Automotive Orphan: 1961 Comet 2-Door Sedan

Hindsight is 20:20 vision, and Ford’s Edsel experiment graphically demonstrates this. There was no single reason why the entire venture collapsed in a heap, with the company tearing up millions of dollars, but history records that it was launched into a perfect storm of problems. The Comet nearly became a victim of this failure, as Ford intended that it should wear the Edsel badge. However, when it hit the market, Ford had already announced the closure of that division, so attaching that brand’s badges to this new offering made no sense. As a stopgap measure, the Comet was sold through Mercury dealerships but without any of the associated branding of either Mercury or its builder. That made it an automotive orphan, and it wasn’t officially known as a Mercury until the 1962 model year. Our feature car is a 1961 Comet 2-Door Sedan, and it shows promise as a project car. The supplied photos reveal a car that is essentially complete, and its new owner could potentially tackle any restoration work in a home workshop. It is located in McAllen, Texas, and has been listed for sale here on eBay. The owner has set the auction to open at $4,000, but there have been no bids at the time of writing. Barn Finder Larry D has once again demonstrated his ability to spot interesting classics, so thank you for referring this one to us, Larry.

The Comet is finished in a combination of Green Frost and Sultana White. Its history isn’t clear, but it carries many of the hallmarks of a classic that has spent most of its life in a drier climate. The paint hasn’t become baked, but the steel beneath seems nicely preserved. The exterior shows no evidence of rust, while the underside has nothing beyond the occasional area of surface corrosion. For enthusiasts who don’t feel that motivated to tackle cutting and welding, that makes this a hot prospect. The paint looks pretty presentable, with no glaring problems or issues. The panels are straight, and the trim is in an acceptable state for a survivor-grade car. There are no hubcaps visible in the supplied photos, so the buyer may have to hunt for a set to complete the exterior. The glass is in a similar state to the trim, which suggests that it won’t take much effort or money to have this classic turning heads.

I mentioned the hallmarks of a dry climate, and this Comet’s interior demonstrates this perfectly. The upholstered surfaces are baked and sun-rotted, and a retrim will be one task that the buyer will need to tackle. The door trims are missing, as is the radio. Otherwise, it does seem to be complete. The most obvious path for the buyer to consider would be to source a trim kit. However, there might be a battle on that front. The company produced 71,563 examples of the 2-door Sedan in 1961, which doesn’t make them thick on the ground. The survival rate has not been particularly high, and that means that many of the regular suppliers haven’t been able to justify the expense of producing a Comet-specific kit. It will probably take some patience on the buyer’s behalf, and if they don’t hit paydirt, a Falcon trim kit might serve the purpose. Beyond the upholstery, the painted surfaces would benefit from a refresh, while the wheel also needs attention.

Buyers in 1961 had a choice of two engine sizes for their Comet, and our feature car comes equipped with the baby of the bunch. It is the 144ci six-cylinder unit that should punch out a dizzying 85hp. Shifting duties fall to a three-speed manual transmission, and this combination is sufficient to send the car through the ¼ mile in 20.3 seconds. While none of that sounds particularly impressive, the Comet was capable of cruising all day comfortably on the open road, meaning that it did exactly what the company and most of its buyers required of it. It seems that this car had been sitting for a while, but it has been revived and returned to a driving state by the seller. One aspect of the car that the buyer won’t need to touch is the front end. The underside photos reveal a shiny new setup, meaning that it should feel tight and confident on the road. The engine bay presents well for a vehicle of this age, and if the car is roadworthy, there should be little for the buyer to do.

The pages of automotive history books are littered with failures, but the Edsel story seems to have always been one that overshadows the rest. Ford was riding a wave of confidence at the time, and the Edsel disaster brought management crashing back to earth. It is little wonder that they never attached that brand’s badge to this car, and its lack of Mercury branding could have been to avoid associating the Mercury brand to Edsel in even the remotest way. The lack of badges makes the 1961 Comet an orphan, but is it an orphan that you would be willing to give a new home?

