From a distance, it's a dead ringer for a two-thirds scale GTO. Indeed, the uncanny facial and posterior resemblance between the '65 Mercury Cyclone and '65 Pontiac GTO suggests covert espionage missions are a more likely explanation for their similarities than random coincidence. However, whose design studio may have spied on whom way back when is really inconsequential. Despite the similarities in their outward styling, the GTO is the darling of the general musclecar public, while the Comet gets as much attention as a non-foreign baby at a Hollywood adoption agency. Unlike the GTO, however, the Comet isn't a car you gravitate toward just because everyone else thinks it's cool. It's the type of car you appreciate for the sum of its mechanical bits rather than hype, and Dave Zizzo's Comet Cyclone proves that there can be plenty to like in a not-so-mainstream car.
Dave has owned his share of Detroit iron over the years, a list that includes several machines powered by big-block Chevys and 440 Mopars. With his younger and wilder days behind him, he figured project cars were a thing of the past. That is until he spotted a car that evoked fond flashbacks of his childhood. "I have always liked the lines of the '65 Comet, and remember a black Cyclone that was always parked on the side of the road in the neighborhood I grew up in," he recollects. "While chasing down go-cart parts with my grandson, I spotted this car for sale in a small Wisconsin town and knew I wanted it right away. I worked out a deal with the owner that evening."
The car sat neglected in a barn for a year until Dave drew inspiration from a gathering of fellow Comet owners at a national show in 2001. He hooked up with Phil Schultz of Vintage Mustang Restoration (Hartford, Wisconsin), and both felt the car was worthy of a full frame-off restoration. Fortunately, the car was originally from Georgia and free of rust, enabling the crew to get down to business immediately. Dave tore the car down at home, then sent it off for media blasting and a coat of Porsche Red paint.
With the bodywork complete, Dave didn't want to settle for a stock restoration, and yet going over the top wasn't an option either. The solution was a design theme that paid tribute to the glory days of drag racing in the '60s and '70s when he was a kid. "I wanted something slightly modified, but didn't want to stray too far from the stock look of the car," he explains. "My goal was to emulate the look of the Factory Experimental Comets campaigned by racing legends like Arnie Beswick and Jack Chrisman." Successfully achieving that look required getting the stance just right, and doing so took some trial and error. "I wanted the front end to sit high and the rear fenders to cover the tops of the tires. Removing a leaf out of the Dearborn Classics five-leaf spring setup worked out perfectly." Granted it isn't for everyone, but the stance definitely gives the illusion of the altered-wheelbase Funny Cars to which it pays homage. A set of 15-inch gray-spoke Torq-Thrusts completes the period-correct aesthetics. Crites subframe connectors, Edelbrock shocks, and Calvert Racing traction bars finish off the fully revamped chassis.
When it came time to spec out the motor combo, Dave wanted something streetable that wouldn't embarrass itself on the dyno. That meant the stock 289 would get the boot in favor of a 302 stroked to 347 ci. The combo is based on an original '70 Boss block that Dave just happened to have lying around due to some comical circumstances. "I had a pistol that a friend of mine really wanted, and he happened to have a Boss 302 block that I wanted, so we worked out a trade," he says with a chuckle. "They were designed specifically for high-rpm use, and were the only small-blocks that Ford ever made with four-bolt main caps and screw-in freeze plugs."
In the belly of this rare foundation is an Eagle 3.400-inch forged crank and 5.400-inch steel rods matched up with 10.0:1 JE pistons. The bottom-end is fed by Edelbrock Victor Jr. aluminum heads and intake manifold, and a Holley 750-cfm carb. To suit his mature and conservative tastes, Dave opted for a mild 230/236-at-.050 hydraulic roller cam. "I like the performance and sound of solid roller cams, but I'm getting old and don't want to hassle with lashing valves," he says. "My goal was to get as much horsepower as possible from a hydraulic cam and pump gas." Exhaling through a set of Doug's 1 5/8-inch headers, the 347 churns out 432 hp at 4,700 rpm, and 452 lb-ft of torque at 5,700 rpm on the engine dyno. That power is channeled through a Top Loader four-speed trans, a Centerforce clutch, and a 9-inch rearend with 3.55:1 gears.
In an effort to keep things as original as possible, Dave avoided busting out the drill bits as much as possible. To mount the MSD ignition box, he fabbed up a custom aluminum plate that attaches to the factory holes in the radiator support. Likewise, instead of mounting the fire extinguisher to the trans tunnel hump inside the car-which would have required drilling holes-Dave made a spare tire hold-down bracket that also incorporates an extinguisher mount. Other subtle touches include a custom aluminum battery tray, a Billet Specialties overflow tank, and a custom gauge cluster mounted on top of the dash. "I wanted to have a point of focus at each different area of the car," he explains.
Other than the paint and engine work, Dave did all the wrenching on the Cyclone himself. That includes rebuilding the Top Loader trans, fabricating the aforementioned custom brackets and mounts, freshening up the interior, welding up the exhaust, and performing the initial teardown and final assembly. "The only thing I'm not comfortable doing is bodywork, so I paid a premium for a project car that was in excellent condition," he says. "I knew I could tackle anything mechanical, which allowed me to spend a little bit more money to ensure I started with a solid car."
If you haven't figured it out by now, this Cyclone isn't about scorching the pavement at the dragstrip. It's a tool best used for loitering with your buddies at shows, attracting hoards of onlookers, and bringing home trophies. While we'd love to see it run a number at the track, it's hard not to appreciate the long hours and craftsmanship required to build such a machine. We're not big on show cars either, but who's to say we won't all turn into show-and-shine guys once our tastes "mature"? If that ever happens, we can only hope to build cars as cool as Dave's '65 Cyclone.