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Street-racer 1964 Comet Caliente

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I’ve always loved the look of the 1964 Mercurys, and I had a Monterey convertible for eight years as a summer car. It was a local 1964 Caliente with black paint, a warmed-over 289, and deep-dish steel wheels that I absolutely loved, and used to cruise around my hometown.

This car made a big impression on me, so I decided to see what I could do with the Model King release of the promo-style 1964 Caliente kit.

I wanted to make a detailed model from the toylike kit, and build it as a street-racer-style car.

Grabbing the Revell 1964 Thunderbolt kit off my shelf and a lot of sheet styrene, I went to work on my vision.

Total Performance
During the early 1960s, the Ford Motor Company launched its “Total Performance” program, which was to be an all-out assault on many forms of racing.

Drag racing was extremely popular at the time, and the Super Stock class was a crowd favorite.

In 1964, Ford introduced the Fairlane Thunderbolt to replace the heavy Galaxies of the era, and they were successful.

With the “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” environment of the time, Mercury decided it wanted in on the excitement.

The 1964 Comets were restyled from the previous year. They had a much more sporty appearance, and were basically the same as a Fairlane underneath the sheet metal.

Mercury decided to send a Comet Caliente two-door hardtop and a wagon to Dearborn Steel Tubing, which was a company Ford used for modifying the Fairlanes into Thunderbolts.

Dyno Don Nicholson racked up many Super Stock wins with the wagon, but it was eventually reclassified as an AFX car, because the car’s wheelbase was four inches shorter than stock.

Mercury then provided him with a “factory” 427 Caliente, and he went on to a 78-1 record!  



