By Brian Earnest
Trace Frost will be the first to admit he really lucked out on this one.
When it comes to the perfect confluence of circumstances and random events, its tough to top the old car story of the affable retired law enforcement officer and his lovely 1969 Mercury Cyclone.
All it took for him to wind up with the Cyclone was:
- A wife who insisted she wanted to buy him an old car to play with. (Seriously, who has this happen to them?)
- Said wife happened to be a mechanic who loves cars.
- A friend who found a steal of a deal on Craigslist and happened to tell Frost about it.
- A neighbor — who he had never met — who lived a stone’s throw away who was not only an expert on Cyclones, but worked on them, could supply parts for them and then became a close friend.
The story actually started a few years back when Frost and his wife Jean, then residents of tiny Burnett, Wis., first began entertaining the idea of getting a fun car to drive. Jean wound up buying a 1986 Pontiac Firebird — “a nice car and fun to drive,” Trace says. “We enjoyed driving around in it. It wasn’t anything too special, but it was a nice car. Then one evening I got home and she said, ‘I want to buy you a car. I have been saving and I want to go out and find you a [collector] car.’”
That was back in 2012. The couple first looked at a Chevelle that was for sale nearby, but the car was a little rough for their liking, so they passed and decided to keep looking. Not long after that a friend of Trace’s saw a light blue ’69 Cyclone in a Craigslist ad. The car had apparently been sitting for years and seemed to be worth checking out.
“This buddy of mine at work who was into cars had forwarded me the Craigslist post and said, ‘If this is what it claims to be, for that price that’s a good deal.’ The car was for sale about 10 miles from me in Mayville, in Dodge County. To be honest, I didn’t even know what a Cyclone was. I knew about Torinos, but the Mercury version, I didn’t even know about. I wasn’t familiar with them at all."
The Light Aqua fastback in the listing had apparently been purchased about a decade earlier by a collector and enthusiast who had assembled a fleet of cars. Sadly, the man died not long after buying the Cyclone and, according to Frost, “his widow was selling his car collection piece by piece and she waited until the very end to sell the Cyclone because it was her favorite car — probably because of the color. It was quite unusual."
The Frosts decided the Cyclone was indeed a good deal. It kicked out some blue smoke when it ran, so the engine was going to need some attention, but the car was in remarkably good shape, was very original, was relatively rare, and needed a new home. It turned out to be an easy sell.
“The car had about 55,000 miles on it when we bought it,” Trace notes. “I got the Marti Report and the car was originally sold in California, then made its way to Arizona and was an Arizona car most of its life. Arizona was on the title that I got — it wasn't ever titled in Wisconsin.”
The couple took the Mercury to a shop in Beaver Dam, Wis., to get the once-over and see if had any problems they didn’t know about. It became obvious the body was, indeed, in fantastic shape and the car had never been restored or had much work done. There was a door ding that needed fixing on the passenger side, but aside from that the only pressing need was a new steering column.
“They told us we needed to get a different steering column and they were having a heck of a time finding a new one,” Frost recalled. That’s when the couple found out about Jeremy Otters, whom they were told was a bit of an expert on the early Cyclones, worked on a lot of them in his garage at home and even had a lot of parts for them. Frost had never heard of Otters, and when he found out where he lived, he couldn’t believe it. “He was literally right down the street from my house,” he said. “It was about a 100-yard walk down to his house.”
“I walked down there one day and he was out working on some cars with some other guys, and I walked up and they kind of looked at me funny. I told them who I was and told them I bought a ’69 Cyclone and asked him if he knew where I could get a steering column. He said, ‘Yeah, I have three of them.’ So that’s how it started… When we first took the car to him he put it up on his lift and said, ‘I don’t believe this!’ I said, ‘What’s wrong?’ and he said ‘Nothing! All the points that typically rust out on these cars are perfect. I’ve never seen a car like this in this kind of shape.’ I thought, ‘Whoa, we really fell into it here.’”
The Frosts eventually wound up pulling the original 302-cid V-8 out of the car and taking it in to get rebuilt. Jean and Otters then spent weeks in the fall and winter of 2013 putting the car back together. “Jean was a diesel mechanic in the Marine Corps. She’s the mechanic in the family,” Trace chuckled. “They tore everything apart and we had the engine rebuilt in Hartford. Then they put everything back together and tweaked some things and everything turned out very nice. And one of the best things was we became very good friends.”
The couple considered dropping in a new engine altogether, but decided the Cyclone was so original and unmolested that it should keep its original 302. A few other parts were swapped out, but according to Frost, the freshening of the fastback was pretty simple.
