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.
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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