For pace car collectors, the 1966 Mercury Cyclone GT Pace Car Convertible is one of the most interesting offerings to come out of the muscle car era. 1966 was the year the Mercury Comet moved over to the Ford Fairlane chassis, evolving into the Cyclone GT. With a 390 big block S Code motor, that package was muscled up enough to pace the Indianapolis 500 race that year.
This week, Orlando Classic Cars is offering a rare 1966 Mercury Cyclone GT Pace Car Convertible for sale. (Follow this link to view more photos.) You rarely see these offered to the public except at large auctions. And yes, according to Dave Murray at Orlando Classic Cars, this is one of the original Indianapolis 500 festival cars produced for race day. The most commonly known way to verify a real festival edition Pace Car is by the flag holder holes drilled in the frame at the rear bumper. But Dave has found another way to make sure this was a real festival car.
So there are a lot of Cyclone GT convertibles which have been painted Candy Apple red with the Indy 500 Pace Car decals added. The real ones can only be told by the DSO number. This one has DSO 847186 which indicates it was a special order for the Indy Pace Car. All other Cyclone GT’s would have the two-digit code indicating the District Office it was ordered from. The 84 indicates Home Office Reserve. Of course, Dave says this Pace Car has the flag mount holes which are also an indication that it was a real festival car.
Mercury built 2,158 Cyclone GT convertibles in 1966. Of those, Mercury planned to build 100 Pace Car editions to commemorate the Indianapolis 500. And of those, there were to be 33 commissioned to be parade cars. These 33 cars were specially equipped with frame-mounted flag holders. Motor Trend in 1990 stated that “only track cars were drilled this way.”
The Ford 390 FE engine which powered the Pace Car editions came with a 4-barrel carubretor at a 10.5:1 compression ratio and rated at 335 horsepower at 4800 rpm. This car is equipped with a C6 Merc-O-Matic heavy-duty automatic transmission. Standard equipment on this Pace Car edition would include a factory dash-mounted tachometer, dual exhaust, twin scoops on a fiberglass hood, GT emblems, GT stripes, power top, power brakes, power steering and a woodgrain steering wheel. They would all have a power transfer 3.25 rear axle. The styled steel wheels were ahead of their time. The interior was outfitted with white leather with bucket seats up front and a bench seat in the back.
Murray did a lot of research on the Mercury Cyclone GT Pace Car convertibles and he says he thinks there never were any dealer editions of the Pace Car sold. So Mercury never built 100 Cyclone GT’s for dealer distribution as Pace Car replicas. The often repeated story that Mercury dealers would get 100 of the pace car editions to sell in 1966 never happened, according to him. As far as he can tell, he says he believes there were only the 33 festival cars and the two actual Pace Cars ever built. This seems to be confirmed by the book, Indy 500 Pace Cars written by the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide. These Pace Car editions would all have been built in March, April or May of 1966.
If any Mercury dealers have information to the contrary we would like to record it here.
It should be noted also that Super Stock magazine pronounced the Cyclone GT as “Performance Car of the Year” for 1966. It was the executive’s muscle car with more options and creature comforts than you would get from the Fairlane GT.
I once owned a 66 Mercury Cyclone GT convertible and my car had an H and a 29 in the VIN which the Pace Cars were supposed to have so I did a lot of research in an effort to establish if it was a Pace Car or not.
Mercury history is a bit vague to say the least.
Basically, of the 100 Indy Pace Cars, 3 had a special installed 427 and they were the actual pace cars used to lead the race cars around the track. 33 were fitted with a frame to hold flags. All cars were candy apple red with parchment interiors and white top. All but the 3 with the 427’s had 390/335 hp but actually had 355hp and all had high lift cams and dual exhaust, handling package, power disc brakes, Rally-pac gauges and a dash mounted tach.
I contacted Jeff Speegle to get an expert’s opinion and he replied in part – “The whole 28 verses 29 seems to be confusing since decoding depends on what you read and when it was printed – I’ve got a 67 and a 70 copy of the NATB Motor Vehicle ID Manuals and in the 67 they list #28 for the 66 non GT Cyclone conv (no code for the GT Cyclone conv) while in 70 they list #28 for the GT conv and #29 for the non- GT convertible”.
The data plate was missing off my car so I could not identify the DSO that seems to have the answer.
Peter, thank you for the information. Do you know if there is any information that would indicate that the other 64 Pace Car editions were manufactured and distributed to dealers to be sold?
Sorry, no I don’t have that information.
I think I have a 1966 Mercury Cyclone GT Pace Car.. Can send a photo if you like.
Did you know that the actual 1966 Mercury Cyclone GT Pace Car that paced the Indianapolis 500 that year was driven by Henry Ford II?
Pete, you are correct that the history on these Cyclone’s is vague. The issue with “28” vs “29” controversy likely stems from an incorrect entry in the “Standard Catalog of American Cars.” This book is widely used in the industry and the incorrect information provided ends up being used in seller’s advertisment’s which further adds to the confusion. A “28” is a GT convertible and a “29” is a non GT convertible. I’ve confirmed this by viewing a number of cars online and also came across a forum where a member went through the same process years ago and found the same result. These codes do not relate to Pace Car trim. In my research, I found that the most definitive way to document an authentic Pace Car edition is the DSO code (district sale office). Of course to begin with the car must decode to a red convertible with white interior, automatic transmission, “S” code 390 cubic inch V8 engine and it must have a production date prior to the race. In addition, all Pace Cars have a DSO of “84” which decodes to home office but they also have 3 additional numbers following the DSO (a 5 digit DSO beginning with 84). I’ve spoken to another owner of a Pace Car edition and he also has a 5 digit DSO beginning with “84”. Regarding production, 100 examples is the common number used but several sources (including the book “Indy 500 Pace Cars” by the auto editor of Consumer Guide) state that none were built for dealers to sell. Another source indicates that some of the 33 Festival cars were not GT’s, he states that this is confirmed by race day photos.
Anyone have a photo on the flag holders that were drilled into the frame? I’m trying to confirm the holes in my frame.
The cars were sold to dealers after the race.
By the way, I believe you mean parade cars… not pace cars.