This isn’t the first time we’ve featured a fifth-generation Mercury Comet at Curbside Classic. Some time ago, Paul wrote about a 1972 two-door Comet GT, and this past summer, JPCavanaugh wrote about a 1971 four-door Comet he spotted. Disregarding the trim levels and number of doors, there’s something visually different about this red 1974 Mercury Comet that I found a few months back. I just can’t put my finger on… oh wait! It’s that enormous battering ram bumper tacked on the front!
Let’s be honest though, when introduced, the 1971 Mercury Comet wasn’t exactly the Farrah Fawcett of cars. Still, things can always go from bad to worse, which is exactly what happened in 1973 and subsequently, 1974. If you thought the NHTSA-mandated five mile-per-hour impact bumpers looked awful on the ’73 Comet, then the even bigger ones on the ’74s were purely comical. Maybe they were NASA-mandated, in order to be seen from outer space.
Some cars were able to integrate these new bumpers fairly well, with minimal disruption to the overall design. Others, like our featured car, were not so fortunate. The Comet’s front and rear bumpers were so gigantic, they required cow catcher body-colored extensions before the actual bumper was tacked on. This was especially noticeable at the front, due to the grille’s forward slant.
Besides adding about four more inches in length (to 1973’s additional four inches over 1972), 1974’s bumpers added over 200 pounds to the Comet’s curb weight, bringing a base two-door model of this “compact” to just a few shy of 3,000 lbs. Needless to say, fuel economy suffered. To make matters worse, the introduction of the ’74 models coincided with the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo.
Yet weight increases affected new automobiles across the entire landscape. So as consumers flocked to smaller cars, sales of Mercury’s smallest offering actually went up, especially for the four-door sedan. In fact, 1974 was this generation Comet’s most successful year, with over 120,000 finding buyers.
The two-door coupe was definitely the better looking of the two body styles. Whatever the intent was for the sedan’s styling, it didn’t translate well in reality. The coupe on the other hand, at least in its original incarnation, looked fairly decent for an early ’70s compact.
With more and more people buying compacts primarily for their fuel economy, Mercury increasingly made luxurious options available to lure buyers who were used to large-car comforts. This one, however, is a pretty basic model.
It features a split-back, cloth-and-vinyl bench seat which was part of the optional Deluxe interior. Plusher, leather-like vinyl buckets were also available, as part of the Custom interior.
Despite its exterior design, the rear seat environment looks airy enough to me, with decently sized vent windows. The plastic over the wheel well is an interesting location for the lap belts. I apologize for any glare in the interior photos; I thought my lens was flat against the window when I took these.
I have no idea what’s under the hood. Three engines were available, a 200 cu in inline-6, a 250 I6, and a 302 V8. Transmission choices were either a 3-speed manual or 3-speed automatic, like the one featured in this car.
The Comet soldiered on, with sales steadily declining, through 1977 when it was replaced by the more conventional looking Zephyr. By that point it was bookended by the smaller Bobcat and larger Monarch compacts. While it’s debatable which car’s appearance was most hurt by the federally mandated impact absorbing bumpers, it’s certain that the 1974 Mercury Comet received one of the most visible design modifications to accommodate them.