In the modified car game, most things have been done before and done well, so it can be challenging to create something truly unique. Often, if you set out to be different for different’s sake, the end result isn’t favourable. But Matt Hourigan’s ’71 Mercury Comet GT is the good kind of different.
First published in the December 2022 issue of Street Machine
Matt was on the hunt for an early Mustang when he stumbled across this Comet and reasoned that it could form the basis of a far more unusual project. We certainly don’t see many of them here in Australia, and in this instance, the road less travelled has led somewhere awesome.
“When it was finished and we took it to Summernats, the amount of people congregating around the car asking what it was – it was crazy,” Matt says. “Most people thought it was a Camaro, a Falcon or a Mustang. When I first saw it for sale, I didn’t know what it was either; I had to Google it!”
Matt’s example is a 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, the GT, fitted with a 302ci Windsor. Matt’s GT remains Windsor-powered, but it now benefits from a few extra cubes and some artificial aspiration courtesy of a ProCharger P-1X huffer.
“When I first got it, it was painted Yellow Ochre with black badging, with a stock 302,” Matt says. “We pulled it down and adapted an RRS Falcon front end to fit, with coil-overs and rack-and-pinion steering. A lot of the underpinnings 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 screw the stout small-block together, with the brief calling for something that wasn’t short on poke but also offered sound reliability and street driving manners. QES responded by stretching the Windsor to 347ci by way of an Eagle stroker crank and H-beam rods, and a set of CP pistons.
A custom-grind Crow cam was specced for the job, while AFR Renegade alloy heads round out the top end, with a Trick Flow inlet manifold mated to a Wilson elbow and throttlebody. The aforementioned P-1X ProCharger deals out boost via an air-to-air intercooler, and the combo has made 650hp at the hubs on pump juice, with a boost upgrade and a switch to E85 still in the works.
As can often happen, after an initial flurry of activity, progress on the Comet stagnated. Matt turned to Canberra car guy Terry Keys for some advice, who suggested that Phil Kerjean Motorsports could be of some assistance. From that point on, Phil took the reins and steered the build through to completion.
“Matt was great to deal with from day dot; we were on the same page as to where to go with the build,” Phil says. “The best part of it is we have become great friends and I consider his family to be part of my family.”
Matt had done a sketch of his vision for the car, which called for a less-is-more approach: a standard body, deleted chromework and a grey-and-black colour scheme. Ben Ambrose did the bodywork and laid on the PPG Vibrance Nissan Smoke paintwork, and aside from clearancing the body for the intercooler and smoothing the engine bay, the sheet metal is all as per factory. When you’re dealing with a shape rarely seen on Aussie shores, there’s no need for wild body mods or bright colours to stand out from the crowd.
The cabin is equally tasteful and pared back, with a custom retrim in black, Recaro seats, Momo steering wheel, B&M Pro Stick shifter, and a Haltech iC-7 dash that talks to the Haltech Elite ECU. “We had a full Auto Meter dash set-up in it, but it just didn’t suit the car,” Matt says. “Phil cut the whole thing apart and re-welded it to suit the Haltech dash. It looks so much cleaner now and doesn’t take away from the muscle car look too much.”
Phil slotted the fresh Windsor into the car and mated it to the manualised C4 auto, and in turn the 31-spline, Truetrac-equipped nine-inch. As the proprietor of Fuelworx, which specialises in performance automotive plumbing, Phil also plumbed the whole car from front to back in Speedflow gear.
“We tried to use as many Aussie companies as possible, including Speedflow, Turbosmart, Lowe Fabrications, Gazzard Brothers, PWR, TCE and Haltech,” Phil explains. “It’s something I try to do with all my work.”
Since completion, the Comet has scored a few accolades, including Top Engineering and runner-up Top Engine Bay in the Street class at Summernats 34, Judges’ Choice at Brashernats, and Sponsor’s Choice at the Mackenzie Anderson Memorial Show.
But above all else, Matt’s most excited about getting some value out of the car on the street with his family. “Where we are in Canberra, a lot of things – like Wakefield Park – are being taken away from car enthusiasts,” he says. “To pack the car up on a Wednesday arvo and take it all the way to Sydney to race is a hassle. I wanted something I could do skids in or take to roll racing once in a while, but also jump in on a Friday and drive to work.
I wanted to invest in something I could use 70 per cent of the time instead of five per cent. I really want the car to be a journey; something I can really enjoy.”
Wise words indeed!
1971 MERCURY COMET GT
|PPG Vibrance Nissan Smoke
|Trick Flow inlet manifold, Wilson elbow & throttlebody
|AFR Renegade alloy
|Crow, custom grind
|Factory tank, Aeromotive twin pumps, Turbosmart FPR, XSpurt 1000cc injectors
|Custom, PWR core
|Custom system, Flowmaster mufflers
|Haltech coils, MSD leads
|C4, manual valvebody
|9in, 31-spline axles, Truetrac
|SUSPENSION & BRAKES
|Leaf springs, Gazzard Brothers traction bars, Viking shocks
|Wilwood discs & calipers (f & r)
|WHEELS & TYRES
|Simmons FR; 19×8 (f), 20×10 (r)
|Dragon 245/40R19 (f), Pirelli 275/30R20 (r)
Fuelworx; Phil Kerjean Motorsports; Elite Custom Wiring; Westend Performance; Al’s Race Glides; Keys Autoglass; Queanbeyan Engine Service; PPG; Richo’s Trimming; Pro Street Industries; ESP Racing; my wife Lara and family; Terry, Kane and Willsy