Rod Short
September 3, 2013

You could say that the kid never had a chance. Decades of car magazines with bookmarked pages are just one clue about the indelible mark that A/FX cars left on young Dan Parson Jr.'s mind. Names like Don Nicholson, Jack Chrisman, Eddie Schartmann, and Pete Gates filled his head with images of their altered wheelbase Mercurys with their big 427 cammer engines. It was something he could never quite shake even as a young man; a "Dyno Dan" mural of a Mercury Cyclone graced the exterior of his shop. Now, as a grandfather, Dan has captured those memories with this '67 Comet Cyclone that he's dubbed "Toxic Element."

"When I was a kid, these were the cars that I read about," Dan said somewhat sheepishly about his passion for these cars. "I'm a die-hard Ford guy. I've worked on a lot of Mustangs and I've owned some pretty rare Cougars in my day, but I don't know what it is about these Comets. I've had 11 of them!"

You can't really blame him, as those Mercury Comets did a lot to shape the drag racing we know today. Don Nicholson, Jack Chrisman and the team of Sox and Martin made a big splash with their '64 Comets in NHRA racing and the match racing trail. Sox and Martin jumped ship the following year, but were replaced by Hayden Proffitt as Mercury dealer associations banded together to campaign cars out of the Atlanta, Cleveland, and Los Angeles districts among others. Dodge and Plymouth responded with altered wheelbase cars, which after being quickly outlawed by the NHRA, found great success at independent events across the land. Team Mercury responded by modifying their stock wheelbase Mercury Comets accordingly, but it was the '67 all-fiberglass, flip-top Comet of Don Nicholson that changed the world forever. The first Funny Car was born, and nearly 50 years later, that car's influence is still seen in NHRA drag racing today.

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Of course, Mercury's Comet Cyclone was just about drag racing. It was a sibling of Ford's Fairlane and a relatively successful car in its own right. Made from 1964 until 1971, the Cyclone was the upgraded performance version of the Mercury Comet until it became known as just the Cyclone in 1968. With a 289ci V-8, the Comet Cyclone was overshadowed by the Mustang just like the Falcon Sprint was, even with a big-block option. Just 6,910 were reportedly sold out of the 80-some thousand produced in 1967, of which 3,420 came with the GT option package. Only 1,581 came with the four-speed Top Loader transmission. With a limited slip differential and 3.25:1 gears, these cars were capable, but the most desirable of the lot were those that came with the 427 FE side oiler. Although some reports say that none were reportedly made in 1967, others claim that five were made.

The most popular Comet from the '67 model year was the 202, which Parson used as his project car. While this base model came in either a two- or four-door version with a straight-six powerplant, the most interesting thing about this car was its smaller size. The 202 had the same wheelbase as other '67 Comets, but was about 7 inches shorter overall from the use of a different rear quarter panel. Positioned as a low-priced intermediate, this was the best seller of all the Comets that year—and the lightest also, which would have caught the eye of project car builders like Dan Parsons Jr.

"This is the first car I've ever built with the intention of keeping for myself," Dan said. "The kids were all grown up, the business was good, and I just couldn't shake the urge anymore. I found this '67 Comet 202 six-cylinder automatic sedan in South Carolina that was part of a package deal with a Torino wagon and a bunch of parts. It was pretty beat up, but it was a rust-free, solid car."

Dan sold off the Torino with all of the extra parts and used the proceeds to buy what he wanted for his project car. Over the cold winter months, he installed a straight axle with parallel leaf springs—cutting edge technology in the mid-'60s—to help with weight transfer. He drove it around for a while like that and then tackled relocating the rear. The entire rear axle assembly was moved forward a full 12 inches, while the suspension was modified with 2½-inch arched rear springs and 60-inch ladder bars. A shortened driveshaft, new trunk floor, and modified rear wheel openings were then completed to finish the makeover.

At this point, Dan stripped the paint down to the bare metal and finished the body and paintwork with Martin-Senour Wimbledon White with aid from Russ Moyer and Fat Boy Dale Palmer. The end result wasn't what he hoped for, but Dan was undaunted and determined that this “Toxic Element” wasn't going to be the end of him. So, the car was restripped and then painted again at Mike Miller's Auto in Pittsburgh. From there, the car went back to the home garage to await final assembly.

Don's engine choice has significant power without sacrificing reliability on the street. What really sets it off, however, is the Garlits IN-600 Street Injection that pro

With 427 cammer engines being essentially priceless, Dan went with a much more reasonable 385-series 460 V-8 and stroked it out to 495 cubic inches, which is more than enough for a street-driven tribute car! With a stock bottom end, Blue Thunder out-of-the-box heads, a Comp Cams valvetrain and a single Demon carburetor, Don's engine choice has significant power without sacrificing reliability on the street. What really sets it off, however, is the Garlits IN-600 Street Injection that provides a period-correct Hilborn look without sacrificing part-throttle driveability.

With a Top Loader four-speed backed by a Ford 9-inch rear, a six-point rollcage, and Halibrand replica wheels, the Comet is an altered wheelbase driver that turns heads wherever it goes. People today may not know why Dan's car looks the way it does, but it's funny business that they most always want to know more about!

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The Details

Dan Parson Jr's '67 Mercury Comet 202
Engine
Ford 495-cid V-8, assembled by Dan Parson Jr.
385 series block
4.440-inch bore
3.950-inch stroke
Stock Ford 460 crank
Chrysler 440 connecting rods with ARP bolts
JE pistons
Competition Cams camshaft, 0.568-inch intake/0.577-inch exhaust lift, 240 intake/244 exhaust duration at 0.050
Blue Thunder BBF aluminum cylinder heads 2.250 intake, 1.880 exhaust
Competition Cams rocker arms 1.72 intake/exhaust
Competition Cams pushrods 7.850 length
Weiand aluminum intake manifold
Demon 750-cfm carburetor
MSD 6AL ignition with 2-step
9.5:1 compression ratio
Transmission
Top Loader four-speed
Hurst shifter
Rearend
Ford 9-inch
Traction-Lok differential
3.25:1 gears
Exhaust
Homemade fenderwell headers, 2-inch primary tubes and 3.5-inch collectors
Suspension
Front: Straight axle conversion with parallel springs, centerline moved forward 5 inches
Rear: 2.5-inch re-arched springs, 60-inch ladder bars, axle moved forward 12 inches
Brakes
Front: Stock disc, 10.8-inch
Rear: Stock drum, 11-inch
Wheels
Front: Halibrand-style replica, 15x4
Rear: Halibrand-style replica, 15x8
Tires
Front: Nankang, 185R15
Rear: Towel City Pie Crust Cheater Slicks, 28.5x9x15
Interior
Stock upholstery, eight-point rollbar, RCI racing harnesses, underdash gauges, dash-mounted tachometer, rear seat delete
Exterior
Stock Comet 202 body; rear wheelwells relocated 12 inches forward; Martin-Senour Wimbledon White paint by Dan Parson Jr., with Mike Miller, and Fat Boy Dale Palmer; vintage graphics and decals; external-mounted fuel cell; hoodpins; yellow high-beam lights; external mounted on/off battery cut-off switch