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Saturday, October 7, 2017

1961 Comet

Comet was the newest brand of automobile for Canadians in 1961. The two-door sedan weighed in at 1 140 kilos (2,513 pounds).

Euphoric Mercury-Meteor dealers blasted into the 1961 model year with its third new brand in four years. The 1958 Edsel was history after three seasons, as was last year’s Canada-only Frontenac. New for 1961 was the Comet. 

1961 Rambler Ambassador 

Comet was neither a Mercury nor a Meteor. Rather, it was a stand-alone brand—in a new size. The 2 895-millimetre (114-inch) wheelbased entry burst into the automotive world. It was initially dubbed billed as “the better compact car”  and, “new, value-packed”. The only competition in that wheelbase niche was the luxurious Ambassador by Rambler, marketed in the far upscale Imperial, Cadillac and Lincoln-land territory. 

An early clay mockup of the Comet (top) carries the Edsel name on the front door and fender. Comet (bottom), as photographed from the rear, appears to be a functional prototype. 

Comet arrived with “a spirited sense of proportion” that “gave it the most successful styling in its field”. Oddly, it started out on the drawing board as an Edsel, under the watchful eye of head stylist Robert B. Jones.  First clay prototypes rendered in 1957, closely resembled the Edsel. However, the mid-priced marque proved unsuccessful. After three  short seasons, Edsel was sent to automotive heaven but the junior Edsel carried all the earmarks of a winner. Management gave the green light to the project and they were right on the money. 

The four-door Comet sedan’s wheelbase measured The 2 895-millimetres (114-inches) and was 4 948 millimetres (194.8 inches) in overall length. 

Advertising bragged that Comet—the only compact car with fine-car styling had burst over Canada—as a US proven success. The Comet brochure reported the last year, workers in the Lorain, Ohio plant had built more than  than 250,000 cars, travelling more than a billion miles (1.6 billion kilometres) on American highways. With “the the look of success, the size of success and the feel of success”, brochures  crowed that Canadians would prefer the Canadian-built Comet and workers in Oakville, Ontario set out to prove them right. 

Our new national highway will open officially in 1962. Stretching  7, 821 kilometres from St. John's to Victoria, it is one of the longest roads on Earth.
Whether the driver was headed across town or across the country, Comet made travelling ‘lighthearted fun”. Two feet  (609 millimetres) shorter than a full-sized car, steering was light and handling was effortless. The longer wheelbase translated into smoother ride. That was a good thing to remember, considering that large stretches of the brand new Trans-Canada Highway were still gravel-bedded road. 


Jones and his team of designers changed the grille at the last minute before introduction, so it more closely resembled Mercury and Meteor offerings. Nine stacks of vertical bars graced the face with dual headlamps at the ends of the gentle oval. Comet script appeared on the right side of the hood, split in the centre with a tasteful crease. Dual gunsight ornaments sat atop the front fenders, near the leading edges. They crowned a pair of equally tasteful body creases. A restrained bumper held parking/turn signals in the lower tier and wrapped around to kiss the heavily-browed, front wheelwell. Full wheel covers were split into three-spoked divisions, carrying a ripple of  rings to a plain, chromed and domed centre. 

The soft, “round-body” envelope was punctuated with a chrome-highlighted crease, just below the door handles, where it kicked up to the top of the rear quarter panel with a discrete but decided chrome-accented flounce. The body carried a wide, butter-knife indent. Comet script appears at the rear, boldly flashing the tasteful fin. At the leading edge of the front fender, a trio of hash tags let everyone know that this was no ordinary small car, Comet a classy ride. Stylists set the car apart further from the competition with the formal, The Thunderbird-look roof C-pillar carried a tasteful Comet insignia above a multiple-striped chrome strip at its base. 




The rear of the Comet was most distinctive with canted ovoid lamps that capped the fins. A crest sweetly kissed the trunk lid, above the centre-mounted gas cap. Comet was spelled out in capital letters on a elongated chrome-look  horizontally striped panel that curved gracefully downward at the edges, to top the bumper. 

Cargo space in the Comet station wagon was  2.1 cubic metres (76 cubic feet) in capacity. 

Surprisingly, station wagons were shorn of the fins. Comet wagons were given semi-circular, gunsight-look taillights housed in bright-metal mouldings. The rear wagon window rolled down, although an electric wind option was available. An extra-cost luggage rack, with  five-stripes of  aluminum  support roof shafts, were included in the option.  Scuff-proof rubber was chosen for the wagons’ flooring—easily cleaned with soap and water. The cargo area measured 2.1 cubic metres (76 cubic feet)—the same as Frontenac and Falcon.


