By 1964, the Viet Nam conflict was clearly escalating. In July two U.S. Navy destroyers were ambushed by North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. In retrospect history now questions the seriousness of the apparent provocation, but President Lyndon Johnson used it as justification for a Declaration of War against North Viet Nam. By the following year the United States was deeply involved in combat operations with the Communist North.
President Johnson had struck the Warren Commission in late 1963 to investigate the circumstances of his predecessor’s assassination.
In September the tribunal reported Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in causing President Kennedy’s death.
In October, 1964 a palace coup organized by Leonid Brezhnev instigated the overthrow and forced retirement of Nikita Khrushchev from his posts as First Secretary and Premier of the U.S.S.R.
As time progressed the old warrior’s humiliations mounted as seems to have been the eventual norm for those who had risen to prominence in the Soviet Union. Barely two years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, both major protagonists were gone. Khrushchev died in 1971, denied any kind of honors or recognition.
President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law in July, making any kind of racial discrimination or segregation illegal. Of course, just because bigotry was outlawed, it did not end and sadly continues in various forms today. Race riots erupted across the U.S.A. likely as manifestations of impatience with the rate of progress of social change. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in trying to end discrimination nonviolently.
Although the Beatles had been touring and recording in Europe during 1963, release of their music in North America had inexplicably been actively suppressed. By Christmas, 1963 pressure from fans had reached the point where the Beatles phenomenon could no longer be ignored and several songs were rushed into release.
In February, 1964 the Beatles arrived in New York City to a tumultuous welcome from adoring fans. After twice appearing on the iconic “Ed Sullivan Show” and doing a few live concerts, Beatlemania was well and truly entrenched and the music landscape was forever changed. No more soft, gentle ballads celebrating innocent teen-age love and heartache – it was all raucous excess with funny haircuts and youthful rebellion. Critics rhapsodized about joyful intricate melodies replete with golden, heartwarming jubilance. It was either that or lose all credibility.
By April, 1964, the Beatles owned twelve positions on the Billboard Hot 100 including the top five. Movie deals were in the works and when released resembled nothing more than Pythonesque silliness, yet they were hailed as artistic works of surpassing talent and insight.
During the long years of arduous toil in Hamburg’s seedy clubs and dens of questionable repute, the Beatles-in-Waiting had experimented with diet pills to cope with the brutal work schedule to which they were subject. In mid-1964 they were introduced to folk singer Bob Dylan, who acquainted them with the felicitous gratification to be derived from Cannabis. Bob Dylan was becoming a major counter-culture figure, instrumental in fomenting dissatisfaction with the supposed degeneracy of American society. In 1964 Dylan and the Beatles appealed to completely different demographics. Dylan fans tended to be college types sporting tweed jackets, smoking pipes and driving Volvos. Early Beatles devotees could most politely be described as bubble-gummers. As it turned out, Dylan had a profound influence on the Beatles, especially John Lennon, who began to imitate Dylan’s style and even his voice mannerisms.
Personally, I was not a Beatles fan. I mourned the departure of Rhythm ‘n’ Blues based rock (Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Drifters, Sam Cooke, Dinah Washington and many others), of which the Beatles left not a vestige. Their tunes were catchy ditties but devoid of personality and although hailed as musical genius, lacking in technical merit. Nonetheless they held down four of Billboard’s top 10 tunes for 1964. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was the year’s #1 song and “Can’t Buy Me Love” was #2. Other British artists started to make an appearance in 1964. I think the best of the bunch were the Animals whose “House of the Rising Sun” took #7.
The Animals were everything the Beatles weren’t in terms of musical virtuosity. Manfred Mann offered “Doh Wah Diddy Diddy” and Peter & Gordon hit the charts with “World Without Love”.
Surf music managed a few final twitches before departing. Beach Boys’ “I Get Around” ended 1964 at #10 and “Little Old Lady from Pasadena” made it to #40. Motown’s Supremes got their big break in the Spring of 1964 with the release of “Baby Love” which went on to capture the #3 spot; they placed two more songs in the top 15. Johnny Rivers’ covers of Chuck Berry’s hits “Memphis” and “Maybelline” are legitimate rock classics.
