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Mercury rising: 1966 Comet restored to life

Motoring

Johannesburg - My son Doug and his wife Retha visited his father-in-law in the Northern Cape in 2015. Of course father-in-law Jurie has many interesting things on his property and Doug is drawn to such items as a moth is to a flame.

This time, it was a newly acquired car that Jurie had bought. Doug was instantly attracted to it, and it wasn’t long before he negotiated a deal with Jurie.

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The restored 1966 Mercury Comet in all its glory. Picture: Brendan Seery

The car was a 1966 Ford Mercury Comet. Legend has it that some folk had an aversion to the name Ford, so the car maker came up with the name Mercury, which was placed more upmarket than ordinary Fords. It resembled a Ford Fairlane.

The Comet was not destined for South Africa and this vehicle came via the former Rhodesia. The only other Comet I have seen belonged to Karel Pienaar who races his 1965 Comet V8 in the historic class at the Zwartkops Raceway and other venues.

According to Karel, his Comet was very fast and had to be fitted with restrictors on the intake to keep everything fair in its class. I stand corrected that our car is the only 1966 Comet in South Africa.

Being a big car and left-hand drive it is quite daunting to drive. Luckily, it has a 3.3-litre straight-six engine as standard and if one makes a mistake, one can catch it in time, like I did recently. As I turned into our driveway, momentarily forgetting about the left-hand drive issue, I heard friend Johan shout out a warning. I nearly hit the right-hand headlights against the side of the house! All I could do was laugh nervously!

As Karel mentioned recently, you don’t drive a Comet, you float it!

As it was before restoration

My good friend Johann Potgieter of Potgieter Panelbeaters did a full restoration on the Comet.

He started off by stripping the car to its bare shell. He then used paint remover to remove all the old paint. At this point he was astounded to see how much body filler was on the car. The roof had about 50mm of putty on it.

There was very little rust, but the amount of dents more than made up for that.

The bonnet took Johann three days to get straight. The roof with all the putty removed looked as if a bunch of teenagers had boogied on it! I was amazed 

Luckily, when Doug bought it, the car was complete. As one can imagine it can prove very difficult to source any missing parts, especially for a car that was not sold here. Also, with the weak rand, if one orders a part from the United States, and then adds the shipping costs, the shock on the wallet can be staggering.

We needed a windscreen as the original was cracked and were quoted R15 000 for a new imported one.

We were lucky to find out that the windscreen for the Ford Ranchero, sold locally, was an exact fit, and cost just R4500. It took many phone calls and angst to discover this, but it was worth it.

Doug had made the decision early on to keep the car original; to keep the 3.3-litre straight-six instead of transplanting a Ford V8 into the engine bay; keeping the bench seats instead of changing to bucket seats, only changing their colour from red to grey, to match the new body colour, and to keep the wheels original, and not fit larger after-market alloys.

By the way, did you notice the gorgeous wheel caps? They have the GT moniker on them and are also found on some Ford Mustang models.

Keeping it original was a good decision, I believe, as original might be worth more. Putting in a rebuilt V8 can also add between R40 000 and R60 000 to the cost.

Another shocker: Doug saw a set of alloys he liked, but they cost R60 000!

The interior was re-trimmed in grey to match the new body colour.

While Johann was busy with the car's restoration, my job as gopher was to look for suppliers of the parts that needed to be replaced. Doug doesn’t feature much in the everyday restoration work because he lives in Musina and the car was restored in Johannesburg.

Some of the items restored were replaced or refurbished. They included new white-wall tyres, professionally cleaned fuel tank, radiator and pipes, a new sleeve for the master cylinder, new slave cylinders, new suspension rubbers, new brake shoes, new carpets and interior throughout (courtesy of Paul's Auto Trim), wiring, a new base coat and six layers of a clear coat. 

All metal surfaces were cleaned, prepared and painted (engine included). Many, many brackets and bolts and screws, the carburettor cleaned and restored, complete new exhaust system, new door and window rubbers as well as window and door-latch mechanisms were restored.

Altogether, Johann did a brilliant job on a car that would normally have been destined for the scrapyard. It takes dedication and commitment and a lot of hard cash to achieve this level of results.

But in the end it’s all worth it: an elegant, classic car which stands out from the tin boxes we see everywhere on our roads these days.

* Let us know about your classic - [email protected].

IOL Motoring

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