COAL #9: ’66 Comet Caliente Convertible – You Never Forget Your First…

Dad was well aware that his seventeen-year-old son was certifiably car-crazy long before I turned seventeen in the spring of 1970. Fortunately, the question was not whether I would have wheels of my own, but exactly what that second car in our Morristown, New Jersey driveway would be.

Naturally, it would be a previously-owned model, as Dad wasn’t driving a new car at the time, either. The first used car that really caught my eye was a maroon ’65 Comet two-door sedan on the corner lot of a dealer on the corner of Morris Street and Martin Luther King Drive. After all these years, I’m not sure what first attracted me to the car. Perhaps it was its square-rigged styling combined with its relatively manageable dimensions. I had no desire to drive anything with more than two doors, so its body style fit the bill as well.

The ’65 Comet 202 two-door sedan.                                                      Source:


The Comet (at least that one) was not to be, however. Dad and I somehow found ourselves at Denville, New Jersey’s Reinertsen Motors, located on Route 53 not too far from our previous home in Morris Plains. In the spring of 1970, Reinertsen, who held an English Ford franchise, was then selling out of its last few Cortinas. Finding that their best deal on a new Cortina was out of our price range, we perused their small used-car lot. Fifty-some years on, I don’t recall what else was parked there, but I fixated on a low-mileage 1966 Mercury Comet Caliente convertible. It’s hard to imagine any Reinertsen customer trading in a Comet for a Cortina, especially before the first energy crisis, but in any event, the convertible caught my eye and the rest, as they say, is history.

An exact match, except that my dash was blue, not black.              Source:


I remember hearing Dad and Kjell, the salesman, trading Scandinavian stories while I repeatedly circled the Comet, conducting a detailed inspection both inside and out and imagining what it might be like to drive. Finally, the deal was done. The only hiccup was that they somehow ignored my father’s preference to finance the four-year-old convertible and instead wrote it up as a straight cash sale. No matter, the paperwork was completed and I was now ready to drive away in my first car.

It’s probably a good thing that my first car wasn’t a Cyclone.      Source:


As other CC authors have noted, nothing is quite like the overwhelming feeling of freedom and personal mobility when you take the wheel of your own car for the first time. Of course, I had to lower the power convertible top for the drive back to Morristown (briefly interrupted by a stop at a local gas station, as the Comet’s fuel gauge showed one-quarter full as I drove off the lot). I’m sure I was grinning from ear to ear as I settled into the bucket seat, shifted the Cruise-o-Matic into Drive, and listened to the small-block Ford’s exhaust note as I motored towards home.

At the time, I didn’t know how to drive a stick-shift.            Source:


And what of Reinertsen Motors? They picked up a SAAB franchise in 1970, and remained loyal to the Swedish brand even after GM’s 2008 euthanasia. After a few years as a used-car dealer, the location gained a new name and a FIAT franchise in 2012.  Today, it’s no longer a car dealership.

Not to put too fine a point on it, an important new life-stage had begun. The Comet became my daily driver during the rest of my junior year at high school and through graduation the next summer. In the fall of 1971, it would carry me (and a car-full of my worldly goods) across the country to 5353 West Third Street in Los Angeles, as I entered Art Center College of Design to begin my industrial design education.

A couple of decades before my arrival.                                    Source:


That sort of cross-country journey would make a good subject for a near-future COAL, don’t you think?