Old Gold in that there Mercury

Greg Baxter

In 2015 my son Doug and his wife Retha visited his father-in-law in the Northern Cape. Of course father-in-law Jurie has many interesting things on his property and Doug is drawn to these items as a moth is to a flame. This time, it was a newly acquired car that Jurie had bought.

comet-old-2

Doug was instantly attracted to it, and it wasn’t long before he negotiated a deal with Jurie.

The car is a 1966 Ford Mercury Comet. Going back in time, legend has it that some folk had an aversion to the name Ford, so, Ford came up with the name Mercury, which was placed more upmarket than ordinary Fords. It resembles a Ford Fairlane somewhat.

From info I have gathered, the Comet was not destined for South Africa and this car came via Rhodesia ( now Zimbabwe). The only other Comet I have seen belongs to Karel Pienaar who races his 1965 Comet V8 in the Historic class at Swartkops raceway and other venues.

According to Karel, his Comet is very fast and has to use restrictors on the intake to keep everything fair in its class. I stand corrected that our car is the only 1966 Comet in South Africa.

Being a big car and left-hand drive, it is quite daunting to drive. Luckily, it has a 3,3 litre straight six installed as standard and if one makes a mistake, one can catch it in time, like I did recently. As I turned into our driveway, momentarily forgetting about the left-hand drive issue, I heard friend Johan shout out! I nearly hit the side of the house with two right-hand headlights! All I could do was give a rather nervous laugh!

As Karel mentioned recently, you don’t drive a Comet, you float it!

My good friend Johan Potgieter of Potgieter Panelbeaters did a full restoration on our Comet.

He started off by stripping the car to a bare shell. He then used paint remover to remove all the paint. At this point, he was astounded as to how much bodyfiller was on the car. The roof had approximately 50mm of putty on it.

There was very little rust on it, but the amount of dents more than made up for it. The bonnet or hood took Johan three days to get straight. The roof with all the putty removed looked as if a bunch of teenagers had boogied on it!

I was amazed at how much gunge can accumulate on a car in 50 years!

Luckily, when Doug bought it, the car was complete; as one can imagine it can prove very difficult to source any missing parts… especially for a car that was not sold here. Also, with our weak Rand, If one orders a part from the USA, converts Dollars to Rands and then adds the shipping costs, the shock on the wallet can be staggering.

We needed a windscreen as the original was cracked. We were quoted a price of R15 000 for a new imported one. We were lucky to find out that the windscreen for the Ford Ranchero which was sold locally is an exact fit, costing just R4 500. Many phone calls and angst later, but it was worth it.

Doug had made the decision early on the keep the car original; To keep the 3.3 litre straight-six instead of transplanting a Ford V8 into the engine bay; keeping the bench seats instead of changing to bucket seats, only changing their colour from red to grey, to match the new body colour, and to keep the wheels original, and not fit larger aftermarket alloys.

comet-new-1By the way, did you notice the gorgeous wheel caps? They have the GT moniker on them and are also found on some Ford Mustang models. A good decision I believe, as original might be worth more. Adding a rebuilt V8 can also add between R40 000 and R60 000 to the cost.

And, another shocker: Doug saw a set of alloys he liked; It turned out they cost R60 000!

While Johan was busy with the restoration of the car, my job as gopher, was to look for suppliers of the parts that needed to be replaced. Doug doesn’t feature much in the everyday restoration work because he lives in Musina and the car was restored in Johannesburg.

Some of the items we restored, replaced or refurbished: new whitewall tyres, professionally cleaned fuel tank, radiator and pipes, new sleeve for master cylinder, new slave cylinders, new suspension rubbers, new brake shoes, new carpets and interior throughout (courtesy of Pauls Auto Trim), wiring, new basecoat and six layers of clearcoat. All metal surfaces cleaned, prepared and painted ( Motor included). Many, many brackets and bolts and screws, carburetor cleaned and restored, complete new exhaust system, new door and window rubbers as well as window and door latch mechanisms restored.

comet-interior-1Altogether, Johan made a brilliant job on a car usually destined for the scrapyard. It takes dedication and commitment and a lot of hard cash to achieve the result you see before you!

And, in the end, it’s all worth it: an elegant, classic car which stands out from the blobby tin boxes we see everywhere on our roads these days.

BLOB:Let us know about your classic – brendanjseery@gmail.com