The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
The old Comet is actually a pretty straight car, it has never been wrecked but like any 50-year-old car that has spent its entire life outdoors it suffered from the usual rust and extremely thin to non-existent paint, Pecan Frost was the original paint that was still on the car, a new metallic paint for 1964 (mid-year) that did not hold up that well so all of the top surfaces showed primer through. The worse rust was the rear wheel arches and fronts of the rear outer wheel wells, sometime when I was 18 or 19 I slathered some Bondo and fiberglass cloth over the passenger side rust that actually lasted 40 years but didn’t look too good as it started popping off.
The Comet sat for many years unmoving in the same spot, leaves, rain and snow collected on it, mice claimed it as home, and it leaked especially around the trunk seal, what was once a near-perfect trunk floor was now riddled with rust from soaking into the stylish shag carpet I had put in there in high school, the gas tank, that makes up the trunk floor in the rear was full of rust holes on top and even though the cowl is in relatively good condition it did leak enough to eventually destroy the toe boards and the right front torque box the other rust that was concerning was in the right front battery tray and core support area, as many cars of this style battery acid had eaten away some of the metal, especially concerning was the bottom of the core support that also has the right front strut rod attached to it was corroded severely, the driver’s floor pan (which had small holes as long as I have owned it) developed some rust along the front outer edge but most of the floor survived. finally the good news is the hood, front fenders and doors were nearly rust free, the trunk lid did not fare so well as the support braces underneath became a home for some mice who peed and pooped there way to rusting out a portion of the under support.
20 years ago I bought replacement toe boards and a drivers floor pan, none of the rest of the rusted panels had replacements reproduced. At that time I stripped the interior out of the car and removed all the carpet and cleaned it up, I bought a cover to go over the Comet until the devil dog we owned ripped it up along the bottom and a tornado took away the rest of it. I worked some on the trunk floor removed the taillights and rear trim and then it went into hibernation again until 2018.
When the bug hit me to get the old Comet back on the road she was in sorry shape, tires were rotten and wouldn’t even roll so I went to town and bought a set of used 14″ tires and put them on the car so I could move it.
I needed to try and preserve the body the best I could until I could get to work on it, the roof was really getting rusty and I knew I needed to address that soon but one day I went out was looking at the hood and in the spur of the moment decided I wanted to fill the hood ornament indent, so as ill-prepared as I was I went ahead and epoxied and Bondoed the spot.
I decided if I could spend a couple of hours a day working on one body panel at a time I would eventually have the rust all removed and the car in rust converter primer, it sounded like a good plan but I couldn’t leave the hood alone until I had it painted (even if it does need re-painted) then the hood looked good so I decided I needed to paint the cowl to match and then the grill as I had envisioned it blacked out with some chrome highlights.
I wanted the hood and cowl satin black, the rest of the car is going to be Ford 9N gray, but first I need to move on to that roof, it was late fall/winter by the time I got started on the roof, I knew it would be a challenge but I was able to de-rust it by using a combination of commercial rust remover, vinegar, and phosphoric acid.
With the roof done I moved to the trunk, I did some, let us say, sketchy things to repair the rusted out places on the trunk, in reality I was just experimenting because ultimately I am going to source a replacement lid that is rust free.
I decided I wanted to mould the rear quarter extension onto the car, not sure this is a good idea but tried it anyway, I still have not completed the work but got started on it, I will finalize it when I start phase 2 of the build and fully concentrate on the bodywork.
I got the rear quarter tops sanded and primed with rust reformer along with both doors, that are extremely straight and rust-free. This about the extent of the body preservation phase before I moved the Comet inside in June 2018, the front fenders were untouched and the lower quarters where the rust was so severe.
In October 2015 (before the body preservation began) I sourced a really stripped down parts car, a ’64 404 2 door sedan, I mainly bought the car for the front core support that was in very good condition and took the rest of the car in hopes there would be other parts I could use or sell or give to other Comet owners in need.
You will see many parts from this car utilized to rebuild my Comet, it was also valuable to have a second car this stripped down to measure off of as I began to chop my Comet apart and put it back together. Also it has more than paid for itself in parts sold and used thus far.
Phase 1 Begins
The preservation stage of the rebuild lasted from late September 2017 until June 17, 2018 when the Comet was pushed into the shed and phase 1 began.
