Jim Peterson made a deal with his brother Irving back in 1973 that has worked out pretty well. Irv had a beautiful 1969 Mercury Cyclone CJ 428 that Jim wanted, and Jim somehow convinced his sibling that a ’70 Cyclone would be even better.
“He bought it almost new. I fell in love with it myself when he had it and he let me drive it, so that’s how it started. I told him if ever wanted to get rid of it, I wanted it and wanted to keep it in the family,” recalls Jim, a resident of Waupaca, Wis. “Well, the ’70 Cyclone was pretty nice, too. I said, ‘You buy that one and I’ll buy this one from you,’ so he got that and that’s when I bought this ’69 from him, and I’ve had it ever since.
“We had a lot of good times, me and my brother. We each had [a Cyclone] and we’d go all over together. We were very close.”
Irv passed away a few years back, but Jim has kept the good times rolling with his beautiful, muscular Mercury. He is a fixture at area car shows and he’s easy to spot — he has the only dark blue ’69 Cyclone GT around his part of the world, and you can hear that 428 Cobra-Jet howling through the dual exhaust from quite a ways away.
“People would think it wouldn’t have that kind of power because it’s a big car, and it is a big car, but she will still whoop you if you don’t know what you’re doing,” he warns. “And it’s got that nice Torino style. That’s basically what it is.
“I just liked the style of car and the power. It had a lot of nice power.”
The Cyclone has now been in the Peterson clan for five decades, and it’s never looked better. It started to show its age about 10 years ago, and that’s when Jim decided to let it snap on a full restoration at a local body shop that took more than five years to complete. “It was stored away right from the beginning,” he says. “I didn’t drive it in the winter … but I drove it every year. It started getting bad. It needed to be updated, especially the interior. It was getting wore out.”
THE CYCLONE BLOWS IN
Mercury had long been highly regarded as a “factory hot rod” version of the Ford, but its image was always keyed to hot full-size vehicles. In fact, in the mid-’50s the cars carried the maker’s first initial in their grille and were promoted as “Big M” models. By the early ’60s, Mercurys were bigger and more powerful than ever, but that wasn’t what the booming youth market wanted in a car. Big engines in a smaller body was the trend.
In the middle of the 1964 model year, Lincoln Mercury Division decided to bring out a true muscle car carrying the Mercury Comet nameplate. The new Comet Cyclone high-performance model arrived in showrooms soon thereafter. The Cyclone went for a “serious street performance” image and featured less chrome than other Comets. There were thin moldings over the wheel wells and under the doors and “C-O-M-E-T” lettering appeared only on the rear fins. “Cyclone” front fender badges, done in the same style used on the full-size Marauder, sat low on the fenders.
The standard engine provided in the first Cyclone was the four-barrel, 210-hp version of FoMoCo’s 289-cid small-block V-8 with a 9.0:1 compression ratio. The Cyclone also featured 14-inch chrome wheels. Camera-case-grained black vinyl replaced wood trim on the instrument panel. The hot Comet also came with new, pleated black bucket seats and a center console with color-keyed vinyl trim in special colors. A special option was a “convertible” style vinyl roof covering. Cyclones offered a three- or four-speed manual transmission, plus Merc-O-Matic. Promotions for the car were tied into the 100,000-mile endurance run at Daytona.
As tested in Car Life (April 1964), the Cyclone listed at $3,027 with a typical array of options. The magazine listed 0-to-60-mph times of 11.8 seconds with automatic transmission and 10.2 seconds with a four-speed gearbox. The quarter-mile was covered in 16.5 seconds at 73.8 mph by the Merc-O-Matic-equipped Cyclone and 16.4 seconds at 77 mph by the four-speed Cyclone
Mercury raised its own bar in 1966 when the Comet underwent a major restyling. The new body was based on the Ford Fairlane and had a contour line that ran the length of the car. The new 390 Y code with a two-barrel carburetor produced 265 hp, while the 390 H code had a four-barrel carburetor and cranked out 275 hp.
The sport new GT version featured a 390 S code engine that drank through a four-barrel and was rated at 335 hp. The sporty new GT wore stripes and had two air scoops that poked out of a fiberglass hood.
For 1969, FoMoCo reduced the GT to an appearance package on the Comet, but the good news was that the a slightly re-trimmed fastback returned for the new model year. There was also one very hot, all-new Cyclone CJ model.
