1962 MERCURY Comet Custom- San Pablo, CA Print
Written by Double Dragon
Sunday, 22 March 2015 21:05

1962 MERCURY Comet Custom- San Pablo, CA


Writing and photography copyright D. S. Brown

62 mercury comet custom san pablo ca logo


62 mercury comet custom san pablo ca comet chrome

1962 was the first model year that the Comet was officially a member of the Mercury line up. The 1960 and 1961 Comet was an orphan sold through Mercury dealerships but not an official Mercury car.

The Comet was an upscale larger version of the Ford Falcon platform which was shared across divisions to absorb the cost of development. The Ford Falcon was the most successful of all the domestic import fighters. Imports were eating into the corners of domestic profits due to a recession at the close of the 1950s which created a minor backlash against full size American cars. Some buyers gravitated to smaller cheaper imported cars.

62 mercury comet custom san pablo ca front

General Motors and Chrysler created their own compacts to combat the imports. The domestic downsized cars were not only cheap and small they also emulated and even surpassed the foreign engineering advances. Suddenly compact American built cars were available with air cooled engines, independent rear suspension, rope drive, transaxles, turbocharging, long intake runners, and V6 engines. Once numbers were tallied, Ford Falcon won using simple conventional engineering. Falcon was a basic, small cheap economical car that took no chances and broke no new ground.

62 mercury comet custom san pablo ca 3 qtr view

Originally the Comet piggyback version of the Falcon was assigned to the Edsel division of Ford. The Edsel division became a sales disaster and folded up. The Comet was sent out as a stand alone model simply called 'Comet'. Edsel identification and styling cues were removed or disguised to avoid the taint of failure. Stand alone models had been tried before when the Continental was badged as a stand alone before becoming a Lincoln. Over at Chrysler, the new compact Valiant was a stand alone model before being absorbed into the Plymouth roster.

62 mercury comet custom san pablo ca side

Much of the original goal of the Falcon was lost in translation to Comet. The small Spartan inexpensive Falcon was matched against the imports. But with a stretched wheelbase and added length the Comet was pushed out of the true compact size category into 'intermediate' status. The added chrome and styling details increased cost and added weight that overwhelmed the power of the weak standard 144 cubic inch inline 6 cylinder engine that produced 95 HP.

1961 Comets addressed the power issue by offering a desperately needed optional 170 cubic inch inline 6 cylinder engine. Compare the stats between the 144 and 170 cubic inch engine in this page from the owner's manual shown below. The 170 is a stroked version of the 144. Both engines run on regular fuel and use the same spark plugs and timing. The transmissions available were a 3 speed manual or a 2 speed automatic. Standard tires are a shockingly small 13 inches x 6 inches.

62 mercury comet custom san pablo ca engine specs

When the Comet was adopted by Mercury in 1962 the rear end was given some classic Mercury styling touches to provide a family resemblance. Now the Comet also received Mercury branding on the exterior and interior. Even the keys are stamped with the picture of the god Mercury.

62 mercury comet custom san pablo ca keys

Note the stylized fender ornaments that look like fighter jet target sites.

62 mercury comet custom san pablo ca fender ornament

Although the Comet name was initially intended as an Edsel model it fit the Mercury lineup perfectly. The space race was on everyone's minds at this time. Mercury Division was fortuitously well named. Coincidentally, the first series of space missions were named Mercury. The next program was Gemini which is a zodiac sign 'ruled' by the planet Mercury. Mercury Division also offered the Meteor. Over at Ford the Galaxie full size car sold well as did the Dodge Polara which evoked the star Polaris. Note the exciting 'jet age' space type layout of the owner's manual cover.

