Tony and his Comet Special S-22 convertible take the measure of Desert Hot Springs

His name is Tony, and he drives his 1963 Mercury Comet Special S-22 around Desert Hot Springs. We’ve met twice, and each time he has apologized about the restoration being incomplete.

“Still looking for parts,” Tony says, explaining about the latest thing, a new radiator of aluminum because copper and brass ones are scarce on the ground.

No one would ask me to judge in a concours d’elegance, but I say the Comet looks pretty good. And who doesn’t appreciate aluminum?

I’ve always liked that era’s naming scheme for the compact and midsize Mercury models: Comet and Meteor. Both names could be good ones for dogs, too. And we know Comet was a reindeer.

Neither the Comet nor the Meteor stood a chance of living up the the implied speed of the names, but so what? They’re simpler and more poetic than EQE 350 4Matic, which sounds like a tax form.

For 1964, the Comet Caliente replaced the S-22 in the lineup. The name was hard to accept. It was redundant, for one thing. A Comet was already cosmically hot and would probably burn a hole through the earth without having to add a peppery sauce.

In ’65 the the Comet Cyclone combined astronomical and meteorological phenomena. I was only 10 years old but wasn’t having any it.

I’ve failed to ascertain what S-22 referred to. It was the top trim package, but S-22 sounded vaguely space age. Mercury also offered the Meteor S-33 and the Monterey S-55. So it’s a progression of perhaps random numbers.

In any event, Mercury had the field covered in the taillight department. If you couldn’t tell the Comet was stopping or turning, you belonged on Planet S-22.

a ’58 Cadillac made me delay breakfast in Palm Springs

The 1957 Cadillac has always been my preference because of the cleaner, single-headlamp look. But this ’58 with its quad headlamps is still special enough for a trip around it with the camera.

Not bad for about $5,500.

I stood out in Tahquitz Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, for a profile view of this ’58. Upon my return to the sidewalk, the eager owner emerged from his seat at Sherman’s deli, said his name was Frank, and asked if I was some kind of professional because of the angles I took in the photos.

Frank said he believes himself to be the third owner of this all-original car and shared that the color is Heritage Taupe. (I find Meridian Taupe on the color charts.) I was in a hurry to order breakfast (corned-beef hash) and therefore didn’t ask about every detail.

But the car speaks for itself.

A Galaxie in all its fullness is enough to overfill the garage

Isolating the model and trim level isn’t always easy, but my reference source leads me to say the car pictured with this post is a 1967 Ford Galaxie 500 XL. Mid-1960s Fords always appealed to me, although this didn’t mean I learned to distinguish every detail. The cars looked fast and must have passed by too quickly. Yes, that’s it!

Not long ago I happened upon a Galaxie in repose and had the chance to admire it. The odometer says 40,030 miles, and it’s easy to believe that’s total mileage and the car is original. A color chart suggests our present convertible wears Wimbledon white with the interior in light BlueMet. (A dark blue metallic was also offered.)

A “390” badge on each front fender indicates the XL’s optional 390-cubic-inch V-8, although there were two versions of this engine. The 275-horsepower one was a $78 option while the mighty 315-horse was $158.

Base price for the convertible was $3,493, and some 5,161 units of the XL were produced.

Lesser models were the Galaxie 500 V-8 with the 289 c.i. engine and the six-cylinder Galaxie 500. A convertible version of each was available.

I always wondered about “Galaxie.” A surprise from Ford, use of the French word may have been intended to suggest vast potential, and it did add charm.

Even a hardtop would be a great collector car, although a quick measurement of my garage shows the maximum length of 18.5 feet to work with. The Galaxie 500 stretches to 17.75 feet, leaving eight inches to play with.

As we know from Einstein’s theories, the way around galaxies is through wormholes, and that’s approximately what would be left for transiting past the parked collectible on the way from the kitchen to the trash cart.

Amending a slight to the Studebaker Champ: it was a ‘handy, husky-built beauty’

Yes, I sure did put my foot in my mouth last week when writing about the 1960 Ford F-100 and never being a fan of pickups with carlike styling. Chevys and Dodges of the latter 1950s were too fussy. Studebaker Champs that looked like Larks were also off-putting.

Oops! In response, from Bob Merlis, I received a photo of his pickup doing the hard work of hauling landscaping material. The photo came with a caption: “Have owned this 1960 Studebaker Champ pickup for the past 17 years. It’s rough but it works … if I remember to put gas in it.”

He may be referring to the time I helped out by shuttling him to his stranded truck with a gas can. Or was it his Studebaker Avanti that was stranded?

Bob’s Champ–what a great name for a truck!–is seen above (his photo) in MFH Merlis for Hire livery. The logo represents his music publicity firm in Los Angeles.

