1962 Mercury Comet Dash
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1962 Comet

mmmmm I'm No Crash Test Dummy

One of the Resto-mods I wanted to make to my car was adding seat belts.   It seems that they were still just an option back in 1962.  How we survived the 60's growing up with no seat belts, unsafe strollers and cribs is beyond me.  Survival of the fittest, I guess.  I found seat belt anchor holes with welded on nuts located in the floor just behind the front seat, but  I could not locate any similar holes for the rear seat, so I'll start by installing the front ones.

Seat Belt Color ChoicesI ordered a set of seat belt webbing samples from one of the many manufacturers of vintage seat belts.  The set came with 29 different colors.  That's only 2 less than Baskin-Robbins has ice cream flavors.  What a great selection! 

I was able to eliminate 26 of the colors right away, which left me with Black, Flame Red and Red (the 3 on the far right).  Now, I would hate to spend the money for 29 color samples and end up picking black, but it could be a valid choice being that my interior was red and black.  The Red sample was a tad dark and the Flame Red was too bright.  I ended up choosing the standard Red which when against the black part of the seat didn't look too dark. 

Next, they had a choice of two different lengths, 60 inches and 74 inches.  I measured everything 2 or 3 times and concluded that 66 inches would be the ideal length. Now, it looked like 60 inches would work, but I feared not having them long enough so I ordered the 74 Inches ones.   I got the seat belts in record time and they went right in. 

cometseatbelts01 smNow, I find myself taking my shoes off before I climb inside the car, afraid that I'll track in some dirt.  So, I just ordered a set of custom "Comet" floor mats. 

I am hoping that I ordered them from the same place the carpet came from so that the color will match.   My father-in-law purchased the original carpet from Buds Auto Carpets but they seem to be out of business.  I've heard that most of the carpets come from the same place anyways, ACC (Auto Custom Carpets) so I found a place online called Stockinteriors.com who sells ACC carpet and mats. 

1962-mercury-comet-seatbelts-02 smThey also happened to have the same "Red 515" color code that matches the code my father-in-law ordered 7 years ago.  I ordered some samples of 3 different red to make sure. I still have the original color samples that he was sent before he ordered the carpet.

Now, I have 2 samples of the carpet, both with the same "Red 515" number written on them and neither matches the carpet now in the car or each other.  I know that different dye lots could have different shades of the same color, but you'd think they would be closer.  Anyway, I ordered a set of the "Red 515" custom 1962 Comet floor mats with the "Comet" script (in black) on them.  Hoping to see them soon.  Can't wait.

Mercury Comet Floor Mats installedComet script floor mats arrived, and they go great!  Still removing my shoes when i get in the car.  Do they make floor mat protectors?












"Pull To Defrost"

Pull to DefrostLooking through the paperwork that came along with the car, I came across the original tag that hung from the heater control knobs when the car was new.  Funny thing is, I've seen reproductions of this same tag being sold and I wondered why you would purchase one.  Now that i have an original, I think it's cool, but still not sure I would buy a repro. 

It's not the same as replacing a part of the car that is permanent.  The hang tag is meant to be discarded the first time you use your car.  I guess if you're in a car show, you may want to display it, but you wouldn't be fooling anyone to think it's been there hanging for 50 years.

Life is a Rock, But the Radio Rolled Me*

My Comet came without a radio. It does have the scarce Radio Delete Plate in the dash, so that's a good thing. I'm also lucky that the dash had not been hacked apart to accommodate a newer style radio, like so many of the cars from the '60s. But, I need tunes. Music is such a big part of the late 50's and early 60's mystique, that a radio is a must. An original 1962 Comet Radio would look great and since it was an option at the time, I could add one and the car would still stay original to the period. I could also remove it and return the delete plate if needed.

1962 Comet RadioI scoured eBay for several weeks when finally an original '62 Comet radio came up for sale. It was untested, but looked pretty clean. I got a pretty good deal I figured at $25 + shipping. It was missing it's knobs, so that was something I would need to deal with.

Now '62 was the last year Mercury used tubes in car radios (so I'm told), and I was not thrilled about having to deal with tubes. I'm a transistor kind of guy, a Baby Boomer Electrical Engineer, so tubes are not my thing.

