1966-1967 Mercury Comet

The origins of the 1966-1967 Mercury Comet are a tale of sticking to it: Having tried once and failing to join the ranks of the important new intermediate class sweeping the American car market in the early Sixties, Mercury made a second attempt a few years later with a bigger, beefier Comet.

Classic Cars Image Gallery

Mercury Comet Cyclone racer
Drag racing, not durability, figured prominently
in Mercury's marketing for the 1966-1967 Comet. See more classic car pictures.

During its first iteration, the 1960-1965 Comet played second fiddle to America's best-selling compact car, the Ford Falcon. Most buyers had no illusions: They recognized that the Comet was an upmarket Falcon dressed as a Mercury.

Lincoln-Mercury Division General Manager Ben D. Mills and his general sales manager, Paul F. Lorenz, knew from the beginning that they had to do something to make the Comet stand out, something to catch the public's attention. As a result, they decided to promote the Comet in endurance events. They wanted the Comet to be known as "durable." Unromantic as that sounded, durability became the early Comet's watchword.

Ben Davis Mills was one of the 10 "Whiz Kids" who'd brought Ford Motor Company back from the brink after World War II. Born in Oklahoma in 1915, he studied engineering at Oklahoma A&M College (now Oklahoma State University), but ultimately took a degree in law from Southwestern University in 1937.

During the war, he was awarded a Bronze Star and became director of programming and progress analysis for the U.S. Army Air Force. After the war, he teamed with Tex Thornton, Robert McNamara, and seven other ex-Air Force officers to help the 28-year-old Henry Ford II get his grandfather's ailing company back on course in the wake of catastrophic financial losses.

Now, as Lincoln-Mercury general manager, a post he'd held since 1958, Mills and his staff put the first-generation Comet through a number of hoops for publicity purposes, the most dramatic being a 100,000-mile run at Daytona International Speedway. Here, four 1964 Comets set 732 FIA endurance records at an average speed of more than 105 mph.

As an encore, a factory team of 1965 Comets traveled 16,247 miles from the tip of South America to Fairbanks, Alaska, in 40 days. Arriving in Fairbanks, race-car builder Don Bailey told the press, "Mechanically we didn't even adjust the carburetor for altitude, didn't suffer a single breakdown, didn't replace so much as a sparkplug." Comets, God bless 'em, were durable.

And yes, durability did sell Comets. Or something did, because in the 1961-1964 period, Comets outsold the full-size Mercury each year, making it Lincoln-Mercury's best-selling line. Sales sagged a little in 1965, but by that time, Mercury had an ace up its sleeve. Or so it seemed.

On the next page, learn more about the 1966 Mercury Comet lineup.

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1966 Mercury Comet Lineup

From the outset, the 1966 Mercury Comet lineup strove to distinguish  the car from the Falcon via a longer wheelbase for coupes and sedans and more "important" styling that included quad headlights. After Mercury's first stab at a true intermediate -- the 1962-1963 Meteor -- quickly faded, Comets that were longer, wider, and roomier than before attempted to fill the role in 1964-1965.

They were still very much "senior compacts," however. That's not true of the 1966 Mercury Comet lineup. Finally, in 1966, the Comet stopped being a compact and grew up into a genuine intermediate.

1966 Mercury Comet Cyclone GT convertible
In 1966, the Mercury Comet (shown as a Cyclone GT)
moved up into the crucial new intermediate class.

Now, instead of sharing bodies and mechanical parts designed for the compact Falcon, the Comet stood on the same unitized platform as the intermediate 1966 Ford Fairlane. In fact, it was now the Falcon that was the spin-off car, built on a shorter version of the Fairlane/Comet structure.

Both cars were new from the ground up that year, and upsizing made a lot of sense. The Comet now competed directly with GM's A-Body intermediates (Chevrolet Chevelle, Pontiac Tempest/LeMans, Oldsmobile F-85/Cutlass, Buick Special/Sky Lark) as well as the Plymouth Belvedere, Dodge Coronet, and Rambler Classic.

Not only did this put the Comet into an increasingly popular size class, but it gave the line better ammunition to do battle in the mid-Sixties horsepower wars. Now, suddenly, the 1966 Comet became available with 390 cubic inches, whereas before, the Comet's biggest engine had been Ford's small-block 289-cubic-inch V-8. Maximum horsepower went from 225 with the hottest 289 to 335 horsepower with the top 390 in the 1966 Cyclone GT. And weight increased a mere 321 pounds between 1965 Cyclone and 1966 GT hardtops.