62 mercury comet custom san pablo ca owner cover

Mercury justified the added expense of a Mercury over the Ford version of the same platform in several ways. One simple change Mercury made was relocating the center of the rear axle rearwards on the leaf springs to increase wheelbase. Salesmen proclaimed  that the longer wheelbase improves ride quality. In many cases it did, but in an interesting move General Motors shortened their intermediate wheelbase from 115 inches on 1967 2 doors to 112 inches on 1968 2 doors because it eliminated a disagreeable harmonic frequency created as the car crossed the sectioned joints of freeways. Mercury's wheelbase extension was mostly symbolic. The Mercury Parklane added 1 inch to the wheelbase as compared to the Ford platform. Not so with the Comet. The wheelbase was stretched a full 5 extra inches over the Falcon platform.

62 mercury comet custom san pablo ca r wheelwell

The image above reveals how the Comet was stretched 5 inches but still used the same doors and roofline as the Ford Falcon. An extension is designed into the rear quarter bridging the gap between door frame and the wheelwel which has been moved backwards. On the Falcon, the wheelwell followed the line of the door 5 inches closer to the door.

62 mercury comet custom san pablo ca st wheel

If you wanted greater comfort in your car besides just some extra chrome, then buying a Mercury made sense. A base Mercury provided more luxury content in a standard package than the Ford version of the same platform and for less cost than buying a Ford with all the extras loaded on individually as options.

62 mercury comet custom san pablo ca radio

This Comet has a 3 spoke steering wheel, full carpeting, full width protective floor mats, wipers, washer defrost, lighter, ashtray and radio. The Comet provided 100 MPH speedometer, odometer, fuel gauge and temperature gauge. In the center of the backrest of the front seat a fold out ashtray is provided. The Comet has full size wheelcovers instead of the 'poverty caps' usually found on compacts. Some of these items were not provided standard in basic economy cars.

62 mercury comet custom san pablo ca door tag

The door plate shown above is complete except for the final sequence in the serial number which is deleted from the image to protect owner privacy.

Body 54B= 4 Door sedan Comet Custom

Color T= Champagne paint color

Trim 14= Beige

Date 19A= Jan 19, 1962 build date

DSO is blank= no dealer zone indicated.

Trans 3= Automatic transmission

Axle 3= 3.20:1 ratio non locking rear axle

Serial number 2H12Uxxxxxx has the final digits removed for owner privacy. The prefix decodes:

2= 1962 Model year

H= Lorain, Ohio final assembly plant

12= 4 door Comet Custom

U= 170 cubic inch 6 cylinder 1 barrel engine

This Comet has single master cylinder manual drum brakes, but it also doesn't weight very much so the brakes are adequate for stopping the car. The Comet also lacks rear defrost which is common in California cars. The Comet doesn't have air conditioning which is rarely absent in California cars but not unusual for a small compact car such as this.

The Comet was sold new through Cortese Brothers Lincoln Mercury on San Pablo in Richmond, California. See a story on Cortese Brothers in the DEALERSHIPS section of this website in the story CALIFORNIA/ OAKLAND OUTSKIRTS.

Slightly west of Richmond the border to San Pablo runs through the suburbs. This was where the original owner of the car lived. This Mercury Comet spent most of its life in San Pablo, California. The Comet was originally purchased by a San Pablo man for his wife. The Comet was considered a good compromise car for wives to drive in a time period where many of the husbands piloted enormously long and wide full sized cars. Despite manageable size the Comet wasn't considered a stripped car. The modern analogy would be the difference between a Honda and an Acura or Toyota and Lexus.

62 mercury comet custom san pablo ca r seat

The little Comet was left all original except for an early change to the front seat which was reupholstered in plain vinyl. The husband apparently didn't like the cloth insert as seen in the back seat in the photo above. Note that the fabric insert matches the door panels. Also take a look at those wedge 'comet' shaped door arm rests.

The Comet escaped accidents and the California weather was good to it. San Pablo, California is far enough from the sea that the salt air is not a serious issue for cars. When not in use the Comet was garaged. Frank's aunt used the car for local commuting. It is tempting to infer that the car saw some time on the highways due to a triple A sticker for the California State Automobile Association attached to the right of the rear bumper.