Well I got the radio and it didn't work. Not sure why, but I cleaned it up and dove into it head first. I know from experience that the old capacitors can dry out, so I placed an order for modern day replacements. Once they arrived, I took out the old ones and soldered in the new ones. Fired it back up and to my surprised it worked. The tubes lit up and the speaker crackled. I had a screw driver stuck in the antenna hole and was able to tune in the strongest local station, while in my basement. I was pleased. Now I needed to find some knobs. They sell reproductions of the center plastic ivory colored knobs, used on Ford Falcons, but I'm told the Comet knobs were all chrome. These center knobs control the On/Off-Volume and the Tuning. But, they don sell reproductions of the chrome outer rings which adjust the bass/treble. The radio cleaned up nicely, now I just needed the knobs and rings. I purchase two of the reproduction ivory colored Falcon knobs and figured I'd watch out the chrome outer rings later.

1963 Mercury Comet Radio - beforeSo, again I kept watch on eBay and finally spotted a 1963 Comet radio complete with all the knobs, in chrome. It looked rough but was all there. I stole this one at $18 + shipping. The best part was that the '63 radio looks identical to the '62 radio except it has transistors inside instead of tubes. I got the radio and it was quite rough looking. The knobs had potential but the rest of the chrome didn't look so promising. Overall it was in worse condition than the 62 radio, but that cleaned up great, so there was hope. Worse off were the push buttons, which were a yellow color. They had not aged well.

The radio worked well, once I applied 12 V dc, from a bench top power supply. It actually tuned in several radio stations in my basement using the same screw driver antenna that only produced a single station with the '62 tube based radio. This was a good sign, so I set out to see how much I could clean it up. I was please that what originally looked like pitting on the knobs turned out to be just dirt and discoloration from 50 years of sitting around. The knobs were important since I would be using them on whatever radio I ended up using.

Next I tackled the chrome bezel on the radio to see if I could resurrect it. Now, the bezel was identical to the other radio so I could actually use whatever one turned out best. Was I in for a surprise. I removed the two screws holding in on and sprayed it down with some mild spray cleaner. After removing the layers of dirt, I could see the chrome was not that bad. I located my small tube of Simichrome Chrome Polish I had gotten for Christmas and went to work. The chrome came out as good or even better that the other radio. I was stoked, but now I had to tackle the yellow push buttons.

The buttons on the '62 radio were a bright ivory color. How they stayed so bright, I don't know. I'm guessing it was stored in the dark away from damaging sunlight. I could swap the buttons but I wondered if there was any way of bringing them back to life.

Well, the true geek that I am had me searching the Internet far and wide looking for a solution. I came across a group of retro computer collectors who had been experimenting with a way of restoring vintage computer equipment after years of exposure had yellowed their enclosures. The group had enlisted a few people with chemistry degrees to figure out what was causing the yellowing and how to reverse the process to restore the original color. Seems that a few other hobbyist, namely people with vintage video game consoles had the same issues. Of course, they had all found each other on the Internet, which thrives with these little niche groups.

1962 Comet Radio Buttons - Before and After Retr0BrightThe restoration process was named Retr0Bright. Yes, that's a Zero in the name, a geeky way of spelling it, I guess. The formula for the solution is simple and the process is even simpler. I didn't even need all the ingredients. Since my parts were small enough to be totally immersed in the solution, I didn't need to make the gel version. The gel is used for larger parts that can't be soaked in a jar.

To the left is a before and after picture of the buttons. I won't give the whole Retr0Bright secret away here, but I used a much weaker 3% Hydrogen Peroxide in my version of the Retr0Bright solution. So I needed to soak the parts for an extra day. But they came out fantastic. While not as bright as the buttons on the '62 radio, they are like night and day when compared to the original color. ThisRetr0Bright process is another tool I'll keep in mind for future projects. Be sure to check out their site. Retr0Bright

Here's are final before & after picture of the whole radio.1962 Comet Radio - Before and After

1962 Comet Radio in dashWhile waiting for the weather to warm up, allowing me to start the installation of the FatMat sound deadening material on floor, I was able to mount my radio in the dash. Boy does it shine! It's not hooked up to the speaker yet, but I know it will sound just fine.

I had just finished up installing the radio as the sun was setting. My house faces due west. As the sun set it was showing through the garage window and into the car illuminating the newly installed radio. I ran to grab my camera while the light was just right.

Comet radio in the light

I took several pictures hoping to capture the great light. The chrome just shined and those selector keys that I whitened using the Retr0Bright method really showed up great. Really glad the yellow staining came out. In the bright light the ashtray look on the orange side. I never noticed this under normally light. I'll have to see what's up. It could be that it faded some over the years.

