Over 400 muscle cars were up for grabs during the 2020 Arizona Auction Week. There’s a point in the festivities where the deluge of cars just fade into white noise. Take this one-of-four 1967 Mercury Comet Caliente “R-Code,” for example. The Merc’ may have been too subtle to properly cut through the static, selling for $80,640—underwhelming for what really should have been a magnet offering for Ford fans. Maybe the Caspian blue paint and overall stock appearance don’t exactly stand out compared to the winged Mopars, Hugger Orange Camaros, and high-performance Shelby GT500s running rampant in Scottsdale during Auction Week.
Last week, prior to being sold at Bonhams’ auction, the Comet was angle-parked in front of the event tent at the Westin in Scottsdale. Many auction-goers passed this car without even a cursory glance. Why should they? To the untrained eye it’s some old Mercury, right? Open the hood, though, and the hulking 427-cubic-inch big block looming inside makes you sorry for ever doubting the humble Comet.
In the 1960s, Mercury, like every other Detroit automaker, wanted to support its clients interested in racing. These were the days back when winning on Sunday influenced sales on Monday. (If only there was an adage for that.) In 1967, Mercury introduced a Comet with a big-block Ford engine crammed between the front wheels. The engine is a side-oiler, meaning oil is sent to the crankshaft first, then to the camshaft and valvetrain, keeping the crank cool at higher revs. The side-oiler engine equipped with dual-four barrel carbs produced a healthy 425 horsepower.
In addition to the massive motor under the hood, Mercury put such “R-Code” Comets on a diet as well, stripping 150 pounds of sound deadening materials from each car. (The letter “R” in the fifth character of the VIN notated the 427-cubic-engine looming beneath the hood.) All told, 61 of these juiced-up lightweight Comets were produced across four variants, but Mercury made only four Caliente hardtops with the big-block.
Also known as the “hot-one,” the Caliente boasts fender ornamentation, chrome rocker panel and wheel well moldings, and pinstriping. On the inside, the Caliente wears a woodgrain dash, luxury armrests, and paddle-door handles.
Realistically, this sinewy slab should have fetched more than $80,000. Back in 2014, a “R-code” 1967 Mercury Comet 202 (lower trim level) sold for $182,000 at Mecum Austin. The latest “R-code” to cross the block was another Comet 202 at Barrett-Jackson last year. It was in worse condition than this Caliente and sold for $95,700.
“I think this car should’ve brought more,” weighs in Hagerty valuation expert Greg Ingold, "personally, I think it was offered at the wrong venue. Barrett-Jackson or Leake auction houses likely would’ve been better choices.”
Obviously the new owner isn’t complaining, but the seller must have been a bit irked to have parted with the car for so much below its $125,000 low estimate. Maybe, in the end, this Mercury Comet was too much of a sleeper for the Bonhams crowd this year. Someone needed to hop in the driver’s seat, wake up that burly big-block, and let the “hot-one” turn up the temperature.