The 1966 Comet line came in four series: 202, Capri, Caliente, and Cyclone. There were also two 1966 Comet station wagons: Voyager and Villager. The base 202 series was available in two- and four-door sedan body styles only. The 202 series cars stood 7.1 inches shorter than other Comets due to their shorter rear decks. The 202's overall length was 195.9 inches, and its trunk capacity was 15 cubic feet versus 17 in the Capri, Caliente, and Cyclone. Still, in 1966, the unassuming, ever-durable 202 was the Comet's best-selling line.

1966 Mercury Comet Caliente
The 1966 Caliente served as the Comet's luxury model.

Next up the ladder came the Capri, available as a four-door sedan or a two-door hardtop coupe. The Capri, which took the place of what had been the 404 series in 1964-1965, offered a lot of little standard touches, like bright wheel-lip and rocker moldings, a deluxe steering wheel, all-vinyl or vinyl-with-cloth upholstery, and a locking glovebox.

The Caliente served as the 1966 Comet's luxury series. Standard equipment included simulated woodgrain interior trim, loop-pile carpeting, deluxe armrests with courtesy lights and paddle-type handles, lighted heater/defroster controls, plus full instrumentation and remote driver's-side mirror. The Caliente series included a convertible as well as a sedan and hardtop. Mercury built its millionth Comet in 1966, a four-door Caliente.

On the next page, find out about the 1966 Mercury Comet powertrain, which gave the car some va-va-voom.

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1966 Mercury Comet Powertrains

The 1966 Mercury Comet powertrains available during this time varied widely. All Mercury Comets through this era (including station wagons) came with a choice of two base engines. The more economical choice was the 200-cubic-inch, inline, pushrod six rated at 120 horsepower. The more powerful alternative was a 289 V-8 rated at 200 horsepower.

Beyond them in the catalog of 1966 Mercury Comet powertrains was a choice of optional 390-cubic-inch V-8s with two-barrel carburetors, one rated at 265 horsepower for use with manual transmissions and the other at 275 horsepower for automatic-transmission cars.

1966 Mercury Cyclone GT
This is a replica of the Cyclone GT picked
to head the field for the 1966 Indy 500.

The standard transmission for six-cylinder models was a manual three-speed with an unsynchronized first gear, but a fully-synchronized three-speed was included with V-8 Comets. Options included the Multi-Drive Merc-O-Matic three-speed automatic and, for V-8-equipped cars (wagons excepted), a floor-mounted four-speed stick.

The Comet's sport/performance series was the Cyclone, available only as a bucket-seat hardtop or convertible. The latter body style was new to the series. (All Comet convertibles came with glass rear windows and five-ply fabric tops.) Cyclones came with the two-barrel 289 V-8 as standard equipment.

Available for the Cyclone was a GT option package with a 390 V-8 tweaked to deliver 335 horsepower at 4,800 rpm and 427 pound-feet of torque at 3,200 rpm. The GT 390 had free-flowing dual exhausts (in place of the single pipe that came standard with the other Comet 390s) plus a hydraulic camshaft with 0.48-inch valve lift instead of the standard 0.40.

Compression was pegged at 10.5:1, a full point more than on the tamer big-blocks. The GT's four-barrel Holley carb boasted 1.562-inch bores, and the package included chrome engine trim and a twin-scoop fiberglass hood. The scoops were non-functional.

The Cyclone GT's standard gearbox was the all-synchronized three-speed with floor shift. For an additional $188, you could order "four on the floor" or, for $2 more, the GT's exclusive Sport Shift Merc-O-Matic. The three-speed Sport Shift, as opposed to the Comet's conventional Multi-Drive Merc-O-Matic, had selector slots for first and second ranges, so you could hold the tranny in low or second for as long as you wanted. When so equipped, the hotter Cyclone was known as a GTA.

1966 Mercury Comet Cyclone GT
Not many people knew that the 1966 GT came
with a 410-horsepower engine.

Included in the GT package were heavy-duty springs, shocks, and stabilizer bar; "power-booster" engine fan; heavy-duty 5.5-inch wheels with 7.75 × 14 nylon-cord tires; rocker stripes; and special insignia. The Cyclone GT's base price came to $2,891, and fully loaded with extras like four-way power seats, clock, tachometer, power windows/brakes/steering, and AM/FM radio, it wasn't unusual for the GT to top $3,500.

A Cyclone GT convertible was chosen to pace the 1966 Indianapolis 500. Perhaps due to pace-car publicity, Mercury sold twice as many Cyclone GTs as standard Cyclones that year -- 13,812 GT hardtops and 2,158 GT convertibles versus 6,889 Cyclone hardtops and 1,305 Cyclone ragtops.

