22 June 2016

1964 Mercury Comet Cyclone creates whirlwind of memories

Nighttime drives in the 1964 Mercury Comet Cyclone, which he bought new, revive powerful memories for Charlie Caldwell. He lives on property that’s been in his family since the 1840s, and his Painesville, Ohio home is located just 100 yards from the one he grew up in.

“I still drive the same roads that I drove as a kid,” said Caldwell. “In the Comet, I really feel it takes me back. I feel like I’m 19 again when I come up through those hills.”

Revving the highly modified 289-ci V-8 and shifting the four-speed stick, Caldwell hears and feels much more performance potential than the Cyclone began with in 1964. He said the car’s distinctive dashboard, with its soft green backlighting, along with his high school graduation tassel hanging from the rear-view mirror – complete with a high school girlfriend’s ring attached – help create the time machine effect.

Mercury introduced the Cyclone version of its crisply styled Comet compact in January 1964, seemingly to provide a showroom link to the brand’s short run of specially built, lightweight Comet drag-race cars. Those high-powered specials carved out their own drag racing history. The Cyclone street model, however, came up well short of the advertised “whiplash of surging power.” The car's 289-ci V-8 engine, rated at 210 horsepower, was hardly going to snap anyone’s neck.

The Cyclone package was mostly cosmetic: chrome engine trim, a bucket seat interior and chrome wheel covers. The same year, Pontiac introduced its Tempest GTO with a 325-horsepower 38-ci V-8 and sporty design cues, igniting the car industry’s muscle car trend. Mercury wouldn’t join that group until 1966 with the 390-powered Cyclone GT.

Caldwell was still in high school when he bought his Cyclone from K&B Lincoln-Mercury in Willoughby, Ohio. “The salesman’s name was Bill Hill – you don’t forget things like that,” he said. Other details also remain top-of-mind decades later: “I paid $2,863.13 and financed it with a local credit company,” he continued. “My father had to co-sign the loan. The payment was $84 per month, and I wasn’t sure I could make it. I was working at two gas stations and a pizza mill.” Caldwell became a police officer soon after buying the Cyclone.

The one option Caldwell insisted on, a four-speed manual, cost $188 extra over the standard three-speed stick. He had to special-order his car and wait six weeks for it to arrive. The first night Caldwell had his new Cyclone, he cruised to the local burger joint, where he parked next to a new Ford Fairlane, the Comet’s corporate cousin. “I knew the guy,” he said. “But I didn’t know what the double checkered flag badge on the fenders meant.” He would learn the flags signified the high-performance, 271-horsepower high-performance version of the 289 engine – by losing an impromptu race to the Fairlane on a deserted road outside of town.

Caldwell continued using the Cyclone as a daily driver for several years, later storing it in his parents’ garage, and then his own. In 1990, he cleaned up the Cyclone and got it back in running order. Then, around 2002, he began collecting and restoring the mid-’60s Dodge and Plymouth muscle cars he had long admired. He was about to restore another when is wife, Denise, insisted he refinish the Cyclone instead.

“I tore it down completely,” said Caldwell. He had Michael’s Racing Engines in Macedonia, Ohio breathe some fire into the original 289 V-8, installing a stroker crankshaft to bring its displacement to 331 cubic inches, and filling it with speed parts including solid valve lifters, a Holley 650-cfm carburetor and Doug’s Headers with electric cut-outs.

Caldwell and his wife worked on the car together, sanding, painting and polishing. To capture the vintage Comet drag-race car look, Caldwell added an aftermarket hood with air scoops. “I also added the Cragar S/S wheels that I couldn’t afford when I was a kid,” he said.

Charlie and Denise Caldwell drive the 1964 Comet Cyclone to car shows up to 200 miles from home, trailering it for longer trips. The car has won several major trophies. “The Comet puts a smile on my face every time I drive it,” he said. “It’s my wife’s favorite, too.”

