Craven dedicates hours and elbow grease to maintain retro car

Alex Lisa | Staff Writer

  While a love for the classics often brings vintage things back from the dead, few can be driven down the road after they have been revived.

  Senior Dalton Craven bought his 1963 Mercury Comet the summer before his freshman year, and though his family’s original plan was to sell it before he went to college, Craven said he wants to keep it. To do so, he has to get it functioning to its full potential. The Comet has already needed several modifications to make it safe to drive and requires continual maintenance to keep it running. 

  “When we first got it, it was in rough shape,” Craven said. “It had no seatbelts, so we had to put seat belts in. But they’re lap-belts, not the three-point seat belts. It also has no airbags and the dashboard curves to point right at my forehead which is not a great design. Because these old cars were built like little tanks, in a crash it won’t crumple, it’ll just fling me into the dashboard.”

  Craven said he wants to be able to drive it more often than he does now. At the moment, he is unable to take it on the highway, but more modifications could make it safe enough that he could drive farther than local Mason.

  “Anything over 35 (miles per hour), and the car starts screaming, and not the cool hot-rod kind of screaming,” Craven said. “It’s built to go more than that, this model and its cousin, the Ford Falcon, were family cars and they came out right around when the highway was being introduced, so they were supposed to go faster. Right now I can’t take it on the highway, but I can fix that. I’ll have to if I want to take it to college.”

  Part of why Craven originally got the car was because he was excited that it would be a personal project for him. The idea of getting mechanical experience has interested him for a while.

  “Not a lot of people in Mason really have the mechanic kind of background, because people don’t deal with a lot of issues with their own cars,” Craven said. “This car had so many problems, and I wanted to learn to take care of it and get that experience in.”

  Craven also prefers the Comet because of the feel of the older car model, which he discovered when his mom suggested they get the car in the first place.

“My mom found it in a shady guy’s driveway, and texted to ask if anyone wanted it,” Craven said. “She drove us around in it because I couldn’t drive yet. The ride, especially before we replaced the seats, was really bouncy. The car just felt like it had a bit more life to it, and I liked the feeling.”

  While Craven enjoys the physicality of the car, many people also appreciate its aesthetic. He said multiple people have expressed their fascination with it, from those he knows to complete strangers.

  “When I drive it, sometimes people honk and give me a thumbs up, or wave,” Craven said. “I’ve had people ask to take a picture with it before. And old people really like it, because this is a really recognizable car to them, and there’s this juxtaposition to having me, a teenager, driving what they had as a family car. I know some people don’t like to talk about their old cars for some reason, but I’m happy to talk to people about it.”

  Craven said he does not understand why some people are hesitant to talk about their cars, as he himself enjoys it. He has also met a number of people who have shared his enthusiasm when he takes his Comet to car shows.

  “I take it to car shows a lot, and most of them are just cruise-ins,” Craven said. “Old people and I just show up and bring our cars. I have a couple of lawn chairs in the back of the Comet. You’ll just park your car and talk to people, walk around and look at their car and talk about it and the history of it. Sometimes there’s food. One that I like going to is Fuel Coffee, it’s in downtown Cincinnati and it’s every Saturday. It’s in this tiny, sketchy kind of building, and they serve coffee and biscuits and gravy and stuff.”

  Many people who go to car shows take on “project” cars to bring a vintage model back into working, appealing order. While that was not what Craven set out to do, he said the pride he feels from the work he has put into the car is definitely similar.

  “For me, it’s given me a chance to do mechanic stuff,” Craven said. “Safety stuff, yeah, but we’ve also replaced the speakers and installed an aux cord, stuff that you normally just pay other people to do. I can just take pride in that stuff that I’ve worked on.” 

  Beyond his own satisfaction, Craven said he enjoys the effect which the car has on other people as well and the fact that the car can help break the ice of social situations.

  “I do really like all the reactions,” Craven said. “People will ask me questions when I’m parked, and I really like that connection between total strangers. It’s cool that we can be connected through something just like a car. I don’t even have to say anything and we already have that interest in common.”

Photos by Tanner Pearson.