The magnificent Four Seasons released eight pieces in 1964 led by “Rag Doll”, “Dawn”, “Save It for Me” and “Ronnie”.
Although members of the British Invasion, the Rolling Stones top entry for the year was “Time Is on My Side” peaking at #6 in October. Three earlier releases in 1964 are quite forgettable, but the group has gone on to become the most durable from the era. Another British troupe, the Dave Clark Five, charted eight songs in 1964, easily showing up the Stones, but by 1967 they were history.
Elvis had gone off to do movies; his most popular song in 1964 was “Kissin’ Cousins” from the film of the same name. Ann Margret was normally the most redeeming feature of any Elvis movie and she appeared in 1964’s “Viva Las Vegas”.
1964 was a big year for Ford in a couple of ways. First and most importantly, Mustang was introduced; second a beautiful new Thunderbird was unveiled and last it was Mercury’s 25th anniversary.
As well, Meteor was finally and mercifully dropped from the line-up, and a few old friends reappeared. Montclair, Park Lane and Commuter returned although S-55 took a temporary hiatus. A total of 18 full-size Mercurys were available in 1964 versus 1963’s 13. In 1964 entry-level Monterey offered Breezeway 2 & 4-door sedans, 2-door hardtop and a Convertible. Montclair tended the mid-range, (replacing 1963’s Monterey Custom) and could be ordered as a Breezeway 2-door hardtop or 4-door sedan, while the premium Breezeway Park Lane (replacing S-55) could be decked out as a 2 or 4-door hardtop, 4-door sedan or Convertible. Six Marauders were available – 2 & 4-door hardtops in each of the Monterey, Montclair and Park Lane lines. This was the first time 4-door hardtops were available in the Marauder line. The renewed Commuter Station Wagon arrived done up in Monterey finery while Colony Park wore Montclair trim. Although not explicitly stated it is worthy of note that Mercury was now fully committed to the mid-market, and had abandoned its earlier economy persona.
Mercury’s 1964 offerings were obvious clones of the 1963 cars, although one has to note the later year’s models were considerably more stylish. Changes from 1963 required a minimum of capital investment and several improvements had already originated with Ford. The 1964 front and rear grille treatments are particularly tasteful, especially in comparison to the prior year. Models were easily differentiated by chrome trim on the flanks. All series displayed their respective name on the side near the back; Park Lane includes a small rectangular emblem containing three stylized stars following the name. Monterey as well had three stacked “hash” decorations on each front fender between the door and the wheel well, as well as a bright molding running above the rocker panel between the wheel wells. This molding continued as a character line over the rear wheel well and extended along the quarter panel to the rear bumper. Montclair as well displays the three hash marks, but the bright molding is placed higher along the side and widens considerably as it passes across the top of the rear wheel well towards the rear bumper. Montclair presents a character crease just above the rocker panel where Monterey’s stainless strip would have been placed. Park Lane dispenses with the hash decorations altogether, replacing them with a small shield emblem in which “Park Lane” is written in script. Park Lane’s wheel wells are outlined with a thin stainless molding incorporated into a wide, ridged bright band running from front to rear at bumper height; valleys between ridges are flat black. As well, Park Lane had a hood ornament specially designed to commemorate the marque’s 25th anniversary; it comprised a vertical rectangle with the 1960 style Mercury head at the top and the three stylized stars descending below it, all on a red background. The same emblem is mirrored on the trunk lid above the key aperture. All Marauders display the “Marauder” emblem and checkered flag at the foremost point of the front fender.
