JOh, Kerr has a can-do attitude and mad skills to match, as his twin-turbo Mercury Comet/Ford Ranchero hybrid proves.
This article on John’s Comet/Ranchero ute originally appeared in the April 2018 issue. Street Machine
John Kerr should be a household name. Street Machine Readers it featured in the first SM Hot Rod in 2010 with his wife Julie’s ’34 Dodge Hot Rod, and John has competed in every since. Street Machine Drag Challenge to this day with his 1964 Mercury Comet Coupe – placing in the DYO class in both 2015 and 2016. Now, this pre-built, homebuilt Mercury Comet/Ford Ranchero hybrid has been added to the mix.
When John bought the Ranchero, it had two Comet doors and three additional Ranchero doors. Despite using the comet front in his creation, he ended up using the Ranchero door. “The Comet and Ranchero have the same body pressures, so the doors match the Comet’s front guards,” he explains. “I used ’65 Ranchero moldings and kept the factory taillights, because they’re better for a ute.”
“When my dad, Jim, saw a cheap Ranchero shell on eBay and suggested I could build one with parts he had lying around, I wanted a ute,” John says.
“This is my third paint job,” John says of the Ute’s black two-pack coating. “I’ve learned more about paint each time. Now I use a faster hardener so it dries faster.”
The eBay special included only a bare shell, tailgate, comet doors, fiberglass reverse cowl bonnet, a guard and grill plus some extra Ranchero doors. “The floor was also cut to make a race car, which was annoying because it was a straight, rust-free Arizona body,” sighs John. “While I didn’t have enough parts to base it on a Falcon, I did have a complete ’64 Comet front and other spares to make it a Comet/Ranchero ute.”
What wasn’t in the shed John grabbed from swap meets and eBay. “I pretty much make any part; it’s cheaper to try my hand at all the parts of the build than to have someone else do it, and if it doesn’t work, I do it again,” he reasons.
First, it added RHS subframe connectors between the front and rear of the chassis for rigidity. The floor panels were then fabricated and dropped into the body, before three inches were added to the factory tubs. “I thought I might as well build a UTRHD, provided it would be run every day,” says John. “So I cut out what was left of the firewall and I replaced it with a big, flat panel.
“The tray is bolted to the RHS, so no load will bend that floor – I can fill it with engine blocks!” John laughs. The fuel system and battery are located in a tray compartment under the front, while there is a hard tonneau cover on top.
“For the bodywork, all I used was a file, a hacksaw and an angle grinder. You don’t need fancy tooling. But I got a bread saw. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. Ever bought one. I used it to finish welding the body, then put it in there for painting.”
“I bought 15-inch American Racing Torq Thrust rims about 30 years ago and never had a car that would fit them, so I cut the car to fit the rims,” says John. “
Yep, that’s right, John also shot the gun, opting for the GenRock Black Two Pack. “I painted it in the backyard, and hung the panels from a clothesline,” John says. “I find that the light is better outside, but after I’m done I need to get the bugs out of the paint with tweezers!”
John designed a solid stainless steel Mercury logo for the tailgate, keeping in mind the one-sided nature of the ute.
As you can tell, John got his hands dirty on 99 percent of the build, and the twin-turbo Windsors did the lion’s share of the spanner work. “I didn’t know anything about turbos, so I learned,” he says. But why twin turbans on a daily driven ’64 Ford? “Because I can,” laughs John: “I figured I might as well make something that’s engineering worthy. And it sure beats putting a stocker in it!”
John plumbed twin Garrett T25 ex-Nissan Silvia SR20 turbos into a Proflow throttle body. Its hand-built fuel rails feature FAST 1000cc injectors sitting atop a modified Edelbrock SuperVictor manifold. Underneath, the thick Mexican-cast 302ci Windsor block is filled with a bunch of sturdy but mostly secondhand parts. Brodix heads feed a hydraulic roller COMP cam, while the pistons are Probe forged items mated to a 331ci Scat stroker crank with Scat H-beam rods. A Crane HI-6 with PS92 coil, MSD leads and a John Tweak Daisy spark sorter. The PULP is fed by a Bosch 044 from a surge tank, which is pumped up by a Carter pump.
John’s old neighbor Peter put in the red vinyl and bent the door trim, while John tackled the headliner and carpet. Now located in the right-hand drive dash are autometer gauges that slot straight into the factory bezels, with vintage air A/C controls and factory radio ducting into the slot.
Behind the engine is a top-loader four-speed crunch box with a McLeod Racing RST twin-disc clutch, and a Lakewood scatter shield for protection. In the rear, John installed nine-inchers from a ’59 T-Bird, which he shortened and new Strange 31-spline axles and an F100 center with LSD and 3.5s.
Nothing was left on suspension as John’s handiwork continued. “I built CalTracs like I’ve been doing for years,” he says. “I also made a solid rear spring bush, while in the front I added adjustable radius rods, and replaced the bushes with roller bearings.” Front lowering is courtesy of a Shelby drop, while the front stoppers feature Mustang Kelsey-Hayes four-position calipers.