Initially not much was done body-wise to the Comet as I concentrated on mechanical things, the majority of the trunk floor was cut out to aid in the rear 4-link install and air ride system. The front shock towers came out as well when doing the Mustang 2 install and finally in November 2018 I began addressing the rust issues on the Comet.
First to come out was the rusty driver’s floor pan and toe board, a little work was done to repair some minor rust on the back of the torque box and the replacement panels were welded in.
The passenger side was repaired as well but only some small patches were made, the inside and rear back of the torque box were cut away and new pieces fabricated to replace them, finally, the replacement toe board was welded in place completing the rust repairs on the front floorboards, a few small patches were welded in the rear footwells leaving the floors rust free. The rest of the torque box repair would happen later.
The time came to tackle the rusty core support and inner passenger fender, I put this off as long as I could because I was nervous about cutting the front of the car off. Finally I just decided I had done worse and I went out and cut the front off of the parts car.
After cleaning the replacement part up it was time to carefully cut the same parts off of the Comet.
I test fitted fenders back in place and made sure everything was aligned well and the replacement parts were welded in place.
There was one small spot of rust on the right side of the replacement core support, fortunately, that spot was not rusty on my original piece and I was able to patch it using it.
With core support complete until further modification I moved to the engine bay and filling in the giant holes left by the removal of the shock towers, I cut some 13 gauge galvanized from the giant electrical box/cart and bent them to fit over the shock mounts at the top and welded them in place, it really stiffened up the inner fenders and hopefully the whole front end.
While the fenders were off I decided to clean them up, the left fender was rust free but the right fender had a small spot of rust between the door and fender opening where they are prone to rust because the fender support is attached there, I repaired it 40 years ago and the patch looked good so I sanded it and skim coated it with Bondo. The surprise was a bit of rust ahead of the wheel opening at the very bottom, some road tar had collected there and made a water trap rusting it, I made a patch, cut the rust out and welded the patch in place, finishing it with a skim coat of Bondo as well.
Both fenders were primed and finished up for now.
I took the opportunity to begin repair on the leaky cowl by cutting the right end off of it, I did not do any repairs at this time so I will show that a little later when I actually fixed it.
Moving to the back of the car I tackled one of the biggest rust repairs so far, the trunk floor.
Understand a large portion of the missing floor is the gas tank. Because until recently ’64 Comet gas tank were not reproduced in anything but fiberglass and were expensive, then someone began making steel replacements and they were even more expensive ($400?), on the other hand, a Mustang tank could be made to fit and was much cheaper, I picked up a new 22-gallon tank for a ’68-’69 Mustang for around $75.
I started by replacing the side pieces, I just bent them up out some scrap galvanized sheet I had lying around.
I ran out of large enough scraps in the correct gauge and I did not want the trunk anymore patchwork than it already was so I bought a 4’x8′ sheet of 18 gauge plain steel, and bent up the rest of the floor in new steel. I don’t have the proper tools to do this so I used some angle iron clamped to my 16′ trailer as a makeshift break, I also hammer and dolly formed the rounded corners.
I made up the inside rounded corners at the front using a shrinker-stretcher set from HF and set the tank down in to see how it fit, I had tweak the filler neck over slightly by putting a big pipe in it and gently prying it in the direction I needed it to go, I took the Comet filler neck and shortened it and had to slightly re-clock it to get it to align with the tank filler neck. It is nice having the 22-gallon tank, I think the original was 14 gallons.
while I was working on the trunk I needed to do something about driveline hump in the rear of the car because when it was sitting on the bump stops the driveshaft touched the floor, this is not a big concern because you can’t drive it that way anyhow but I wanted it never have the possibility of touching so I cut out the hump and fabricated a new one, I am not putting a back seat in my Comet so I wasn’t worried about it interfering with a seat install.
I also rolled the floor pan up to meet the new trunk floor and welded everything in solid.
With the front of the trunk done I needed to make some braces and access holes to the tops of the rear bag connections, I decided to incorporate them into one so I wouldn’t have air lines running across the floor, I added diagonal braces out of 1.5″ square tubing that I could run my lines through and I cut the original shock cover recesses out of the old floor to use in the new floor, then I could use a pair of original rubber plugs in them, I did rotate them 90°. I had to trim the top of the round tube I had used to replace the original floor brace so it was not pushing up on the floor and a couple of little filler panels between the frame and new floor.
