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.

Steve remained faithful to the Comet Cyclone's original demeanor with a Hurst shifter, a Rally-Pac, bucket seats, a console, and a Cal' Custom-style steering wheel made by Grant Products.
The Price Of Performance in 1965
Shelby 289 high-performance
camshaft kit
Dual-quad high-rise induction
Tri-Y headers $110.00
Tri-Y headers with mufflers $152.95
Cobra high-rise single 4V intake $64.95
Cobra valve covers $29.95
Cobra dress-up kit $78.35

The Details
'65 Mercury Comet Cyclone
Owner: Steve Zortman, Mt. Wolf, PA

289ci V-8
4.000-inch bore, 2.870-inch stroke
1M cast-iron crankshaft
Forged I-beam C3OE
connecting rods
Forged flat-top pistons
C5OE-A Ford heads
w/53cc chambers, 1.78-inch intake, 1.45-inch exhaust,
screw-in studs
Ford mechanical flat-tappet
289 Hi-Po camshaft
Weber 48 IDA 4x2 induction
Autolite dual-point ignition
Taylor 8mm ignition wires
Approx. 325 hp

Top Loader four-speed
Hurst Competition Plus shifter
Hayes clutch

9 inch
3.89 gears
31-spline axles

Hedman long-tube headers
Flowmaster two-chamber mufflers
211/42-inch dual exhaust

Front: stock coilover upper arm, stock sway bar
Rear: stock four-leaf, Lakewood traction bars,
Gabriel Hijacker air shocks

Front: stock drum
Rear: stock drum

Front: Steel wheel, chrome reverse wheel covers, 14x511/42-inch
Rear: Coker Tire steel wheel, chrome reverse wheel covers, 14x7 inches

Front: Firestone S/S radial, P215/70R14
Rear: {{{M}}}&H cheater slicks, P235/60R14

Red vinyl with bucket seats, console, five-dial instrumentation, rareRally-Pac with 8,000-rpm tachometer, Grant steering wheel

Carnival Red DuPont Chroma {{{Premier}}} basecoat/clearcoat, Crites A/FX fiberglass twin-scoop hood

Steve's Cyclone is period in every respect, including the York US30 Dragway sticker from a track that has existed since the post-war years. Those who remember York also remember Maryland's Capital Drag Raceway 70 miles to the south, not to mention Bud's Creek deep in the heart of Maryland. Cyclones like this one were born for drag racing, and we remember them fondly.

Cool Comet Facts
Prior to 1964, the Comet was little more than an attractive upscale economy car for someone seeking plush Mercury nuances in a Falcon-size compact. It offered standard six-cylinder power (170 ci and 200 ci), with two optional V-8s (260 ci and 289 ci). Lots of choices in 1964-'65 included four engines and three interior options. It was an exciting time to imagine yourself in a Mercury.

Because Mercury had a stodgy, luxury-car image with the need for a performance persona, it tried something unconventional. It took five specially equipped '64 Comet hardtops fitted with 289 High Performance V-8s to Daytona Speedway in the Fall of 1963 for some endurance testing. Each Comet averaged 105 mph for over 100,000 miles.

When Mercury hit the airwaves and print media with this news, Comet sales increased dramatically. People wanted not only performance, but reliability as well. The company made one heck of a statement by taking not one, but five Comets on the racetrack and wringing them out like no automaker had ever done before. It spoke volumes and it sold cars. Comet blasted into showrooms ready to sell.

On the heels of its 100,000-mile endurance test, Mercury announced the Comet Cyclone hardtop with a bad-boy persona-less trim, reduced fluff, more performance, and striking Cyclone checkered-flag graphics. It wasn't your mom's classic Comet grocery-getter. It was a little something more. The most powerful V-8 you could get in the Cyclone from the factory was the 225-horse Super 289-4V small-block. Mercury dealers also offered Comet buyers a dealer-installed 289 High Performance Cobra package that included Hi-Po heads, flat-top pistons, a hot mechanical flat-tappet cam, chrome or Cobra valve covers, a dual-plane Cobra high rise or tri-power intake, and more. You could create a Hi-Po Comet with help from your Ford dealer. As we understand it from Comet Cyclone aficionados out there in cyberland, Ford never factory installed a 289 High Performance V-8 in the Cyclone outside of the five endurance cars in 1964. If anyone has different information, we would like to hear from you.

  • Mercury introduced the new Comet Cyclone on January 17, 1964
  • Available as two-door hardtops only
  • Interior colors were Black, Red, Palomino, or White with appointments, depending on exterior color
  • Bucket seats with console
  • Four-speed or C4 Merc-O-Matic
  • Cyclone Super 289-4V only (210 hp in 1964, 225 hp in 1965)
  • Chrome valve covers with Hi-Po open-element air cleaner
  • 7,454 Cyclones in 1964
  • 12,347 Cyclones in 1965
  • Generator-equipped in 1964
  • Alternator-equipped in 1965
  • Optional twin-scoop fiberglass A/FX hood