Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Racing Through the Universe

Mercury's Comet Shone Bright in '65

Cover, back cover and introductory spread, pages 2-3, of the full color 1965 Mercury Comet brochure. This piece measures 9 1/4 x 11 inches and is 20 pages including covers. 1965 was the final year for the Comet to use this extended Falcon platform, as it would become a "real" intermediate sized for 1966, sharing a chassis with the Ford Fairlane. For 1965 however, the Comet and the Falcon were still twins under the skin, and even shared front doors and cowl assemblies, albeit with the Comet having a slightly longer wheelbase on its sedans and coupes. 

This catalog was very nicely art-directed. The main spreads have a specific color theme, and it's really nice leafing through it; it keeps you wondering what color the next spread will feature. I remember Ford using a similar technique with its '64 Thunderbird catalog, of which I have a gorgeous deluxe version I once paid a fortune for. Click these images to enlarge them and see the cool artwork. 

Muy Caliente! The top Comet trim level was called the Caliente, while the mid-level was the 404. If you look at the white 4-door in profile above, you'll notice the rear doors don't really jive with the rear wheelwells very well. This is because its wheelbase was lengthened a couple of inches just in front of the rear wheels and the Falcon's doors, made for the shorter wheelbase car, didn't quite line up. Again, the Comet didn't sell as well as the Falcon, so the bean counters didn't allow Mercury to restyle the doors. It's a testament to Mercury's designers that the two cars look so different from each other. The Falcon's strong bodyside sculpting was softened in front of, and behind the doors, thoroughly changing the look of the cars. 

The base Comet was the 202, pretty much a bare-bones model, while the "hot" Comet was the Cyclone—a great name! The slantback pillarless bodystyle of the Cyclone really worked to my eyes. The Cyclone came with a chrome engine dress-up kit, its own grille treatment, bucket seats, console and a walnut-grained steering wheel. The black vinyl roof was a new option.

Comet and Falcon wagons shared bodies, with the Mercury merely changing the front clip and some reat trim. As a child I always wondered why the Comet's wagon had a shorter wheelbase than the two- and four-doors. It seemed to me that a wagon should be longer in the back for cargo space. I just didn't understand the fact that the Falcon and Comet shared the entire wagon body. For the number of wagons sold, there wasn't money to change the rear side windows etc for the Comet's longer wheelbase. Looking at them today, I can see the Falcon so clearly in the body, but I really couldn't as a child.

The last four pages were devoted to accessorites and technical information. In the word "specifications" note the use of the ligature "fi" which typesets the letters "f" and "i" as one character. Bravo!

B T W #1: 
A word about the typography on the series pages in this catalog
Notice the "1965" at the top of each section. The numerals include descenders and ascenders, they don't lie on the baseline like most font numbers do. They're called "old style" and I find them extremely elegant. They're not included in every font, in fact, they're relatively rare. I've used old style numerals in many of my book designs, and I've even been known to use a separate font for them if the main body type font I've chosen doesn't have them as an option. 

Interestingly, in the case of the "404" the designer made the wise choice of reducing the 4 to the same height as the 0. In proper old style usage, the 4 includes a descender, which would have made the 0 appear too small. The "202" would then not have matched the "404," as the 2 and the 0 are the same size in old style.  

These are decisions great designers make every single day, sometimes on every single page they work on. Competent designers think about these details when they're pushed to, but the majority of typography I look at today is merely "typing." Today's paging programs are VERY sophisticated and can turn out decent looking type automatically. Unfortunately, very few designers go the extra mile and really customize their type correctly, so it's not just adequate, but beautiful. In my days as an art director, I trained designers to coax as much as possible out of their hard- and software. It's all in the details, and I could never stress that enough to young designers. I was VERY picky about the typography that was used in my newspapers and magazines, and I know I was called a few choice names under their breath as I walked away, lol. But I've also been thanked by some later, when they realized their work looked much better with my tweaks and direction. It's all in the details. The typography options are very rudimentary in Blogger so please don't judge me by the way this type looks! : )

B T W #2:

Comets I Have Created

Mercury has long been one of my favorite brands to create fake cars for. Sigh. With such an evocative name, and the fact that my very first car was a '69 Comet sport coupe, I've chopped a few Comets in my time.

This was just about the first car I created when I realized I could use Photoshop to render my ideas. My Comet Hybrid 4-door was basically a shortened first generation Milan, but had a cute spunky look to it, classy and elegant in an early 2000s sort of way. I think it's distinctive enough for hybrid buyers, who tend to like being seen in a "green" machine that's recognizable by everyone, but not too funky to turn off Mercury's average clientele.