I got everything welded in and primed, I probably got a little ahead of myself because I burned a lot spots when I welded on the bottom of the car later, so I will have to fix it and re-prime, then I will paint it with truck bed liner.
With all these panels welded in and the mechanicals all done (mostly) I needed to strip the car down to bare bones so I could flip it up on it’s side and refine all the welding I had done, clean up the bottom and paint it. This was a hard thing for me to do because I had a rolling car that had not been this together in a long time but I knew it needed to be done for safety and peace of mind.
Because I procrastinated on flipping the car over for a long time I did some other stuff as I delayed it, even though the flip was not bad to do at all I got some things repaired I had waited for 40 years to do. But first I had to strip it down.
One day I was out in the shed doing something and looked at that right rear quarter rust and thought how I hated it, as I pondered and studied it I went out and looked at the parts car, it has earned its parts car status and it also had rusty rear quarters, but a lot of the rust was in different locations between the two, I already had plans to fabricate the wheel arches out of some 18 gauge so decided that I needed to put the plan in action, so I grabbed up the angle grinder with a cutoff wheel, strung an extension cord out to the parts car and cut off the right rear quarter from the body scallop down. I clamped it over the original to see what I was up against, this was the first time I have ever done anything quite so major in the rust repair realm.
There were a few rust holes overlapping that would have to be addressed. For those not familiar with these cars, there are no after-market patch panels made and rust free originals when found are super expensive.
The left rear quarter panel was deceptively better but the parts car quarter was atrocious, you are probably thinking I am crazy or stupid for doing this but you have to remember I am on a budget, trying to kill time so I don’t have to tip my car over, and I like to try stuff.
I made a poster board pattern off of the best quarter panel I had and cut a couple of 18 gauge pieces to match, my thoughts were to weld along the top edge everywhere I wanted to use the patch and then cut out any rusty metal, on the patch, that was good on the car and then do the same on the car.
Basically my procedure was this; Weld the top edge of the wheel opening with the new patch lying right on top of the rusty metal. Clean up the welds. flip it over and carefully cut the rusty metal away right at the weld line. I also bent a rod to match the wheel opening house instead of the lip because I wanted to thin up the body in this area because I could not get the rear tires off and on without disconnecting the shocks and airing down the tire first, I was making new outer tubs anyway because the old ones were rusty and the tire rubbed on them at the top when the car was lowered.
I had cut a big portion of the old quarter off of the parts car, I did not intend to use it all but wanted to keep it half stable as I was working, on the right rear I basically used this much of the patch panel.
Finally I cut the rust out on the car and welded in the new patch, I took it slow and cooled the weld often with a damp sponge to avoid warping the panel.
I did this on both sides and had to make several smaller patches, some easy to make, some difficult, the more difficult the shape to repair the more pieces a patch would be made from. I won’t bore you showing you each patch, if you are interested in that kind of thing I go way more in-depth on my build thread on CometCentral.com/Forum. Just one parting shot of super franken-patch on the left rear quarter, most of that is under the rear bumper.
Certainly these areas are not finished yet on the car but will get fully repaired during phase 2 of the build.
Tipping it over
Needing to tip the car up so I could work on the bottom was a necessity for me, I am not too good of welder in the first place but I really suck at welding overhead and I could not afford to have any dodgy welding on the suspension components.
I am doing this one time and could not justify getting a rotisserie, so for around $100 in materials I built a wooden tip over jig, I have heard them referred to as “Redneck Rotisseries” and I qualify so I thought I should be ok to build one.
Most of, if not all, of these types of tip jigs are designed to roll one way, I wanted to roll both ways so I never had to have any upward pointing welds to do, just tip it up one way, do all the welds on top and then tip it up the other way and do, what was formally on bottom, but now on top welds.
I added some angle iron brackets to bolt to the bumper bolt holes on each end (they were different end to end).
A jig was attached to each end, and I removed the doors as recommended by Lou on Comet Central Forum, it was not because of weight but having the ability to step through the windshield opening and work inside the car while it is flipped up and have the floor to stand on, after doing it I totally agree with this logic and recommendation.