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1. The old promo-style body would need a lot of work. I cut the hood, doors, and trunk mostly through, so the body would retain some stiffness. I then snipped off all of the screw and glass mounting bosses and filed them flush.
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2. Here is the body after all of the basic work has been completed. The A-pillars are thin, and I had a premonition that they might cause me some headaches down the road on this build.
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3. After test-fitting the Thunderbolt chassis to the Comet body, I determined the wheelbase had to be reduced by 3⁄64" for proper alignment. I decided to split the chassis at the location shown, so I could sand the seam relatively easily and not disturb the suspension components.
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4. After test-fitting the rear of the chassis, I discovered that the Comet’s body sides are more vertical than the Fairlane Thunderbolt’s. I applied tape as a guide to assist with removing the hatched area with a motor tool and sanding sticks.
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5. This is going to hurt! I needed a firewall and inner fender panels for the Comet, so a brand-new Thunderbolt kit body had to be sacrificed. The rough cutline is marked with a Sharpie along the tops of the fenders and vent panel.
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6. Here is the firewall assembly, removed from the Fairlane’s body and cleaned up. The fender panel’s bottom edges had to be filed down approximately 1/16” to accomodate the lower height of the Comet’s body.
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7. The body Comet body is test-fitted with the Fairlane’s shortened chassis and firewall assembly. Everything looks promising so far!
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8. The radiator support will also have to be sectioned to fit the Comet. I measured and cut a strip off the bottom of the support, and later glued the bottom of the radiator to the shortened support panel.
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9. The Thunderbolt kit was now relegated to the parts bin, so I decided to use the classic Ford teardrop hood scoop on my model. I cut the scoop along each side, then straight back. This way I could easily keep the correct radius along the rear of the hood to mate with the Comet’s vent panel.
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10. I used Evercoat and Tamiya putties to fill in trunk lid sink marks and to blend the hood scoop edges.
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11. When I cut small-diameter brass or aluminum tubing, I mark the cut line and then measure and mark another line at the edge of the cutter. This way I can see the mark and not miss the actual cut mark that’s out of sight in the cutter. I also wrap two-sided tape around the exposed tube end for a better grip.
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12. A minor setback: after installing the trunk hinges, I discovered they interfered with the Thunderbolt chassis’ wheel tubs, and wouldn’t close. Time to figure out a solution!
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13. The trunk hinge clearance issue was resolved by cutting out vertical sections of the wheel tubs and moving them outboard. I measured to ensure the rear tires would still clear, and fortunately they did. No steamroller rear tires can be used on this car!
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14. I wanted to have steerable front wheels on my Comet. I had to build up the tops of the spindle assemblies with plastic, then match-drill through the spindles and control arms. I also drilled the tie rod ends. The assembly was then carefully cut apart and pinned to allow articulation.
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15. The interior tub’s floor from the Thunderbolt was cut away, then the kick panels were notched to mount the Comet’s dashboard. The sides of the dashboard had to have the material highlighted in red removed for door hinge clearance.
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16. I needed the rear package tray area from the Comet for the interior, so I brought out the razor saw again.
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17. I wanted a bare-bones look for the street-racer theme of the Comet. I decided to hollow the package tray and add sheet styrene resembling the body’s stamped steel panels. I also used styrene sheet for the side panels, and I scribed the interior detail onto the panels.
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18. More test-fitting to ensure that the Thunderbolt interior panel mated up properly with the body and interior, and that the hinges clear everything.
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19. My research indicated that Ford Thunderbolts and AFX Comets had heavy truck batteries in the trunk for traction. I estimated the size of these batteries from photographs, and cut the new parts. Shown are the battery, the tray, and the hold-down frame pieces.
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20. The battery is assembled, and I decided to use the excellent resin battery terminals from Replicas & Miniatures. I purchased these a while back, and they are predrilled for the cable wire.
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21. A 1960s-style drag car needs Cragar wheels. The AMT 1965 and 1966 Ford Galaxie kits have excellent Cragar SS wheels. I wanted to use the thin front drag tires from the Thunderbolt, so I cut a thin section from two wheels and glued the outer rim face to the wheel center. If you work carefully, the seam is almost invisible. The Thunderbolt kit’s Keystone-style wheel (foreground) was used to verify the new wheel width.
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22. I sometimes have to use a blade to shave a small chamfer along kit tires. This allows the wheel rims to fit a little more flush to the tires, for a more-realistic appearance.
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23. I keep a small container of Castrol Super Clean on my bench, and a small plastic lid. These come in handy to drop small chrome parts into for stripping.
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24. For some reason, I decided to challenge myself to scratchbuild a rocker-arm assembly for the 427 engine. I hollowed the left-side valve cover and added a drilled styrene sheet to it. The holes will assist with aligning the pushrods, valve springs, and rocker arms that I made.
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25. The delicate rocker-arm assembly took some effort to install, but I was pleased with the results. With some careful paint-detailing referencing factory colors, the engine really comes alive!
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26. I like to use a #11 blade inserted into a drafting compass to make perfect circles from styrene sheet. Simply score them and pop them out. This avoids the rolled edges you sometimes get from a punch. This circle will be used for a brake backing plate.
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27. Here’s the round backing plate with scratchbuilt brake shoes and springs. I used shades of Testor’s Metalizer paints exclusively on the brake assembly. The springs were painted the factory colors I saw on a Mustang, so I’m not sure if Comets were the same. At least the colors make the springs more visible!
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28. I used a roll bar main hoop from my parts box and got to work adding extra bracing. I make “fishmouth” shapes on the ends of styrene rod using a saw and the files. This makes for much stronger and cleaner joints on the roll cage.
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29. With the opening doors, I decided to shave the bottoms of the seats and add some scratchbuilt seat tracks. I used Plastruct angle shapes and .040” square rod to fabricate the tracks.
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30. One of my personal milestones for any build is when the chassis finally sits on its wheels. You can see the completed roll cage, interior tub, battery, and poseable front wheels.
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31. Small beading wire was used for the brake lines. The wire in the foreground will eventually be attached to the chassis to represent the emergency-brake cable. The Thunderbolt’s rear tires were grooved to make “cheater slicks.”
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32. The interior is painted a pale gold to emulate the look of the Fairlane Thunderbolt’s interior color. I primed the body red in preparation for the deep maroon color I planned to use. All of the brass hinges were masked; any paint on them would prevent them from inserting into the mounting tubes on the doors.
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33. I used a Tamiya weathering kit to represent heat stains on exhaust components. This was my first attempt at producing this effect, and I found the kit was easy to use.
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34. I opened the screened areas of the teardrop hood scoop before painting. For realism, I cut a piece of Model Car Garage screen to replace the molded-in screen.
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35. My fears about the delicate A-pillars were realized during the polishing process. I thought I was being careful, but one wrong move broke off the right-side pillar. After a few failed attempts to reattach it, I ended up epoxying the windshield to the body to keep everything together.
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36. There was a large, visible gap between the taillight panel and rear bumper when the trunk was open. I decided to fabricate a custom inner panel to hide the gap. It isn’t factory-correct, but it does clean up the area nicely.

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