With or Without Direction?

When I took ownership of the 1968 Mercury Cougar XR-7 in 2003 I had no idea just what this project would encompass. Without any knowledge or hands on experience prior to acquiring this car I was able to find an online resource as well as a local car club that assisted me, providing information and sources to help me learn about the Cougar.

I believe my initial problem was not prioritizing the work, having a good starting point as opposed to just starting to tear the car apart. I chose the later option and soon I had a huge pile of parts, but nothing really got accomplished. After further discussion I decided to work on safety related items. Let me preface that by saying the drive down from Santa Rosa was shaky at best. The steering was terrible and it wasn’t until I torn down the front end and rebuilt it I found out why. After completing the front end I moved to rebuild the back end.

Prior to this work I had the transmission repaired in 2005 by a local shop, followed the be exhaust system. Once the front and rear end rebuilds started the cat was on blocks for about 11 months. Once completed I made a hasty decision to remove the engine in April, 2006. Reflecting back, it was probably a good idea, albeit a bit costly. Yet like the front and rear ends, the exhaust and transmission this work needed to be accomplished. Thankfully it was still during a time I had money to pay for the work on the 302 engine being rebuilt.

With more time falling by the wayside, I became discouraged with the Cougar. I was making very little progress, mainly because of my family and work responsibilities. When the engine returned about 4 months later (2006) I had was bitten again. Much like previous attempts, time and money were against me. I was able to find time to start cleaning the engine compartment with the goal of painting it black and reinstalling the engine.

That puts me where I am today, in a quandary as to where to begin. With the small repair made last week in the engine compartment I am thrilled to be finding some time to invest into the Cougar. Making the car drivable in the near future isn’t the current goal. I feel with many of the major parts removed from the car it could be in my best interest to fix what’s broken or replace parts due to age before working on the body in order to prep it work painting. Thankfully I have a friend who is an expert in the bodywork and painting of cars to help lead me.

The cleaning of grime, the sanding of rust and removal of sprayed undercoating continues. I am still thankful the car is not a rust bucket. While there is quite a bit of surface rust, I don’t have any major areas that will push though, like the battery tray did. I can’t even put a time frame on the completion of the cleaning of rust at this time. The engine compartment is about 90% cleaned at this time and I still need to remove some hoses and wiring harness, as well as the steering column before I can finish the remaining 10%.

I also need to inventory the new parts I have. As I mentioned, I spent quite a bit of money on new parts that are still in the box. I never opened them since I was not ready to replace them. So while I am still without a real starting point, I have much work to accomplish. Maybe jumping around from area to area is way to go. Who knows maybe it will be sooner than I expect that I could have accomplished enough work that the Cougar might actually start and roll with a driver behind the seat.

The 302 Comes Home

I do not believe it was my original  intentions to rebuild the 302-4v on my ’68 Cougar when I picked it up  back in 2003. Funny how things change over time and once engulfed in a  project that one things seems to lead to another. When I started  cleaning the engine compartment I had no intentions on replacing or  rebuilding the motor. Sure I had the ‘How To Rebuild Small Block Ford  Engines’ book, but more as a reference, than a tool to go step by step  guide to do it myself.

On more of a whim I picked up a new Holley  carburetor and an Edelbrock Performer earlier this year as I started to  clean the front end of the Cougar and planned on replacing these  “R&R” parts. Although after consulting the brain trust on MCN, this  would not really do much in terms of HP or performance. I took the car  to the local do it yourself car wash and sprayed the engine bay and  engine clean, when I got home I noticed a pool of liquid under the  engine. It would turn out to be the water pump. That is when it all  began.

I started working my way back to the water pump, pulling engine parts off so I could replace the water pump. As it turns out, as  mentioned just a moment ago, one thing did ultimately lead to another  and before I knew it I was all the way back to the engine block with the  A/C and associated parts removed, the starter, alternator and  flywheels. This is when the idea to rebuild the engine started to creep  up on me.

I had spoke to the previous owner, Jason who had his  289 rebuilt by Arron, who owns Bad Ass Engines up in  Sonoma. I e-mailed Arron with what I was starting with and the amount of  money I had to spend. We then talked a few times on the phone and he  gave me more information regarding the rebuild and probably talked me  into a bit more horsepower than I originally intended. But, in the end  that was fine. You can NEVER have enough HP, right?

I pulled the  engine in April and delivered to Bad Ass in May, with intentions of  getting it back in June or July, in time to make the annual Classic  Cougar Picnic. I was up front and told him I was not in a hurry to get  it back, as I had more work than I could handle, then again time is  somewhat at a premium these days. Even if I had got the motor back in  time for the picnic, I doubt I would have been ready to install it.

