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.
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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