The ’69 Mercury Cyclone CJ was a one-year-only wonder. It was kind of a fastback Charger and Road Runner wrapped in one package. It came with Ford’s big-block 428-cid/335-hp Cobra Jet V-8 as standard equipment. Also included were a four-speed manual gear box, a competition handling package and a plain front bench seat interior.
The Cyclone CJ featured a trendy blacked-out grille insert that was framed with bright metal. There was a single chrome piece in the middle, running from each end of the grille with a Cyclone emblem in the center. Additional features included front and rear wheel opening moldings, a dual exhaust system, a 3.50:1 ratio rear axle, an engine dress-up kit, a hood tape stripe and a competition-type handling package. A Sports Appearance option group with bucket seats, a racing-style remote-control left-hand outside rearview mirror, turbine-style full wheel covers and a rim-blow steering wheel was optional for the Cyclone CJ at $149 extra.
The Cyclone CJ sold for $3,224. That was just a tad more than a regular Mercury Cyclone V-8 with the 302-cid base engine (which had a base retail price of $2,771). It was clearly aimed at the budget-priced muscle car niche that the Road Runner had carved out. The CJ might also have been the most desirable Cyclone for 1968, at least initially. Only 3,261 examples were built for the model year, making then not only very cool, but relatively rare. Then, at midyear the Cyclone Spoiler II came along, further fortifying Mercury’s muscle car menu.
BIG, BLUE AND BORN AGAIN
Peterson had no problem convincing himself that his hot Cyclone deserved to be restored. Finding somebody that had the time and ambition — and ability — to do it proved to be another matter.
“I’d say 10, 12 years ago, I started looking around,” he says. “I was waiting, trying to find somebody with the time to do it. A lot of body shops don’t want to do the old cars anymore. The guy who did it owns his own body shop and he has old Mustangs and Fords and he said he’d tangle with it.”
The ’69 Merc went into the local East Side Body Shop and got worked on whenever the owner had time. The five-plus years that it was out of commission passed slowly for Peterson, but it also gave him time to do parts chasing. Eventually he found replacement bumpers, a new windshield and plenty of chrome bits and little hard-to-find items. “It took a long time to get done because we I couldn’t’ find parts,” Peterson admits. “I had a hard time finding things, because the people that did have them didn’t want to get rid of them. Then I found another parts car and bought that. I got that out of California, so I got most of what I needed from there.”
The 428 V-8 and running gear were all rebuilt and restored. The original Dark Blue Poly paint and white stripes were replicated and everything Peterson could possibly address got brought back to like-new condition.
“The only thing the shop didn’t do was the interior,” he says. “I had another lady from Weyauwega [Wis.] do that. She re-did all the seats and everything. She made all-new seat covers from scratch. I’m still waiting on the headrests. Everything is just like the original — headliner, the whole nine yards.
“I had to put new doors on it, and all new weather stripping. Basically everything else inside is original. The steering column is original. The tach is something I put in. It’s an aftermarket tach… I [installed] different tires and rims on it. It’s got American Racing Magnum 500s on there now. It’s still got the original posi rear end and top-loader four-speed. Some came with the bucket seats. This one has the bench seat. And, of course, it’s got the Ram Air. That’s factory. And that’s basically about it. They do come with louvers and the spoiler on them. I had the spoiler for the back end, but I haven’t put it back on. They had a spoiler for the front end, too, but they were all different. It depends on how you ordered it.”
Peterson also has a lovely 1955 Ford Crown Victoria that he has owned for many years. He figures he’s got the best of both worlds — a sweet ’50s cruiser when he wants a sedate, nostalgic ride, and a big, muscular beast for the days he feels fast and loud. He has no reservations about driving either car any time there’s not rain or snow in the forecast.
“[The Cyclone] handles great and has the power when you want it. It does great on the highway, but she’ a gas hog!” Peterson laughs. “I put premium in it. That’s the only thing I can put in or it will ping. I put the good gas in it.”
The car does suffer from a bit of an identity complex at times. Even at car shows, people scratch their heads a little and try to remember what it is. “Some people have never heard of it, but yeah, they love it. A lot of people think it’s cool,” Peterson adds.
“I think it’s cool, too.”
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