This Comet Hybrid is a 5-door, not quite a crossover, but a bit taller than a regular wagon. This was meant to anchor the base of the Mercury showroom, but to have the ingress/egress points that older buyers have come to enjoy, and expect. Mercury's buyers tended to be middle-aged and older, and the space of this  may have appealed to them, while still looking clean and stylish without being vulgar. Base photo was a European Toyota Avensis.

This car was a Comet right up until the minute I started typing the name for the layout, lol. I was working on an entire series of new Mercurys for a website that contacted me about my work. I ended up never sending them to them, too bad really, but before I started this blog I often didn't follow through with plans... This Comet would have been a luxury midsizer, more like the '66-'67 Comets, which were intermediates in the medium-priced range. I included suicide doors for an uplevel touch, and it was my idea that ALL 4-door Mercurys would have them. They would have been power operated, to provide as much "street theater" as possible, to get Mercury's brand recognition to a higher level. I eventually named this car the Medalist, a cool name Mercury last used in the mid 1950s. I really don't remember the base photo. I know the grille and headlights were from a Milan; maybe the rest of the car was as well. I like it when I've changed a car to the point I can't remember, lol.

This Comet is for the 21st century. It's a "B" segment offering, the size of a Ford Fiesta, but trimmed to an even higher level. The taillights are purely LEDs, the wheels are 19" with very low-profile tires, and the interior would have had all the bells and whistles and electronic connectivity expected in a modern vehicle. The base car was a Citroën concept car, but not much was left of it, only the exhaust ports I think. 


  1. Thank you for these Casey. I've long been a fan of the 60-65 Comet/Falcon. The 65 Comet was the ultimate expression. You mention how the extended wheelbase of 114" made the rear doors on the sedan a bit out of whack. That's the same effect that the 63-66 Dodge Darts have because of their longer wheelbase (109") and use of Valiant doors. The Dart wagons shared the Valiant wagon body and 106" wheelbase. Interesting that Ford/Mercury and Plymouth/Dodge took the same approach with their "senior" compacts! The Caliente sedan in dark blue with a matching cloth and vinyl interior as pictured in the "Interiors" pages would be a very classy ride. It reminds me os another classy 65 senior compact -- the LeMans four-door sedan, also in dark blue with matching "panty" cloth interior -- one of our driver's ed cars in high school was just such a car. That and a first year Chevy II 300 sedan. I preferred the Pontiac!

    Paul, NYC

    The Comet story has always interested me, from its origin as the 1960-1/2 Edsel to its conclusion as that 68 Comet hardtop that you had. The 66-67 had the long Comets that shared with the Fairlanes and the short Comets that shared with the Falcon. A very interesting approach!

  2. And, the chops are wonderful! I know that you are very inspired by Mercurys and Lincolns and these Comet chops are great. If only...

    Paul, NYC

  3. ...and I love it when you "talk typography" - believe it or not the more you tell us about fonts I more I am aware of them when I am looking at things. ~ Professor Casey, Fonts 101

  4. Thanks, Annie. It's funny. As a designer that always worked for Editorial, and not Advertising, I was always really interested in typography and the best way to get people to read the entire story. That lead me to studying the subject and forming a lot of opinions about what was good and what wasn't. When I started at WWD in NYC, I was shocked that as page designers, we rarely saw the stories. We had to do layouts with dummy copy. It was the current Design Director's thought that ONLY the photos and art mattered, everything else was considered gray stuff. When I was bumped up the ladder a few times, I was able to insist that we get the actual text so we could read it and THEN decide how the article was going to flow and how the art would interact with it. It sounds so logical today, but it was a HUGE step for them. No layout artist had ever been interested in the stories before. Can you imagine?

    A big pet peeve of mine in typography today is the "fake" apostrophes and quote marks. Next time you see a sign or billboard, check out the apostrophes or quotes. 7 out of 10 times these days they will appear to be straight up and down, not slanted, or "curly" as they're called in the biz. To access the proper ones, you can't just type the character on most keyboards, what you get then is the "prime" mark, which is used for measurements like feet or inches. No matter what the font is, serif or sans serif, the proper apostrophes and quotes are ALWAYS on the slant. I can't tell you how many page layout people have told me "It's the font. They make them straight up and down" and then I have to show them the extra step to make them correctly. It was details like that that either made them respect me or hate me, lol.