Comet station wagons, meanwhile, were not especially hot sellers; fewer found owners than did Cyclone GTs. Both wagons boasted dual-action tailgates, a new feature also found on Fairlanes and full-sized Fords and Mercurys. The two-way tailgate was standard on Villagers, but cost extra on Voyagers. The Voyager had plain body-sides, while the Villager came with "walnut" Di-Noc side and tailgate panels.

Both wagons stood on a 113-inch wheel-base (as opposed to 116 for other body styles) and, with the second seatbacks folded, had 109.5 inches of load length. Cargo capacity was 85.2 cubic feet plus an additional 8.5 cubic feet beneath the rear deck. Both wagons offered all-vinyl interiors plus optional rear-facing third seats with safety belts, roof racks, and electric rear windows.

On the next page, find out why the Mercury Comet featured stacked headlights but other cars in the family didn't.

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Mercury Comet Headlights

Why were there stacked headlights on the 1965 Ford and Mercury Comet, but not on the 1965 big Mercury or the Ford Fairlane? Motor Trend looked into the question at the time.

The most graphic explanation given to the magazine came from Bill Shenk, a designer who worked in the Comet styling studio back in the Sixties. In 1997, Bill created a little booklet explaining that the stacked-headlight theme had originated in 1962-1963 in the Mercury studio.

Ford Motor Company president Lee Iacocca and corporate sales manager Don Petersen had come into the studio one day, fell in love with the stacked look, and asked Gene Bordinat, the company's design vice president, to put them on the 1965 Ford. Before that, Ford had been working on adapting European-style rectangular headlamps to the 1965 Ford, but the company was having trouble getting them legalized.

1967 Mercury Comet Cyclone
There are several stories as to why the Cyclone
had stacked headlights.

After Iacocca mandated that the Ford switch to stacked headlights, continued Shenk, the challenge became to make the 1965 Ford and Mercury look different. Bordinat insisted that Mercury use side-by-side quad headlamps with a conventional grille. The 1965 Comet front fenders, though, had already been tooled for stacked headlights, so it went through that way.

A. B. (Buzz) Grisinger, who'd been Lincoln-Mercury's design director during the decade, validated the story. Grisinger, still sharp in his 90s, confirmed that Mercury had indeed been working on a 1965 model with stacked headlamps. But he added that everyone -- not just in Dearborn, but throughout the industry -- was doing concept studies with vertical headlights at that time. He remembered that one day Bordinat came over and asked for an alternate theme so that the 1965 Mercury wouldn't look like the 1965 Ford.

The Ford Division side came from Joe Oros, who'd been Ford's styling director in those days. Oros's story differed from Shenk's. He said that the 1965 Ford's stacked headlights originated in a Ford studio -- not at Mercury -- and according to notes he'd saved from that era, work started on the 1965 Ford's stacked headlights in January 1962. The date answered another question: Were Ford's vertical headlamps inspired by the 1963 Pontiac Grand Prix? Apparently not, unless Ford designers had somehow gotten a sneak peek at a preproduction Pontiac.

Former Ford design manager Gale Halderman corroborated the story. Mr. Halderman, too, felt that the stacked headlights had originated at Ford rather than in a Mercury studio. He recalled that the 1965 program had so many things going simultaneously -- among them the Mustang and the Galaxie -- that tooling costs were critical.

Bordinat, Halderman explained, was a genius at keeping tooling costs down, and the creased, squarish 1965 Ford front fender was designed specifically to minimize tooling expenses. Ford used a shallow stamping die and then bent each fender along its horizontal crease, so there was an economic reason to put stacked headlamps on the 1965 Ford, that being the volume line.

Halderman recalled that the 1965 big Ford program was not a rush job, and he had no recollection of Iacocca or Petersen insisting that Ford use a theme developed by Mercury. It's most likely, he said, that Ford and Mercury were pursuing the same theme at the same time and, confirming Grisinger's statement, Mercury's version was discouraged by Bordinat in order to keep Ford and Mercury visually different.

Vertical headlights became something of a Sixties fad. Once established on the 1965 Comet, they stuck around for the next two model years. Ford's related intermediate Fairlane also adopted them in 1966-1967, and aside from the aforementioned Pontiac and full-size Ford, various Cadillac, Buick, Plymouth, and AMC models also sported stacked lights prior to 1969.

On the next page, learn about the Mercury Comet's performance.

