John Kerr has a can-do attitude and mad skills to match, as his twin-turbo Mercury Comet/Ford Ranchero hybrid proves
This article on John's Comet/Ranchero ute was originally published in the April 2018 issue of Street Machine
JOHN Kerr should be a familiar name to Street Machine readers. He first featured in SM Hot Rod in 2010 with his wife Julie’s ’34 Dodge hot rod, and since then John has competed in every Street Machine Drag Challenge to date with his 1964 Mercury Comet coupe – a place-getter in the DYO class in both 2015 and 2016. Now, this bespoke, homebuilt Mercury Comet/Ford Ranchero hybrid has been added to the mix.
When John purchased the Ranchero it had two Comet doors and three spare Ranchero doors. Despite using a Comet front in his creation, he ended up using the Ranchero doors. “Comet and Ranchero body pressings are the same, so the doors match up with the Comet front guards,” he explains. “I used ’65 Ranchero mouldings and kept the factory tail-lights, as they better suit the ute”
“I’d been wanting a ute when my dad Jim spotted a cheap Ranchero shell on eBay and suggested I could build it from the parts I had lying around,” John says.
“This is my third paintjob,” John says of the ute’s black two-pack coating. “I’ve learnt more about the paint each time; now I use a fast hardener so that it dries quicker”
The eBay special consisted only of a bare shell, tailgate, Comet doors, fibreglass reverse-cowl bonnet, one guard and the grille, plus some spare Ranchero doors. “The floor had also been cut out to build a race car, which was annoying as it was a straight, rust-free Arizona body,” John sighs. “While I didn’t have enough parts to keep it Falcon-based, I did have a complete ’64 Comet front and other spares to make it a Comet/Ranchero ute.”
What wasn’t in the shed John nabbed from swap meets and eBay. “I pretty much make any part; it’s cheaper to try my hand at all parts of the build rather than get someone else to do it, and if it doesn’t work out, I just do it again,” he reasons.
First, he added RHS sub-frame connectors between the front and rear of the chassis for rigidity. Floor panels were then formed and dropped into the body, before three inches were added to the factory tubs. “I figured I may as well make the ute RHD too, given it’ll be driven every day,” John says. “So I cut away what was left of the firewall and I replaced it with one big, flat panel.
“The tray is braced with RHS, so no load will bend that floor – I could fill it with engine blocks!” John laughs. The fuel system and battery are located in a front under-tray compartment, while above is a hard-to-find tonneau lid
“For the bodywork, all that I used was a file, a hacksaw and an angle grinder; you don’t need fancy tooling. But I did get a rotisserie; it’s the best thing that I’ve ever bought. I used it to finish welding the body, then kept it on there to do the painting.”
“I bought the 15in American Racing Torq Thrust rims about 30 years ago and never had a car that they would fit, so I cut the car to suit the rims,” John says
Yep, that’s right, John wielded the gun too, opting for GenRock black two-pack. “I painted it in the backyard, and hung the panels from the clothesline,” John says. “I find that the light is better outside, but after I’m done I need to pick the bugs out of the paint with tweezers!”
John machined up the solid stainless-steel Mercury logo for the tailgate, in keeping with the one-off nature of the ute
As you can tell, John got his hands dirty on 99 per cent of the build, and the twin-turboed Windsor copped the lion’s share of the spannerwork. “I didn’t know anything about turbos, so I learnt,” he says. But why twin turbs on a daily-driven ’64 Ford? “Because I can,” John laughs, adding: “I figured I might as well make something that’s worthwhile engineering. And it sure beats putting a stocker into it!”
John plumbed up the twin Garrett T25 ex-Nissan Silvia SR20 turbos to a Proflow throttlebody. His handmade fuel rails house FAST 1000cc injectors sitting atop a modified Edelbrock Super Victor manifold. Below, the thick Mexican-cast 302ci Windsor block is crammed with a bunch of strong yet mostly second-hand parts. Brodix heads feed down to the hydraulic-roller COMP cam, while the pistons are Probe forged items with Scat H-beam rods bolted to a 331ci Scat stroker crank. A Crane HI-6 with a PS92 coil, MSD leads and a John-tweaked dizzy sort the spark. PULP is fed forward by a Bosch 044 from a surge tank, which is topped up by a Carter pump.
John’s old neighbour Peter swathed the pews and door trims in red vinyl, while John tackled the headlining and carpet. Nestled in the now right-hand-drive dash are Auto Meter gauges slotted straight inside the factory bezels, with Vintage Air a/c controls and ducting in the factory radio slot
Behind the engine is a Top Loader four-speed crunch-box with a McLeod Racing RST twin-disc clutch, and a Lakewood scattershield for safety. At the rear John has mounted a nine-inch from a ’59 T-bird, which he shortened and stuffed with new Strange 31-spline axles and an F100 centre featuring LSD and 3.5s.
Nothing was left untouched on the suspension as John’s handiwork continued. “I made the CalTracs as I’ve been doing for years,” he says. “I also created a solid rear-spring bush, while at the front I’ve added adjustable radius rods, and replaced the bushes with roller bearings throughout.” Front lowering is thanks to a Shelby drop, while the front stoppers feature Mustang Kelsey-Hayes four-spot calipers.
