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> 1965 Mercury Comet - Rookie Rod
post Aug 28 2010, 07:49 PM
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In His First Hot Rodding Endeavor, Josh Martin Has Built A Gt500-Powered '65 Comet That Defies His Rookie Status.
From the November, 2009 issue of Popular Hot Rodding
By Stephen Kim
Photography by Robert McGaffin

Thirty-five years of age is a bit late to get into the hot rodding game, but there's no doubt that Josh Martin is a real-deal car guy. No, he doesn't have the requisite yard full of decrepit jalopies, or a kitchen repurposed as an engine assembly room, however, despite his relatively grease-free resum, Josh's visceral instincts tell a different tale. While the only thing most men remember about the 1996 flick Swingers is the hot little number named Heather Graham, Josh was mesmerized by the '64 Comet he saw on screen. With a scintillating young lady stealing most the thunder, even most car guys wouldn't give the Comet a second look. Nonetheless, Josh knew he had to build himself a Comet one day, and 13 years later, that day has finally arrived. His vision has materialized in the form of a '65 Comet hardtop that packs a 540hp late-model GT500 motor, a six-speed stick, and a full Art Morrison chassis. Granted, Josh is an unseasoned rookie, he's built a far nicer car on his first try than most veterans could build after their hundredth attempt.

Growing up in the frigid Midwest, Josh was taught the way of the Blue Oval at an early age. As a kid, he watched his dad restore countless Mustangs and Fairlanes while anxiously waiting for the snow to melt. Although he always wanted to build a muscle car of his own, time quickly passed, as he dedicated the years to getting educated and starting a family. Once 2006 rolled around, Josh was finally ready to play. "I fell in love with Comets after watching Swingers back in 1996, but didn't have the time or money to actually build one until 10 years later," he recalls. "After doing some research, I stumbled upon a '65 two-door hardtop model, and thought it was the meanest-looking car I had ever seen. I'd never even heard the term 'Pro Touring' before, but I thought it would be cool to build a car with a modern engine, driveline, suspension, brakes, reliability, and comfort features. I originally planned on dropping in a 4.6L mod motor out of an '03-'04 Mach 1, but when Ford Racing came out with the supercharged 5.4L GT500 engine, I had to have it."

In addition to the smell of fresh cow and stingray hide, the interior features Classic Instruments gauges, a Budnik steering wheel, an Alpine stereo, and a Vintage Air A/C system. Painless supplied all the wiring, and the headliner is covered in leather as well. Langdon Brothers Upholstery of Dillsboro, Indiana, designed the entire interior.

His search for a rust-free project car led him to California, where he found a 289-powered '65 Comet Caliente. The metal was arrow-straight with only a few patches of rust in the floorboard-perfect for what Josh had in mind. Well aware that few shops would be able to execute his grand plans, Josh shipped the car to Chris Sondles and the crew at Woody's Hot Rodz (www.woodyshotrodz.com). "I gave Chris a big list of ideas and sent him pictures of cars that had design elements I wanted integrated into the Comet. Throughout the three-year build, we constantly bounced ideas back and forth on the phone and via email, and he did an amazing job of building the car I envisioned," Josh explains.

The most time-consuming part of the build was grafting a custom Art Morrison chassis beneath the Merc's body. "The Comet is essentially a Mustang with different outer sheetmetal. With the complete Art Morrison chassis, we basically installed a full-frame in a unibody car," Chris says. "To prep the body, we stiffened the rocker panel area, and cut off the entire front end of the car, from the back of the shock towers forward. We then cut out the original floorpan, welded in a new one to accommodate the frame rails, and built some custom body mounts. The bumpers now mount directly to the frame instead of the body, and the radiator sits in a custom core support."

Early Mustangs, Comets, and Falcons have rather tight engine bays. Relocating the shock mounts to the frame using the Art Morrison chassis allowed eliminating the shock towers to free up precious space. Not only is the 5.4L mod motor taller than the 4.6 liter, the electrical doodads behind its blower forced Woody's Hot Rodz to move the firewall back an inch. The stock intercooler core is mounted behind the radiator.

Stock '65 Comets have three plastic slats affixed to the front fenders. Woody's Hot Rodz went for a more streamlined look by replacing the bulky plastic with pieces of steel brake line that were cut in half. A custom "GT500" badge in lieu of the factory Mercury emblem hints at what's underhood.

The trick Art Morrison Max G frame features a four-link rear suspension, coilovers at the corners, and tubular twin A-arms up front. Since this setup mounts the front springs and shocks directly to the frame instead of the body, it allows removing the factory shock towers and welding up custom inner fenders in their place. With the generous external dimensions of twin-cam Ford mod motors, the extra real estate was a welcome blessing when it came time to stuff the GT500 mill into position. Other necessary tweaks included moving the firewall back an inch, and cutting a portion of the inner hood bracing to make space for the blower snout. Granted, fitting such a large motor in a tight engine compartment is a feat in itself, but just as impressive is the fit and finish. The motor uses a stock Ford computer, wiring harness, airbox, and air-to-water intercooler assembly. Sean Hyland Motorsports tuned it all up. "Our goal was to use as much of the stock equipment as possible and make it look like a factory install. From the electronics to the air intake, everything is off of the original GT500 motor," Chris says.