With  the engine pulled I started to work on the engine compartment,  cleaning, sanding, stripping and pulling the rest of the parts out, such  as the distributor block for the brakes, the steering box [which was  replaced with a new one] and all hardware that was on the walls of the  compartment. You have read my tales of stripping, well nearly 3 months  later I am still involved with a stripper. And no, this stripper does  not use a pole.

Before making the decision to drop the engine  back in, I need to accomplish other tasks that will make my life easier  than installing the engine, only to work around it at a later date. More  recently I picked up a Flaming River Steering Column to replace the stock one, the power booster has been pulled and is waiting to go to Booster Dewey’s to be rebuilt. The only real problem  was the block for the brake lines. I had to cut all the lines in order  to remove it and clean it, so another call will be put in for a set of  front brake lines, most likely to Classic  Tube.

Last Monday I drove the 60 miles to Sonoma to pick up  my engine. I arrived prior to noon and caught Arron working as he met me  and took me inside to show me the final product. I must have been ear  to ear smiles as I saw it. It look amazing! So pretty, clean and…WOW! I  could not describe it. I did have to reuse my current distributor and  cap, which he set for me.

new_302_2We then sat down and went over the build sheet, line by line. Still at this point much  of what he told me exceeded my knowledge of engine building. But when he  broke it down to, you should be able to run 12.90s on the strip, that  sort of put it in perspective. Not bad for a 350HP, 302, right? He said I  would be surprised by the power, that is once I get it broken in.

Thankfully  my parents were in town beginning Monday, so my father helped me unload  it from my truck and connect it to the engine stand, where it will sit  until I am ready to drop it in the engine compartment.

The ‘STD  list’ [that’s the Shit To Do List] still reads like a book before I get  to the point I am ready to drop it in the engine compartment. The list  includes:

  • Finish stripping the  engine compartment
  • Prime and paint the engine compartment
  • Pull  the C4 transmission
  • Replace the stock torque converter with a B&M  Holeshot 2400
  • Install distributor block and front brake lines
  • Remove  and replace steering column
  • Connecting steering box
  • Reinstall  power booster and master cylinder

new_302_1As I mentioned, I  am not in a big hurry to get it all down, plus I have people who have  offered to help, including Stray Cats member,  Mark and my buddy from SoCal, an Olds owner, but he knows his stuff! So,  when the time comes I have a few options, and I look forward to that  day. I still have some other decisions that need to  be made, such as what distributor and water pump I should install.

Engine is Done!

Yes! Yes! Yes! My wife received a phone  call this morning from Arron at Bad Ass Engines while I was sleeping this morning. He left a message saying my 302-4v  was finished. I called him back today and spoke to him and he gave me  few details, but did say he had a complete build sheet for the engine.

I  dropped the engine off back in May and was told about 4 weeks to finish. I am not harping or complaining one bit, because honestly in the  time the engine has been at Bad Ass, I have not had enough free time to  really put into the Cougar. Hell, I had hoped I would of had the engine  compartment stripped and painted, the new brake lines run, the new Flaming River steering column and rebuilt steering box installed. Of  course to date, none of that has happened. I am still in the process of stripping the engine compartment.

So hopefully by the end of the  week I can make the 75 minute drive into wine country [Sonoma] to get  the engine. I need to find a 60 series tire and some tie downs in order  to transport the engine back home. I am excited about getting my new toy  back. Hopefully by getting it back home, I will find extra time to put  in on the Cougar in order to get the engine compartment ready to drop  the engine in.

I will post pictures when I get them. I am looking  forward to it!?

I Bought a Stripper

Not sure how it happened, but I found a bit of “free time” during my days off to actually work on the Cougar. After attending the Classic Cougar Picnic last weekend and seeing all those great looking cars, I felt I had been slacking off on working on mine. Then again, with very little time and other responsibilities, working on the Cougar is not high on the priority list.

Tom from Delta Bay Mustang [finally!] called and told me my Edelbrock RPM intake manifold had arrived and I could pick it up. So after my BART interview, I dropped in on Tom, spoke to him for a bit. He inquired about the engine being rebuilt and a few other items regarding my Cougar. I had been toying with the idea of purchasing a new steering column, or getting the original rebuilt. I had spoke to Steve [aka fastmerc on MCN] about rebuilding the current one, but he could not guarantee the work on a non-tilt column. So yesterday, after paying the difference on the RPM manifold I put a deposit down on a new Flaming River Tilt Steering Column. My line of thinking, if I have everything else torn out of the engine compartment and am replacing with new parts, why not the steering column?