15 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Richard Duoos Chelan Falls WA June 22, 2016 at 15:52
    This brings back memories for me, too. I owned a 1964 Falcon Sprint with a 289 and four speed. I didn't like the black plastic dashboard with one turn signal and idiot lights, so I removed it and installed a 1964 Comet dashboard and hooked up all the gauges. It looked great, except it said "Comet" on the glove box door.
  • 2
    William Cervini California June 22, 2016 at 16:03
    Story very similar to mine. I bought a brand new 1964 Studebaker Avanti R2 in 1964. Still have it today - almost 100% original condition. I was making 75 cents/hour and my father cosigned for me, too. Should be a club for guys like us.
  • 3
    Tom Cotter North Carolina June 22, 2016 at 16:58
    Great looking car. Funny, I couldn't afford Cragar S/s as a kid either. Now I'm shopping for an appropriate car to install them on.
  • 4
    mike michigan June 22, 2016 at 18:02
    slight correction to the story....the checkered flag emblem did not come out until the 1965 fairlane and if it was a 289 HP, it would be designated as such by an additional emblem below the flag emblem...it was a rectangular badge with the words " high performance " on it.
  • 5
    bill brisbane normalville, pa June 22, 2016 at 20:07
    great personal interest car story I can relate to.
  • 6
    mick ortyl sylvania ohio June 22, 2016 at 20:34
    remember that model well,i had a red 64 comet cyclone, automatic back in the 70,s peppy fun car with the 289 engine.like to have it back.
  • 7
    gary washington June 22, 2016 at 22:01
    I had a 65. Sure wish I had kept it, it was a great car, I believe the Cyclone was rated at 225 hp stock. Instead I traded it in on a new 68 GTO. What a mistake. My buddy had a 64, they were both the same color, but he had a little engine work done and man was that car fast. He was smarter he kept his for at least another 20 years if not until he passed away.
  • 8
    bob Laguna Niguel, CA June 22, 2016 at 22:14
    I bought a 64 Cyclone in May of 64. My buddy also had one. We loved them. Mine was stolen after i mover to CA from NJ. My buddy wrecked his. Great cars.
  • 9
    Chris M. Olson Okemos, MI June 22, 2016 at 22:43
    Enjoyed the article. When I was in college, I bought a 1966 Comet Cyclone GT new. It was robins egg blue with a black stripe on the door, redline tires engine dress-up kit, and a 4-speed. It was fast as a friend of mine with a '66 Vette found out. I still relive the memories but today my daily driver is a '95 SHO--pretty fast in its' own right. Thanks for the article!
  • 10
    Marc Ogren Renton, WA June 22, 2016 at 23:52
    Actually, the '64 Cyclone was built to honor 5 identically prepared Comets which completed 100,000 continuous miles at Daytona Speedway at an average speed of over 105 mile per hour. Nice to see some recognition for this under appreciated car.
  • 11
    Arick KS June 23, 2016 at 08:37
    Very similar to a Falcon Sprint I drove as a kid...what a fun car. Looks like the Caldwell's car has a good long(er) term home!
  • 12
    Lee VanDehei manitowolk wi 54220 June 23, 2016 at 10:10
    I had one in Colorado springs colo. in 1969. didn't know it was such a small production number car. never was able find another one. I now have a 1970 ford mustang covertible
  • 13
    Howard Smith New Jersey June 23, 2016 at 11:29
    The Cyclone in 64 must have been a mid year production. I had a 64 Caliente convertable in powder blue, with a 260 ci v-8 the predecessor of the 289. My friend had a 65 Cyclone which I thought was the 1st year.
  • 14
    tony ca June 24, 2016 at 14:30
    MY Caliente was dark blue in and out with 271 package big chrome tac heater delete no radio all these were factory delete. 411 gears with a spl built sheet from factory and if you did not have it the Ford shop would mess up on repairs. Fun car for an 18 year old we did plenty upgrades Headers by Doug carb mods ect ran it in LV and at B line
  • 15
    Garwood Isanhart Michigan June 24, 2016 at 18:17
    I had a maroon1965 Cyclone. Loved it. I dragged raced it once when I was 17 and took 1st place and had blown out second gear! Also had a 1965 202 Comet, my first car on the road legally lol! Great cars. Sure wish I had kept them.

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