In my experience over the years rubbing elbows with muscle enthusiasts, I’ve found that an astonishing number of them are devoted solely to one make, or even just one model of car.
I’ve met Ford guys who hate Chevys, and Dodge folks that loathe Fords, and even GTO people who pretty much dislike anything but.
Perhaps I’m somewhat unique in this respect, but I myself am a fan of virtually every make and model built during the Golden Era of muscle in the 1960s and ‘70s. I can honestly say that despite being a Mopar buff first and foremost, I have just as much respect and affection for the Mustangs, Camaros, and Trans Ams of the period as I do for my beloved ‘Cudas, Challengers, Chargers, and GTXs.
What’s more, those of you who know me personally are aware of the fact that I have a special fascination for some of the “also-ran” models of the muscle car age. That is to say, the contenders that rolled off the assembly lines of factories not owned by the major players in the game.
For every Hemi Cuda and SS Chevelle LS6 that I have drooled over throughout my lifelong passion for muscle, there are also AMC Javelin SSTs, Olds 442 W-30s, and Buick GSX Stage 1s that I would do quite a few less-than-palatable things to own.
In an effort to share with you my interest in the cars on the outer margins of the fold, I went through my list of potential subjects for the pages of Rare Rides and came up with a vehicle for this month’s column that barely registered on the muscle car Richter scale when it was introduced.
In spite of that, it stands today as a prime example of a beautifully designed, monstrously powerful, and shockingly scarce beast from what I consider to be the greatest period of American car manufacturing.
So, without further delay or pontification, allow me to introduce you to the 1970 Mercury Cyclone Spoiler 429 Super Cobra Jet.
Since its inception in 1938, the Mercury brand always had a bit of an identity crisis. Introduced by Edsel Ford himself to serve as a mid-priced marque to span the gap between Ford and the high-end Lincoln division, Mercury cars had to contend with middle-child status, receiving hand-me-down components from the halo brand, while only having marginally more refined styling and appointments from basic Ford cars.
While initially financially successful, and achieving acceptance amongst hot rodders in the late 1940s and ‘50s by virtue of the Mercury Eight and the introduction of the 400 horsepower 430 cubic-inch Super Marauder V8, by the early 1960s the division was in a bit of a quandary, being on the verge of dissolution owing to middling sales and associated financial losses. While Mercury was spared an untimely death, a model line shakeup was instituted in 1960 to attempt to stem the bleeding.
One of the new cars introduced was a handsome, compact-sized car called the Comet. Based on the Ford Falcon platform, the Comet was a contemporarily styled vehicle, available in two-door hardtop, two- and four-door sedan, and two- and four-door station wagon configurations.
Beleaguered with a milquetoast 144 cubic-inch straight-six with 90 horsepower for its introduction, Ford listened to owner complaints about performance deficiencies and outfitted the Comet with better and better powertrains each successive model year, and added an S-22 Performance Package to address its lack of sporty frills.
In 1964, along with a redesign of the Comet, Mercury introduced the Cyclone as a high-performance option for the model, replacing the S-22.
Available only as a two-door hardtop, the Cyclone was given bespoke aesthetic bits, while underhood lurked a buyer’s choice of 289 V8s. The base Cyclone lump was a 210 horsepower version, while a hi-po, 271 pony, K-code version, lifted directly from the Mustang, was available at extra cost.
With decent sales for both the standard Comet and the Comet Cyclone, Mercury produced a third and fourth generation of the cars in 1966 and 1968 respectively.
1966 saw the introduction of a performance Cyclone GT variant, while 1968 was particularly notable for the Cyclone, as Mercury dropped the Comet moniker, and made it a standalone model in the lineup. A fastback model with a flowing profile, ideal for the Superspeedways of NASCAR, was marketed alongside the standard hardtop.
The following year, the hardtop was dropped, leaving only the fastback, and a new trim package, the Cyclone Spoiler, was added that shared some sheet metal and components with the Ford Torino Talladega. The Spoiler added a formidable array of upgrades over a standard Cyclone, both mechanical and aesthetic, including, you guessed it, a large spoiler on the rear deck.
The Spoiler, which was available in two distinct versions, the Cale Yarborough Special and the Dan Gurney Special honoring Mercury’s star NASCAR drivers, packed the 351 Windsor rated at 290 horsepower as the standard motor. Optional lumps included the 390 and the thumping 428 Cobra Jet.
Additionally, the Cyclone Spoiler served as the basis for a NASCAR homologation special, known as the Spoiler II that was only available with the Windsor mill. Only 500 or so examples of the Spoiler II were produced to comply with the racing series’ rules.
While these developments were splashy and exciting, they paled in comparison to what Mercury had in store for the Cyclone and Cyclone Spoiler in 1970.
With the muscle car and horsepower wars reaching their zenith that year, Ford and Mercury went all out to outfit their cars with the highest output engines they had on hand. From the Mustang to the Torino, and the Cougar to the Cyclone, the gauntlet was thrown down to the competition from Dodge, Plymouth, Pontiac, and Chevy.
For the Cyclone and the Cyclone Spoiler, this meant another total redesign to go with the brutish powertrains. Aiming for a larger car, the 1970 Cyclone was now based on the Montego family of intermediate-sized vehicles, which were themselves based on Ford’s Fairlane. Rolling on a 117-inch wheelbase, the new car was a lengthy 209.9 inches overall, owing in part to the new front end design.
