Could this be the most beautiful Ford ever?

Popular with French celebrities at the time, the Comète is often overlooked when considering Ford’s best designs. To this day, the coachbuilt coupé is easily one of, if not the, most attractive Ford ever built and sold to the public.

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When you first view a 1952-1955 Comète, whether, in person or a photo, it’s unlikely that you would guess that it’s a Ford. These cars are often mistaken for an early Ferrari and there’s a reason why. Its design was credit by some of the same artists who drew now-classic Italian cars including Alfa-Romeo, Cistalia, and of course, Ferrari.

The Comète project was driven by the new president of Ford SAF (Société Anonyme Française), François Lehideux, who had joined the company in 1950 from Renault. Lehideux desired that his new prestige model should be developed independently of  Ford in Dearborn.  

The Comète combined Ford power with Italian design and French coachbuilding expertise. | Gallery Aalderring photo

Several sources point to the 1948 debut of the Simca Huit-Sport, a stunning coupe, as inspiration for the Comète project. Based on a standard Simca 8 chassis, the Huit-Sport was first shown at that year’s Salon de l’automobile and went into production in 1950. 

The Huit-Sport was designed by Stabilimenti Farina, owned by Giovanni Farina, older brother to ‘Pinin’. Soon after the elder Farnia’s company was absorbed in Pininfarina.

Ford SAF was then selling the Vedette range of sedans, wagons, and hardtops that had been originally designed in Dearborn as small cars for the US market. When concerns regarding the smaller model cannibalizing sales from full-size Ford were raised, all tooling was shipped off to the Ford SAF plant in Poissy, just west of Paris.

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The cars were powered by the 2.2 L (136 CID) Flathead V8, originally developed in France, then later sold in the US and often known as the V8-60, a favorite powerplant among Midget racers in the 1940s and 1950s.

The Comète shown above is one of several entered into the 1954 Monte Carlo Rally. | Ford of France photo

The V-8 powered Fords were both large for the European market and expensive. Not only were they more costly to produce but the French taxation system severely penalized cars powered by engines larger than 2.0 liters.

Lehideux turned to the same consortium of Stabilimenti Farina and Facel-Métalion that had produced the Simca Huit-Sport. It’s likely the motivations behind Farina and Facel-Métalion coming on board were that Ford was a stronger distribution partner than Simca and that the Ford V8 was far more powerful than the Fiat-derived Simca 1.1 L engine.  

By European standards, the Comète was a sizeable car. It measured 182” long and 55” inches high, about the same as a current BMW 4-Series. In comparison to the modern BMW, it was narrower by 10”. Weight was hefty for the time at 2,844 lbs.

The Comète was initially powered by a flathead Ford commonly referred to as the V8-60. | Gallery Aalderring photo

The Comète featured a 1949 Ford inspired grille while later models displayed an egg-crate grille the French derisively likened to a “coupe-frites” or as we might say a French fry cutter. It’s difficult for the source of this change of front ends to be identified nearly 70 years later, but it was around the time the Pininfarina badges began to be affixed to the Comète.

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The quality of the finish and fittings was superb including a ribbed stainless steel dashboard and door handles and a fabulous three-spoked steering wheel. These attributes were recognized by the English magazine Autocar, which praised the Comète for its outstanding build quality, good road manners, lavish equipment and graceful appearance.

Early models retained the V8-60, which the French referred to as the Aquilon engine. At the 1952 Paris Motor Show, the Comète appeared with a bored-out flathead V8 Aquilon (named after the northeast wind) now displaying 2.35 L (143.7 CID) with power increased to 80 HP. This became the standard engine until the end of Comète production.

The interior featured leather seating, a stylish dash, and a jet-age steering wheel. | Gallery Aalderring photo

In 1954, a more powerful and luxurious Monte Carlo was offered. It was fitted with the 3.9 L (239 CID) Mistral V8 originally developed pre-WWII for Mercury models but soon found favor in commercial applications. As there were no Mercury models sold in France at the time, the Mistral (named for the winter wind of the Rhône valley) was viewed as a truck engine, undercutting the prestige of the 100 HP engine. All Comète models were fitted to a truck-derived Pont-à-Mousson four-speed manual transmission rather than the available Ford three-speed of the time.

The Comète Monte Carlo was a more upscale model in the Comète line. The interior featured two-toned leather seating surfaces while the exterior was upgraded with wire wheels and a non-functioning hood scoop, along with the egg-crate grille.

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The larger engine drove the tax rate way up, so its price was now 65% greater than the mechanically-similar Vedette large sedan. Between the cost of the labor-intensive coachbuilt production and the high taxes made the Comète Monte Carlo the most expensive new Ford in the world at the time.

The Ford Comète was a popular car among French celebrities of the time. | Bonhams photo

Several of the more powerful Ford Comète Monte Carlo models were entered in the 1954 Monte Carlo Rally, one driven by French racer Pierre Levegh. This was big news for Ford has Levegh had nearly won the 24 Hour of Le Mans the previous year, driving solo and leading by four laps in the last hour of the race when the crankshaft broke in his Talbot. A few months later, Levegh was recruited by Mercedes-Benz for the 1955 Le Mans contest, the tragic race where he and 83 spectators were killed when his car launched into the crowd.