“The original dash was cracked, I assume from the heat in Arizona,” Frost recalled. “ I was able to find an original dash on eBay. It was black, but we had a gentleman over near Slinger [Wis.] paint it blue. It turned out very nice … The eyebrow trim over the headlights on the front of the car was dinged up and in real bad shape and that’s real common on these cars. I found better eyebrow trim on eBay and had it rechormed and that turned out really nice, too. The door ding on the passenger’s side was pretty significant. It was really the only damage on the car. I had that repaired and the paint blended. That was about it. The body of the car was in great shape… The car has been repainted once years ago. It was painted sometime in the ‘80s, is my best guess. I had considered repainting it, but I like the way it looks. There are some blemishes in the paint if you look close — I’m not sure if they are from acid or bird droppings or whatever. But it’s a driver, not a trailer queen. I have won some trophies at car shows, but it’s hard to compete with a survivor that’s a driver against a Charger or something that is a rotisserie re-do.”
For now, Frost has left in place the Vintage Air unit that had been installed by the previous owner in Arizona. “If I could find an original ash tray I’d probably remove it and put the ash tray back in it,” he says. "I want to keep everything as original as I can."
Mild or Wild: The Cyclone’s glory years
The idea of the Cyclone, a sporty version of the Mercury Comet line, began swirling around FoMoCo board rooms in the early 1960s and finally took flight for the 1964 model year. In the minds of many fans, the boxy Fairlane look-alikes really hit their stride in 1968 when they were outfitted with a streamlined fastback body that somewhat resembled the Dodge B-body Chargers from 1966-67.
The handsome and swift-looking cars could be many things to many customers — from relatively cheap grocery getters to hi-po drag strip monsters, depending on how they were equipped and how many cubes an owner wanted under the hood. And there were plenty of engine choices, from the base 302 with 220hp like the one in the Frosts’ car all the way up to the 428- and 429-equipped Cobra Jet and Super Cobra Jet (CJ and SCJ) rockets that carried up to 435 hp right out of the box.
It was a little hard to keep tabs on everything available to Cyclone shoppers in the final two model years of the 1960s. There was the base model, GT, CJ, SCJ, Spoiler and Spoiler II. None of them every sold in huge numbers, but together they were a formidable fleet of big motors, stripes, dress-up kits, spoilers, paint jobs and attitude.
For ’69, even the base Cyclone looked plenty sporty and cool with its swoopy profile and twin racing stripes that ran from the front bumper and across the sides to the end of the rear fenders. Other standard goodies included rocker panel and wheel lip opening moldings, carpeting, all-vinyl upholstery, ventless windows, tinted rear windows and wood-tone appliques on the instrument cluster and lower dash.
The Frosts’ Light Aqua car came with a C-4 automatic on the tree, vinyl-upholstered front bench seat and heavy-duty suspension. It was one of only 5,882 Cyclones built for the model year (plus 3,261 Cyclone CJs) and would have carried a sticker price of about $2,750 before any add-ons. Among the more popular upsells were the 351-cid V-8, which came in 250- ad 290-hp versions, and the 390-cid V-8 that produced 320 hp.
“Mine’s just a Plain Jane 302. “There is definitely nothing muscle car about it, other than the looks,” jokes Trace.
A Blue Magnet
The striking blue hue has turned out to be one of Trace’s favorite things about the Cyclone, but it didn’t start out that way. The flashy color has been an acquired taste. “When we first saw it sitting there, I said ‘Wow, look at that color. Oh man, that’s kind of homely.' But it has kind of grown on me. I get more comments on the color! If I’m at a car show with spectator voting I do really well, because people love the color. And I have more positive comments from women than do from men. Women really love that robins egg blue."
The color isn’t the only thing that attracts attention, though. Second-generation Cyclones are a relatively rare breed these days, particularly in northern states, and they tend to attract admirers. “I do get a lot of comments. I go to car shows and you just can’t believe how many people will come up and say, ‘Boy, you don’t see those anymore. My brother had one of these, or my buddy had one … I get a lot of compliments, especially from people who know Torinos or Cyclones.
Importantly, Trace says Jean likes the car as much as he does. That’s a good when you’re cruising around with the gal who helped restore it. “We’ve got a ’62 Ford Falcon coupe at home, and a ’65 Ford F-250 pickup that we’re working on,” he says. “And she has a ’68 Montego convertible that she had repainted a couple years ago. She’s got it covered up in our barn — it needs a new interior. But that’s going to be a really fun car when it’s done.
"So we’ve become kind of a Ford family now.”
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