62 mercury comet san pablo ca CHP inspect sticker

The remains of a California Highway Patrol inspection sticker with an expiry date of Dec 31, 1974 can be seen in the window. The same sticker was found in another Bay Area California car. See the story of the 1964 Ford Thunderbird in the ALLEY FINDS section of the CAR STORIES in this website for a clearer shot of what this sticker looks like.

The Comet currently shows 70,205 miles and has certainly traveled once around the dial but probably not more than that.

62 mercury comet san pablo ca odometer

When the old couple passed away in 1998 their nephew Frank was placed in charge of clearing out the old house. Frank held a garage sale where he was approached by a gypsy. Frank believed the gypsy's story about needing a cheap car for his father to drive. Frank sympathized and generously gave him the Comet for a few hundred dollars and a handshake deal that the balance of the low $500.00 sale price would be paid in a few days. The gypsy drove off in the Comet and promptly tried to flip it. He listed it in the local paper for $2,000.00.

62 mercury comet san pablo ca engine

Nick and his wife Tracy spotted the ad for the Comet on New Year's eve. After work and before going out for the celebrations they couldn't resist going to have a look at the Comet. Arriving early at the address directly from work, several ragamuffin kids nervously checked them out. Nick quickly deduced that he and Tracy must have looked like cops parked in their Ford Taurus wearing dark suits!

At the appointed time, they met the gypsy selling the car. An old burned out neon sign sat above the house as a reminder of some earlier period when this was a small time used car lot. Half the time spent examining the car was spent fending off skilled pickpocket kids who hovered about. The gypsy claimed it was his grandmother's car. The Comet was in great shape and even still had an old original bias ply whitewall spare tire in the right corner of the trunk.

62 mercury Comet san pablo ca spare tire

Nick and Tracy liked the car but were leery of the gypsy. An important detail set off the alarm bells. The name on the pink slip title had no connection with the name of the seller. The seller brushed off the questions saying his grandmother changed her name. Nick asked to speak to her and a comical scene ensued. The only phone in the house was a pay phone. The gypsy asked to borrow a quarter to feed the pay phone installed in his living room. The call of course was not answered.

Nick and Tracy walked away from the car but followed up on the story once they got home. Calling the phone book listing that matched the name and location on the pink slip for the Comet led them to the real story. After a long chat with Frank they discovered the actual history of the car. Frank also informed them that the gypsy had never paid the remainder of the nominal $500.00 purchase price. Nick told Tracy that he was going to return and confront the gypsy in a diplomatic but firm way and collect the money owed to the nephew and buy the car. He wanted the Comet.

When they arrived Nick didn't get too far into his rehearsed spiel before Tracy moved in for the attack. Like a prosecuting attorney she pulverized the gypsy's evasions and outright lies and blew the lid off everything. As the dust settled the matter was settled. Nick paid for the car minus the money due to Frank which he collected on his behalf. After being kidnapped by gypsies the Comet was back in a family home again.

62 mercury Comet san pablo ca washer bag

The Comet proved to be complete except for one missing hubcap. Nick went to an old hubcap place on Divisadero Street in San Francisco where the old lady managed to locate an exact match. For safety seatbelts were installed in the car. After watching the temperature gauge rise to threateningly high levels in hot summer deadlocked California traffic jams an electric fan was added.

Nick would like to have the car repainted soon but for now it is still holding up quite nicely. The driver's door is probably the roughest part of the car with some touchup spots and chips. The only damage to the car that needed immediate replacement was the oil pan because the drain hole threads were stripped.

Mercury division provides a lot of room in the trunk when you consider this was classified as a 'compact' car. Despite an initial mission for about town commuting this Comet is well suited to road tripping.

62 mercury Comet san pablo ca trunk

Note the trunk light mounted in the center of the inner trunk lid and the full length trunk mat in the photo above. Just more examples of the Mercury extra touches.

Nick and Tracy have taken the Comet as far north as the Oregon Caves. It proved to be an enjoyable road trip car thanks to the optional 170 cubic inch engine which provides decent highway power.

62 mercury comet san pablo ca rear

Last Updated ( Friday, 04 March 2016 21:45 )