Although the '65 Comet bears a striking resemblance to a 2/3-scale '65 GTO, it's never been received as a handsome package. To help it stand out from the back, Josh and Chris schemed up a plethora of custom touches inside and out. One of the most obvious tweaks is a set of custom hoodscoops that mimic the look of a Cyclone. The original Mercury logo has been removed from the front grille and replaced with a custom "GT500" badge, and the Bullitt-style side mirrors were heisted off of a Mustang. "We actually did a lot more eliminating than adding. This Comet is a Caliente model, so it had all kinds of badging on it everywhere," Chris says. "We eliminated most of the emblems and also shaved the keyholes. Our shop builds both muscle cars and street rods, so we like mixing elements of both together. There is a custom flush-mounted third brake light mounted beneath the rear windshield. It's blacked out, so unless someone's stepping on the brakes, you can't tell it's there."

Less obvious but equally impressive is the custom interior. Don't tell PETA, but a total of five cows donated their hides to cover this Comet's cocoon. Even more bizarre and facetiously satisfying are the inlays on the custom seats. It looks like suede leather, but it's actually Stingray hide. It took six of the little dudes to pull off the custom stitching. The leather-lined seats, dash, door, headliner, and center console are all custom one-offs. Air ducts have been integrated into the dash itself instead of sticking out at the bottom, and a custom shift light is hidden beneath the stereo where the cigarette lighter is supposed to be. Furthermore, the logo of the Mercury man that was originally inside the stock horn button was removed and affixed to the instrument panel between the speedometer and tach.

In an era where browsing through online classifieds is often more productive than spending the day at a swap meet, the way Josh's Comet was built is somewhat amusing, but not all that surprising. "Josh had the car shipped from California directly to our shop, and didn't actually see it until it was having the interior installed," Chris says. "When he first saw it, he had a weird look on his face like we painted it the wrong color. He then said that he'd never actually seen a '65 Comet in person before, and thought they were much bigger cars. That might be why he wanted to put the bigger 5.4L motor in it, but I guess he now has a lot more power in a much smaller can than he planned."

The Art Morrison Max G frame enables routing the exhaust and driveshaft inside the frame itself. Consequently, even with the Comet's killer stance, ground clearance isn't an issue.

To de-clutter the Comet's lines, all frivolous trim bits were removed from the sheetmetal, including the original "Comet" lettering scattered across the trunk lid. Woody's laid down the PPG Black urethane paint in-house

Without question, there's a certain bond that develops between man and machine by turning your own wrenches, and some will complain that spending big bucks diminishes a car guy's street cred. Nonetheless, Josh's Comet is one heck of an effort for a newbie's first shot at building a car. After the bitterness and jealousy subside, just thinking about Ms. Graham in her mid-20s glory will surely inspire more than a few men to run out and rent a movie they didn't care too much for in the first place. As they fantasize and fart away on the couch, Josh will be busy ripping up the streets in his supercharged, fuel-injected, 540hp, six-speed-shifted, four-linked '65 Comet. Who's the real car guy now?


Josh Martin, 38 * Alexandria, VA
Total cost to build: $165,000

Type: Ford 5.4L small-block
Block: stock iron with
standard 3.552-inch bore
Oiling: stock
Rotating assembly: factory 4.165-inch
forged crank, steel rods,
and forged 8.4:1 pistons
Cylinder heads: stock 32-valve
aluminum castings
Camshafts: factory DOHC
Valvetrain: stock
Induction: factory Eaton M122H supercharger
and air-to-water intercooler
Exhaust: stock Ford manifolds,
custom X-pipe,
dual Borla 2.5-inch mufflers
Fuel system: Aeromotive pump,
Edelbrock pressure regulator
Ignition: stock
Cooling: Be Cool radiator and fan;
stock water pump
Output: 540 hp at 6,200 rpm
and 510 lb-ft at 4,500 rpm

Transmission: Tremec T56 six-speed manual,
Ram clutch, MGW billet shifter
Rear axle: Strange 9-inch rear-end housing,
31-spline axles, 3.70:1 gears,
and limited-slip differential

Front suspension: Art Morrison tubular
control arms, sway bar,
and spindles; Strange coilovers
Rear suspension: Art Morrison four-link,
Panhard rod, and sway bar;
Strange coilovers
Frame: custom Art Morrison Max G frame
Brakes: Wilwood 13-inch discs
with six-piston calipers,
front; 12-inch discs with
six-piston calipers, rear

Wheels: Bonspeed Quasar 18x7,
front; 18x8, rear
Tires: BFGoodrich g-Force
225/45R18, front;
255/45R18, rear

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