*- Life is a Rock, But the Radio Rolled Me was a 1970's tune by Reunion. The song was a favorite of mine as a kid. It maybe even be one of the first rap songs (not that I like rap songs).

Mono e Mono*

Speaker for 1962 Mercury Comet DashSince the car didn't come with a radio, it has no speaker either.  That would be a single speaker since the AM radio is mono.   No problem since speakers are still readily available that would fit the opening.  The opening measured 5 in. x 7 in. and that's still a common size.  What I didn't anticipate have a problem finding was an 8 ohm, 5x7 speaker.  It seems that car amplifiers can be rated higher if they rate they through a 4 ohm speaker.   So, I kept my eye on eBay and eventually a pair of Samsung 8 ohm, 10 Watt speakers showed up.   I got them for $16 + shipping, not a bad deal.  And, since there were two of them, I'd have a spare.

The speaker fit great in the opening in the dash, but the mounting holes in the speaker didn't match up with any of the holes in the car.  5x7 Speaker for 1962 Mercury Comet Dash underneathThe original speaker had a larger flange around the edge, allowing it to be fastened in the existing holes.   So, I needed to fab up some mounting brackets to attach to the edge of speaker. 

I love working in plastic and had some scraps laying around, so this gave me a change to be creative.  Instead of adding a flange all the way around, I figured it would be easier to add two separate pieces, a left and a right.  That way i could more easily reposition each bracket to line up all the holes.  And, once I got one correct, the other side would be a mirror image.

5x7 Speaker for 1962 Mercury CometI used some cardboard to mock up the brackets until I got the size and holes in the right laces, them cut them out in 1/8inch plastic.  I painted the plastic a semi-gloss black so they wouldn't be noticeable through the speaker grill.

Setting the speaker back in the hole, I lined up the new brackets and attached the them to the dash with screws.  I still need to put the speaker/vent grill back in place.

I hooked the radio speaker wires to the speaker terminals and turned on the radio.  The static sounded great.  Nice and loud.  Now I need to hook up an antenna.  1962 comet speaker grillI don't have any plans on drilling a hole in my fender for an antenna, so I;m going to try and hide one somewhere.

*-  “Mono e mono” is an error caused by mishearing the Spanish expression mano a mano which means not “man-to-man” but “hand-to-hand,” as in hand-to-hand combat: one on one.


...more to come

Rust Never Sleeps*

One of the areas I need to tackle is the under side of the car. Even though this car has never seen a northern winter, with salt and the slush on the road, rust happens! Surprising, the original undercoating on the car has held up rather well, but there are some issues. I considered sealing the rusty spots with one of the great Eastwood Rust Encapsulator product and be done with it. They have a rubberized undercoating version that is meant to be sprayed right over the rust. I figured I could degrease the underside and spray the Eastwood undercoating right on top of the existing undercoating and cover over any area where surface rust was showing. But nah, that would be too easy. Looking under the front right wheel well you can see what I'm up against. The undercoating is thick in some places and thinner in others.

1962 Comet Wheel Well On some areas, it is stuck fast while in others it can be flaked off with a putty knife. I guess I was in for the long haul, so I might as well do it right. Well, as "right" as I can with my limitations. You see the right way would be to strip the entire car, put the body on an auto rotisserie and then "set it and forget it". No wait, Ron Popeil didn't invent the auto rotisserie, just everything else that is cool (I've still got my pocket fisherman here somewhere). Then while on the rotisserie, you rotate the entire chassis sideways and now you have full access to the bottom side of the car.

1962 Comet underside Since that's not going to happen, I will tackle one section of the underside at a time. First I scraped all of the undercoating off of the front right wheel well. I did this using a combination of my putty knife, a razor blade and a pneumatic scaler. The scaler does a pretty good job breaking up the undercoating in places it's very dry and brittle. For much of it, I needed to use the razor blade to scrape it off.

1962 Comet underside with Por15 and Rust Encapsulator After all of the undercoating was removed, I sprayed it down with a degreaser and then applied the Metal-Ready, which prepares it for the POR15. I applied 2 coats of POR15 a few hours apart and then in another 2 hours I applied a top coat of the Eastwood Rust Encapsulator rubberized undercoating. To the left is what it looks like after all that is completed.

* Rust Never Sleeps is a classic Neil Young album. I'm a big Neil Young fan.