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Comments

  1. HadTwo

    That Mint-Green color, so attractive. The U.S. Forest Service
    used that color on their trucks. Maybe the Border Patrol too?

    This Comet was the bargain basement Dealer “ad special”
    Base 6-cyl. with a three speed manual. Amazing it has survived.
    Thanks for the memories.

    Like 14
    • bobp

      That’s the first thing I thought also when I saw that color – Border Patrol. The BP color was very similar and was called Seafoam Green.

      Like 1
  2. nlpnt

    The version of that story I hear is that the Comet was to have been not just an Edsel but *the* Edsel starting in 1961 with no more full-size models from the brand. In the end Ford wisely chose to give the new car a clean start.

    Like 4
    • Terrry

      True, and the first ones were just plain Comets, and actually some late ’61s showed up as Mercurys. I don’t know why Ford couldn’t have branded them as Mercury Comets from the beginning.

      Like 4
      • nlpnt

        Best guess; there were still a few holdout Edsel-only dealers that miraculously hadn’t gone broke so two channels had to be supplied with product until Dearborn could get the contracts sorted out. Especially tricky if there was already a Lincoln-Mercury dealer in the same town.

        Like 5
      • DweezilAZ

        “and its lack of Mercury branding could have been to avoid associating the Mercury brand to Edsel in even the remotest way.”
        As good an explanation as any

        Like 5
  3. Matt G

    This could be a candidate for a Charles Bukowski tribute car, if there are any fans out there…

    Like 4
  4. JoeJ56

    It appears to my aging eyes that the hood paint doesn’t quite match the rest of the car. Also there are 2 holes where a badge might’ve been, makes me wonder if the hood is a replacement.

    Like 3
  5. DweezilAZ

    My dream car. 60 or 61 Comet.
    Those tail lights !

    Like 8
    • Bill McCoskey

      Those Comet taillights are actually 1960 Edsel taillights. As I recall, they had the same FoMoCo part number.

      Like 3
  6. Jerry

    My brother bought a 61Comet S-22 hardtop brand new. White with red interior. With less than 2,000 miles got T-boned by a full size Lincoln. Crushed like a beer can. Brother OK some how.

    Like 2
  7. Rick Paine

    Horrible engine, void of power. I had to drive my mothers. On weekends I would have my buddies get out while the car was still moving.
    Engine couldn’t get oil up to the valve train & they would clatter like a diesel until you fashioned an “over head oil system from a copper tube.

    Still miss it, a six pack would fit in the HVAC floor door.

    Like 3
  8. Larry D

    My sister and her future husband were Juniors in high school in 1961. His family, just like ours, had always had those big, bloated Oldsmobiles, Buicks and Chevrolets.

    They used to let me go with them to a lot of places.

    Suddenly, his parents decided to buy a new car. And their choice was a new 1961 Comet. It was a 2-door and was white with bright red interior. I loved that car and loved going places in it because it seemed very sporty to me, a 9-year old boy who loved cars. And it was a smaller size which I liked a lot.

    I’ll never forget that car.

    Like 10
  9. Gary

    Redo the interior in a nice two or three tone green, stuff a Shelby spec 289 4speed combo in it with a full exhaust merging into one behind the axle, wide steel wheels on the rear with hubcaps all around, a cool sleeper.

    Like 6
    • Frank

      Great idea! Now that would be a cool ride.

      Like 3
  10. Tile Dan

    Got a ’61 S -22. Pulled the 170 and dropped in a ’68 200 from a Mustang. Get lots of attention.

  11. Frank

    I see a nice hot rod Hi-Po car here for cheap money. What can we squeeze into the engine compartment?

    Like 2
    • Gary

      Hopped up small block Ford and a four speed, good cheap fun

      Like 2
    • Bill Hall

      A 289 fits right in. Eons ago someone who worked for my Dad had one that he bought. You need to remember this is the same basic body as a first generation Mustang.