The bullet shaped front-end is most pronounced in a side view. Vertical grille bars are alternating thick and thin; the centre of the thicker bars is blacked out to add visual interest, while the thinner bars are blacked out where their ends meet the overall surrounding frame so they appear to be floating. Each set of dual headlights is located at the ends of the grille and are separated by a single thicker bar. The outboard ends of the bumper form the lower half of the projectile shaped front end, while the rest of the bumper comes to a very shallow point at its middle with parking/signal lights at each end. The front-end look continues to feature the heavy brow introduced in 1963.
A mild fin begins with the top half of the front-end rocket shape and continues the length of the car, topped by a stainless molding the entire distance. The space between the trunk lid’s trailing edge and the rear bumper is filled with a horizontally-themed rear “grille” created by blacking out sections to make the panel appear to have an elongated egg crate motif. Three oblong shaped taillights locate on each end of the “grille”, with the interior ones being back-up lights. The gas filler neck is located behind a flip-down door in the grille’s centre.
The hood has two widely spaced creases resembling a shallow power bulge, while “MERCURY” appears in script on the right sides of the hood and trunk lid (or tailgate).
The Breezeway roofline had been introduced in 1963 and continues with eight hardtop and sedan body-styles, across the spectrum of full-size models. The Breezeway of course is a fully reverse-slanted rear windshield housed in an inverted semi-triangular shaped C-pillar. The centre two-thirds of the window can be lowered with power assist to produce an invigorating flow-through fresh air experience when the side window(s) are also down. A further side benefit of the Breezeway design was rear back-lite protection from the weather. The bottom portion of the C-pillar slanted forward and was encased in a horizontally ribbed bright decorative sheath along with a chrome spear extending rearward where it meets the body. Front and rear windshields are framed all around in stainless, including for Marauder where the roof joins the body, as well as drip rails on hardtops and Park Lanes.
Full-size 1964 Mercury Station Wagons are immediately recognizable – Commuter is decked out in Monterey exterior trim, while Colony Park wears unique livery including faux mahogany side paneling framed by imitation maple fiberglass rails. The senior wagon did without any further stainless side ornamentation. From about 1959 to 1969, FoMoCo was very fond of the rear “grille” as a styling device, often mirroring the real front grille. The rear grille was located between the trunk lid’s trailing edge and the bumper. While 1964 Mercury certainly employed a rear grille it didn’t particularly echo the one at front, but looked attractive anyway and is described elsewhere in this article. Both station wagons displayed these grilles below their tailgates, while a single flattened oval taillight sat at each outboard end. These taillights looked like larger versions of the ones on the regular full-size Mercurys, and each had a back-up light in its centre. The Station Wagon superstructure is a rather boxy sedan style with each of the pillars, window frames (except for sills), and drip rails chromed for an imitation hardtop look.
Commuter buyers had the extra-cost option of adding a third row of seating to accommodate a total of 9 passengers, while the extra seat was standard on Colony Park. Both were offered as four doors only. Wagons boasted 99 cubic feet of cargo space on a deck of over 10 feet. Tailgates are counter-balanced for ease of operation.
Park Lane offered a sumptuous interior although the series was now designed to compete with Pontiac Bonneville rather than Buick Limited (1958) or Olds 98 (1959-60) as it had in previous incarnations. Seats highlighted crush grain vinyl bolsters with biscuit patterned nylon inserts or all-vinyl in the same design. Interior door panels mirrored the biscuit design layout in vinyl with a faux-walnut grain rectangular panel in each door featuring a nameplate with “PARK LANE” in stainless script and a bolt-on armrest. All-vinyl seats could have inserts in complementary or identical colors to the bolsters. A special “Sports Package” was available only on Park Lane and headlined bucket seats, console and a floor mounted shifter, (this package was the true descendant of the legendary S-55). Luxurious carpeting was cut-pile, dash and sun visors were padded, a vanity mirror was strategically placed on the passenger’s sun visor, and courtesy/warning lights were located near the bottom of the door panel. An integral air conditioning system was new this year.
