The time has come. It has now been exactly one year since taking on the task of driving my 1963 Mercury Comet barn find car every single day. You can read the article which details my first few months of owning her right here but I’ll give you the basic rundown if you don’t feel like jumping into that one.
Before I acquired it, the Comet was owned by an old man who had it locked away in storage for a few decades sitting beside a Dodge Rampage, of all things. This man had a friend of his pull both cars from a barn in the rural town of Cleveland, Georgia in the spring of 2014 so they could be sold. He brought them up to running condition, which essentially means “They’re not safe, but they drive and sort of stop.” From what I could tell, he cleaned the gunk out of the fuel system, changed the plug wires and rotor, ran new rubber brake hoses to some new wheel cylinders in the front, put some mismatched, nearly bald tires on every corner, and called it good. The oil filter hadn’t been changed since the Carter administration and the oil itself was the color of bacon grease, so I know he only tackled the necessities needed to allow for a test drive. Honestly, I wouldn’t have bought the car if I couldn’t hear it run, so that was the most of my concern, really. $2000 is what it took to bring her home - that’s when things started breaking.
Incidents and Cost Breakdown:
(Some parts I acquired without cost from family members, but I’ll add their internet prices accordingly to be fair about it.)
The day I brought it home, I took the valve cover off, cleaned all of the sludge off the valve train and replaced some cracked (but not leaking) upper gaskets.
-Valve cover gasket ($9.07)
-Exhaust manifold gasket ($12.39)
-Exhaust manifold flange gasket ($2.12)
About a week after bringing my Comet home, an ear on the shift collar for the column-shifted three speed manual transmission sheared off and left me stranded, which led to a tow truck.
-New shift collar ($14.02)
-Replaced myself in half an hour.
About three weeks later, I was in traffic, put my foot on the clutch pedal and something popped before the pedal went to the floor. I pulled the transmission and found one of the springs on the pressure plate had snapped off and flung itself through the bellhousing.
-New clutch kit ($274.37)
-Replaced myself in about eight hours.
I went on another month or so without incident until the generator started squealing. I didn’t get stranded but the pulley bearing let go when the car was idling in my driveway. I got a ride to two different parts stores and replaced both bearings with my uncle’s supervision since I couldn’t find a good tutorial online.
-Pulley bearing ($5.78)
-Commutator end bearing ($2.47)
-Replaced with help in under an hour.
The longest stretch without incident up until that point was about three months when the brake pedal started to get squishy and I would have to occasionally pump it to bring the pressure back up.
-New brake master cylinder ($31.14)
-New front brake shoes ($16.97)
-Replaced master cylinder in about fifteen minutes, brake shoes in an hour.
At that point I went through the rest of the fall and most of the winter without anything notable happening other than regular maintenance, until February of 2015 when the generator started falling out of polarity. Eventually, it wouldn’t stay in polarity even with a lead jump, so I went to the junk yard and scoured it for a Ford 3G alternator. I found one on a 1995 Ford Taurus that looked new and had “REBUILT” stamped into the aluminum housing. I bought the alternator, wire harness, and a v-belt pulley from a 1985 Chevrolet S-10. I then built a bracket out of some steel and installed it all in the Comet.
-Alternator, harness, and pulley ($46.88)
-It took me about two hours to build the new bracket, and about fifteen minutes to mount and wire the alternator. Yes, really. I researched it extensively the day before and it’s unbelievably easy to do.
About two months ago, the upper ball joints started bumping, so I replaced them and the tie rod ends while I was under there.
-Ball joints and tie rod ends ($75.56)
-This took me about half a day to install and about a week of tweaking the alignment once a day to get it to track perfectly straight again.
Parts Total (not including regular maintenance): $487.77
This list just includes the parts I have installed, not the parts I have bought. In the same way that most people kept a collection of parts in the trunk of their cars back in the day “just in case” so do I. I currently have an upper and lower radiator hose, some spark plugs, water, oil, three fan belts, a fuel filter, hose clamps, and assorted glass fuses stored away in my trunk. Have I needed to use any of them yet? Nope.
Do you really drive that car everyday without a backup?
Yes. Every single day. No backup car.
Doesn’t it get awful gas mileage?
Mixed driving yields about 25mpg on average. All things considered, that’s pretty phenomenal.
Is there anything you don’t like about the car?
I’m not too fond of the three speed on the column, only because first gear isn’t synchronized. Because of this, you have to be at a complete standstill to shift into first or it will grind itself to pieces. Also, the lack of an overdrive makes going over about 60mph uncomfortable due to the engine RPMs. Eventually, I want to swap it to a T5 manual 5-speed with the available bolt-on conversions, but the current transmission works well for the time being.
How many miles have you driven it over the past year?
I have no idea. The odometer isn’t accurate. But I live about halfway between Atlanta and the bottom of the Appalachian Trail and have taken it to Atlanta numerous times, as well as trips to the mountains without issue, on top of my daily drives around the city.
How do you drive in the south without air conditioning?
The same way I walk down the sidewalk without it. I’m not a pansy.
Would you recommend I buy an old car and daily drive it?
That depends on quite a few variables and not just your competence of working on cars. It also takes patience to drive something as old as I do. If you get easily frustrated when something breaks or like to throw your tools across the garage in anger, don’t do it. If you don’t currently own a full set of hand tools that are well broken in, you probably shouldn’t try it either. Old cars “tell you” when something is going wrong and you have to pay attention to it instead of plugging it into a scan tool and having the OBD system tell you what is happening. If you notice changes in how the car is behaving, you have to immediately troubleshoot. However, most remedies can be found with a screwdriver or wrench if you catch the issue quickly. I haven’t needed anything beyond a set of SAE sockets, combination wrenches, screwdrivers, pliers, and a hammer to fix anything on my Comet yet. I keep all of those in the trunk at all times as well.
What about security when you park it somewhere?
Who the hell knows how to drive a three-on-the-tree these days? I leave my windows down everywhere I go if it isn’t raining or cold out.
Does it have seatbelts?
Nope! I’ve been pulled over for not wearing one once as well. Federal seatbelt laws were enacted in 1968. My car never had them and lacks the optional mounting plates in the floor. I can’t get a ticket for a safety feature the car never had.
What about parts? Are they hard to find?
Not at all. The inline six in my Comet was available in pretty much every car Ford made from the first Falcon in 1960, all the way through the mid-eighties in the fox body Mustangs. My car rides on the Falcon platform and the first generation Ford Mustangs also used a modified Falcon platform, so an unreal amount of replacement parts carry over between the cars. Anything you need is either available through any parts store or can be pulled from a warehouse within 12hrs or less where I live. If you bought, say, a Hudson Hornet, Studebaker, or even anything Mopar of the same vintage, you wouldn’t have this ability.
I bought my Comet because I loved it the first time I saw it. Over the past year, it has become a part of my identity and everyone around here knows my car because of how unique it is. I’ll walk out of a store and find people who are taking pictures standing beside it, people who pull up next to me at traffic lights and ask what it is, older guys who stop to tell me car stories from their pasts and commend me for keeping it alive. Even the truck-hating people who drive hybrids and electric cars give me compliments and want to talk about how fun it is to see someone driving such a heap everyday.
Some cars just have a tendency to become a part of you. I found mine.
-Grace and Peace, Drew