When equipped with the base engine, Comet’s fuel consumption was: 13.8 litres per/100 kilometres (20.5  miles to the Imperial gallon). 
Under the hood, Comet shared its 2.4-litre (144-cubic inch}, six-cylinder engine with its Ford Falcon cousin. Taking a swipe at Chevrolet’s Corvair, advertising bragged that the whisper-quit Thrift-Power Six engine was “front-mounted for better weight distribution, safer driving on all roads.” New this year was the larger, 2.7-litre (170-cubic inch) Thrift-Power mill. Since the Comet weighed more than 200 kilos (400 pounds) more then the Falcon, the extra horsepower was more than welcome—at a cost—of course.

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The three-speed conventional drive was “unusually smooth and responsive, with gearshift conveniently located on the steering column”. Optional Comet Drive automatic transmission gave owners “fully automatic driving at a budget price” because of its simplified design. 

The heavily insulated cabin held six people seated on foam-cushioned seats, fore and aft. Canadians were told they would “praise Comet’s big-car comfort and beautiful Interiors” that were “colour-harmonized” to compliment the Super-Enamel exterior paint offerings. Passengers would appreciate the extra stretch-out space afforded by the longer wheelbase and be better protected from injury in the strongly reinforced unit body that featured double ribs and strong crossmembers for greater strength and rigidity. 


Comet shared an instrument panel with its Ford Falcon kin.


The instrument panel was simplicity itself. A strip speedometer was housed in a large chrome oval with a pair of smaller chrome ovals at the extreme edges—one gauge for fuel, the other for engine temperature. The odometer was placed below the speedometer, flanked by oil and generator lights. Typical of Ford products, the ignition was located at the far left of the panel in the same row as the operations knobs. Comet script was placed in the centre of the panel, above the radio. A centre-mounted ash receiver was located below, in the same lower lip as control knobs. In front of the passenger was the glove compartment. It carried a chrome-look Comet-maple leaf chevron that stretched across the door.

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Standard equipment included the Blue Oval’s Safety Steering Wheel, dual horns and tandem-action windshield wipers. Two front armrests, dual sun visors, an aluminized muffler, an automatic choke and an oil filter all added to the Comet’s value.

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The artist’s palette was broad for Comet. Colours for Canadians were different than those built in the States. Paint was sourced from the famed Rinshed-Mason Company in Windsor, Ontario, a company that supplied not only the automotive industry, but clad NASA’s experimental X-15 fighter jets and the official dress of the Eiffel Tower. 


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The colours offered to domestic Comet consumers were: Sultana White, Starlite Blue, Saffron Green, Signal Red, Sunburst Yellow, Empress Blue, Regency Turquoise, Columbia Blue, Green Frost and Sheffield Grey. Two-tone exteriors were available for a fee. 

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Canadians could come home with their Comets in any of a quartet of body styles. The two-door sedan listed at $2,447  while the four-door sedan was priced at $2,513. The two-door station wagon was a bargain at $2,776 and Comet’s four-door, six-passenger workhorse rang in at a modest $2,848. All prices included Ottawa’s hidden 13.5-percent Manufacturer’s Tax. 

Image result for 1961 Meteor
 A pair of 1961 Meteor Montcalms

Management in Oakville reported both Frontenac and Comet production under the Meteor category, Extrapolated figures show Comet ranked Number Six in domestic calendar year sales in its Canadian marketplace debut, with 17,658 units built. Of that figure, records show that 3,718 Comets rolled out the Oakville’s doors during the 1960 calendar year. That gave Comet 5.6 percent of the market. Ford’s Falcon came in with a commanding 19,876 builds, accounting for 5.88 percent of the pie. Oakville was crowned King of the Compacts, with Rambler in second place with more than 11,000 cars built and sold.

Trunk space was “family-sized” generous in the 1961 Comet.

The Ford Motor Company of Canada, Limited celebrated more milestones that year. It spent $6 million on a new glass fabrication plant in St. Thomas, Ontario. Ford’s new corporate headquarters building, situated in Oakville, opened in April. Ford of Canada was on a roll and even better times were just around the rainbow’s bend.





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Copyright James C. Mays 2017 All rights reserved.

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