      Like 2
      • philthyphil

        so does a 347 and a 5 sp

  12. JOhn Nielson

    I really admire this vehicle but it brings back bad memories.

    A man down the road had a ‘61 Comet that was the same color. He was a mean man – mean to his dogs, mean to his horses and no doubt mean to his kids, because they were mean, too.

    It is of course not the Comet’s fault, but it’s hard to put away those feelings made at a young, impressionable age.

    I suppose this is not unlike those people who saw the Stephen King movie “Christine” and ever after felt uneasy whenever they saw a red 1958 Plymouth Fury (though the movie made many others desire that same car).

    Can this be called the “Christine Effect?” I guess there’s also Freddy Krueger’s red ‘58 Caddy. What other examples can any of you think of?

  13. Bill McCoskey

    Look closely at the comet’s badge on the trunk lid. That sylized letter “C” is exactly the style for the 1961 Edsel badge on pre-production examples, as Ford had long term planning on this being a small Edsel. When they cancelled the Edsel 100%, Ford simply eliminated the center bar from the letter E, and made it into the letter C. Very early production cars have trunk emblems that if you look closely, you can see where the change was made.

    Years ago I spoke with a guy who was part of the Edsel/Comet change over. He said the 1961 Edsel, like all the other Edsels, was to have 2 front ornaments, on on each front fender. So before the Edsel was cancelled, they had manufactured hundreds of front fenders with the holes where the emblems went. So every Comet, even the cheap ones like the one shown here, have two front emblems. They were made of 2-pieces each, created from the base part that curved to meet the fender, and the top circular part, was same as the full size Fairlane, instead of the intended “E” emblem.

    Like 4
  14. Mark

    My father had one exactly like this except the roof was a dark green, complementing the Frost Green body color.

  15. Keith D.

    I’ve been taught to understand that a “sedan” is a vehicle with four doors and a “coupe” is a vehicle with two doors…is that wrong?

    Like 1
    • Dave

      Mostly right. Throw in a post between the front and rear seats and a whole ‘nother debate begins.

      Like 1
      • Keith D.

        Are you referring to ‘Pillars” between the doors?

        Like 3
  16. Gary Steely

    Sedan means it has a B pillar, coupe means no B pillar doesn’t matter if it’s a 2door or a 4door

  17. CCFisher

    I think I would restomod this. It’s different, and it’s not worth restoring to original specs. I think I’d even abandon my “reversible mods only” credo and ditch the shock towers for a Coyote 5.0!

    Like 1
  18. Brad460 Member

    Nicely written write up Adam. I personally would leave it with the existing engine. If one desires more of a hot rod, buy something more like that from the beginning.

    Growing up our neighbors across the street had a comet with these taillights. This would have been in the mid 70s. By then their car was the family’s second car. The comet caught my eye right away because of the styling of the taillights. The rest of the cars styling was pretty ordinary but there was no question what it was when seeing the rear end.

    Like 1
  19. Pops in TX

    The cat eye Comet, brings back memories of my dad’s red 61…that little 4 banger drove 5 kids n my parents out of town almost every wknd to visit grandpa.. Always loved that car..

    • Charles D Schultz

      Comet/Falcon never offered with a “4 banger.” 144 or 170 CI six until 1963 when the 260 V-8 appeared.

      Like 1
  20. Stanley

    My aunt had one. She had watched one too many “bad” drivers ed films. So of course she had seatbelts installed in it (yes even in the back seat). Of course i hated riding with her as she always made you buckle up and back then no one wore them. I can remember being mortified when she came to pick me and my best friend up from school. She eyed us up and made sure we were wearing them. Years later i inherited the car. First thing i did was place the belts under the seats.

    • HadTwo

      Good story Stanley!
      And….Thanks….memories of those Driver’s Ed. films….
      haaaaaaaa

      Like 1
  21. philthyphil

    cut towers out….. coil over rack and pinion…. 347 5 speed… wide steelies and dog dish caps and a 9 in rear a very easy project and one of a kind….love the seafoam green

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