Jim Smart
January 7, 2007
Photos By: Michael Johnson
The Comet Cyclone was distinctive in its visual approach-checkered flags and crisp styling that spoke to buyers in 1965.

Because we're die-hard Ford freaks at Mustang & Fords, we get a big kick out of unusual Fords, Mercs, and Lincolns. Honestly, we're just not interested in Johnny-come-lately Ford divisions acquired in more recent times-Volvo, Aston-Martin, Jaguar, or Range Rover-in former Ford CEO Jacque Nasser's quest for world car-building supremacy. We're about more genuine classic Ford products-hot collectibles that remind us of a quieter, simpler era when a new Ford or Merc cost less than five grand.

We're partial to the Mercury of yesterday. Today's Mercury has a different focus than it did 40 years ago. Those cars contained the roots of the brand, with elements that made it successful a generation ago-something clearly more upscale than a Ford-distinctive in its own right-clearly Mercury.

Steve Zortman's '65 Comet Cyclone is clearly a Mercury in every way because it possesses styling more striking than a Ford: plenty of chrome and anodized aluminum, stacked twinset headlights, distinctive appointments inside and out, and standard five-dial instrumentation. Aside from similarities in the hardtop greenhouse between Falcon and Comet, Mercury's Comet wasn't anything like its corporate cousin. It possessed lines shared with its bigger, full-sized brothers on the showroom floor in 1965.

You've gotta love Steve's approach here-M&H cheater slicks wrapped around steel rims and Mercury simulated chrome reverse wheel covers. We dig the Lakewoods.

At the 1999 Carlisle All-Ford Nationals, Steve snapped up this Cyclone faster than a Texas tornado. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime chances to own a unique Mercury few others had, but Steve went to the show with no thought of buying a car. When he spotted this Cyclone, he lost his mind, overwhelmed with emotion and desire. He didn't have enough money to buy the car and the seller wanted cash only. That's when Steve's son offered up his '80 Thunderbird as a partial trade along with cash. The seller agreed and Steve purchased one of just 12,347 '65 Cyclones made that year. To show his appreciation for what his son did, he bought him a '93 Mustang GT-gratitude for such an extraordinary gesture of love between father and son.

When Steve found this Cyclone in Pennsylvania, he thought about the 100,000-mile endurance test, 289-4V V-8 power, and the limited number of Cyclones produced in 1965. There was no passing it by or forgetting it existed. He had to have it. Steve was sold on the Weber-carbureted 289ci engine, the crisp lines, the abundant chrome, the simulated chrome reverse wheel covers, the pseudo Buick fender ports, the Cyclone logo, and the optional twin-scoop fiberglass hood.

If you're like most of us, you're drawn to the Weber-carbureted 289 High Performance V-8. Granted, Ford never fit the Cyclone with a solid-lifter 289 High Performance engine from the factory, but you could order the entire engine or everything necessary to build one. This led some Cyclone owners to build their own Hi-Po Comets without searching in vain on the order sheet. They took delivery, then headed to the parts department to order some Hi-Po thunder. You could order Hi-Po heads, an aggressive mechanical cam, hot tri-power induction, Cobra valve covers, and yes-even Weber induction. All you needed was a checkbook and raw determination.

This is an adrenaline rush with four carburetors-Ford's 289 High Performance V-8 sporting a factory dual-point ignition, four Weber two-barrel carburetors, a mechanical flat tappet camshaft, and 325 hp on tap. Now 325 hp may not seem like much today - but in 1965, it was a lot of power, especially considering Shelby's 306-horse 289s.

Steve's goal was to stick with period modifications popular during the '60s. First, he had the body prepped and painted by Dave Estep and Tim Blevins of Custom Color of Dallastown, Pennsylvania. These gentlemen worked hard to remove five different paint jobs. Beneath the paint was virgin steel void of rust, which made the rest of it easy. Dave and Tim laid down several coats of Carnival Red base, then four coats of clear to give it depth.

Steve understands the team effort required to pull off a restoration like this one. His brother, Lon, jumped in and helped, stripping and painting suspension components, working small parts, detailing everything to perfection. Steve's son, Jesse, worked right alongside Lon, sweating details and learning the ropes."Jesse was my inspiration to keep going on the project," Steve says. "He gave me a host of great ideas to make my car period correct."

Before you is a 289 High Performance specification V-8 fitted with the correct factory mechanical flat-tappet camshaft, C5OE-A heads, 1.78/1.45-inch valves, screw-in rocker studs, forged flat-top pistons-all around a balanced and blueprinted bottom end. Throttle response is crisp and goosebump inspiring. We love the Weber induction on top coupled with a period correct Autolite dual-point ignition system. At first glance it's 1965 all over again with the exception of those Taylor ignition wires.

When you strap this Cyclone to your backside, it's a whirlwind of emotion. Grab the Hurst Competition Plus shifter, pin the butterflies (eight of them), and listen to the whine of First gear in an old Top Loader. Hear the roar of a classic Ford small-block sporting solid tappets; that wonderful clatter of 16 rocker arms thrashing out a heavenly beat. With this burst of power comes the screech of M&H cheater slicks out of the hole, through Second, taking on speed as rpm increases. It's a blast into the past-an opportunity to get lost in an era not easily forgotten.

Inside, Steve, Lon, and Jesse stayed with what worked in 1965: the Cyclone's red vinyl appointments, center console, Rally-Pac, five-dial instrumentation, and Mercury's striking nuances. We have a fondness for Steve's woodgrain Grant steering wheel. Because it is made from Cal' Custom tooling from long ago, it fits right in.

When Steve happened upon this Cyclone, he understood the importance of saving what he had found. That said, he knew there was no other choice but to buy the car and capture a slice of Mercury history. It would have been easier for Steve had it been a Mustang or a Falcon. But treasures worth restoring aren't always supposed to be easy. Rare pieces mandate a rare form of patience and persistence. Steve knew this Comet Cyclone would be especially challenging because it's a limited-production Mercury. Not many survived because few understood the Cyclone's value over time. The payoff for Steve is when he goes for a spin or turns out for a show. That's when everyone notices value in something as extra-ordinary as Mercury's Comet Cyclone hardtop for 1965. For Steve, it's a job well done, and a labor of love he will forever hold close.