“It was quite easy to pass the engineer’s report because it talked about the construction first then it had to be done the way it needed to be done,” explains John. “You’d be surprised how cheap I made it. I can’t afford a new car and old cars are better anyway, so I made a new old car!
“Dad bought a Comet as our family car in 1970, which he used as a tow and push-start car for a front-drive Hemi-powered dragster,” John says. “Comets were later retired when they were made to run starter motors”
“I’ve taken it on the chassis dyno a couple of times, but there was too much horsepower for the clutch,” he continues. “So far it’s only making 300rwhp at about quarter throttle at 3psi. My dyno-tuning guy thinks there’s more to it. I drag it once in a while to see what it does. Will race down, but since it’s a manual it won’t be competitive in bracket racing. If the ute is reliable and goes fast enough to make the cutoff you might see it in a drag challenge.
- A stock bonnet replaces the fiberglass item, which was sold for the Drag Challenge 2017 petrol mini.
- Handcrafted fuel rails from aluminum extrusions.
- Modified Edelbrock Super Victor TIG welded manifold with domestic bungs
- The shock towers were trimmed for pipe clearance while retaining the original spring. For ease of access, John can open the home-built Monte Carlo bar as well as the ham-joint adjustable strut.
- Twin Garrett T25 Nissan Silvia SR20 turbos running 2860RS intake housing and impeller kit
- John fixed up the pre-cut radiator support, then slipped in a five-core radiator he fashioned from an old ’72 Galaxie LTD item.
- Since the Comet’s front is 3 inches longer than the Ranchero’s, John snuck the intercooler into the gap and poked the air cleaners through the old headlight holes.
We mounted John’s ’64 race-spec Comet coupe atop his M700 Mercury truck in April 2016. While the Comet has gotten plenty of coverage in SM, racing for the past 27 years, the ground-up rebuilt, 361ci big-block FT-powered Mercury truck is a thing of beauty that deserves another look.
“I’m always fixing the truck,” John says. “Currently the Paxton blower runs 4lb boost, which gives a nice supercharger whistle that you can hear from two blocks away.
It’s flying now; I am racing with fast trucks. I can do 90 km/h on hills! At around 100km/h it sits at 2200rpm, so it ticks along nicely.
“It’s probably the only Mercury truck of this size in Australia, but they’ve got loads of Ford trucks with 292ci Y-blocks,” John continues. “They’re out in country Australia; I’m always meeting people who had them or still have them on their farms.
“I take it everywhere. It’s just been in Victoria for All Ford Day with a Comet coupe and ute, and in May I take it to Renmark for the Early Ford Rally with dad’s restored ’34 coupe and roadster. going to.
1964 Mercury Comet / Ford Ranchero
paint: GenRock Black
donk: 302ci Windsor
include: Twin Garrett T25 turbos replaced with 2860RS intake housing and impellers, TurboSmart 40mm external wastegate, GFB stealth blow-off valve
Fuel System: EFI, Proflow throttle body, fast 1000cc injectors, domestic fuel rail
many times: Modified Edelbrock Super Victor
Compression ratio: 8.5:1
Camera: COMP HYDRAULIC ROLLER
Piston: Probe forged, skate h beam bars
Oil pump: Ford
Water pump: Edelbrock
Ignition: Crane HI-6, Crane PS92 coil, MSD leads, Hyundai cam angle sensor with modified crank.
Fuel Pump: Bosch 044, Carter
fuel: The pulp
Cooling: ’72 Galaxy Score radiator, standard six-blade fan
Emissions: Home made manifold, stainless exhaust in 2½, twin mufflers
Gearbox: Top loader four speed, Hurst shifter
Clutch: McLeod Racing RST Twin Disc, Lakewood Skater Shield
Difference: Short ’59 T-bird 9in, odd 31-spline axle, 3.5:1 gears, LSD
Tail Shaft: Ricky’s drive shaft 3 inch, odd yoke
Suspension and brakes
Front Suspension: Ranchero Leaf Springs, NOS Motorcraft shocks
Rear Suspension: Ranchero leaf springs, NOS Motorcraft shocks, home made keel tracks
Shrubs: Rear spring solid bushing, front roller bearing
Steering: Modified ’64 Comet and ZC Fairlane
brake: Ford Kelsey-Hayes four-spot calipers (f), Ford drums (r)
Other: Front Shelby drop, front radius adjustable bars, reinforced lower control arms, Mustang 1in sway-bar
password: American Racing Torque Thrust; 15×4.5 (f), 15×8.5 (r)
Rubber: Kumho 165/86T (f), Atturo 275/60 (r)
Wheel: Comet Mercury
Dash: Comet converted to RHD.
Seats: Factory split bench in red vinyl
shifter: Hearst Competition Plus