Thursday, October 22, 2009

A New Series Of Posts - Cars From Our Past

My recent post about a couple of cars my parents owned in the 1970's prompted a comment from my wife about doing a post on her parents series of Volkswagen Beetles they drove in the late 1960's and into the 1970's. This comment created a new idea about doing a series of stories on cars from our past. 

A couple of years ago my wife also had the great idea of doing a book for my dad for Christmas with a list of his top 15 favorite cars.  We dug through pictures in my parents and grandparents photo albums and found enough pictures for a coffee table book AND a calendar for my dad.  We uploaded everything to Shutterfly and ordered them for Christmas.  He loved it and still keeps them on the coffee table!

These series of posts will deal with cars that hold memories in our lives.  A car is like another family member at times, or a companion, a place that we feel like we live, or to some it is just a mode of transportation.  No one can deny, however, that the cars that we buy and we drive provide memories of places, people, events, and more.  Cars take us to work, back home, on road trips, on vacation, help us move, visit friends and family, run errands, and other exciting adventures.

Now, if you haven't paid attention to your car lately - get out there and wash it!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Chauncey & Me

In the mid 1970's my parents took me to Piasa Lincoln-Mercury dealership in downtown Alton, IL to see a real live Cougar!  Originally the spokescat for the Mercury Cougar in print and television advertising, Chauncey the Cougar became the spokescat for all Lincoln-Mercury dealers products not just the Mercury Cougar. The Cougar was so recognizable in advertisement that the Lincoln-Mercury slogan became "At The Sign Of The Cat." The Cougars from the advertising campaign would tour the country and visit dealers to promote Lincoln-Mercury. In 1975, Chauncey died and his replacement became Christopher. At Piasa Lincoln-Mercury my parents dealt with a salesman named Harold Sackalarus and he likely told them about this special event at his dealership.  How often would a real live Cougar visit a car dealership?!?  This visit by Christopher made such an impression on me that I started to refer to the dealership as "Harold's Cat House."

To learn more about the Lincoln-Mercury spokescats see the following articles from The Classic Cougar Network site

For an overall history see this article

These next three links are from a speech done by the Cougar's handler Pat Derby on July 14, 2001 at an event for the Stray Cats Cougar Club of Northern CA
Part One: Tanya
Part Three: Q & A

Here's a video I found of a similar event from a Lincoln Mercury dealer in the early 1980's

In 1976, my mom was driving a 1973 Buick Riviera and my dad was driving a 1972 GMC Sprint (read: GMC version of the El Camino).  That year my parents traded their 1973 Buick Riviera and bought a Lincoln Continental Mark IV as a third car.  At the time this was the most expensive American made vehicle.  As you can see from the picture above the vehicle was dove gray with a matching dove gray landau vinyl roof, and light gray leather interior. Lincoln-Mercury sold this as a Cartier edition, a part of their line designer editions which also included Bill Blass, Givenchy, and Pucci. My name for this car was the "Foo Foo Car." I remember riding around in this car as a toddler on summer evenings in the late 1970's making my parents drive around to find the source of spotlights flooding the night sky. The spotlights with their bright light would be advertising a car dealership, a movie, or some other promotion. My parents also remember my devastation after losing a balloon through the sunroof one evening while riding in that car.

In 1976, my mom's office had moved from downtown St. Louis to a renovated IGA grocery store located in a parking lot at a suburban mall.  At the time she was driving a 1975 MGB roadster. She felt nervous driving this little British sports car on the interstate with all of the 18 wheel tractor trailers.  However, they let me ride in the area where the top folded up when it was down or on my mom's lap when the top was up. Go figure.

