.
The motoring press thought the Comet was a pretty slick product, though, as in the April 1960 issue of Motor Life, it was more than apparent that journalists could see the Falcon heritage hidden just below the sheetmetal. Motor Life's test figures showed acceleration wasn't going to break any records with 0-30-mph times of seven seconds, 14.2 to 45 mph, and 60 arriving in 27.5 seconds.
The 160-pound-lighter Falcon reached 60 mph in 17.2 seconds, and Comet was slower than several other domestic compacts, including the Valiant at 16.7, Chevrolet's Corvair at 18.2, and the Studebaker Lark at 20 seconds flat. However, in comfort and cost of operation, it scored rather well. Motor Life averaged 21 to 23 mpg in both city and open-road driving.
By the end of its first season, which was only about half of a full model year, Comet was deemed a success with 116,331 units produced, an outstanding feat for an all-new automobile. By early August, Ford's assembly plant in Kansas City, Missouri, was tooled up to start producing Comets, and, according to industry records, a total of five cars were assembled at the San Jose, California, plant -- though it is believed these were probably pilot models for the 1961 model year. There was still a lot of red ink to get rid of, but things were starting to look up at Lincoln-Mercury.
See the next page to learn more about the 1961 Mercury Comet.
For more information about cars, see: