As we walked through rows of exotics, imports, and classics at a recent Cars & Coffee event, we noticed a rather subdued Mercury Cyclone parked quietly in the corner.
Drawing closer, we saw that it wasn’t just any Cyclone, it was a Cyclone Spoiler. And it wasn’t until we were a few feet away that we realized the car was a Cyclone Spoiler II.
Podcast Update: We caught back up with the Cyclone’s owner, Michael Callahan, after last year’s Bonneville attempt was cancelled due to rain. In this episode of the OnAllCylinders Podcast, hear more about his experience with the car, get a ton of perspective on Bonneville, and learn what it’s like racing on the salt. Click below to listen.
That “II” makes a big difference here, as it denotes Mercury’s entrant into the NASCAR Aero Wars. Together with its cousin, the Ford Torino Talladega, these cars were designed to battle Mopar’s legendary Charger Daytona and Superbird twins on the NASCAR Super Speedways.
Suffice it to say, the Cyclone Spoiler II is already a special car. And when we saw that this particular one had Bonneville on its resume, we had to learn more.
The owner’s Mike Callahan and he’s had the Merc for about seven years. “I wanted something I could take to Bonneville,” he says. “So I bought it online, flew to California, and drove it 2,200 miles home.”
During that return trip, he had plenty of time to make plans for his high speed aspirations. “By the time I got home, I had a big ‘ole list of stuff I needed to do to it,” Callahan chuckles.
Since he wanted to keep the car on public roads, Callahan tells us he confronted some unique challenges. “The trick is to get through Bonneville Tech with a street legal car,” he explains. “Nobody does that. And there’s a reason—it’s a lot of work, a lot of compromises.”
He describes a few essential modifications, including things like a parachute mount on the back, a fire suppression system, and a roll cage. “It had to meet all kinds of different safety rules, but it still had to be streetable.”
So Callahan devised some clever solutions, and recalls one in particular. “I had to run polycarbonate windows, but I put ’em in so they could still roll up and down. And I can put a frame around there, so they don’t blow in or out.”
Because the Cyclone Spoiler II was essentially a homologation special designed to attack NASCAR Super Speedways, Callahan’s Merc already had some vital aerodynamic modifications, like an elongated nose and flush grille.
And it seems that the Ford engineers did the job right back in 1969. As Callahan happily reports, the Spoiler II’s extensive NASCAR aero testing means that its slippery profile is perfectly at home on the Bonneville salt too.
In terms of drivetrain, the Mercury was running an upgraded Ford 351 Cleveland when Mike got it, and the engine preformed admirably for several years. In fact, Mike tells us that he’s driven (yes, driven) the Spoiler II to Bonneville several times so far.
“First time I drove it out, it went 154 [mph]. Second time I drove it out, it went 165,” he continues. “Last year, it went 170.”
It was after the 2021 campaign though, that Callahan resolved to make a change. “That was as fast as this car would go with the old Cleveland,” he admits. “On the long drive home, I decided to upgrade the motor.”
But he didn’t stray too far from that proven Ford recipe. The new engine is still a Cleveland block, though it’s running a stroker kit that bumps displacement to a healthy 408 cubic inches. Topped with an Edelbrock intake and a set of Trick Flow cylinder heads, Callahan is plenty optimistic about the Mercury’s potential.
“My goal is to run 200 mph in a street legal car.”
And when he says “street legal,” he means it—Callahan drives this car everywhere, as he rattles off some high profile automotive events like the Hot Rod Power Tour and Woodward Dream Cruise. “It’s been all over the United States,” he says with a smile.
For as good as the Mercury is on the salt though, we were compelled to ask Mike about its road manners.
“It’s pretty streetable. I run a 2.75 rear end so it’s kind of a dog off the line,” he replies. Then, Callahan pauses for a moment and continues:
“…But get it rolling and don’t mess with me on the big end.”
After a good laugh, we wished Callahan luck on his upcoming Bonneville campaign and we can’t wait to hear how it goes.