Overhauled Comet

Old Cars Weekly archive – April 24, 2008 issue

old-cars-weekly-flashbackRestored ’64 Mercury Comet becomes 40th birthday surprise

Story and photos by Morris and Sandy James

The 1964 Comet Caliente after its thorough restoration. It’s now in better shape than when we bought it in 1970 as a daily driver.

The 1964 Comet Caliente after its thorough restoration. It’s now in better shape than when we bought it in 1970 as a daily driver.

This 1964 Mercury Comet Caliente four-door sedan was the first car my wife and I purchased after we were married in 1970. The Comet was purchased from a dealer in Lynnwood, Wash. for $599 with 75,000 miles. It and served as the family car for 16 years.

As a rather deluxe car for its time, it came equipped with bucket seats, console, 289-cid V-8 and power steering. When our son Doug turned 16 and got his driver’s license, we gave him the old Comet to drive to high school. Doug drove this car during his high school years, then took it to college, his first job and eventually got married while owning the car. When Doug’s career took him to California, he decided to leave the Comet with us in Port Hadlock, Wash., since the car was getting tired by this time. Doug said that, by leaving the car with us, he and his wife “would have a car to drive when they came here.” That didn’t happen very often, as Doug and his wife would rent a car at the airport.

We bought the 1964 Comet Caliente sedan (at right) in 1970, then passed it on to our son when he got his driver’s license. The Comet convertible (at left) was purchased later.

We bought the 1964 Comet Caliente sedan (at right) in 1970, then passed it on to our son when he got his driver’s license. The Comet convertible (at left) was purchased later.

We kept the car washed and waxed, and even drove it to work in order to keep it running while Doug paid the insurance, tires and such. In 1998, we moved the car one block to my mother’s house where it sat for a few years, then moved it back to our house under protest. By this time, it had some rust and green slime and moss on it, so we used an SOS pad to clean up the exterior. (The paint was shot anyway.)

When Doug turned 36 years old, at which time the car had been in the family for 34 years, we asked him several times to sell the Comet, as there had been some people that stopped and asked if the old car was for sale. His answer was always, “No! I’m going to restore it some day. It’s not for sale!”

About that time, we realized we had a few years to restore the car as a surprise for Doug’s  40th birthday. First, we tried to get the car on Chip Foose’s “Overhaulin” TV show, but we never heard from the show’s staff. So, we decided to restore the car ourselves.

The Comet Caliente sedan undergoing the surprise restoration our son hoped to complete someday. The car was presented to him in early April as a 40th birthday surprise.

The Comet Caliente sedan undergoing the surprise restoration our son hoped to complete someday. The car was presented to him in early April as a 40th birthday surprise.

We found a donor car and had it shipped, then found additional parts on the Internet, including NOS carpet and upholstery from a seller in Seattle. We had bought parts from this seller while working on our red 1964 Comet convertible. We even called Doug and told him about another Port Townsend Raker’s Car Club member that had a bunch of parts left over from his Comet restoration and wanted $300 for the lot. Doug said to buy them and put them away. He even sent us a check to cover the cost, which we never cashed — we just put it in the scrapbook.

Whenever Doug came around, we hid the car in a locked boat shed and told him it was at a friend’s barn out of the weather.

Three Comet trim levels were offered in 1964: the base 202 series, mid-level 404 series and the top-of-the-line Caliente, pictured here. The Caliente featured a “Caliente” name plate on the front fenders and a brushed aluminum applique on the body-side molding.

Three Comet trim levels were offered in 1964: the base 202 series, mid-level 404 series and the top-of-the-line Caliente, pictured here. The Caliente featured a “Caliente” name plate on the front fenders and a brushed aluminum applique on the body-side molding.

We worked on this car for close to four years in order to give him the car on his 40th birthday on April 6, 2008. We unveiled the car at his home in California, and were pleased at his surprise of seeing the car in its original Polar White color with NOS upholstery and many other new or redone parts. The car now looks like it has been in a time machine and runs great, thanks to a paint job by Jim’s Auto Body Shop in Chimacum, Wash.

We undertook this project because Doug has been a great son — he’s never given us any trouble and was an honor student in high school, graduated from the University of Washington and graduated at the top of class at the FBI Academy. He also has a great career and family, but we restored the car because we really wanted to. Hopefully, he will be able to pass the Comet on to one of his daughters someday.

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