Joel B 1965 Mercury Comet 2dr Sedan

On a milk crate rollin' down the hill...with no brakes!

When I was 15 years old, my Dad gave me his 1965 Mercury Comet.

It had been my Grandfather's car, purchased new from Downtown Ford in Louisville, KY. He was dying from terminal melanoma and he wanted my Grandmother to have a reliable car for the family when he was gone. After he passed, my Grandmother drove the Comet (Wimbledon White, 200cu straight 6 with 3 on the tree!) as a daily driver and family car until my Dad was of driving age. Then...my Dad did what teenagers did to cars.

That's ultimately how the Comet ended up on the hill behind our house, sheltered by a huge old maple tree. Even before it was parked there (to preserve it, of course!) it looked nothing like the car Grandpa brought home from the dealership: Cragar SS rims in the back, steel rims and hubcaps in the front; Hijacker air shocks holding the rear up at an odd angle; red shag carpet from a home improvement store and bucket seats from a T-Bird mounted on wooden blocks; a large hole jig-sawed into the transmission hump for the floor shifter, and my personal favorite; the 4 door quarter roughly tacked onto the driver's side from where the neighbor slid into the car during an ice storm. Like I said...teenagers. The last straw was when Dad hit black ice on the way to a concert and ran the passenger fender into a guardrail. So, he does the only rational thing: parks it under a tree on a hill to preserve the car.

Now, fast-forward about 17 years. Since I've been old enough to toddle, my Dad has been telling me that I would learn how to drive in the old white car on the hill. Every year, that white car gets dingier and dingier and the brown spots become more numerous. So, here I am, 15, and I've convinced my Mother to let us do a "Comet Restore" birthday for Dad. Essentially, we all pool money so that for his birthday he can have some with which to start working on the car (completely un-self-motivated, I swear!).

Mission accomplished! Dad and I trudge up the hill and start doing the normal things that you do when you want a car to move and it hasn't for almost 2 decades: break the brakes loose, inflate the tires, TRY to turn it over (unsuccessfully, of course), remove the snake skins from the glove box...you know, the normal stuff. We probably worked for all of two hours before Dad became overwhelmed with the task ahead and gave up, saying that he was just going to sell it to the next guy who drove by and asked if it was for sale (actually happened all of the time, even with the quarter falling off!).

So, what do I do? The 15 year old boy who has dreamed of this car his entire life and who has just been told it's being sold? I throw a tantrum like a 5 year old child. Well, pretty much, but with more 4-letter words. So Dad does the only logical thing (thank God) and gives me the car. And here's where the title to this story comes into play.

You can't logically work on restoring a car when it's stuck on a hill under a tree in 3 inches of muck, right? We got the car rolling, out of the ruts it made over 17 years, and decided in our infinite wisdom that we were going to let the car roll down the hill. It made sense of course, the car would roll. The engine wouldn't start, but the steering wheel worked just fine and, after all, things roll downhill...

Years out in the elements had weakened the floor boards to the point where you could easily put your foot through them, and the frames of the venerable old T-Bird buckets (I suspect mostly because of the thoroughly engineered pieces of wood to which they were mounted) didn't exactly hold the seats any longer. Hence the milk crates, which excellently distributed my load over a larger area. Did I mention I was going to be in the car on the way down? Teenagers! Just one problem: we never thought to check the brakes.

Looking back now, I was terrified out of my mind; bouncing down a grass-covered hill on 35-year-old suspension, no power steering, no brakes. That's not what I truly remember from the experience, though. The fear faded probably a week later, but the feeling of being in the Comet, behind the wheel for the first time was...amazing. It still feels almost the same 15 years later.

That's about how long it took me to get the Comet back to its former glory. Of course, it's hard to do that kind of work when you're still in high school. Then you're in college. Then you're trying to find a job. Then you're getting married. In that time I managed to collect about five cars worth of parts and two actual parts cars. FINALLY, about two years ago (with quite a bit of help from people I met along the way, of course!) the Comet hit the road for the first time in 30 years.

Now she doesn't look quite like Grandpa's car either. Oh, she's still Wimbledon White and from the exterior she looks mostly the same. Now she's pushing around 500hp with a built 408W, driving through a 4 speed toploader and 9" posi rear end. The interior is a leather red and black two-tone that was never available from the factory and 3 point straps hold you in at every single seat location. Not to mention the Graco seat in the back (Dad used to ride in the package tray).

Even though when I sit in the car now it doesn't cause a ring of rust powder to fall all around the car; even though the Shelby brakes stop on a dime and the power steering will (hopefully) never have to dodge a tree bouncing down a grassy hill; even though the milk crate (same one!) holds parts in the basement and my rear is supported by leather, I still remember that day every time I slide in the car and turn the key.

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