Since they had just bought the Lincoln, my parents decided to stick with Lincoln-Mercury to replace this car. They put the MGB on consignment with Piasa Lincoln Mercury and they bought a 1977 Mercury Cougar. This was the newly redesigned fourth generation Cougar. The classic Cougar era ended with the 1973 model year and in 1974 the Cougar began an association with the Ford Torino.  This ended the Cougar's seven year association with the Ford Mustang platform. Then in 1977 the Cougar began a long run of being based on the Ford Thunderbird chassis. These changes made the car longer, less sporty, and even more luxurious than before. Here's a description from the wikipedia article on Mercury Cougars:
Customers to Lincoln-Mercury showrooms were surprised by the all-new Cougar this year [1977]. New sharper and straighter styling that mimicked the Ford Thunderbird and Lincoln Continental Mark V replaced the "fuselage look" of earlier Cougars. The Cougar now shared its body with the Thunderbird, which was downsized to the intermediate bodyshell this year from that of the Continental Mark IV and shared the Cougar's 114-inch (2,896 mm) wheelbase, putting the T-Bird squarely in the intermediate personal-luxury car market as opposed to its previous higher-priced segment of that market shared with the Buick Riviera and Oldsmobile Toronado.

My hunch is that my dad probably just remembered this advertisement with the late Farrah Fawcett (pre-Charlie's Angels) from a couple of years earlier and wanted to get one.

Since my mom was driving a lot farther to work she noticed that the V-8 engine in the Cougar was a lot less fuel efficient that the four cylinder in the MGB.  She figured that she would just drive the Lincoln to work and my parents got rid of the Cougar.  They had the car for such a short time that I have yet to find a picture of the car. The Cougar would be the last Blue Oval product they would ever buy.

My parents kept the Lincoln Continental car as a third car for a few more years and ended up selling it in December 1983 to a daughter of one of my dad's friends.  I have always wondered what happened to that car.

If you look closely you can see my dad's 1972 GMC Sprint in the background.

In this picture you can barely see the end of the Orange MGB parked in the garage.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Update on Junkyard Crawl II

Today, I posted my story from yesterday to the Classic Cougars group on for the VIN registrar to see.  Here is his reply:

Hi Scott,

Great write-up. Would you consider allowing us to print this in the CCOA newsletter "At The Sign Of The Cat" I bet people would enjoy re-living their own junkyard adventures by reading this.

This VIN was reported in 6/88 and was still on the road at the time in Marissa, IL. It was red, white interior and had a 4-speed at the time.

I wrote Phil back and advised that it was okay to reprint my story. That was a nice gesture on his part. Later I found someone on Craigslist selling another 1968 Cougar in Marissa, IL.  I wonder if the same person used to own the one that is now sitting in the yard. Hmmm...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Junkyard Crawl II

In the mid 1980's I went to a salvage yard in Mascoutah, IL with my friend Rob and his older brother Bill.  With a freshly issued Illinois driver's license, Bill had started driving a 1964 Chevrolet 4 door sedan with a 283 cubic inch V-8 that his parents had received as a wedding present about 15 years prior. The car, white with a blue interior, had seen better days, but had been parked in the garage for the last few years.  We used to play in the car for fun and actually used it as the Batmobile in a Batman movie we made around 1989.  Bill had started to "fix up" the car with no real prior knowledge about cars.  Somehow, he found out about this salvage yard and thought he could find some parts.  The salvage yard was overgrown with trees, but had many cars from the 1950's, 1960's, and 1970's. I remember that the guys working there were all rough and tumble with attitudes to match. There were hubcaps hanging all over the office.  We asked about parts for a 1964 Chevrolet and they directed us to where they were. We bought a replacement rear door and maybe some other parts and headed home.

A while back, after some research, I finally tracked down this salvage yard again and decided to stop in for a look.  I came across the owner, Dan. He told me that he had been here since the early 1950's.  He said that they had a fire a few years ago and lost a building and some of the cars.  He had parts stored to restore some older cars and lost much of those parts in the fire. Finally, he asked if he could help me and I asked if he had any late 1960's Mercury Cougars around the yard. He said that he did have one left, but that most everyone had gone for the day and I would have to come back another time if I wanted to see the car.