In total 2,165 Comètes were built, most being sold and delivered inside France. Today, auction values for the cars can range as $100,000 for one of the 699 Comète Monte Carlos with the larger Mistral engine.

During 1954, Ford SAF was sold and the Comète’s final year of production took place under Simca. The Simca Comète Monte-Carlo continued to be offered through July of 1955. Ford continues to operate in France as a distributor of cars and trucks assembled elsewhere under the name Ford of France.

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Art has been a fixture in the automotive industry his entire career, starting out as an editor for On Track and Sports Car Graphics magazines. He then moved to the corporate side, finding the money better. He was employed in marketing roles at Firestone, Bridgestone and Yokohama tire companies, as well as ran client services for a boutique aftermarket agency serving Toyota Racing Development, Flowmaster exhaust, and Brembo brakes. There was even a stint at eBay Motors. Most recently, Art served as Director of Marketing and Communications at Laguna Seca Raceway. As a writer, his works have appeared in print and online publications in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and Italy.

32 COMMENTS

  1. Ford made some pretty cars over the years, but that’s no even in the running.
    The 1912 Modet T Touring, the 1934 Ford Phaeton V8, the 1949 Ford Coupe, the 1957
    Ford Thunderbird and Skyliner, the 1963 Ford Panatera, the 1965 Mustang Convertible,
    the 1966 Ford GT40, to name a few of my favorites.
    The Comete looks like a customized Nash Healey, not an improvement either.

  2. Great story. Thank you. i own a Simca with V8-60 engine and appreciate the article.. Yes Joseph Van Vechten it is the most beautiful Ford of the day with the 1950 Ford Victoria.

    • It is a beautiful car for that period, but the article said “Most beautiful Ford ever”. There are many others that stand out but my favorite is the 1957 T-Bird. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.

  3. No , My wife is beautiful. That is a, 50’s car that needs to chopped , to even be a contender amongst Ford’s most beautiful cars IMHO. By the time I was done chopping it up, it would be sweet, but not as valuable I’m afraid.

  4. First of all…. the article title didn’t say “of it’s era or time”. It said most beautiful Ford “ever”. That includes ALL Fords made in the past and up to current day.
    NO. This cross between a Nash Metropolitan and a Mercedes 280SL doesn’t cut it. What about the ‘36 Ford Coupe? The 1968 T-Bird? The Ford GT40, and especially the Ford GT from the 2005 or so years. The ‘70 Boss 302? I won’t include the Shelby’s since they weren’t offered from Ford that way… so maybe the early GT40’s are disqualified as well.

  5. NO,,,OMG NO,,,,,,,,,,,,,,it reminds me of a Nash. It predates the round bodies of the fifties which were popular then as well as collector items now. I had a 49 Ford convertible in 56. I was sixteen, paid a guy at school $125.00 for it. It had a 3/4 cam, 3 Fish carbs in progression, an elec aircraft fuel pump, competition clutch which I could hardly hold down, and those great straight pipes on a flat head Ford that nothing before or since has matched the rumbling sound of. OK, I’m eighty, I can reflect on that past.

  6. Obviously many various opinions but one can not deny. That is a great looking car. The higher roofline works and the proportions are gorgeous. Ford has built many beautiful cars so which is the most beautiful is objective. But this is surely a contender. Thanks for the great article on a car that even enthusiasts know very little or nothing about.

  7. I think that we can conclude from the above replies that beauty is very.much in the eye of the beholder – and most of the above beholders have questionable taste and/or eyesight.
    I’m not going to suggest what l think might be the best looking Ford ever made because l’m a big believer in form follows function but the Thunderbirds of the early sixties shouldn’t appear on anyone’s list of good looking cars.
    Howard. What would one cost? In the article it was mentioned that one sold recently for $100,000 – so l guess that’s your answer.

  8. what a nice car – I would prefer the GT40 to be nominated as most beautiful Ford, but that’s my personal opinion…

  9. So many cars and stories are often repeated for auto enthusiasts. This is a new one — at least for me. Many thanks for showing us this great car. Of course there are many others, but this is a refreshingly beautiful contender.

  10. No way!! That thing is but ugly!! If I wound up with that thing some how or another I would sell it in a heart beat!

  11. Good article. As was said prior, beauty is in the eye of the beholder; however, the Comete was featured in a 1953 exhibit “Ten Automobiles” at the New York Museum of Modern Art. The exhibit presented the cars they believed to be the ten most beautiful cars in the world. That says something about its styling. Obviously, it doesn’t compare to other periods.

    I have owned my Comete Monte Carlo for 25 years and showed it at Pebble Beach in 2004.

    Also, this car was not a Ford in the normal sense. The styling all came from Stabilimenti Farina. Ford in Dearborn was not even aware of it until after it was being built in France. Hank the Deuce was pissed that he and his designers were left out. Some US car dealers imported them, so there are a few in the U.S.plus those brought in later.

    A couple technical corrections: the Ford V860 used in the Comete was designed in Dearborn and first built in England. It later was made in France (for the pre-WW2 Matford and post war Vedette and Comete) and the US. Also, Cometes also came with a 3- speed on the column.

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