Colony Park & Montclair cabins are trimmed in a pleasant arrangement of pleated/biscuit patterned honeycomb cloth and vinyl (in Colony Park this option comes only in beige), or all-vinyl. Bench seats are protected by brightwork shields on their ends. Montclair & Colony Park offered the same vinyl covered and chrome garnished bolt-on armrests as Park Lane.
Monterey & Commuter interiors are nice but definitely a step below Montclair; pleated and other designs are imprinted onto the vinyl rather than stitched. In Monterey you still have a choice between vinyl bolsters & cloth inserts or all vinyl, but color alternatives are more limited. Commuter availability is all vinyl only. Chrome moldings highlighting door panels and armrests are more muted in style.
Dash and instrument panel are very similar to those of the previous year. A needle sweeps across an inset, horizontally oriented speedometer face, occupying the top half of the instrument cluster. Four individual gauges are contained in individual hooded circular pods below the speedometer, and again are arranged horizontally. These cover the usual functions: fuel, oil pressure, engine temperature and alternator. Instrument faces are black this year versus silver in 1963. Below the gauges we find a wide horizontally ribbed chrome strip running the length of the dash, and housing various controls like lights, wiper, vents, and ignition. Still in this strip but farther right in order are heater controls, radio, clock and glove box. Between this band and the padded dash is a narrow flat black decorative belt in which MERCURY is spelled out in block capitals. A long oblong chrome frame encloses this whole layout. Finishing off the bottom is a complementary colored painted metal panel running the width of the dash and housing the front ash tray.
This year, Mercury continued the commitment to improving its performance profile begun in 1963. Standard engine in Monterey, Montclair, Commuter & Colony Park was the 390 cid 2 bbl carburetor Marauder V8 of 250 horsepower. If the buyer chose Multi-Drive automatic for their Montclair or Colony Park, the standard 390 cid engine could be upped to 266 horsepower. The Super Marauder V8 making 300 horsepower was created with the addition of a 4-bbl carburetor and increased compression. It was Base in the Park Lane and optional in all other models. The Marauder Police Interceptor was a 390 cid 4-bbl putting out 330 horsepower and intended for Police use, (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), but could be optionally ordered for all series. Lastly we have the pair of 427 cid engines equipped with either a 4-bbl, producing 410 horsepower or a 2×4-bbl set-up of 425 horsepower. These tire-shredders were optional on all models except the station wagons. A three-speed manual transmission was standard for all engines except the 266 hp 390 cid where the automatic is a mandatory pre-condition, and the 427 cid. A 4-speed manual was offered with all engines, again with the 266 hp power plant excepted, and was mandatory with either 427. Finally, the Multi-Drive automatic transmission was standard on the 266 hp engine and optional on all others except the 427 cid pavement pounders.
Mercury anticipated the 1964 NASCAR and USAC racing season with expectations of some serious glory. The streamlined Marauder roof-line had already proved its value and the 427 engines prepared by Bill Stroppe were ready for action. Mercury had a stable of seasoned successful drivers, and it looked like all systems were go. Unfortunately a plague of gremlins struck and a myriad of mechanical problems kept Mercury out of contention on several occasions. No sooner had these been remedied than driver Joe Weatherly lost control of his Mercury at Riverside and died from injuries sustained in the crash. Mercury eventually won 8 races that year, but Weatherly’s death apparently persuaded the marque to quietly withdraw from oval track racing.
A very interesting historical footnote relates to a 1964 Park Lane convertible which entered and finished the 2013 running of the grueling Peking to Paris Motor Challenge Rally. First held in 1907, the present-day route takes a field of vintage cars on a 33 day, 7,610 mile journey across some of the most inhospitable terrain imaginable, covering Mongolia, Russia, Europe and ending in Paris. To say a 1964 Mercury is an oddity on this sort of excursion is an understatement. Although driven by a pair of Swedes, the 49-year old boulevard cruiser was awarded a bronze medal which I would take to be a testament to American engineering.
