IIn a modified car game, most things have been done before and done well, so it can be difficult to create something truly unique. Often, if you set out to be different for the sake of being different, the end result is not favorable. But Matt Horrigan’s ’71 Mercury Comet GT is kind of cool.
First published in the December 2022 issue. Street Machine
It’s a beautiful car from any angle, but most casual onlookers don’t know what a Comet is, so it’s a bit of a conversation starter.
Matt was looking for an early Mustang when he stumbled upon this comet and reasoned that it could form the basis of a far more unusual project. We certainly don’t see many of these here in Australia, and in this instance, the road less traveled has led to somewhere spectacular.
“When it was finished and we drove it to Smyrnatus, the number of people gathered around the car asking what it was – it was crazy,” says Matt. “Most people thought it was a Camaro, Falcon or Mustang. When I first saw it for sale, I had no idea what it was. I had to Google it!”
The Met model is the fifth and final generation Comet, essentially Mercury’s take on Ford’s compact Maverick model, with which it shares most of its body panels. It was available in a range of trim levels with both six- and eight-cylinder engines, with the Halo model, GT, fitted with the 302ci Windsor. Matt’s GT is still powered by a Windsor, but it now benefits from a few extra cubes and some artificial aspirated courtesy of a ProCharger P-1X huffer.
“When I first got it, it was painted yellow ocher with black badging, with a stock 302,” Matt says. “We stripped it down and adapted it to fit the RRS Falcon front end with coil overs and rack and pinion steering. Many of the basics are common to other Ford models, but there are slight variations. And that presented some challenges throughout the build.”
Canberra-based Matt enlisted Queanbeyan Engine Service to assemble the stout small-block, with the brief calling for something that wasn’t short on poke but also had good reliability and road manners. were presented. QES responded by expanding the Windsor to 347ci via an Eagle stroker crank and H-beam rods, and a set of CP pistons.
A custom grinded curve cam was specified for the job, while AFR Renegade alloy heads exit the top end, with a truck flow inlet manifold mated to a Wilson elbow and throttle body. The aforementioned P-1X ProCharger trades boost via an air-to-air intercooler, and the combo makes 650hp at the hubs on pump juice, with a boost upgrade and switch to E85 still in the works.
As can often happen, after an initial flurry of activity, progress on the comet stalled. Matt turned to Canberra Car’s Terry Keyes for some advice, who suggested that Phil Kerrigan Motorsports might be able to get some help. From that point on, Phil took over the reins and saw the build through to completion.
“Matt was great to deal with to the point of the day; we were on the same page about where to go with the build,” says Phil. “The best part is that we’ve become great friends and I consider his family part of my family.”
Matt sketched out his vision for the car, which called for a minimalist approach: a standard body, deleted chromework and a gray and black color scheme. Ben Ambrose did the bodywork and laid on the PPG Vibrance Nissan Smoke paintwork, and aside from cleaning up the body for the intercooler and smoothing the engine bay, the sheet metal is factory-matched. When you’re dealing with a look rarely seen on Australian shores, there’s no need for wild body mods or bright colors to stand out from the crowd.
The cabin is equally tasteful and out back, with a custom retro in black, Recaro seats, Momo steering wheel, B&M Pro stick shifter, and a Haltech iC-7 dash that talks to a Haltech Elite ECU. . “We had a full automatic dash setup in it, but it just didn’t fit the car,” says Matt. “Phil took the whole thing apart and rewelded it to match the Haltec dash. It now looks very clean and doesn’t look like much of a muscle car.”
A mid-size car doesn’t have a lot of room for activities when it comes to putting a V8 and a blower under the bonnet, but it’s well-packaged and all the same. The Procharged 347ci EFI Windsor is already good for 650hp on pump fuel, but a pulley swap and a tank of E85 should get a good amount more.
Phil slotted a fresh Windsor into the car and mated it to a manual C4 auto, and the resulting 31-spline, Truetrac-equipped nine-inch. As the owner of Fuelworx, which specializes in performance automotive plumbing, Phil plumbed the entire car from front to back in Speedflow gear.
“We tried to use as many Australian companies as possible, including Speedflow, Turbosmart, Lowe Fabrications, Gazzard Brothers, PWR, TCE and Haltech,” explains Phil. “That’s something I try to do with everything I do.”
The cabin has a pared-back, traditional muscle car sound with a contemporary twist. The Recaro pews are comfortable and provide plenty of lateral support, while the Haltech iC-7 dash couples with an Elite ECU to provide all the Matt’s information while cutting tough laps.
Since completion, the Comet has received a few accolades, including Top Engineering and Runner-up Top Engine Bay in the Street Class at Summer Knots 34, Judges’ Choice at Brashrants, and Sponsor’s Choice at the Mackenzie Anderson Memorial Show.
But most of all, Matt is most excited about getting some value out of the car on the road with his family. “Where we are in Canberra, a lot of things – like Wakefield Park – are being taken away from car enthusiasts,” he says. “Packing up the car on the Arvo on Wednesday and driving it to Sydney for the race is a hassle. I wanted something I could skid or roll racing in one go, but Friday jumps to work. I can go to
I wanted to invest in something that I could use 70% of the time instead of 5%. I really want to travel the car. Something I can really enjoy.”
Words of wisdom indeed!
1971 Mercury Comet GT
|paint:||PPG Vibrance Nissan Smoke|
|include:||Truck flow inlet manifold, Wilson elbow and throttle body|
|Manufacturer:||Pro Charger P-1X|
|Heads:||AFR Renegade Mixture|
|Camshaft:||Crow, custom grind|
|Conrods:||Eagle H. Beam|
|Fuel System:||Factory Tank, Aeromotive Twin Pumps, TurboSmart FPR, X-Spirit 1000cc Injectors|
|Cooling:||Custom, PWR cover|
|Emissions:||Custom system, Flowmaster muffler|
|Ignition:||Haltec Coils, MSD Leads|
|Gearbox:||C4, manual valve body|
|Difference:||9in, 31-spline axle, Truetrac|
|Suspension and brakes|
|in front:||Viking coil overs|
|Back:||Leaf Springs, Gazzard Brothers Traction Bars, Viking Shocks|
|brake:||Willwood Discs and Calipers (f&r)|
|Wheels and tires|
|codes:||Simmons FR; 19×8 (f), 20×10 (r)|
|Rubber:||Dragon 245/40R19 (f), Pirelli 275/30R20 (r)|
Fuel Works; Phil Carrigan Motor Sports; Elite Custom Wiring; West End Performance; Else Race Glides; keys auto glass; Queanbeyan Engine Service; PPG; Trimming of Richo; Pro Street Industries; ESP Racing; my wife Lara and family; Terry, Kane and Wilsey