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posted: 6/11/2012 6:00 AM

1964 Mercury Comet Caliente runs hot

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  • 1964 Mercury Comet Caliente

      1964 Mercury Comet Caliente
    Photos Courtesy of Prestige MotorCar Photography

  • While looking for a cozy convertible to cruise the beaches of Florida, Dave LeVere of Carol Stream happened upon a 1964 Mercury Comet.

      While looking for a cozy convertible to cruise the beaches of Florida, Dave LeVere of Carol Stream happened upon a 1964 Mercury Comet.

  • Mercury Comets with the factory Caliente package have added side trim that gives them more of an upscale look.

      Mercury Comets with the factory Caliente package have added side trim that gives them more of an upscale look.

  • A more powerful engine has replaced the original Ford-made V-8, which is now safely stored away.

      A more powerful engine has replaced the original Ford-made V-8, which is now safely stored away.

  • It took about eight months to get this Comet restored and back on the road.

      It took about eight months to get this Comet restored and back on the road.

  • With its Glacier Blue paint, LeVere's Comet looks right at home near the water.

      With its Glacier Blue paint, LeVere's Comet looks right at home near the water.

 
By Matthew Avery
Special to the Daily Herald

Having had a history with muscled Corvettes and Camaros, Dave LeVere hadn't considered owning a Mercury Comet. However, his performance horizons broadened in 2006 while seeking a classic car to keep at his Florida vacation home.

"I was looking for a simple convertible to bomb around the beach and soak up the sun. I spied (a Comet) outside of a surf shop, took a chance and ended up buying it," LeVere said.

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The restoration took over a year, but the final result was a 1964 Pagoda Green example with an automatic transmission -- the perfect coastal cruiser. That led to this, his second open-air Comet restoration project.

"I had just wrapped up the first one and everyone got such a kick out of it, I figured I'd do a second."

After some searching, he located another torn-apart '64 model. This one had a four-speed manual transmission and a long-standing tradition of sitting -- first twenty years in a barn in Virginia and then, more recently, six years behind barn doors in Wisconsin.

"The previous owner had planned on making a hot rod out of it but gave up," LeVere said.

When LeVere took over ownership in July of 2010, the Comet had been fully dissembled. Everything was hauled back to his home garage and the craftsman embarked on an eight-month journey to put the drop-top back together. Rust had attacked some of the lower panels, making the challenge even tougher.

"It's very difficult finding parts. Some Ford Falcon components will work but mostly you have to fabricate them yourself," he said.

To that end, new rear quarter panels, door skins and the edge along the hood and trunk had to be rebuilt with new steel.

In addition to extensive body reconstruction and a frame-off rotisserie restoration, a new top was added and some radical changes were made to the powertrain.

"The factory engine is a K-code, 289-cubic-inch V-8, same as in the Mustang," but LeVere opted to put in an upgraded 347 cubic-inch stoker. Purists can rest easy; LeVere keeps the original engine safely stored, favoring his underhood alteration for heavy right foot driving.

"I can always switch it back but for now, I don't have to worry about wrecking the motor," he said.

Adding to the Comet's period-correct, hopped-up nature, LeVere swapped out the stock wheels for Cragar units. "That's exactly what you would find on a souped up '60s car."

Since it was completed last spring, LeVere has enjoyed soaking up the Midwest sun, opting to designate the Glacier Blue car as his new Chicago cruiser. Whether he's heading out for a leisurely country drive or to the Wheaton cruise night, he's noticed something peculiar about spectators' reactions.

"I really enjoy watching people eat it up. I don't know why they do; the Comet was never a very popular car. But it seems everyone has a close connection to it."

Only 9,039 convertibles rolled off the Mercury assembly lines in 1964. This one was assembled in Loraine, Ohio. Both of LeVere's classic Comets have the Caliente option, which makes the convertibles stand out even more.

"The (Caliente) package gives you the full-length chrome trim on the side and a padded dash; (It) adds a bit more 'sparkle' and a more upscale look."

So whether LeVere is in town enjoying Windy City breezes or in Florida for some fun in the sun, you'll find him behind the wheel with the top down, committed to one of his classic Comets.

"Driving them is such a rewarding feeling, knowing everything I had to do to get them to where they are," he said. "They drive and handle like new."

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