Matt Stone
May 22, 2014
Photos By: Ron Woods

Back in the '80s, Hot Rod magazine coined a term, and subsequent hot rodding movement, called "Dare to Be Different." It sparked a wonderful wave of great and innovative builds based on brands and bodystyles people didn't usually bother with—Studebakers, Hudsons, Ramblers, Nashes, station wagons, and yes, Mercurys. The compact Mercury Comet stemmed from its crosstown cousin, the Ford Falcon. As you scan these photos, you might think that the serious quarter-miler build on this compact Merc would look great on a '65 Mustang notch—and it would, but why not leave it on, and love it on, this handsome Comet hardtop?

What you may or may not know is that the Mercury Comet has an impressive competition history. Some of the first A/FX cars were Comets—the great Dyno Don Nicholson himself raced them. And cars very similar to Webster's '64 also ran competitively in the European world rally series back in the day. They've also been built and deployed to set a variety of FIA speed and endurance records. And it's handsome as hell, so enough already!

Rushden, England's Jon Webster's Comet wasn't originally destined to become a drag racer. The owner explains, "The car was found by a friend in Arizona. It was imported to the UK to modify for FIA saloon (production-based sedan) car racing, but that fell through. I bought the car when I visited the importers in 2011. The intention was to build a street-legal race car for the UK Street Eliminator Series. The car was acid dipped because it at first looked the worse for wear. It came back super clean, so the body work was minimal."

Webster is no stranger to hot Fords, his stable otherwise having included a '59 Morris Minor with a Ford 289 engine swap, a previous '64 Comet running a 460, a '97 SVT Mustang Cobra with a 525-inch big-block, and an MG SVR packing a turbocharged 377. That should address any questions you might have about Brits and their enthusiasm for the Blue Oval. Santa Pod is one of the UK's most significant drag racing tracks, and Webster notes he's a member of the Santa Pod Racers Club.

You'll notice that virtually none of the Comet's original frame remains, most of it replaced with serious tube subframe work and coilover suspension. The suspension hardware up front is by Strange featuring a 6-inch stroke to allow max weight transfer on hard launches; there's Penske multi-adjustable hardware out back, doing its best to manage the Ford 9-inch rearend packing a Strange Locker and 3:50:1 rear gears. Webster Race Engineering bent and welded up the full chrome-moly tube frame, subframe connectors, and rollcage. And check out all the high-quality carbon-fiber panel work that smoothes the engine bay and other areas of the car; something they definitely didn't have back in the '60s.

The engine pushes the edge of small-block reality. Webster could have bought a race-built big-block crate motor and called it good; but since he's obviously acquainted with high-level engine swaps, that wasn't going to cut it for the gold Comet. The basis of this 377ci bored-and-stroked small-block is a Fontana block running a 0.30-over bore and a 3.75-inch stroke. The block's been tuned up with custom liners, and piston cooling oil squirters. Silverstone, UK's ICE Automotive Racing Engines packed the block with more good stuff, including Oliver steel rods, Wiseco forged slugs (yielding 9.5:1 compression) a Bryant billet steel crank, and a Comp Cams roller stick. Topping the stout block are Yates C3L heads that are ported, relieved, and running top-grade valves, springs, and rockers.

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You may wonder why such a committed straight liner runs a somewhat piddly 9.5:1 CR? The answer is mounted just behind where the passenger side high-beam headlight would normally reside, in the form of one serious Holset 106mm intercooled turbo, blowing through a custom intake manifold, running 230-pound injectors. A Motec engine management system, Tial wastegate, and Turbonetics blow-off valve do their best to modulate the 28 pounds of boost. The now-monster motor does its best to break the B&M-shifted, Ford automatic built by the UK's Andy Frost Transmissions. You can bet it hits the 4,400-rpm stall speed pretty quickly, on its way to a 7.77-second pass at 178 mph in the quarter-mile.

In as much as the car is street driven often, and casually shown now and again, the look, stance, and quality of fit and finish had to be right. Plus the engine has to be, if not exactly docile, at least manageable on the street and needs to survive on E85/Unleaded pump gas, which in the UK costs about 10 bucks a gallon. No hand grenade powerplant for this little Comet. The Weld Racing modular 15-inch alloys running Mickey Thompson tires look just right, and deliver the hook needed for the 'strip. As you can see from the photos, the fit, finish, and quality of everything is spectacular. It's hardly a show car, but appears built to show levels. There's still a modest factory vibe to it, with factory-style black vinyl door panels, stock door handles, and even the factory remote control joystick still operates the outside rearview mirror. The rest of the cabin is all quarter-mile business. The car weighs in at just less than 2,500 pounds.

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Webster summarizes the process and results since completion: "The car and chassis were completed by May 2012, but we missed the first two meetings of the championship, finished Third overall in our first year, but finishing Second this year. The car is used on the street regularly, and we once drove it to the McLaren Formula One Headquarters for its private car show which is held every August. We race as a family including my daughter, Shelby, and it is a major part of our lives, with good friends all around us."

See, not everything cool has to be a Mustang.

The Details
Vehicle: 1964 Mercury Comet Hardtop Coupe
Owner: Jon Webster
Engine
Fontana 377ci small-block V-8
4.030-inch bore
3.750-inch stroke
Bryant Billet steel crankshaft
Oliver 6.125-inch steel connecting rods
Wiseco forged pistons
Yates C3L aluminum heads, hand ported and relieved
1.6:1 roller intake rocker arms; 1.65 exhaust rocker arms
Comp Cams roller camshaft
Custom WRE aluminum intake manifold
Motec port fuel injection
9.5:1 compression ratio
Exhaust
Webster Race Engineering headers
Burns stainless steel mufflers
Power Adder
Holset 106mm intercooled Turbocharger with 28 psi boost
Turbonetics Godzilla pop valve and Tial wastegate
Transmission
Ford automatic
Neil Chance 4500 stall speed torque converter
B & M shifter
Rearend
Ford 9-inch
Motive 3.50:1 ring-and-pinion with Strange Locker
WRE custom 35 spline axles
Suspension
Front: Strange GT coilovers with 6-inch travel
Rear: Penske Adjustable with 7-inch travel
Ford Pinto rack-and-pinion steering
Brakes
Front: Strange disc, 11-inch rotors with four-piston calipers
Rear: Wilwood disc, 11-inch rotors with four-piston calipers
Wheels
Front: Weld Racing Woodward modular alloy, 5x15
Rear: Weld Racing Woodward modular alloy, 12x15
Tires
Front: Mickey Thompson 26x6
Rear: Mickey Thompson 315/60-15
Interior
Full rollcage, dual lightweight Reverie racing seats, Motec electronic instrumentation, TRS competition harnesses, custom upholsterey work by Custom Coach Trimming, power window conversion, carbon-fiber instrument panel
Exterior
OEM steel unflared bodywork with bubble-style hoodscoop, factory bumpers, glass, grille, and trim