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1966 Mercury Comet Cyclone GT - Pace Cars Get The Party Started
And They Got Started at Indy!
As a further nod to safety in the early years, seasoned race car drivers were chosen to lead the pack. In recent years, well-known celebrities have been allowed to drive the pace laps, although once the race is underway, a trained official always drives the in-race pace car. Almost all Indianapolis cars are convertibles with a few notable exceptions like the four-door, '97 Oldsmobile Aurora, the first four-door since the '47 Nash Ambassador. Olds was selected that year thanks to its 100th Anniversary and the fact that more than half of the Indy cars were using a highly tuned version of the Aurora powerplant. It was the first time the same engine design was in the pace car and the winning car!
Maybe one of the best perks concerning pace cars is the fact that the winner of the race gets one! Fullsize replicas of the annual pace cars are always hot sellers with dealers vying for them as attention-getters in their show rooms and enthusiasts lining up for manufacturer-sponsored purchase ceremonies.
Bill Leachman, a realtor and developer living in Daytona Beach Shores, Florida, has always been interested in the uniqueness of pace cars. He is a member of Pioneer Antique Auto Club and over the years, he has owned several interesting vehicles, including a '69 El Camino, an '02 Thunderbird, and an '08 Shelby Mustang GT500. He was thrilled to find this '66 Comet Cyclone GT convertible offered for sale at last year's Daytona Turkey Run. A complete rotisserie restoration had been accomplished a few years before and the car has had minimal show miles on it since.
The '66 Cyclone GT's were comparatively rare cars, numbering 13,812 hardtops and only 2,158 convertibles. Of that number, only 100 S-code pace cars were built, all convertibles and all painted Candy Apple Red with Parchment interiors. The car in the photographs has changed hands several times over the years, and while Bill hasn't been able to find definitive documentation saying it was a true pace car, he loves it anyway, driving in three to four times every week.
Correct except for a white tonneau cover instead of red and an updated set of rims and modern rubber instead of the original Styled Steel wheels and red line tires, Bill's Comet features Parchment bucket seats, matching Sports console, and SelectShift floor shifter for the C6 automatic. Color-coordinated seatbelts and carpet completes the look, while an aftermarket Grant wheel and Alpine stereo add to the fun.
Comfort options include power steering, power brakes, and a power top. Appropriately enough, we photographed Leachman's Cyclone in a race car setting, during the 2010 Turkey Run at Daytona International Speedway.
Powered by Ford's popular 390-cid/335-hp V-8, this Cyclone GT has the optional handling package, front disc brakes, and Merc-O-Matic transmission with console-mounted shifter. Dual exhausts were standard along with a fiberglass hood with twin nonfunctional air scoops. GT badging, side stripes, and the Indianapolis 500 logo make the car a stand out in any crowd. Capable of 0 to 60 times in the 7-second range and quarter-mile runs in the high 14s, it was quick back in 1966 and is still a high-performance ride today.