I was taking my wife home when I took a side street I didn’t even know it existed. A narrow slit of pavement, on the edges of a middle-class neighborhood, not far from our home. Credit to Waze for helping me ‘discover’ new corners of our neighborhood in San Salvador. It was then that I saw it; the blunt square silhouette that screamed mid-’60s Ford product. But which one? As I got closer, I couldn’t place the model in my mind, which only meant one thing: It had to be a Mercury of some sort.
With heat waves being in the news recently, how convenient to come across a Comet Caliente; in hardtop version of all things. One of 29,000 built in ’65. Not that the Comet name was alien to me, but the 1st gen. and Maverick versions were the ones I clearly recalled. I had erased these mid-sixties ones from my mind, although a few Comet-related neurons got awakened once I researched the matter. It is part of the whole Mercury problem; unless you lived the period or happen to be a fan, aside from a few models, Fords are the first thing that pop to mind when coming across one.
Thanks to my Mother, I actually have some distant recollections of 1960s Dearborn products. Back in Puerto Rico, she owned a Comet (no idea what year) before I was born, and she only referred to it as ‘the car that developed an oil leak they could never fix.’ In any case, after a few months of dealing with the issue, she sold it away.
Besides the Comet anecdote, for reasons I can’t remember, Mom borrowed a white mid-’60s Fairlane or Galaxie during a brief stay of ours in San Juan. It’s one of the few memories of my childhood riding American cars, and I clearly remember moving freely in the front bench seat while the car idled away in San Juan’s notorious traffic jams. The fun one could have before seatbelts! (As long as no accident occurred).
Now, the lack of trim in my find didn’t help matters in identifying the model. Though the grille seems to say it’s indeed a Caliente. And what is it doing in Central America? I’m pretty sure it was sold here back in the day. While most local Fords came from the company’s European divisions, a small number of US-built models were also sold. This Caliente most likely being one of them.
So, I have a Caliente on my hands. After a quick search, I discover the 2-door hardtop hasn’t appeared at CC before. Even at the Cohort, ’64-’65 Caliente sightings are rare. Well, I would have preferred for this job to fall on a Mercury fan, or even a Ford one, but such is fate. So bear with me as I do a quick review of the Caliente, and hopefully, this package isn’t too hot for me to handle.
As it’s known, first there was the ’60-’63 Falcon-based Comet, the luxury compact originally meant for the Edsel division. As Edsel imploded, the Comet was dumped on Mercury dealers, and sold from ’60-’61 without any divisional badges. A ‘Comet.’ In ’62-’63 the model became an official Mercury, and now the division had its own entry to face the ongoing ‘compact wars;’ which was a kind of thing with the Big 3 at the time.
A new Comet was released for ’64. Probably reflecting Ford’s need for production streamlining, the 2-gen. Comet arrived looking more Falcon-based than ever; though sporting a nifty Continental-inspired grille. Like all of Detroit’s models then, the Comet began to branch out into a whole family of options, bodies, and trim packages. The base one being the 202 Series, followed by the 404 Series.
With performance becoming a marketable thing in the early ’60s, it was now time for Ford Mercury to release hot Comets. And so the Caliente came to be in ’64. Now, how many Americans knew how to say Kah-leean-teh back then? I guess Ford’s Mercury’s marketing team had watched The Three Caballeros too many times. Or played too many Xavier Cugat records.
In any case, as the 1965 brochure states, the Hot-One, or Caliente, was an ‘action poised beauty … with winning performance.’ Standard equipment included the 120HP Fairlane 6, or the 200HP Cyclone 289, with a 3-speed manual. If you wanted your Caliente even hotter (I won’t stop with these), the 225HP Cyclone Super 289 was the ticket, with a 4-speed manual, or a Merc-O-Matic automatic.
Being a Mercury, the Caliente had to offer a gamut of luxury options. Walnut-toned insets in the instrument panel, deep carpeting, A/C, courtesy lights, power steering, power brakes, tachometer, and remote-control side view mirror; among others. The Caliente could also be had in various body styles: 4 and 2-door sedans, 2-door Hardtop, and convertible.
Of course, in the Comet performance arena, the Cyclone was the top model; with the Cyclone Super 289 delivering 225HP. But that’s a whole different story.
Let’s move up close now, time to face the matter of the Caliente’s styling. Or lack thereof. Where you stand on this issue most likely depends on whether one supports ‘Team GM’ or ‘Team Ford.’ Of course, the Caliente’s Falcon origins have much to do with the model’s austere styling; a bit of a MacNamara and Ford engineering legacy. As the Falcon showed, both preferred rather plain and somewhat industrial-looking designs for the practically minded.
Practical and honest, two qualities that I’ve forever associated with Ford thanks to one of my closest friends; a Wyoming native, and a lifelong member of ‘Team Ford.’ Whenever the topic of vintage GM and Ford products came up, I always sensed that he found GM products a bit too flashy. To drive a Buick or a Pontiac was to call for undue attention, and the discrete service of Fords was more appealing to him. His view of the world was a novel concept to me.
True that. Against a Pontiac or Buick, a Caliente’s lines had to come off as somewhat outdated; even if in ’65 it was sporting the stacked-headlight motif that Pontiac had made popular. Then again, the early ’60s were filled with interesting performers wrapped in unassuming shapes; think Dodge Dart Sport, or Rambler 440 (among others).
Regardless of its current derelict state, our Caliente looks like a car that could easily be put back on the streets. I admit, its lines may have been rather drab against GM’s then-competition, but that’s all in the past now. Besides, the Caliente’s performance possibilities make it an unusual and interesting proposal.
The hardtop styling is certainly very Ford (Mercury?) of the period. It’s a roof shape that had first appeared in Ford’s full-sizers in ’63, spreading to the Caliente in ’64. And about its effect, let’s just say that in the Caliente, it makes for… not the most rousing of shapes. Still, it’s certainly distinctive.
The Comet would be extensively revised for ’66, moving up to intermediate, and sporting coke-bottle flanks. The time for the industrial-looking Dearborn products was about to reach its end. Meanwhile, Ford would keep making Mercury ever more redundant by adding more upscale Ford models; the Falcon Futura, the LTD, and so on.
So, it was time to say goodbye to my Caliente find. On my drive back home, I remembered a call I had last year with my Wyoming friend. The topic of Mercury had come up.
- There are no Mercurys anymore… isn’t that odd? – I said.
- Yeah… they had some nice models… from time to time.
True words. I leave it up to you to decide if the Caliente makes it into that list.