For 1960-1961, Plymouth’s Aero Wheel suggested a space-age payoff

By 1960, the Space Race was on. Instead of waiting for the government’s space agency to get us there, Plymouth gave Americans the option of launching on their own thanks to the Aero Wheel.

The horn bar that–wink, wink!–was not merely a horn bar suggested a launch (right button) and return to the launching pad (left button).

Ad copy clarified the matter:

Take the wheel of a ’60 Plymouth. The driver’s seat holds you high and comfortably (and it even controls, ingeniously, a system that automatically locks all the car doors the instant you start the engine.) That’s Plymouth’s inviting new Aero Wheel in your hand. The Teleview red-line speedometer ticks off your travel, ribbon fashion, across the face of a modern “floating” instrument pod. Every modern advance is here before you to make driving in the 1960 Plymouth easier—and more exciting. 

Mention of spacesuits and helmets was omitted, but otherwise the formula was sound. The driver and passengers were automatically sealed in the capsule, everyone transfixed by the Teleview metering, and one-hand operation sufficed.

So there must be a good explanation for the poor sales report.

“Plymouth sales alone [without Valiant, a stand-alone brand that year] dropped to seventh rank in the American industry [in 1961],” we learn from Standard Catalog of American Cars 1946-1975. “The radical new styling was one factor in this decline.”

I suspect underreporting of registrations because so many cars went straight into deep space without the driver’s understanding the function of the left-side button, and surveys went without response.

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.