Sadly, the sales performance of 1964’s full-size Mercury failed to better 1963’s effort. A total of 110,342 big Mercurys went out dealership doors, versus 121,048 for 1963. With Meteor’s merciful discontinuation, Comet was called upon to pick up the slack, and did so in spades! Meteor sold 50,775 units in 1963 while Comet sales were 134,623 cars. In 1964 Comet managed to move 189,936 vehicles.
Comet for 1964 underwent a complete personality change – its first stylistic overhaul since the make’s 1960 inception. Having said that, both Comet cars and station wagons rode on the same wheelbase as previously – 114 and 109.5 inches respectively, although the cars were 0.3 inches longer.
An effort was made to give the cars of Lincoln-Mercury some common styling themes to emphasize their mutual pedigree and allow the lesser marques to enjoy some of the senior family members’ reflected glory and (presumably) positive reputation. The tribal relationship between Comet and Mercury was alas, not obvious, however the similarity to Lincoln Continental was indisputable. Both shared a virtually identical egg-crate style grille and contiguous headlight placement within the grille. A thin stainless surround encloses the entire grille layout.
Comet assumed a “boxier” aspect, although a series of character lines viewed from the side, converge at the front, to give it an arrow-like attitude implying forward momentum even when standing still. A body-colored stainless bordered projectile decoration appears on the rear fenders and culminates in the taillights. COMET is spelled out within this cove. On more senior models this projectile is superimposed on a similarly shaped missile running the length of the car.
Front fenders are forward leaning, extend beyond the grille and above the hood, and are partially capped by a horizontally ribbed chrome ornament resembling a faux parking light; rear fenders retain vestigial fins and feature a character crease that makes them appear to lean back. A rear grille-like decorative panel appears between the deck lid and bumper, replicating the front grille’s egg-crate theme. The taillights complete the outboard ends of the rear grille and are of a rectangular shape within which are placed three round chrome framed bezels constituting the actual lamps. The middle bezel contains the back-up light if the car is so equipped. Station wagons have two taillights a side.
Comet’s trunk lid sports a “1960-style Mercury head” medallion at the trailing edge centre, and COMET in script at the right side of both hood and deck lid. All sedan C-Pillars are modest Galaxie-style representations.
1964 Comet offered a choice of 13 solid exterior colors and 19 extra cost two-tone combinations. The latter were not available for Caliente hardtop or convertible.
1964 Comet dash was a clear break from tradition, but owed much to the previous year’s Meteor without all the fiddly filigree. The speedometer is a sweeping needle type on a black background, flanked by two pairs of circular gauges indicating respectively fuel, oil pressure, engine temperature and alternator. A control knob is located beneath each gauge for lights, wipers, ignition and cigarette lighter. A push button radio inhabits the centre of the dash and the glove box is off farther to the right. The dash is laid out on a horizontally ribbed chrome panel; in Caliente the lower half is walnut applique and the upper is brushed aluminum. COMET is spelled out in block capitals on the glove compartment door.
Comet expanded its model line-up in 1964 to appeal to a broader range of buyers – those who would have been attracted by the qualities of the now defunct Meteor, the customer for whom economy was paramount, those who liked the idea of a luxury compact and finally clients who were looking for a performance machine. Comet had already saved the Mercury brand once and it looked like it was going to do so again.
Entry level Comet 202 was the bread-and-butter line appealing to the economy-minded consumer, although advertising boasted of many premium features designed to convince the public of its upscale provenance. The 202 was 1964 Comet’s sales leader with a total of 68,475 cars marketed for the year.
Comet 202 was available as a 2 or 4-door sedan, or a 4-door, 6-passenger station wagon; most popular and cheapest 202 was the 2-door sedan, selling 33,284 cars at $2,126. The price-leading 202 exhibited a small plate behind the front wheel well announcing its identity as “202”. This series also had only the smaller body-colored rear fender projectile decoration. Three small faux portholes are located on the front fenders, above and slightly behind the front wheel wells, and drip rails are stainless. The 202’s interior offered vertically pleated door panels and domino cloth upholstery with vinyl highlights and bolsters, in blue, beige or black, (turquoise and silver added at mid-year).