So the past few days, I was able to put a few hours in each day, continuing to work on cleaning the engine compartment, stripping out the old, worn paint before priming it and painting it prior to dropping the new 302-4V, 350HP motor in it. Prior to yesterday I had been using sandpaper, wire wheel and steel wool to clean things up. Not only time consuming, but tough work. I started using a stripper yesterday. Oh where, oh where has this stripper been in my life? I applied the stripper using a small paint brush, waited and then started to peel back the old paint.

Wow! What a difference! I was able to strip off much more paint and grime in about 3 hours than I did any time prior to what I had already completed. The work was much easier, although the temperature in the garage was probably 100 and I was sweating buckets, but that only made me feel like I actually accomplished something. I was able to do the right front corner [battery tray], the shock tower and back towards the firewall. With any luck, I could have half of the engine compartment stripped by the end of the weekend. That would be a huge accomplishment, with what little time I have had recently.

Still no word on the motor, again, that is really a moot point since it would just be another item in my already cluttered garage. I did tell Arron, the engine builder to add the price of an RPM manifold to my check, just because I did not want to hold up finishing the build and I was not sure when I would get a call from Delta Bay Mustang. So I guess the extra manifold I have will go on Ebay or Craigslist.

With the purchase of the steering column, this leaves me two parts short of what I need in order to start putting things back together. I still need to hit Summit Racing up for a B&M Holeshot 2400 and Classic Tube for a complete set of front brake lines, including the line that runs to the rear axle. I still have no target date for completion, maybe December?

On a related note, I contacted an East Coast seller who has a 1970 Boss Cougar Eliminator in Grabber Blue. This is the Cougar of my dreams. I have contacted the seller who provided me further information and will get some pictures in the coming days. Not sure if this will actually happen, but I may as well follow up on it, who knows what could happen.

Got No Brakes

I made it official today, I will not have my ’68 Cougar ready for the Classic Cougar Picnic on July 16. While we are still about 6 weeks away I realized that I have more work than meets the eye. And every time I look again something else seems to catch my eye. But even without a Cougar at the picnic, I still intend on bringing the family along for a fun filled day.I spent about half the day working on the Cougar continuing to remove parts from the engine compartment and prep the walls for painting. I think I miscalculated the time needed to finish clearing the engine compartment of parts as I finally got the proportioning valve off the fender wall. Unfortunately, I added yet another step to the growing list. More on that in a minute.

I still keep in contact with the previous owner I got the Cougar from. He lives north of me, about 90 minutes away. I had e-mailed him about 10 days ago looking for information on the torque converter. While he was not sure about the difference in color [now green], previously orange in some pictures he sent me from 1988, he passed on some other bad news that I have to deal with.

Speaking about the proportioning valve, here is what Jason, the previous owner had to say, “I had a war with that thing almost the whole time…developed a leak and brake fluid was constantly coming out of it. Trying to remove the valve was no good because the nuts were frozen solid to the brake line. Eventually I gave up and just kept filling the master cylinder every couple of weeks.

Today, I just gave up trying to get the nuts off the brake lines and had to cut them, for fear any more torque I put on them would rip a hold in the fender wall. While I was not planning on picking up new front brake lines, I had been looking at a few different online vendors, just in case I had to go this route. Well, today that was the path less traveled.The battle is only half over though, because I still need to brake the nuts loose from the valve, now that it sits on my workbench soaking in PB Blaster, in hopes of loosening the nuts on the lines remaining in order to reuse the proportioning valve. I don’t want to think about ordering another valve, but I might have to and I know they are not cheap. I also now know why the area around the valve is rusted and seemingly wet, from the previous fluid that had leaked, similar in nature the rust I had to treat on the battery shelf.

I am now down to the last few pieces of air conditioning that protrude from the firewall. I know one of set of pipes belong to the heater core, not sure what the other two are for, but I believe the hoses ran from the compressor into these two connections. Since I will not have any air condition in my Cougar, I might just remove the remaining parts and save them.The only remaining part to remove will be the transmission. This was going to be removed prior to the engine being reinstalled. But I might pull it out in order to paint the bell housing and clean it up a bit more. Oh yeah and while it is out, the torque converter will be replaced with a B&M Holeshot 2400, on recommendation from Arron, the engine builder, this will allow for a more aggressive cam, at least that is what I was told.