Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Rust Removal Starring a 1968 Mercury Cougar

The January 2009 issue of Hot Rod Magazine includes a technical article about the effectiveness and use of rust removal products on automotive sheet metal. These type of products can be important to Mercury Cougar owners because of the lack of new sheet metal for these vehicles. Classic Cougar owners can buy a variety of structural sheet metal floor pans, inner fenders, shock towers, radiator supports, and some small exterior sheet metal pieces quarter panel patches and front and rear valances from various retailers. However, no companies are currently making replacement hoods, decklids, doors, front fenders, or full rear fenders for the Classic Cougar owner. There are places to find used sheet metal parts in good shape, such as West Coast Classic Cougar, but those parts are getting increasingly expensive. If not we are left to scour message boards, Craigslist, and salvage yards like Sunman Ford for sheet metal parts to restore these vehicles. However, each Cougar that is parted out leaves one less vehicle on the the road and one more vehicle that gets crushed - lost forever! Sure, plenty of Mustangs and Camaro's have been crushed over the years, but many have also been rescued from the crusher by having easily available replacement parts to bring the vehicle back from the dead.

I'm not sure if the editors chose a Mercury Cougar as their test subject due to the fact of finding a relatively inexpensive 1960's muscle car to work on, or if they knew the plight of those restoring Cougars, but here is some insight provided as to why they chose the car.

Tucked away in a SoCal beach city, we found our inexpensive candidate: a stone-stock, unrestored, unrepainted, and clearly unloved '68 XR7 Cougar sitting under a tree just a scant few blocks from the shore. While our Mercury score was complete, fully functional right down to the hideaway headlights and sequential turn signals, and a gem mechanically, years of neglect in a coastal environment had left more surface rust than paint on the sheetmetal. We negotiated and drove it away for $300. Hate us?

Let us clarify; when we say it had surface rust, we're not talking about that common, lightweight, simple-to-sand-off layer of corrosion-that would be too easy. No, what we had was that deep-seated, thick, metal-pitting stuff that scoffs at any grade of sandpaper. We even attacked a spot on the roof with a DA and an aggressive sanding disc that did little more than create shiny rust. This one will be a real test for any rust remover.

If you were wondering, yes I do hate them. But no one likes a hater and I do like the magazine. Check out the article for more pictures and details on the products.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

DA 1720

While doing research for older vehicles a few years ago I found something interesting. When I was looking up how much the title, tax and license would cost for an older vehicle I found that in the State of Illinois if you are running antique plates on your vehicle you can actually run a plate that is from the year your car was built. According to the Illinois Secretary of State website:

Historical License Plates, representing the model year, may be displayed on an antique vehicle, provided the owner has valid, current Antique Vehicle Plates. Plates and registration must be kept in the vehicle at all times.
This reminded me of the fact that I had brought home a stack of license plates from my parents house that had been saved over the years. These plates were originally on my grandparents and parents cars in the 1950's, 1960's, and 1970's. My grandmother had "personalized" plates way back then and I always wondered how that happened. According to the history page on the Secretary of State website, in 1961 the state started using a new numbering system.

Based on a study of the license plate numbering system, the state discontinues the use of the straight numerical numbering system. Digits are now used on the first 999,999 passenger license plates, and a combination of two letters and four digits are used for all remaining passenger car license plates.
My assumption is that my grandmother found out about this and wanted to get her initials and number of her address on her license plate - DA 1720. My dad even remembers standing in line for my grandmother to get the lowest numbered plates possible. Around 1980, to save costs, the State of Illinois started making license plates for a vehicle one time and then issuing a sticker each year instead of making different colored license plates for each vehicle every year. If you're interested in the history of Illinois license plates go here to read more information.

Now, instead of collecting dust in the basement, the plates that my grandmother ran on her car back in 1967 are now at home on my 1967 Mercury Cougar. Thanks Meme Dee!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Flea Market Finds

My wife, Mary, and I have been going to the Belleville Flea Market for quite a few years now. This flea market is held the third weekend of every month at the Belle Clair Fairgrounds in Belleville, IL. Many of the sellers are there every time and their booths are usually in the same place every time. You can buy everything from jewelry, coins, records, military memorabilia, toys, belts, tools, furniture, etc. One seller that I like has old paper related ephemera for sale: magazines, advertisements, books, road maps, etc.

As I mentioned in a previous post, when I bought the 1967 Mercury Cougar I received a copy of the October 1966 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine with the car. This issue was the yearly new car issue put out by the magazine that gave details about the new cars coming out that fall. So, I decided that the next time we were at the flea market I would look for more of these issues from other years.

I found the following issues for $1 each:

Popular Mechanics - October 1962

Popular Mechanics - October 1964

I love looking at the stories from these magazines; especially the ones about products that consumers will see in the future! I would have been pretty excited in the Fall of 1964 that I would soon be able to be able to tape TV pictures at home. I guess that soon was a relative term as my parents, who coincidentally were married in the Fall of 1964, bought a RCA Video Cassette Recorder (VCR) in 1980!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

I love the way these keys feel in my pocket!