Today, I went back to the salvage yard in search of that Cougar. I walked in and found one of Dan's sons behind the desk.  I told him that I had been here before and asked if I could see the Cougar.  He talked to his dad and they started asking what I wanted.  I told them nothing specific, but just wanted to see if there was anything on or around the car that I could use. Finally, they relented and had one of the old guys that worked there take me back to the car.  This guy was dressed in a dark blue automotive type work outfit with a scraggly beard and hair and horned rimmed glasses.  He unlocked the gate to the back part of the yard and he got in the car and we drove back down a slightly rocked road.  On either side of the road still buried in the trees were cars from the past.  I saw a 1967 Thunderbird, some old Chevy and Ford trucks, a 1964 Chevrolet wagon, a late 1950's Ford, a whole row of Corvairs, and many more classics. I always find these trips fun and sad at the same time. All of these cars have stories and reasons why they are there. These hulks just rotting out there could either be put back on the road or save other cars that need to be saved. They just need the right person to come along.

All the way in the back of the yard next to a mid 1950's Cadillac sat a 1968 Mercury Cougar (VIN# 8F91F507828). This car is red in color and is basically a shell. There is no engine or transmission, no interior, no dash, no driver side front fender, no front end in front of the radiator support, and no trunk lid.  I could not get the data off the door tag since that was long gone. The windshield was still intact, but the back glass had been broken out. There were many miscellaneous parts lying around inside the car. I found blue parts, yellow parts but the car I was looking at was red. There was a white passenger side front fender on the car as well as a blue hood sitting over the empty engine compartment. Later, Dan told me that at one time had several early Cougars, but most were sent to the crusher or bought. He said that they have always piled miscellaneous pieces of the cars inside the same make and model car.

I did find some salvageable parts to buy lying around inside the car and the trunk. I found a bumper guard, headlight trim ring, driver side quarter glass assembly, headlight panel (2), and passenger side dash panel. I asked the old guy if they would sell me these parts and he said yes.  We loaded up what I had found and headed back to the front of the yard.  I asked the old guy how long he had been working there and he replied, "Since 1971."  He's been working there longer than I've been alive! 

We got back to the front and I talked to Dan.  I showed him the parts that I found and asked him how much he would charge.  He told me that I could have everything for $50 + tax. I could have had a rear bumper for $35 too, but figured that I didn't really need it at this point.  I asked if they would sell the entire shell as well. He said that it depended on if I needed a title. He said that they had lost many titles in the fire and it was a hassle to apply for a burned title. They would sell it if I didn't need a title. He also mentioned that another guy would come by periodically to look at the car and scavenge some parts. He had asked them not to crush it just in case. I noted this and I paid, we said our goodbyes and I went on my way.

Maybe you can find some hard to find parts for your classic vehicle at:

Dan's Auto Body & Towing
10201 State Route 177
Mascoutah, IL 62258

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Work Has Started On The Safety Items Checklist

I had needed to take back the body seals for the back up lights to the Mustang Corral for a couple of weeks now, but just never found the time.  See this previous post for details. On Saturday we were out running some errands and we agreed this is something we could mark off the to do list.

After getting some doughnuts for breakfast and a couple of other stops we headed to the Mustang Corral in Edwardsville.  I knew that I could not exchange these body seals for cash back so I was either going to find something  or just get some store credit.  One of the owners, Tim, helped me.  He is always very nice, in a good mood, and at work on some project or another.  I started to look around and one of the first things I saw was the battery hold down clamp kit for 67-70 Mustang.  I bought the the battery hold down clamp (PN C5AZ10718A), two J bolts (PN D0AZ10756A), and mounting nuts for $15.85 minus my credit.

Later, I checked the West Coast Classic Cougars site and found they were selling for $11.00, but I would have had to ship it here so that would have made up the extra cost that I paid today.  I am going to try to keep buying what I need from the Mustang Corral until the parts become only specific for the Cougar. I can get the parts I need as I need them while supporting a local business. Then, I can order what I still need from my list from West Coast Classic Cougars.

Before I install this kit, however, I have to replace and relocate the makeshift radiator overflow that a previous owner  installed. He used plastic water bottle and zip tied it to the radiator support and wedged it between the battery and the radiator support.  Therefore, the battery does not completely sit flush with the tray.  *SIGH*  Just another car guy not taking the time to do something right...