And what a design it was. A true standout amongst muscle cars of the period, the Cyclone’s fascia had quad lamps (vacuum-operated covers were standard on GT models and optional on Spoilers) located at the edges of a deeply concave grille, and a center section that jutted out nearly a foot adorned with a highly detailed “gunsight” treatment. The leading edges of the front fenders also protruded forward, so that a pronounced “M” shape was apparent when viewed from above. Beneath that lived a full-width, chrome bumper.
Flowing rearward from this bold statement was a long hood, a steeply raked windshield, and a beautiful semi-fastback treatment afforded to the rear of the greenhouse and trunk lid. At the rear sat no less than six taillight pods (four on base models), also treated to a gunsight motif. Below this, another chromed bumper spanned the entire width of the car.
It was a stunning and highly cohesive design overall, with lines that flowed and complemented one another.
The Spoiler trim brought a considerable number of muscular enhancements to this basic Cyclone shape. Starting up front was a blacked out grille, a large, matte black chin spoiler, a low-profile functional hood scoop that allowed for a ram air effect directly into the carburetor, racing side mirrors, white or black side stripes with model nomenclature, a blacked-out tail panel, and a huge, adjustable rear wing with downward sloping canards at the ends.
Inside, the Spoiler included such niceties as high back bucket seats, an Instrumentation Group that yielded a 140 mph speedometer, an 8000 rpm tach, and pods that mirrored the shape of the taillights, gauges for oil pressure, coolant temperature, and amperes. A three-spoke, Rim-Blow steering wheel and a faux woodgrain center console rounded out the added decor.
The Spoiler came with the powerhouse Ram-Air version of the 429 Cobra Jet. Boasting 11.3:1 compression, two-bolt main bearing caps, 2.24/1.72-inch intake/exhaust valves, and a 700-cfm Rochester Quadrajet four-barrel carb, the Cobra Jet was conservatively rated at 370 ponies and 450 lb-ft of torque.
For those who needed more oomph, the stomping 429 Super Cobra Jet motor could be ordered.
Upgraded with four-bolt main bearing caps, a solid-lifter camshaft with an aggressive profile, forged aluminum pistons, adjustable rocker arms, pushrod guide-plates, and a 780-cfm Holley 4150-series carb, the Super Cobra Jet was vastly underrated to enable buyers to procure affordable insurance. While Mercury sales literature listed the Super Cobra Jet with only a five-horsepower bump over the Cobra Jet at 375 horses, in reality, it was putting out close to 450 ponies and at least as many lb-ft of twist. A killer engine that was just as capable as the competition’s 426 Hemis and 455 H.O.s.
Backing either the 429 CJ or 429 SCJ, was a close ratio, Toploader design, four-speed manual transmission topped with a Hurst T-handle shifter, or an optional console-shifted, C-6 Select-Shift slushbox.
Cyclone Spoilers with the base engine were treated to Ford’s 9-inch differential that could be fitted with 3.00:1, 3.25:1, or 3.50:1 ratios. When a buyer selected the 429 Super Cobra Jet option, they had to choose between two upgraded rearend packages: the Drag Pak that provided a Traction-Lok unit with a 3.91:1 gearset and an external engine oil cooler, or the almighty Super Drag Pak which netted a Detroit Locker diff with a 4.30:1 ratio.
Cobra Jet and Super Cobra Jet models were mandatorily equipped with the Competition Handling Package which included heavy-duty front coil and rear leaf springs (four-speed cars had staggered rear shocks), stiffer shocks, and a front anti-sway bar.
Brakes consisted of drums all around, with power front units optional. Standard wheels were 14×7-inch steelies shod with aggressive G70-14 tires. Options included power steering and a heavy-duty battery.
Standard exterior colors were not subtle, and seemed to be in the style of Mopar’s “High Impact” hues. They consisted of Competition Yellow, Competition Blue, Pastel Blue, Competition Green, and Competition Orange. Ford and Mercury’s brief “Color of your Dreams” program enabled 31 Spoilers to leave the factory in the buyers’ choice of non-standard color.
Given the monstrous powertrains offered, and the relatively light weight of the Cyclone Spoiler at 3812 lbs., one would imagine that performance was impressive, and indeed it was. One period automotive publication tested a 429 Super Cobra Jet/Super Drag Pak-equipped car and achieved 60 mph in 5.5 seconds and tripped the quarter mile in 14.3 seconds at 104 mph. Serious speed for 1970.
In total, only 1,631 Spoilers left the factory in 1970, with a mere 341 equipped with the 429 Super Cobra Jet option. A lone Spoiler II prototype homologation car, similar in concept to the 1970 Ford Torino King Cobra, was produced, but was never put into production, as NASCAR homologation rules were changed, rendering it and the King Cobra stillborn.
Sadly, for 1971, the Spoiler was stripped of its sharpest fangs and claws, as the Super Cobra Jet engine was dumped, and the base engine became the M Code 351 Cleveland with a four-barrel carburetor. At the end of the model year. the Cyclone once again became just an option package, this time for the Mercury Montego, and the Cyclone Spoiler was discontinued altogether.
Thankfully, quite a few Spoilers have survived and occasionally change hands at muscle car auctions and through private sales. These cars have often been treated to ground-up, nut-and-bolt restorations, which is heartwarming, given that the 1970 Mercury Cyclone Spoiler Super Cobra Jet was one of the great “also-ran” Rare Rides of the Golden Era of muscle.