I ran a long 2×4 from the front to rear upright and added a bracket that screwed to the inside of the upper door frame. I put a big hook through one of the seat bolt holes to hook the cherry picker to and aid in the initial lift. the cherry picker is not needed to lift very much before you hit a semi balance and can roll it by hand the rest of the way. The first time I flipped it up, my uncle came up and helped me, when I put it down the first time my wife helped me lower it, from then on I did all the flipping on my own without issue.
Tipped up the car was very stable and I was able to do all the welding I needed, I added tack welds to all the patch panel perimeters, built a couple of subframe connectors, added new outer wheel well houses I built from trailer fenders and welded a heavy flat plate from the wheel opening round rods to the top of the housing.
In total I think I had the car flipped up for about a month and a half, when I was satisfied with the welds and had everything cleaned up I painted the entire bottom of the car with Eastwood Rust Encapsulator, seam-sealed it and then painted it with 2K truck bed liner.
Lots of non-body related things were done while it was up, like the fuel and brake lines were run, e-brake hooked up, the exhaust pipes and mufflers were installed, the fuel pump was located in the back and the tank added.
Flipped Back Up
My first priority after I got the Comet flipped back up was putting the suspension back in so I had a roller again, I also wanted to concentrate on the last of the rust repair and fabrication, my top three priorities were the sway bar mounts, the radiator core support modifications and repairing the cowl leaks.
The right cowl end I had cut off months ago but did not go any further on it, I had decided that when I put patches back over the cowl ends I would just screw them in place in case I ever wanted access to the inside again. Also the A/C manual (I read the manuals just haven’t bought the product yet) calls for removing or closing off the two cowl vents, I chose to keep the drivers vent in place, it is not hooked in any way to the rest of the system, the right side was originally the fresh air intake for the heater, I decided to just remove the stand pipe completely inside the cowl and weld a plate over it and seal it.
On the left end I just cut a small hole big enough to halfway wire brush some rust and paint it inside, I had to remove a giant mouse nest from the pipe first which is always a pleasant thing. If you were wondering how I painted the entire cowl inside, I made a long reach paintbrush out of an old Swiffer mop handle my wife threw out and a throwaway chip brush with the handle cut off and duct-taped to the end of the stick.
With everything painted I made covers for the ends and screwed them in place.
I am pretty sure it is mouse proof now the only issue is if any trash gets in it will have a hard time getting out, but then again, the cowl vents never did stay very clean in the first place, the Comet will probably spend it’s non-driving time in the garage from now on and I may get a magnetic cover to go over the louvers in the cowl.
Now that first item is off the list I dropped the motor back in the car and started mocking up the radiator, I had bought an aluminum radiator for big block Fords of the late ’60s, it basically had the correct location for the radiator hoses and was correct height wise just wider than the original.
I ended up cutting the core support to match the radiator and building new mounts and welding them in.
While modding the core support I decided to go ahead and make the top center section removable to aid in engine removal and installation. I painted my headlight buckets and the hood latch with support and installed them even though I will be removing the hood latch again when I pull the motor back out.
I had said earlier that I modified the trunk, I did so while it was flipped up by adding these dimples to the trunk floor right over the top of the shock mounts, I originally installed the shocks with no floor and when I took them off while stripping the car down they were really close the floor, they weren’t touching but probably less than a 1/4″ from it, I used a couple of steel round post caps, used a hole saw to cut the floor and butt welded them in.
After the welding on the bottom of the car I burned some spots of paint and Bondo off inside the trunk, I resanded the whole thing with a D.A. sander with 40 grit followed by 120 grit, I was not going to do much like add anymore filler anyplace because I did not care if it is 100% straight and clean, it is the trunk after all and will be used like one.
I used Rustoleum truck bed liner that comes in a gallon can and sprayed it on with an undercoating gun (actually the one that came with the kit I sprayed the bottom with) the paint looks pretty good and it is nice to use, just stir it up and paint no mixing required, I used maybe a quart painting this.
I still need to make stuff like the battery mount, filler panels over the edge drops and do wiring etc.
Phase 1 Complete
The final part of the body work was completed in phase 1 with the install of the doors and seats as I concentrate on getting the Comet mechanically finished, that goal is a running driving car, when this goal is achieved I will move to phase 2 which will focus on appearance, A/C, and wiring, part of this will be getting all the weatherstrip replaced after paint and bodywork all of which I will doing myself as well.