Self-described as a mid-level offering, Comet 404 replaced 1963’s Custom and was one step up the prestige ladder from the 202. Body styles available were 2 and 4-door sedans, 4-door station wagon and 4-door Villager station wagon. Externally, the smaller rear-fender projectile is white while the larger body-length cove outlined in stainless, is painted body color. The C-Pillar is decorated with a series of forward-sloping bright diagonal hash marks. A small “404” plaque located behind the front wheel well confirms identity and drip railings are stainless. Interior color offerings, seating configuration and upholstery fabric choices are all expanded for the 404. Buyers could opt for either vinyl and “jet-stream” nylon cloth or all vinyl interiors in four complementary color selections for each fabric choice, and between front bench seats or individually adjustable bucket seats. Comet 404 with the bucket seat option sold only 763 cars making it the year’s scarcest.
Although a member of the mid-range line-up, the Villager was Comet’s flagship station wagon, costing $184 more than a similarly equipped 404 wagon. For the extra outlay about all you got was imitation exterior mahogany paneling framed by fiberglass rails in a faux maple motif, “VILLAGER” script on the front fenders instead of “404”, 202 style portholes and body color rear fender coves. Wood paneling appears where the larger projectile would have been.
Not surprisingly, the year’s most popular wagon was the 404 with 6,918 sold versus 1,980 Villagers, (interior trim was the same for both). At 78.5 cu. ft., this year’s wagon cargo capacity was marginally greater than 1963. Quarter panels and tailgate skins continued to be shared with Falcon.
The pinnacle of Comet sport luxury was the new for 1964 Caliente, which in Spanish translates as “hot”. Caliente’s rear fender spear-like cove was body color and included a tri-color emblem as well as COMET in block capitals, while the larger full body length projectile enclosure is brushed aluminum. Caliente could be ordered in two-door hardtop, four-door sedan and convertible body styles. The Caliente two-door hardtop was the second most popular Comet for 1964, producing 31,204 cars. Interiors were very plush as befits the image Caliente was attempting to project. Mosaic cloth inserts with vinyl bolsters in a biscuit and pleat design came in five tasteful shades. Alternatively, all vinyl upholstery was available, also in a biscuit/pleat pattern, in five color choices. Both options came with increased seat padding. As if all that wasn’t enough, a buyer could opt for bench seats or individually adjustable all-vinyl buckets. With Caliente bucket seats you also got a console, a padded dash, extra door-mounted courtesy lights and a locking glove box.
Caliente steering wheel is walnut grained and front door panels have a walnut applique decorative plaque as well as considerable stainless fretwork and gingerbread to add the finishing touches to an ambitious presentation.
Comet’s sole convertible in 1964 also appeared in the Caliente line-up, and could be ordered in one of two versions – bench seat or buckets seats and console – both were available as all-vinyl only.
General Motors elevated the status of Comet’s former rivals Pontiac Tempest, Oldsmobile F-85 and Buick Special, as well as debuting Chevelle, all as the new A-Body intermediates. This left Comet alone in the “senior compact” field.
On January 17, 1964 the much anticipated Comet Cyclone arrived apparently as a reaction to the introduction of the GTO. At the time it seemed everybody was trying to emulate Pontiac so it came as no big surprise the Cyclone was immediately dubbed the “Poor Man’s GTO”. The Cyclone was an excellent car not trying to masquerade as something it wasn’t, and so it’s unfortunate its reputation was immediately overshadowed by an unfair comparison. Both were in their introductory year, but a comparable GTO cost $305 more and was equipped with a 389 cid 4 bbl powerplant of 325 hp or with a 3×2 bbl setup on the same engine putting out 348 hp – quite a difference to the Cyclone’s 210 hp.