Studebaker had made trucks as early as 1914 but not in large volumes. The company’s pickups emerged in 1937. The Champ was new in 1960. My reference source, Standard Catalog of Light-Duty Trucks, gives this interpretation:

“Borrowing from the concept of the original 1937-39 Coupe-Express, Studebaker took the Lark body and converted it to a truck front end and cab. Except for being chopped off behind the front door and featuring a brawnier grille and bumper, the styling, including the instrument panel, was identical to a 1959-60 Lark four-door sedan. The new cab was called the ‘T’ cab.”

Two models were available: the standard T4 and Deluxe T6. Distinguishing the T6 is easy: look for the gaudy touches like chromed instead of painted hubcaps. Other luxuries were the bright metal windshield trim, sliding rear glass, and dome light.

In worthy original condition, Bob’s Champ is a rare beast: 8,294 units were produced for 1960. To blame for the low volume was the steelworkers’ strike from July to November of 1959, leading to model-year production being delayed into the spring of 1960 (and to the importation of steel that would nearly wipe out the domestic industry).

“No matter what Studebaker did, they had no luck in increasing truck sales,” Standard Catalog says.

Four engines were available: 170-cubic-inch flathead six, 245-c.i. flathead six, overhead-valve 259-c.i. V-8, and overhead-valve 289-c.i. V-8.

Like the Ford, which came with the Lifeguard steering wheel, the Champ also featured a “safety steering wheel.”

Bob’s Champ scampers around its home base of Palm Springs with the small six. Fitted with the single-barrel Carter carb, it generates a “whopping”–says he–90 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque.

“Yes,” he says, “it was the Raptor of its day.”

The small-six SE5 variant fetched $1,875 in standard T4 trim and $1,912 in deluxe T6 get-up.

A poetic ad campaign supported “America’s Lowest Priced Pickup–Bar None!”

Brand New Champ by Studebaker

handy, husky-built beauty–

yours for thrift and rugged duty

How interesting to see the sign painter at work (and the Merrick & Son title) in the pictorial. Note the Lark lurking in the background. Doesn’t it looks like a two-door?

The ad copy suggested that, like my friend Bob, “You’ll be mighty proud to take the wheel of this husky, handsome Champ.”

Nicked here, inscribed with rust there, this ’60 Ford pickup is still on the go

I came from a Ford family and have always loved Ford trucks. They looked purposeful yet had personality. Chevy and Dodge trucks were too fussy; I was never a fan of carlike styling for pickups. Studebaker Champs that looked like Larks put me off, too. International Harvester trucks were somewhere in between, and I had no particular objection to them. But from the very first, every Ford had an appeal, and this continues to the present: I’m nuts for the Maverick compact truck.

The F-100 series from 1957 to 1960 was my favorite when I was a youngster. The previous F-100 series from 1953 to 1956 looked a bit old-fashioned with their semi-pontoon fenders. When hot-rodders got hold of any of them, it was a different story. That shape begged for amplification from customizers.

The full-fendered 1957 model and its successors made more sense to me. There was something of a big-truck look. The 1960 model with quad lamps was the best of the bunch.

I stumbled on this example Sunday, Nov. 6 at the Palm Springs Vintage Market. Looking it over inside and out, I was struck by the simple steel stampings. You might say “cheap”–and price was an important consideration in the day before $100,000 electric pickups. The 1960 models spanned the $1,850 to $2,250 range. Buyers wanted attractive design, for sure, but utility was paramount.

Among merits of the ’57 F-100, it was wider and lower than its predecessor. Various improvements were adopted in the chassis (new spindles and kingpins) and suspension (longer, wider leaf springs). The wider windshield wrapped around at the corners. The driver benefited from pedals that were suspended from the dash rather than being floor-mounted. Buyers could choose from 10 colors. Flareside and Styleside models were available with steel or wooden bed decks.

It looks as though sales came in at about 110,000 units in ’57, which is trifling compared to today’s figures. But back then, no one was buying a pickup as a lifestyle accessory.

The quad lamps were introduced in 1959. For 1960 the front was restyled with sturdy-looking bar connecting the headlamp pods. Below is a grille with rectangular grillwork.

My reference book, Standard Catalog of American Light-Duty Trucks, says “improvements were made to the springs, door seals, electrical and exhaust systems.” Among included luxury feature were the dome light, driver-side sun visor, coat hook, and white plate covering the instrument cluster. The Lifeguard steering wheel with spokes that would flex and the double-grip door locks were safety advances. Forget about an automatic transmission, although four-wheel-drive was optional.

The best-seller was the Styleside at 113,875 units.

Lots of innovation was occurring in the truck market. In 1960, Ford introduced the Falcon Rachero pickup and the next year ushered in the Falcon Econoline van, station bus, and pickup.

You have to love the intact F-100 that was at the the Palm Springs Vintage Market. Somebody’s practically a genius for leaving it in original condition. Too bad there aren’t hubcaps though.