Mechanically, Sarah Godfrey’s sixties Mercury Comet is pretty perfect, and the patina is something she’d like to preserve. Here, she tells Charlotte Vowden how her Californian coupe, which sent her skywards on their first drive, has jump-started a classic car addiction.
When the Mercury Comet went on sale in 1960 it was marketed as a fashionable compact saloon fit for a family. “Style, size, savings and surprises,” were promised, as well as a smooth ride, but that wasn’t quite the case for Sarah Godfrey…
“The maiden voyage I had in the Comet was quite an adventure. American cars are typically wafty but because the front dampers were on their way out it was a particularly bouncy ride. I frequently found myself looking up at the sky. That didn’t really phase me but the first time the bench seat flew backwards, I’ll admit, was a bit of a shock. The spring that holds it in place was broken, so I would periodically find myself unable to reach the pedals which was quite inconvenient. It was quite funny, too.
I got confident in the car quickly on that drive because I had to. It was unproven, I hadn’t had it very long and it was the first time I’d driven a left-hand drive (which was stressing me out) but I wanted to go to Retro Rides at Goodwood and the only way I was going to get there was by getting behind the wheel. It was three hours there and back. To begin with, it was hard work and took a lot of concentration, but once I’d settled into the rhythm of the road it felt quite natural.
I’ve had the Mercury for two years, it was my first classic and one I’d desperately wanted one since I was 14. Growing up I watched a TV programme called One Tree Hill and one of the main characters drove an absolutely stunning convertible 1963 Mercury Comet; it was black with a red interior. I fell in love and then when I saw one in real life, years later and only briefly, I knew it was the car for me.
I found mine, a 1962 Californian import, for sale on Car and Classic. It wasn’t a convertible, or the right colour, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it so booked a day off work and set off on the eight hour round trip to Yorkshire with my partner Rich (and a trailer) pretty sure I was going to buy it. I would always suggest taking someone who is knowledgable when you’re looking to buy a classic car, it’s a big purchase and they can be a lot to take on. Luckily, Rich lives, breathes, races and rebuilds old cars so he knew what to look for. We didn’t take it for a test drive but it did fire up first time after not turning over for seven years which was a good sign. Needless to say, it came home with us.
When we did take it for a spin, neither of us could stop smiling. Rich, who is more into his British classics, though it was really cool. To be honest, as much as I wanted to be the person driving, I made that first journey as the passenger because I wanted him to talk me through what he was doing as well as what he was listening and feeling for. To its credit, the car ran faultlessly, but in terms of learning it probably wasn’t the best car to start with because there wasn’t anything wrong with it! Apart from an alternator and new suspension it’s pretty original and although I’m into modifying cars I intend on keeping the Mercury how it is for the foreseeable – unless things start breaking or falling off. Being one of five on the UK roads makes it super rare so any future changes would be completely reversible.
The Comet, which has still got its original four-litre straight-six engine, arrived in the UK 13 years ago after being fully recommissioned, but was left in a barn when its owner became ill. Mechanically and structurally it’s really solid, but there was a lot of surface rust when I first bought it which made it look bright orange. Someone on social media suggested using a wire wool brush and limescale remover to get rid of it, so after doing a patch test I spent three weeks worth of evenings working on it. The change was phenomenal, the bodywork went back to beige and some really lovely patina came through on the roof and bonnet. It looks like a different car. Even though the creamy colour isn’t my favourite, it’s grown on me after I spent so much time being so close to the car and seeing it transform. I learn to love the Comet as it is. One day it’s going to need to be resprayed but it’ll only be original once so for now I’m going to try and preserve it.
Despite being a compact car, in American terms, the Comet has got great road presence. It’s actually the same size as my Mercedes CLA but unlike modern cars it’s got an iconic look; it’s all straight lines and tail fins. The little chrome ornaments on the front wings that look like gun sights are a unique finishing touch. It’s pretty loud as well. Inside, it’s got a linear speedometer and a radio with a star engraved into the chrome which I think symbolises where you had to tune it to in order to hear emergency broadcasts in the US.
On motorways the Comet will quite happily cruise at 70mph and it isn’t slow to get up to speed. It does, of course, drink gallons of fuelbut put that fact aside and I will jump in and drive it anywhere given the opportunity. The epic drives are often the best drives, such as Snake Pass in the Peak District, but just going five minutes down the road puts a smile on my face. I miss it when it’s being stored during the winter but I want to save it from the salty roads.
A passion for classic cars came later in life for me and I now own eight – yep, I’m addicted. I’ve got a Nash Metropolitan, an Austin A35, a mod-sport Austin Healey Sprite, a Daihatsu Hijet, an RX FC, and I jointly own an E36 BMW and an Innocenti 950 Spyder with Rich. I love the weird, the rare and the unique, and all of them are one of those things.
I also like to try everything once, especially if it’s adrenalin based, and motorsport is something I aspire to do. I don’t think I’d ever race the Comet, it’s not that kind of car for me. I might take it out on track for a bit of fun, but with it being so special, I wouldn’t want to risk putting it into a serious situation – the Austin Healey Sprite is my race car, it has a CG13 engine out of a Nissan Micra. Each of my cars has got their own story that started before me and will go on after me, and I like that for the time they are in my care I get to be part of that journey. I don’t plan to let any of them go anywhere without me quite yet though, and definitely not the Comet.”