"Ronnie Sox and Dyno Don were very influential in my decision to buy a '65 hardtop." This statement by John Chandler doesn't refer to the Caliente you see before you, but rather to the new one he bought some 40-odd years ago. His choice of the Comet was firmly anchored in Mercury's fabulous F/X efforts of the day, but when it came to modifications, he "couldn't afford too much back then as family and kids were on the horizon."
That was then; this is now. The intervening decades did not see Chandler lose any interest in the quarter-mile--quite the opposite, in fact. As his financial situation improved, and the nest emptied, John eventually found himself in possession of nothing shy of an Alcohol dragster. But nothing lasts forever and, "after selling the dragster and putting the money into our chassis business, I got the bug to buy a street car for my wife and me, and turned to my old favorite: the '65 Caliente." The chassis business John refers to is based at the airport in London, Ontario, Canada, and is known as Chandler Technologies (www.chandlertechnologies.com).
Now, a '65 Comet Caliente isn't something one stumbles across every day, so John had some searching to do. The Internet made it easier, and via eBay, one was eventually located in Kentucky. "It looked good 'til we got it home to London and realized this unit needed a frame-off resto," John says. "Seeing that it didn't have a frame, we did the next best thing." This meant months of cutting, scraping, welding, fabricating, and painting.
Being a chassis wizard, John chose to upgrade the half-century-old suspension configuration with help from the aftermarket and his own ingenuity. Starting in the stern, a stainless four-link setup replaced the horse-and-buggy factory arrangement and teamed with Air Ride Technologies' adjustable ShockWave airbag spring/dampers. With room thus available, subtle mini-tubs were crafted in.
Up front, John pulled out all the stops. He engineered a stainless crossmember to tie into the lower shock towers and mount a rack-and-pinion steering box. Factory Comets were rear-steer; John converted his to front-steer by using Granada spindles on their "wrong" sides and correcting the steering-arm angles for proper Ackerman (the geometry that, of necessity, lets the inside front wheel turn "tighter" than the outside front wheel). The result is precise, modern steering with virtually no bumpsteer. The height-adjustable ShockWaves are also employed up front, so the Comet can squat low or stand tall like a '60s drag car.
Looks like a 289 under the hood, right? That's the general idea, but it's actually a 302 stroked to 331 cubes with a SCAT stroker crank and rods, and JE forged pistons for a manageable 10.5:1 compression ratio. A pair of 390-cfm Holley four-barrels sit atop a Weiand intake between Edelbrock 2.02/1.60 alloy heads. A Ford Racing Performance Parts E303 roller cam performs valve-timing duties. Underneath hang those decidedly retro Hedman 4-into-1 long-tubes with generous 1-5/8-inch primaries and 3-inch collectors, and behind the 331 is a Tremec T-5 five-speed. The engine bay itself is nicely detailed and uses a pair of adjustable-end links for firewall/shock-tower triangulation.
As nice as a Caliente may have been back in 1965, rest assured the factory interior was chopped liver compared to the tan beauty of this cockpit. The buckets are Mustang units reskinned in tan leather to match the back seat, door panels, and dashpad. The embroidered Mercury god-heads are a nice touch, as is the polished, combined shifter bezel/Air Ride controller housing whittled from billet aluminum. Though the in-dash radio looks to be a legitimate 40 years old, there's a hidden Clarion head unit, four 4x6 interior speakers, and a 10-inch subwoofer in the trunk--as if the 331 didn't make enough music.
No one undertakes a project of this scope without help, and John is quick to thank Garry Howes, Rob Young, and Mike Sexsmith who contributed their various talents. John's wife, Bev, also put in extra hours at work to help offset the Caliente's ultimate cost. All the expenditure and effort has resulted in various trophies at shows attended, but the best reward to John and Bev is simply having another '65 Caliente, this time done up just the way they want it. And that's this Comet's tale.