Today, Mary and I took the paperwork for the Cougar to Rosenthal's License Service to get the title switched over into my name and pay for the plates and taxes. I bought new plates for the 1967 Cougar since it was only $6.00 for the remaining year of the Antique plates rather than $12.00 to switch the Antique plates from the 1968 Cougar to the 1967 plus the $6.00 fee for the remaining year. In Illinois, the Antique plate renewal comes up every 5 years and the fee is $30.00 for those five years instead of paying $79.00 each year for normal plates.

As the title suggests I had another point to make in this post. Without realizing it, I really missed the way the keys to older cars feel in my pocket. When I had my 1971 Chevrolet Cheyenne pickup truck and 1968 Chevrolet Camaro in high school I took this small aspect for granted because all keys felt the same in your pocket no matter what car you drove. However, in the last ten to fifteen years car makers have tried to make new vehicles more theft resistant with the addition of chips inside the keys that will only allow the car to start with that key and power locks more convenient with the addition of key fobs and even the addition of power lock buttons on the key itself. Unfortunately this adds to the bulkiness of the keys and causes a major bulge in your pocket. That says nothing about the fact that if you bend down just right the other keys can set off the panic alarm on the car causing everyone in a half mile radius to look at you and wonder what is going on.

I love simplicity and the fact that my pants don't have to weigh another 5 pounds with my keys in my pocket. Now, I can put something useful on my keychain like a bottle opener!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What did the Marti Report say?

As I mentioned in my previous post I ordered a report from Marti Auto Works on the 1967 Mercury Cougar that I purchased. So, I thought I would share the results of the report.

The Marti report confirmed all of my suspicions about the vehicle. According to the report there is nothing rare about this particular Cougar that I now own. Mercury produced 150,893 Cougars during the first year of production. This vehicle is one of those, but nothing special. Just for fun let's compare that to the rest of the 1967 Pony Car Market shall we?
  1. Ford Mustang - 472, 121
  2. Chevrolet Camaro - 220, 906
  3. Mercury Cougar - 150, 893
  4. Pontiac Firebird - 82, 560
  5. Plymouth Barracuda - 62, 534
The vehicle was originally outfitted with the standard 8 cylinder, 289 cubic inch engine with standard 2 barrel carburetor. The vehicle was painted Cardinal Red with Red Standard interior. The original options included an automatic (Merc-O-Matic) transmission also known as the C-4 , whitewall tires, AM Radio, tinted windshield, and wheel covers. That's not too many options checked off the order sheet there.

The vehicle was originally built at the plant in Dearborn, MI on January 16, 1967 and purchased at Colonial Lincoln-Mercury in Atlanta, GA on April 7, 1967. According to the Classic Cougar Network, the base price for a Cougar was $2,851. with these options would be $2950.93 (this does not reflect the cost of the option of the automatic transmission). I did a quick internet search and could not find that this dealership still exists. I also searched Google maps and did a streetview on that address and do not see that any kind of dealership exists at that address any longer.

The measurements and weights for the 1967 Mercury Cougar Standard Hardtop
Wheelbase – 111.0”
Overall Length – 190.3”
Overall Height – 51.6”
Maximum Width – 71.2”
Fuel Capacity – 17 gallons
Standard Hardtop Curb Weight – 3,119 pounds
Source: Ford Motor Company

The Standard Equipment - $2,851
Cougar 289 V-8 Engine
Sporty floor shift transmission
7.35 x 14 tires
111" wheelbase; 58.1" wide wheel tread
All synchronized 3-speed manual transmission
Rubber-cushioned Road Control Front Suspension w/articulated compliance struts
Hotchkiss drive rear suspension with 59" long rear springs
Aluminized 2-stage exhaust with resonator and transverse muffler
Economical 2.80:1 rear axle
All-vinyl bucket seat interiors
Unit-built body with platform chassis
Reversible keys and keyless door locking
Three-spoke sports type steering wheel
Three-pod instrument cluster with full complement of lights, controls and gauges
Deep-loop color-keyed carpet
Bright-trimmed suspended pedals
Dual concealed headlamps
Full wheel covers
Full wheel cutouts, front and rear, with sculptured flanges and bright moldings
Sequential turn signals
Curved glass side windows with bright integral frames
Concealed gas tank filler behind hinged license plate
Sculptured sheetmetal peak for beltline
Thin dual full-length paint stripes

Optional Equipment ordered on this vehicle.
Tinted windshield - $21.09
AM Radio - $60.05
Deluxe wheel covers - $18.79
Automatic transmission - $ ?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Let's Go For A Ride! 1967 Mercury Cougar

On April 18, 2009, I purchased a 1967 Mercury Cougar. I found the vehicle on Craigslist and I bought the vehicle from a local man who had only had the Cat for about 15 months. He had bought the Cougar from a gentleman that was in the Air Force and stationed at Scott Air Force Base who had brought the car to Illinois from Georgia.

