TOTGA: 1960 (Not Yet Mercury) Comet – Crisis Averted

Sometimes, a car that got away can make us wish things had turned out differently.  But not always.  Which brings me to another TOTGA – a car that was one of The Ones That Got Away.

I have trouble dating this one, but I think it may have been the summer of 1978.  I had just graduated high school and was working for the summer.  But more importantly, I was in the process of turning my First Car into my Forever Car.  I had bought a 1967 Ford Galaxie 500 convertible in February of 1977.  It was a nice car, but carried the scars of being a midwestern car that had seen ten winters of salt spray and everyday use.  I knew that if I could fix the blemishes on its otherwise straight body, my life would be perfect and I would have the most beautiful car in the world, and I would hug it and squeeze it and call it (my) Ford forever.

Sadly, the subject of this tale was not as nice as this example . . .


My convertible went to the body shop at the beginning of summer, after I had stripped it of all of its trim.  Thus began a difficult summer.  I had become accustomed to going where I wanted when I wanted with my own car.  Without my own car, this became more of a problem.  My mother had a car, but she no longer had a job where she could ride the bus to work as had been the situation when I first got my license.  I mostly bummed rides from friends and family, but that got really old really fast.  The solution seemed plain to me: All of my problems could be solved by another car.

. . . but at least it was nicer looking than this one.


I know – this other car would only be required for a month or six weeks.  But I could always sell it, right?  Or drive it and save my perfect convertible.  Just as there was Craigslist in the 90’s, the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette was there to provide a daily dose of “Cars for Sale” in the classifieds.  They were helpfully arranged from oldest to newest, which saved time for those of us into something old and interesting.  And in truth, I had never really stopped reading them from about the age of fourteen or fifteen. My criteria was something that would be old, practical and cheap.  Not necessarily in that order.

When I saw the ad for the 1960 Comet, I was intrigued.  It was located not far from my house.  I have forgotten the back story, but it was, well, a 1960 Comet and therefore different from a boring Falcon.  It was old enough that it had some decidedly classic features like the white steering wheel and the fascinating grille with the wide-set headlights I had never noticed.  I think it was a 2-door, but I don’t actually remember.

The cool stuff was that it was black with a surprisingly up-market look to the black and white vinyl interior.    And how could anyone not love the cat’s eye taillights?  It was a 3-speed, so something with a clutch, and thus simple.  The little 144 cid six meant that it would be economical.

It was not perfect, of course – far from it, actually.  It was kind of crusty around the lower fenders, including what looked like some very amateur rust repair.  There were some torn seams in the seats, though the back seat was in pretty decent shape.  Oddly, the trunk would not open.  Something was happening when the key turned, but it felt like something in the latch mechanism had broken and was hanging up on something else.  And it blew a little oil smoke out of the tailpipe and I don’t think the tires were any too good.  I think the guy wanted about $550 for it.  I knew what I didn’t know and asked if I could take it somewhere else to let someone look at it.

It was a Saturday in the early afternoon, and earlier asked my car-mentor Howard if he would be home so I could bring a car around.  He lived on the other side of Fort Wayne, but a good shake-down drive would have me better prepared for that second opinion I was seeking.  I remember the light steering and how fun and nimble the car felt from behind the wheel.  After spending time piloting big cars, this felt like a sports car.  Yeah, I know.  It was fairly quick away from a traffic light with its really low gearing, but once I got past downtown and the speed limits went up, I realized that 144 cubic inches was not a lot.

The weather started to sprinkle some rain, which was when I discovered that the Comet had vacuum windshield wipers.  I have always been a windshield wiper geek and loved the idea of vacuum wipers – for the novelty, if nothing else.  I had grown up hearing adults reminisce about them (with a laugh, like “can you believe what we used to put up with?”)  Oh well, it was a short-term car so I figured I would be fine with them.  I was less fine when I started to realize that they were not very helpful at clearing the windshield while trying to get 50 mph out of 144 cubic inches after a traffic light turned green.  Vacuum was not in abundance in that circumstance, and neither was a clear windshield.  And I was sure I could find a good wiper arm for the passenger side to replace the one with the broken spring that kept it from doing any real work.

Howard was in the driveway when I pulled in.  I could see immediately that he was not impressed.  It became apparent to me pretty quickly that he and I were looking at two different Comets.  I was seeing one like this – the car in the brochures, with my eye and mind filtering out all of the wear and tear of this scruffy example.

Howard was seeing the actual car.  “This thing has a lot of blow-by.  That engine is tired.”  he said as we saw the fumes chuffing from the road draft tube.  Things took a bad turn when he learned that the trunk would not open.  “I don’t think you can assume that would be an easy fix.  I don’t know why you would be interested if you can’t even get into the trunk.”

We got it out on the road.  We were maybe 50 yards from his driveway when he pointed out the way the shift lever kind of vibrated up and down in your hand when it was in any gear.  “This transmission is worn out.  This shift lever should be smooth when your hand is on it, especially in a Ford.”  I don’t think he even made it to the end of the street before we turned around.

I was feeling pretty chastened even before Howard dropped the hammer:  “I’m really disappointed – I don’t know why you would even bring this thing out here.”  At that moment, I would have been perfectly happy if the ground had opened and both the Comet and I were swallowed by the Earth, never to reappear.  But the Earth did not open, and with the soreness that comes from a mild tongue-lashing from someone I respected, I gamely drove the Comet back to its owner.

The drive back wasn’t nearly as fun as the drive out, and all of the things Howard had pointed out as problems were now apparent to me, though they should have been earlier.  I had to admit that the car just had too many problems to be taken seriously for any price much over $50 or $75, which was the price then of a used car that was six tanks of gas away from the scrapper .  The body was a problem (rust and the messed-up trunk latch).  The worn/torn interior was a problem.  And the running gear was a problem.  There really wasn’t anything about this car that made it worth money, other than it being a 1960 Comet.  The owner wasn’t happy with me either  because I had been gone longer than he had expected.  I got in my mother’s Pontiac and drove home after a thoroughly miserable experience.

Well, not thoroughly miserable.  I got about 45 minutes of wheel time in a 1960 comet.  Not a good 1960 Comet, of course.  But I was of the mindset that even experience in a bad Comet is better than no experience in a Comet at all.  I could see the car’s appeal – or the appeal it would have had if only it had been an example that had lived an easier life.  But I still remember the little car, and how much I liked it.  I am quite sure that my life was better for not having owned this one.  I wish I could say that this was the last car that I had a hand in buying that should never have been bought.  Long ago I discovered one of life’s rules: Nobody ever learned anything by being told something.  However, sometimes being told something will jog loose something you already know.  Which is how I avoided a thorough cleansing of my wallet by that 1960 Comet.

Note – none of these photos is of the actual car that is the subject of the story.