  5. and Paul, thank you for your comments as well! You're absolutely correct about the Dart/Valiant twins too. The level of sophisticated car knowledge here is awesome!


  7. Hello Casey ,

    These are beautiful illustrations. Looking at these I wonder how soon before some trendy ad agency revives the lost art of auto illustration.

    Of course the modern setting will have to be in-the-know-ironic-self referencing and almost mock the sweet idyllic world of these wonderful landscapes. On top of that, if we placed the new Ford Focus in that 404's lavender and blue party , half the people would be looking at their iPhones and texting !

    Thats a very astute comment on the 404's rear door.

    I am with Annie:thanks for the typography insights.

    Hello to all,


  8. Hey AP!
    You know when I was working on this post, I started thinking that I would have LOVED to art direct brochures like this, or even to create the art for them. Then I thought about how they do it today, the ad campaigns are almost exclusively about the high-tech features and connectivity and all that. I would love to think that a simple evocative scene placing the cars in beautiful settings would be appreciated today. I guess that's a bit of the reason I do my fake cars and layouts.

  9. Hi Granny, I love listening to Casey, his passion for his work comes through clearly in each and every word. I know I would have loved to have worked for him. I'm sure I would have gotten my hands slapped a time for two, but I would have learned quickly. My life have always been a little free-form and quirky but my work was always spot-on.

  10. Hey Casey!
    I think you'd do a great job at art directing brochures and ads.

    These old illustrations really sell the dream, don't they ? Life should always look as sweet as a Pontiac Grand Prix on the back streets of Paris a'la Fitzpatrick & Van Kaufman .

    Todays ad's seem to be a panicked reaction to cultural A.D.D. . That is, fearful of losing the audience, they do anything for attention . The result: too many gargoyles and not enough stained glass, if you know what I mean.Thats why I think you are correct-" placing the cars in beautiful settings would be appreciated today." It certainly would be a shock to younger generations who never saw such a thing first hand .

    It's a pity Pontiac didn't hire Art Fitzpatrick , or at least evoke him in illustrated ads for The Solstice and the G8 . They seemed to have forgotten about the importance of "the dream."
    What other reason is there for buying a Solstice than to bask in watercolored sunlight ?


  11. I always forget the names of those great illustrators! I'll have to go through some of my old Pontiac brochures and post some here. They were really great at setting the scene. Thanks for giving me their names.

  12. Cssey,

    I went to Pebble Beach a few years back and Art Fitzpatrick had a tent where he was selling his art work.He was in his late 80s and sitting there pleasantly.

    My wife and I were the only ones in the tent .She kept saying 'Go and talk to him!" But I couldn't. I was just too nervous. Sweaty palms. The whole thing . I ended up mumbling how much I loved his work, blushing the whole time . LOL.


  13. Part of the reason for the lack of interesting backdrops for modern cars is that there are so few variations available -- where are the rather plain sedans and wagons, the fancier hardtops and the glamourous convertibles? In many car lines now you have one sedan and that's about it! And who in the car business knows anything about glamour or romance any more? It would be wonderful to see some of my current favorites done in the style of those Pontiac ads of the 60s and 70s -- I could see a Chrysler 300 done like that - actually, I'm embarrassed to say that after the Chrysler 300 I'm drawing a blank as to what would have enough presence to carry such an illustration successfully. Oh well, I should be used to being a dinosaur (surviving the crunch?) by now.

    Paul, NYC

  14. Paul: You're right. There is so little difference in the exterior of the four door 300, 300C and 300 SRT, why bother to photograph and position all three in beautiful locations, lol.
    AP: Listen to your wife next time, hahah! I usually find that people like Fitzpatrick are probaby as uncomfortable being there as you were, and could use a good conversation for a few minutes. I would love to go to the Pebble Beach show some day. I've been to the Lodge there before, but not for the car show. I was visiting someone on 17 Mile Drive, which has to be one of prettiest places I've ever seen. I swear the seals frolicking on the rocks were actually smiling at us.

  15. Hello Granny!

    Casey, Paul,
    Those are great points against illustrating some cars these days .However,I would loved to have seen the STS and the XTS in an old school illustration . I think it would have helped define the cars as well as set them apart from the competition.

    Pebble Beach, Casey, is really inspiring . I used to live out in Monteray as a young starving musician . Those seals ate a lot better than we did !

    It was amazing to be back and think about those days while looking at Peugeot Darl'mats , Delage , Duesenbergs, and the , 1927 Lincoln Judkins Coaching Brougham !

    As to listening to my wife:I will take your advice.She will appreciate