Drag racing has always been a sport about pushing the boundaries of speed and safety. The most important thing was to win, and the Big Three recruited hot rodders across the country to try and make the meanest, fastest cars they could. This eventually led to many rodders moving the rear axle forward a foot and a half, giving birth to the Funny Car. But it wasn’t until Mercury showed up to the track in 1965 with its built-from-the-ground-up Comet that Funny Cars adapted the trademark fliptop body.

Mercury built just five of these fliptop Comets, and only one is left. It is being auctioned off at Barrett-Jackson this month as the Grandfather of Funny Cars.

Pictures: Barrett-Jackson

The nickname is a bit misleading, as Funny Cars were already making appearances at the strip when Mercury came to town with the Comet. But it was the first purpose built Funny Car, whereas previous funny cars were merely modified showroom cars. The fliptop body was an important innovation for Funny Cars for two reasons. It shaves several hundred pounds off the car in the extremely competitive Funny Car classes, while retaining the look of a showroom car.

But this Comet was important for other reasons too. It was the first Funny Car to run an automatic transmission, which was largely dismissed by racers of the day. It also featured the first safety escape hatch, which I’m sure all race car drivers appreciate today. Powered by a Mercury 427 SOHC engine and driven by Pete Gates (and he called the car “Gate Job”), this comet went on to win the 1966 season, catapulting him into history alongside his amazing automobile.

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