Cyclone was available as a two-door hardtop only, but came with a number of extra goodies to justify its $2,655 price tag. A black or white vinyl roof was standard as were several chrome engine compartment dress-up niceties. A unique wood-grain, three-spoke steering wheel complements the black vinyl dash trim and all-vinyl vertically pleated bucket seats and door panels in a selection of four colors. A map console was also included. Cyclone’s unique all-chrome wheel coverings look like reverse wheels with the bolts visible. Cyclone’s flanks retained the usual character lines and creases but were devoid of any other ornamentation except a Cyclone plaque behind the front wheel, COMET in block letters on the rear fenders and a very delicate stainless lip on the wheel well openings and rocker panels. The Cyclone could add a nasty looking twin Ram-Air hood scoop fibreglass hood to help with increased air flow and reduced weight.
Standard engine on all 1964 Comets except the Cyclone was the venerable 170 cid inline Six of 101 hp. Optional engines included a 200 cid inline Six rated at 116 hp, and the 2 bbl 260 cid small block Cyclone V-8, putting out 164 hp. When Cyclone appeared as a separate model it was teamed with the Cyclone Super 289 cid 4bbl V-8 delivering 210 hp, as its base engine. And all this from regular fuel! At the same time, Cyclone Super 289 became optionally available to all models.
Base transmission for all four engines was a three-speed synchromesh manual. The Merc-o-Matic two-speed automatic was available at extra cost on the 200 cid Six and 260 cid V-8. As well, the small V-8 could be ordered with Multi-Drive Merc-o-Matic (this was Ford’s all-new limited availability C4), or a 4-speed manual floor shift. Finally, the Cyclone Super 289 was delivered with either a three-speed manual transmission, Multi-Drive Merc-o-Matic or optionally, a 4-speed manual floor shift. Later in the year Comet Cyclone received availability of a 271 hp High Performance version of the Super Cyclone 289 engine, originally developed for Mustang.
Comet seemed to be somewhat of an after-thought in Ford’s 1964 “Total Performance” program, however Lincoln-Mercury were active in drag-racing with the A/FX Comet drag racers. A 427 side-oiler was stuffed into a 2-door hardtop Caliente, and voila – one of the hottest dragsters of the era. Mercury commissioned construction of two other Comets – a Caliente 2-door hardtop and a 404 station wagon – each running a 427 cid side oiler with 2×4 bbl carburetion and high-rise manifolds, delivering 500+ hp. The wagon in particular owned the dragstrip until NHRA decreed neither car was stock, and both were relegated to A/FX.
In the meantime Mercury had discovered success at the racetrack and dragstrip brought success in the sales department, and continued to support dealer-sponsored teams in NHRA competition. It was a small step from this notion to the brainchild of running a dramatic demonstration of Comet’s gutsy stamina. Lincoln-Mercury took four 1964 289 cid equipped Comets to Daytona to see how far they’d go at 100 mph. They actually averaged 108 mph and three made it to 100K miles. The fourth had to pull out after 50K due to a broken valve spring. Mercury rightfully proclaimed Comet as the “World’s 100,000 mile durability champion”, and Comet sales took off.
In another demonstration of Comet’s mettle, six new 1964 Calientes were entered in the 3,188 mile East African Safari rally. A total 94 cars were in the field but the Comets were the only American made competitors. Bill Stroppe’s Long Beach shop prepared the cars for their brutal trial. Only 21 cars finished the rally, two of which were Comets. Of the remaining Comets all were still running but had fallen victim to various calamitous misfortunes like sinking into mud pits, falling off a bridge or suffering rollovers, and had timed out. Still pretty good considering nothing like this had ever been tried before.
Having been looked at and dismissed for a number of applications, the Meteor name did in fact come back in 1964 as a solely Canadian car from whence it had emerged in 1949. As a result Canada did not have a 1964 Monterey.
Mercury’s combined output for the two lines was 300K cars of which the full-size Mercury accounted for 110K units and Comet for 190K. The large Mercury’s sales level was below 1963, while 1964 Comet sold more cars than 1963 Comet and Meteor combined, which proved the theory Meteor sales were just cannibalizing sales of other Mercurys.