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1966 Mercury Comet Performance

Car Life magazine tested a 1966 Mercury Cyclone GT's performance but didn't think much of it. Car Life pointed out not only the car's 56.4/43.6 weight distribution, but also its barely adequate Goodyear Power Cushion tires; marginal drum brakes; and slow, overboosted steering as knocks against the 1966 Mercury Comet performance.

The magazine pronounced the GT's handling mediocre. Nor was Car Life impressed with the 390-cubic-inch engine, saying, "...the 390/4-barrel has never been much of a top-end performer. It develops plenty of usable torque in the lower reaches, and it pumps up more than enough horsepower for its nominal purpose. But, as a performer, it just doesn't deliver."

1967 Mercury Comet Cyclone GT
The 390 V-8 in GTs made 335 horsepower, but
Car Life magazine was unimpressed.

What was the 390's problem? "Engine-men point mainly to the cylinder heads," continued the Car Life tester. "Restrictive valve passages hinder the engine's 'breathing,' and hydraulic lifters limit attainable rpm. Maximum engine speed seems to be approximately 5,000 rpm, even with an 'open' exhaust system, because of the pumping up of the hydraulic lifters."

Car Life put the Cyclone GT's top speed at 120 mph with automatic and a 3.25:1 rear axle ratio, and the quarter mile came up in 15.2 seconds at 90 mph. Zero-to-60 mph acceleration was better: 6.6 seconds. This reinforced the point that the 390 delivered its strongest torque at the bottom of the rev range.

The Comet lineup didn't change much for the 1967 model year, but Lincoln-Mercury management did. In 1964, Ben D. Mills got bumped up to corporate vice president of purchasing, and his former assistant general manager, Paul F. Lorenz, became Lincoln-Mercury general manager. Then in 1966, Gar Laux, who'd been Ford Division's general sales manager under Lee Iacocca, replaced Lorenz. So Lorenz oversaw the 1966 selling season, while 1967 came under Laux's jurisdiction.

Mercury might have found itself on a downward slide in the mid Sixties had it not been for the arrival of the Cougar. Looking back, 1967 sales of big Mercurys totaled not quite 123,000 cars, a 29 percent drop from the 173,000 in 1966 and 32.5 percent below the 1965 mark of 182,000. Beginning in 1965, full-sized cars reasserted themselves as the best-selling Mercurys. Comets stayed close, but here again things didn't look promising.

Demand for Comets in model-year 1966 came to a healthy 170,000, but that fell to 81,000 in 1967. Labor problems took a toll on all automakers that year, but the introduction of the Cougar also took sales away from the Comet. Mercury made almost 151,000 Cougars in 1967; the new sports coupe led the way to a record sales year, but there's little doubt that it lured some customers away from upmarket Comets.

On the next page, find out more about the 1966 Mercury Comet's successor in 1967.

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1967 Mercury Comet

For the 1967 Mercury Comet, L-M management decided to abandon "durability" as a marketing theme and began calling it "The Man's Car." A dealer brochure that year proclaimed, "The man who loves the excitement of high performance will just naturally take to the Cyclone two-door hardtop or convertible. Man-powered with the Cyclone 289 V-8 ... this is the Man's Car with a heritage of performance. Mercury Cyclone -- for men who like their action big." And so it went.

1967 Mercury Comet Cyclone GT
In 1967, the Cyclone GT hardtop began
at $3,034, a $143 increase.

The Man's Car campaign might have been a deliberate slap at the women's movement, which was just then starting to get national recognition. "Women's lib" was viewed by the establishment as a fringe activity, as were the rising protests against U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The burners of bras and draft cards brought out emotions in everyone during that era.

By calling Mercury the Man's Car, Madison Avenue was giving the public a wink and a nudge and the message that in these rocky times, one solid institution was the Mercury automobile. What this campaign did for Comet sales to women can only be imagined.

The division also began backing away from the Comet name for its line of intermediates. Only the 202 sedans and Voyager wagon were still actively promoted as Comets; the others were advertised solely by their series names. Shared styling and furnishings kept the family bonds intact, of course. A full-width, single-element grille replaced the narrower two-section ensemble used in 1966. On coupes and sedans, vertical taillights ousted horizontal lamps and a slightly revised rear bumper added a half inch to overall length.

The basic 200-cubic-inch six and 289-cubic-inch V-8 remained unchanged. The two-barrel-carbureted 390s of 1966 were now consolidated in a single 270-horsepower version available with manual or automatic transmission. The Sport Shift autobox was renamed Select-Shift Merc-O-Matic and became the lone automatic trans.

