a comet tale

By | October 5, 2014

A Comet Tale 1A Comet Tale 2No one had ever attempted to drive forty days and forty nights through fourteen countries, spanning the globe from Argentina to Alaska. The route from Ushuaia, Argentina to Fairbanks, Alaska offers any challenger the extremes of weather and the unpredictability of international roads. But on September 12, 1964 a team of rotating drivers and three Mercury Comet Caliente hardtops sped northward through mountains, desert, jungle, and back through mountains again. The three 1965 Mercury coupes were regular production models, the same car sold at any Mercury showroom. Their assigned mission was anything but regular–to prove to the public that Comet is the world’s durability champion. After a journey of 16,247 miles, with no repairs other than routine maintenance, the trio of Caliente’s rolled into Fairbanks, Alaska on October 22, 1964.–M.S.T.

Source: Facebook.com/Fran (Francisco) Hernandez.

A Comet Tale 3A Comet Tale 4A Comet Tale 5A Comet Tale 6A Comet Tale 7A Comet Tale 7.5A Comet Tale 8A Comet Tale 12A Comet Tale 9A Comet Tale 10Source: The above black and white photographs, plus more of the same event, are archived at Facebook.com/Fran (Francisco) Hernandez.A Comet Tale ConclusionFord Motor Company, Lincoln-Mercury Division Print Advertisement.

Consider the following link to a 25-minute documentary about the Carrera Panamericana road race, a yearly event from 1950-1954. Narration is provided by a driver from the U.S.A. who participated in the 1950 race. The newly made Mexican section of the Pan American highway opened in 1950, and connects southern Mexico to northern Mexico. The Mexican government commissioned Carrera Panamericana road race featured American cars and trucks such as Mercury, Lincoln, Chevrolet, Cadillac, and Studebaker. European cars Alfa Romeo, Jaguar, and Porsche raced then as well as now.
This second link offers a current account of racing enthusiasts who meet in Mexico to retrace the original race course.

2 thoughts on “a comet tale

  1. Jorn Jensen

    I have this piece of literature. Great story about the adventure, but not about the car. Were they 200 CI sixes or 289 V8’s? Standard shift or automatics? I know they were air-conditioned because that was stated in the article. Nothing else about the cars. MPG? Total gallons of gas used?

    1. mikethacker Post author

      From the introduction of Mercury cars at the 1939 World’s Fair until 1960, Mercury cars were powered strictly by V-8 engines. In the model year 1960 the company introduced an optional inline 6-cylinder engine to power the Comet. Essentially that policy decision was in response to an industry wide trend to capture the economy market segment which Studebaker dominated with its 1959 Lark model. American Motors was also gaining market share with its Rambler American model. Detroit’s “Big Three” automakers, Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler all developed economy cars by 1960. Whether the economy car market resulted from mid-1950’s U.S. economy fluctuations is a debatable issue. Keep in mind that by 1954, small independent car makers were strategizing on possible joint ventures to remain competitive–resulting in new combinations Studebaker-Packard Corporation, American Motors Corporation, and Kaiser-Jeep Corporation.

      For all U.S. automakers, the most profitable cars generally include V-8 engines and a list of options which may be picked by each customer. This menu-style of offering was in effect for the model year 1964, when Mercury introduced the Comet Cyclone powered by its new 289cid V-8. Specifications included high-performance camshaft with mechanical valve lifters, 4-barrel carburetor, and alternator. The options list included heavy-duty driveshafts and axles, and variable-rate Autolite shock absorbers.

      All U.S. automakers operate on scientific-management principles. Whenever a new product is engineered it is subjected to all kinds of tests to justify its use in standard production. This is true for individual mechanical components, and it’s true for complete car prototypes. The end of all testing is engineering excellence, market dominance, and profitability.

      To get to the essence of your questions, I think the cross-continent endurance trial of the 1965 Comet, like the celebrated 1964 Comet Daytona Speedway endurance trial, was conducted to showcase the best efforts of Mercury engineers. The tests were showing the level of sophistication that Mercury engineers had achieved in high-performance propulsion and mechanical reliability. The general public was informed of the endurance tests in the form of public relations reputation building; but the real purpose of the tests, the real game was an elite high-horsepower competition between rival engineers and car makers.

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