“Passing the engineer’s report was fairly easy due to talking with him about the build first then doing it the way he needed it done,” John explains. “You’d be surprised at how cheap I built this. I can’t afford a new car and old ones are better anyway, so I built a new old car!
“Dad bought a Comet in 1970 as our family car, which he then used as both a tow and push-start car for the front-engined blown Hemi-powered dragster he raced,” John says. “The Comet was later retired when they were made to run starter motors”
“I’ve had it on the chassis dyno a couple of times, but there was too much horsepower for the clutch,” he continues. “So far it’s made 300rwhp with around quarter-throttle at only 3psi. The guy doing my dyno tuning thinks it has a lot more in it. I’ll give it a run down the drags once it’s sorted out to see what it does, but as it’s a manual it won’t be competitive in bracket racing. If the ute’s reliable and goes fast enough to make the cut off you just might see it at Drag Challenge.”
The Engine Bay
- A stock bonnet replaces the fibreglass item, which was sold off for Drag Challenge 2017 petrol money
- Handmade fuel rails from aluminium extrusion
- Modified Edelbrock Super Victor manifold with TIG-welded homemade bungs
- Shock towers were trimmed for pipe clearance while maintaining the original spring. For ease of access, John can unbolt the homemade Monte Carlo bar as well as the heim-jointed adjustable strut
- Twin Garrett T25 Nissan Silvia SR20 turbos running a 2860RS intake housing and impellers kit
- John tidied up the already-cut radiator support, then slid in a five-core radiator that he fashioned out of an old ’72 Galaxie LTD item
- As the Comet front is 3in longer than the Ranchero’s, John snuck the intercooler in the gap and poked the air cleaners through the old headlight holes
We featured John’s ’64 race-spec Comet coupe hitched atop his M700 Mercury truck back April 2016. While the Comet has received plenty of coverage in SM, having been raced for the past 27 years, the ground-up rebuilt, 361ci big-block FT-powered Mercury truck is a beaut thing that deserves another viewing.
“I’m always tweaking the truck,” John says. “Currently the Paxton blower runs 4lb of boost, which gives a good supercharger whistle that you can hear from two blocks away.
It’s flying now; I’m running with the fast trucks. I can do 90km/h up hills! At about 100km/h it sits on 2200rpm, so it ticks along pretty well.
“It’s probably the only Mercury truck of this size in Australia, but there’s a heap of the Ford trucks with 292ci Y-blocks in ’em,” John continues. “They’re all out in country Australia; I always meet people who had or still have them on their farms.
“I take it everywhere. It’s just been to All Ford Day in Victoria with the Comet coupe and ute, and in May I’m taking it to Renmark with Dad’s restored ’34 coupe and roadster for the Early Ford rally.”
1964 MERCURY COMET/FORD RANCHERO
Paint: GenRock black
Donk: 302ci Windsor
Induction: Twin Garrett T25 turbos modified with 2860RS intake housing and impellers, Turbosmart 40mm external wastegate, GFB Stealth blow-off valve
Fuel system: EFI, Proflow throttlebody, FAST 1000cc injectors, homemade fuel rails
Manifold: Modified Edelbrock Super Victor
Compression ratio: 8.5:1
Cam: COMP hydraulic-roller
Pistons: Probe forged, Scat H-beam rods
Oil pump: Ford
Water pump: Edelbrock
Ignition: Crane HI-6, Crane PS92 coil, MSD leads, modified dizzy with Hyundai cam angle sensor
Fuel pumps: Bosch 044, Carter
Cooling: ’72 Galaxie Score radiator, standard six-blade fan
Exhaust: Homemade manifolds, 2½in stainless exhaust, twin mufflers
Gearbox: Top Loader four-speed, Hurst shifter
Clutch: McLeod Racing RST twin-disc, Lakewood scattershield
Diff: Shortened ’59 T-bird 9in, Strange 31-spline axles, 3.5:1 gears, LSD
Tailshaft: Ricky’s Driveshafts 3in, Strange yokes
SUSPENSION & BRAKES
Front suspension: Ranchero leaf springs, NOS Motorcraft shocks
Rear suspension: Ranchero leaf springs, NOS Motorcraft shocks, homemade CalTracs
Bushes: Rear-spring solid bush, roller-bearing front
Steering: Modified ’64 Comet & ZC Fairlane
Brakes: Ford Kelsey-Hayes four-spot calipers (f), Ford drums (r)
Other: Shelby drop in front, adjustable front radius rods, strengthened lower control arms, Mustang 1in sway-bar
Rims: American Racing Torq Thrust; 15x4.5 (f), 15x8.5 (r)
Rubber: Kumho 165/86T (f), Atturo 275/60 (r)
Wheel: Mercury Comet
Dash: Comet modified to RHD
Gauges: Auto Meter
Seats: Factory split-bench in red vinyl
Shifter: Hurst Competition Plus