Also, at the top end of the 1967 Comet line, the optional Cyclone GT Performance Group now started with a detuned version of the four-barrel 390. This engine delivered 320 horsepower instead of the previous 335 (though listed torque and compression figures were unaltered).

The most radical difference between 1966 and 1967 Comets was that two 427-cubic-inch V-8s joined the 1967 lineup -- or at least came out of hiding. At the bottom of the Comet power teams chart in the 1966 sales brochure, an obscure note indicated "An optional high-performance 427 CID engine will be available on special order after January 1, 1966." (The same engines were offered in the Fairlane, but installations in Ford Motor Company intermediates were exceedingly rare.) The following year, however, the 427s were openly listed in the Mercury catalog.

The "Cyclone 427" delivered 410 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 476 pound-feet of torque at 3,400 rpm; the "Cyclone 427 Super" was rated at 425 bhp at 6,000 rpm and 480 pound-feet at 3700 rpm. The former ran one four-barrel carb and the latter came with two four-barrels. Both were solid-lifter engines with six-quart oil pans and 11.1:1 compression ratio. The 427s, either of which added $1,129 to the tab for a V-8 Mercury intermediate, came only with four-speed gearboxes. But here's the kicker: They were available in any closed 1967 Comet two-door model (except the GT hardtop) -- yes, even the bobtailed sub-3,000-pound 202 sedan.

The 427 V-8 had the same 352-cubic-inch Y-block ancestor as the 390, but unlike the 390, the 427 was engineered strictly for all-out drag racing. All 427 castings and internal parts were heavier duty than the 390's, including pistons, rods, the forged-steel crankshaft, and the cross-bolted main-bearing caps. Even with their somewhat higher profile, a relative handful of 427s were ordered in 1967 Comets.

Of lesser interest, the 1967 Caliente four-door sedan became available with a Grande interior, with knitted nylon upholstery fashioned in a diamond pattern. It was a $105 option. An eight-track Stereo-Sonic tape player was new to the options list, as were power front disc brakes. Among the style and convenience extras carried over from 1966 were a vinyl roof, in-dash Whisper-Aire air conditioning, and a remote decklid release.

For 1968, the Montego and Cyclone nameplates replaced most of the Comet line, but that's an entirely different story. The 1966 model, and especially the 1967, marked the peak of the Comet line.

On the next page, find listings of models, prices, and production of the 1966-1967 Mercury Comet.

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1966-1967 Mercury Comet Models, Prices, Production

The Mercury Comet hit its stride in 1966-1967, taking a step up in size and performance. Here are 1966-1967 Mercury Comet specifications, covering the model's heyday:

1967 Mercury Comet Cyclone GT
This 1967 Cyclone with GT equipment headed
the Comet roster, as it did in 1966.

1966 Mercury Comet 202 Models, Prices, Production

(wheelbase 116 inches)
2-door sedan
4-door sedan
Total 202


1966 Mercury Comet Capri Models, Prices, Production

(wheelbase 116 inches)

4-door sedan
hardtop coupe
Total Capri


1966 Mercury Comet Caliente Models, Prices, Production

Caliente (wheelbase 116 inches) Weight
4-door sedan
hardtop coupe
convertible coupe
Total Caliente


1966 Mercury Comet Cyclone Models, Prices, Production

Cyclone (wheelbase 116 inches)
hardtop coupe
GT hardtop coupe
convertible coupe
GT convertible coupe
Total Cyclone


1966 Mercury Comet Station Wagon Models, Prices, Production

station wagon (wheelbase 113 inches)
Weight Price Production
Voyager 4-door
Villager 4-door 3,319 2,790 3,880
Total station

Total 1966 Comet


1967 Mercury Comet 202 Models, Prices, Production

202 (wheelbase 116 inches) Weight
2-door sedan
4-door sedan
Total 202


1967 Mercury Comet Capri Models, Prices, Production

(wheelbase 116 inches)

4-door sedan
hardtop coupe
Total Capri


1967 Mercury Comet Caliente Models, Prices, Production

Caliente (wheelbase 116 inches)
4-door sedan
hardtop coupe
convertible coupe
Total Caliente


1967 Mercury Comet Cyclone Models, Prices, Production

Cyclone (wheelbase 116 inches)
hardtop coupe
GT hardtop coupe
convertible coupe
GT convertible coupe
Total Cyclone


1967 Mercury Comet Station Wagon Models, Prices, Production

station wagon (wheelbase 113 inches)
Voyager 4-door
Villager 4-door
Total station wagon

Total 1967 Comet


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