1960 Comet

It's somewhat ironic to be writing about a milestone Mercury vehicle within days of Ford's announcement that the Mercury line would be phased out. It's very like what happened in 1960 when Ford decided the Lincoln-Edsel-Mercury Division would be slimmed to the Lincoln-Mercury Division and there would only be one survivor of the change, the Mercury Comet. It was to be an icon vehicle for Ford.

It is true that Edsel was largely responsible for its own demise. HHII (Henry Ford II) tried to keep his uncle's name and line alive at the automaker but in the end, you had to have two things to keep a car alive, an customer base and quality. Edsel had neither by 1960, although it did have the Comet on the drawing board and it was to survive.

The reason the Comet survived was simply because Lincoln-Mercury needed something to compete with the influx of imports that was starting to clobber the domestic industry. No, they weren't at all innovative and, in some cases, they were downright dangerous (the three-wheeled Messerchmidt comes to mind with its single front door and three seats), but they were easy on the pocketbook and on the wallet at the gas pump.

Lincoln-Mercury knew it needed a competitor – Ford had already chosen to go with the Falcon – and so did its dealers who clamored for a unique model. So L/M took the one viable vehicle left in the Edsel lineup, the Comet.

That there was a Comet at all was the result of the work of Ben Milles, who was given the unenviable task of reviving the fortunes of a flagging Lincoln-Mercury. Legend goes that when he was asked to take over he did it with one condition – if he failed to turn things around by 1963 he would be shown the gate and that he be given a free hand. That's why Lincoln-Mercury dealers did get their own version of a subcompact import fighter.

It was to be available in just four models two- and four-door sedans and two-and four-door wagons and the engine was to be the cast-iron Falcon inline 138-cubic-inch, 90 horsepower six with a single barrel carb. The frame used many unitized construction techniques, although it did retrain a recirculating ball steering system and recirculating ball and coil-over-shock suspension.

The 109-inch wheelbase Comet's lines were classic. The hood was square and as light as possible. The quad headlights were fared into the concave chromed grille and the hood lip established a line that was carried through the fenders and doors right through the rear quarters and sail panels. The actual beltline was low but the upper line's curve made it seem as if there were two beltlines in the Comet.

Not a drag racer, the early Comets drank oil voraciously – something dealers tried to pass off as "normal" – but it was reliable and it sold more than 116,000 in its first year, so Mercury was doing something right.