Restoring a rare ’64 Mercury Comet

Sept. 1, 2014
Tony DiSalvo’s 1964 Comet Caliente has been brought back to life twice

From the time he was 13 years old, Tony DiSalvo wanted a 1964 Mercury Comet.

Now 52 years old, DiSalvo is the owner of A&C Auto in Ronkonkoma, N.Y., as well as a rare 1964 Comet Caliente.

“It’s a difficult vehicle; it’s a one-year car,” DiSalvo says. “’64 quarter panels are different from ’65 and ’63. The moldings are different. Everything for that car is pretty much for that year only. You have to have the parts made for that specific year.”

Growing up with an affection for cars that was passed down from his father, DiSalvo purchased the ’64, which included a rare factory-installed Vinyl top, for $350 28 years ago. He then set out to restore the Caliente, which was in rough shape, with his wife by his side.

“She actually spent time stripping all the paint off the car when we first got it,” DiSalvo says. “It was pretty crazy. It took us about a year to do, but it was a lot of fun.”

The most difficult part was finding original quarter panels, DiSalvo says. The rest of the parts either came from Internet purchases or the two ’64 Comets he purchased as parts donors.

After the initial restoration, the Caliente sat while family life continued and the DiSalvos raised kids. Seventeen years later, the car got its second restoration after sitting outside, including a new paint job and vinyl top.

The second time, though, DiSalvo replaced the engine with a 302ci roller motor to give it just a bit more “go.” He estimates he’s spent nearly $30,000 on the car including his own labor.

DiSalvo has numerous other late-model cars that leave him wondering what to bring when the auto shows come around. With the other vintage cars he has, ranging from a 1960 Volvo PV445 to a 1936 Cord 810 to a 1930 model A coupe, DiSalvo always makes sure his ’64 Comet gets the attention it deserves.

“It’s been a love of mine forever,” DiSalvo says. “It’s something I’m proud of, because I put a lot of time and effort into it.”

During the restoration process, DiSalvo had to acquire more ’64 Comets to get the needed parts. That accumulation turned into a side business, as DiSalvo has more than a dozen in his yard, with most of the quality parts removed and stored indoors.

Now, he says he sells a part or two each week, but will occasionally get a rush. With word out to the salvage yards, DiSalvo has saved a few ’64s from destruction.

“You’ve got to get the body parts, they’re very hard to come by,” DiSalvo says. “I’m not in a mad rush to sell this stuff. If I see somebody is passionate about them I try to accommodate them as best I can.”

Even with his side business, DiSalvo has set aside the rarest and best parts as backups, just in case anything were to happen to his car.