This body style has always been a favorite of mine since I was a kid in the late 1970's and 1980's. Our next door neighbor, Fred McClary, had a 1967 Cougar that he purchased new. His Cougar was burgandy metallic with a black interior and console. He used to take it out from time to time an wash and wax the vehicle so it would be in the driveway for hours. I loved the color combination and the way the interior shined after he applied Armor All to the seats! He kept the car pretty original over the years, but I do remember the car having at least one engine replacement due to a fire and possibly a fender bender here and there.

I had been looking in earnest for another 1967 or 1968 Mercury Cougar that was in better shape than the 1968 Cougar that I had purchased in July 2007 at Mustang Corral. In February 2009, my grandfather, George Ford, passed away and I received some inheritance from his estate. My wife and I decided that this would be a great time to use some of the money on the 1968 Cougar I already owned or look for another vehicle. Finally, I decided that even with the money I was now going to be able to spend on the 1968 Cougar I already owned I still might not have what I really wanted: a reliable late 1960's muscle car with some modern amenities that I could drive to car shows or to work on a nice day.

With the purchase of the vehicle I received the original warranty cards, original owners manual, vehicle registration cards from Georgia dating back to the late 1960's, miscellaneous paperwork on items that had been added over the years, and the October 1966 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine that shows a red 1967 Cougar on the cover! I also received what I've been told is the original 289 V8 engine, the original hubcaps, another set of hubcaps from another vehicle, and a box of miscellaneous parts including the original radio, outside trim pieces, bumper guards, headlight actuators, and even an extra hood. Even the spare tire seems to be original! After research on the original paperwork, I believe that I am the fifth owner of the vehicle.

Popular Mechanics - October 1966

After I got the vehicle home and continued to look it over and check out the paperwork, I ordered a report from Marti Auto Works for the vehicle. Kevin Marti produces reports based on data that he bought from a woman who used to work for Ford Motor Company and saved many documents over the years. You can provide the VIN number and Door Data tag to Marti Auto Works and they will provide a report on the rarity of your classic Ford, Lincoln, or Mercury vehicle. For a historian this is like adding primary source to your bibliography. The Marti report will confirm all of the suspicions that I currently have about the vehicle. First, I suspect that since I received a 289 V-8 block with the purchase of the vehicle that this Cougar did originally have the 289 V-8 as the only other engine offered in 1967 was the 390 cubic inch big block. Second, the vehicle currently has an automatic transmission and as many Cougars were outfitted this way and I see no evidence of a clutch pedal I can only assume that the vehicle came with the slush box from the factory. Third, the vehicle does not have power steering or air condtioning and I would bet these were not an original options as not many would delete power steering after the fact and the dash does not have the extra vents in the middle for the air conditioner. Fourth, the vehicle does have power brakes and many Cougars were optioned with those back then due to the fact that Mercury was selling the Cougar as an upscale "Pony Car" these could be an original option. Fifth, the VIN number shows that the vehicle was built in Dearborn, MI which I don't doubt. Sixth, according to original owners manual that came with the vehicle, this Cougar was purchased at Colonial Lincoln-Mercury in Atlanta, GA on April 7, 1967 and the DSO code on the door tag also corresponds to the Atlanta district. Seventh, when the door tag code is decoded it shows that vehicle was originally painted Cardinal Red with Red Standard interior and the car is still retains that color palette. Eighth, since I also received an original stock Ford AM radio and one of my favorite and longest running FM Rock 'N Roll radio stations in St. Louis, KSHE-95, went on the air in November 1967 that this was an original option instead of AM/FM radio or radio delete. Finally, since I received a set of original Mercury hubcaps with the purchase of the vehicle I have little doubt that these were originally covering the rolling stock instead of styled steel wheels.

Also, I posted information about the vehicle on the Classic Cougars yahoo group to see if the car had been listed in their database as still active. The vehicle was already in their database and I found out that the vehicle had been listed for sale on eBay in October 2006 in Fayetteville, GA.

Since the vehicle is very likely originally from the Atlanta area the body is in really good shape. When I bought the vehicle the odometer showed 52,053 and that could be original, but I bet the mileage is actually over 152,000. There are obvious signs of a repaint as there is over spray in the wheel wells and under the car. The original interior is still intact, but the front two seats have been recovered.

The engine has been replaced (according to the paperwork) w/ a late 1970's 302 cubic inch engine. The hood was cut to add a 1969/70 Cougar style scoop and a Mustang or Eliminator style spoiler was added to the deck lid. A previous owner also added traction bars and the heater has been removed. The only reason that I can conjure for the heater removal is to remove the extra weight for drag racing, but I'm not sure. The original AM radio was replaced w/ an aftermarket AM/FM CD unit with two Pioneer speakers in the package tray. An aftermarket tachometer was added on the steering column. Besides these changes the vehicle still retains a very original feel.

At first I plan to just improve upon the vehicle as it is currently configured. I plan to polish and wax the paint on the entire vehicle. I also plan to use some cleaner to make the wheels shine a little brighter. I also plan to fix some of the essential items that don't work correctly (running lights, turn signals, exterior mirror, etc.). I have already made a list of things that I want to change on the car in the future, but I will discuss those in another post at a later date.