The muscle car war of the 60s brought a lot of new players on the field. Detroit’s big 3 was in full gear alongside the smaller competition, the AMC. During its day, drag strips were the test of potential, so straight line acceleration has been every American maker’s goal. Roadrunners and Darts, Torinos and Chevelles as well as later pony cars, Mustangs, Camaros, Challengers, and Javelins to name a few have dominated the market. It was an era when gas was so cheap and everyone was so hungry for horsepower, that factory-built cars with biggest engine displacement possible can easily be bought in any showroom. Smaller displacement cars were almost the exception rather than the rule. And when quarter mile time is the only thing that matters, everyone cared less about cornering and handling. It was the American muscle car’s heyday that no one thought would abruptly die in just a few short years.
The oil embargo in 1973 left the U.S. government no choice but to step in to essentially kill the muscle car. Gasoline now has to be rationed and so all of a sudden, saving gas was the slogan and fuel economy was the new norm. Factories started toning down their engines compromising significant horsepower all in the name of better gas mileage. It was in these next few years that American cars whose heart beats nothing but horsepower and straight-line acceleration had been crippled significantly. Without the straight-line power it use to have couple that with their natural poor cornering abilities, the American car is now lost in a market full of fuel efficient foreign cars that can better handle the turns.
Mercury Comet was among the casualties of the oil embargo. It first came out in 1962 as Mercury’s version of its parent company Ford’s Falcon. From 1971 to 1977, the fifth generation Comet became Mercury’s version of Ford Maverick but with a distinct grill, tail lights and hood. Adding insult to injury, in 1974, with the insurance dictated bumper-act, the Comet has been equipped with the extended significantly heavier 5 MPH bumpers.
CJ Panila’s 1974 Mercury Comet started life in the U.S. being owned by an American serviceman. The car was eventually brought to Pampanga when then owner was assigned to the Philippines. This car was once equipped with its stock Ford 250ci inline 6. The car was eventually acquired by the late Joey Del Rosario, a classic car aficionado who meticulously restored the car in 2007. When the time came for him to pass the car on, he made sure the car goes to another classic car enthusiast. The Mercury was then purchased by its current owner CJ.
Like any other American car of its era, the Mercury Comet suffers from a not-so-impressive cornering ability. That’s when CJ decided that the Mercury needs a makeover. If one can completely redo the entire suspension assembly of this American car and transplant a new one from a Japanese car make that can corner, then you can get the best of both worlds – a muscle car that can handle. With scarcity of upgraded Mercury parts available, the Mercury Comet suspension was instead replaced with an A31 Nissan Cefiro multi-link beam suspension. To take advantage of the now improved handling abilities, this Mercury now sits on staggered 17×8 front and 17×9 rear wrapped with 205/45/R17 front and 215/50/R17 rear rubbers.
To complete the A31 theme, the aging and anemic 250ci inline 6 Ford motor was replaced by a ported and polished 2.4 L RB24S SOHC inline 6 from a donor 1989 Nissan Cefiro with an RB25 block, an RB20 crank and a 34 mm height pistons with a Weber double-barrel carburetor. The car also has a 5-speed manual gearbox. To make the motor look as subtle as possible, it was painted in Ford’s blue color scheme, not really to hide what’s in there but to put some touch of originality, pointing out to the Mercury’s roots. It is a Mercury but as CJ puts it, it’s a Nissan Cefiro hiding beneath a Comet body.
Although this kind of build may be frowned about by purists and hot rodders alike, improving a car’s performance has always been the heart of any car modifications. And when old American cars are being stereotyped as straightliners that cannot corner, alteration may be a necessity for an upgrade. When the object is not just to make the car go fast, but be able to comfortably handle the curves, it doesn’t make it less different from any other hot rod builds. Just an odd way of doing it. As CJ’s engine decal states: this Mercury is “Powered by Madness”.
Today, the car is CJ’s weekend cruiser. If you happen be in Iloilo City, keep an eye on this cool old Mercury. I’m sure it would be an easy catch, and the stand-out-from-the-rest bright green paint job will surely something you would never miss.
Happy Lumang Oto Motoring