The expensive cap is for Dan Spere's '64 Comet station wagon. Parts for this car are hard to find. He was unable to locate a real gas cap even after the car was put back together. Out of the blue, a guy walking past at a car show offered Dan the real Mercury cap for $125. Yes, that's a ton of money for a gas cap, but for a few years, Dan just had a generic cap with an M glued to it. He still uses the fake cap when he races the car, not wanting the original one to disappear.
Dyno Don Nicholson raced a '64 Mercury wagon in NHRA Super Stock for a short while, and this car came to be known as The Ugly Duckling. Not to Dan, though. He's carried a torch for Mercurys for years, starting with a very rough '66 Comet Cyclone GT he used to own. Looking at old photos of Dyno Don's car, Dan thinks these '64 wagons are some of the most beautiful cars ever made. His favorite styling element is the character line sweeping up from the tandem headlights forming "eyebrows" that connect the grille to the fenders.
This car was rough when he bought it, too. Responding to an ad in Recycler, Dan was treated to a shell with hood, fenders, and bumpers shoved into the cargo area. It was mostly complete, not rusty, and the windows rolled up and down, so he bought it for $300. That was in 1997, and Dan was still in college and working full time. He dropped in the 302/C4 combination from his Cyclone, and the Comet served as his daily driver until he graduated and got a good job that afforded him the opportunity to accumulate the parts he wanted to build it up. First on the list was the teardrop fiberglass hood, painted Wimbledon white, of course
After more saving, Dan acquired a 351 Windsor that Speed-O-Motive had built for a customer who never picked it up. That opened up a flurry of building and modifying. Dan began to assemble the wagon in the image of Dyno Don's race car. An upgraded C4 came from Mike's Transmission, and the old 8-inch rear was replaced with a locker-equipped 9-inch. Dan then bought a MIG welder and taught himself how to use it. He notched the right shock tower to make room for headers and welded up a 3-inch exhaust system from the collectors, ending in turndowns just before the axle.
Just because Dan built his Comet to look like a vintage race car doesn't mean it just sits around or goes to the occasional show. Dan races the car frequently, and his best run to date is an 11.405 at 116.56 mph-fast enough to require a six-point 'cage, which is close to the top of Dan's list of things still to-do. His goal is to get as close as possible to 10-flat on his skinny slicks, probably with a bigger, solid roller cam and a shot of nitrous. If you're in western Oregon this summer, look for Dan's Mercury pulling the wheels off the line in search of that goal. Dyno Don would be proud.
Who: Dan Spere
What: '64 Mercury Comet wagon
Where: Aloha, Oregon. By the way, the locals pronounce it uh-low-uh, not uh-Lo-ha, like the Hawaiian version.
Engine: Speed-O-Motive built the 351W with some tough parts. The block was clearanced to fit a 3.850-inch stroker, bringing the displacement up to 393 inches, and a 4.030-inch bore. Forged 11.0:1 SRP pistons and forged H-beam rods round out the reciprocating assembly. The big Comp hydraulic roller is rated at 232/240 degrees and 0.565/0.574-inch lift. The engine is topped with AFR 205 aluminum heads, and Dan guesses it makes about 480 hp at the flywheel.
Intake: The ubiquitous 750 Holley Double-Pumper is perched atop a Victor Jr. intake manifold. Dan added the Crites ram-air kit that draws cool air in fromwhere the high-beams used to be.
Exhaust: Crites 131/44-inch headers scavenge the cylinder heads, dumping into Dan's homemade cross-pipe exhaust system. He tucked the 3-inch tubes and DynoMax mufflers as close to the floor as possible. The cross-pipe kit came from Summit Racing.
Ignition: Dan runs an MSD large-cap billet distributor, MSD Digital-6 Plus ignition box, MSD Blaster coil, and MSD 8mm Heli-Core wires. He should get sponsorship, huh?
Transmission: Mike's Transmission in Palmdale, California, built the C4 bolted to Dan's Windsor. Dan does the shifting himself through a reverse manual valvebody. A 10-inch converter stalls at 3,500 rpm, and the whole thing is supposed to handle up to 800 hp.
Rearend: Dan dumped the old 8-inch rear for a hotter 9-inch he bought from eBay. It was sold without the centersection but with 31-spline Dutchman axles. He bought a used centersection locally that was equipped with a locking differential and 3.73:1 gears.
Suspension: Dan left things mostly stock, only adding 620-lb/in front springs and CalTracs bars to the stock rear leaf springs. Simple but effective.
Brakes: All stock here. Dan plans to convert to front disc brakes soon.
Wheels/Tires: Nothing but steel wheels would look good on a car like this. Dan employed the little-known trick of using Studebaker wheels up front. They're only 4 inches wide and are drilled with the same 5x4.5-inch bolt pattern Ford uses. The rear steelies are custom-offset 15x8-inchers. Coker bias-ply skinnies are mounted up front, while 26x9.5 Hoosier Quick Time Pro slicks are on the rear.
Interior: Dan had the interior redone by Beaverton Auto Upholstery in Beaverton, Oregon. The shop restored the wagon with the original black upholstery and carpet. He added the radio- and heater-delete plates. Race car cool.
Performance: The car is fast enough to get Dan kicked off the track, so he has to sandbag at the top end. The one time he did stay in it he ran an 11.40 e.t. With a 'cage and harnesses installed, Dan would like to get into the low 10s.