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.

Cougar Gets Attention

The past two days afforded me the opportunity to move the boxes and clean off the top surfaces of the Cougar, roll the cat halfway out of the garage and work on it. It’s been longer than I can remember since I last put any time or more importantly, money into the Cougar. Yesterday I spent about $21 on a piece of steel and two cans of rust inhibitor. Conversely I put in approximately 15 hours work, with the help of a neighbor and made good progress.

Goals for the past few days were simple. First make progress on the Cougar, second spend as little money as possible. Both objectives were achieved. While not immediately on the list, the battery ledge was cut out and replaced. Much of the work was cleaning and grinding surfaces to get the loose surface rust off before cleaning the surface and spraying the rust inhibitor. None of the rust (like the battery ledge) is so bad that it will require removal and replacement, so I am lucky in that respect.

A goal for this summer is to completely prep the engine compartment, which is about 95% stripped and cleaned, ready to be painted. It’s my hope to drop the engine, transmission and headers into the car in the next few months. Before that can happen I need to replace a few more parts, including the steering column and necessary stainless steel lines. Yesterday allowed to get the rest of the sanding/grinding done, with the exception of one corner that has a wiring harness and hoses coming through the firewall.

From there I moved on to the front windshield, pulling the rubber weatherstripping off and removing the glass. Unfortunately the window cracked from bottom to top. I believe it was cracked under the rubber and when I pried it up, the crack lengthen. Add another $225 to the total cost of the Cougar. Once the glass was out, I cleaned the remaining waxy substance around the window opening. I already had the back glass out, removed months ago. Much like the front window opening, I cleaned up the rear window opening. I did find one minor spot of rust, but I come bondo will easily fill that hole. I assume it’s from water, since it’s the lower corner of the rear window.

I started looking at the interior again and wanted to get the dashboard removed. I had all the interior panels removed previously, as well as the dash pad that covered the top of the dashboard. The dash pad was sun damaged and pulled years ago. I did clean up the bracket and removed the dashboard, along with the heating/cooling vents. While I will probably never use the AC system, but I do need to replace the heater core and possibly the wiring harness.

Much of the work was purely cosmetic. I was able to strip the remaining rust on the floor of the interior, as well as the walls over the wheel wells and the back deck above the seat. These areas were then sprayed with the rust inhibitor. Thankfully I had done a majority of the truck interior already. I did spray the areas I had already done, but still have some surface rust I need to know down. Lots of work and some good progress was made. I might

New battery ledge, welded and sprayed.

The most progress was made on the battery ledge, this was an area that was completely corroded due to water and battery acid. The battery tray that came with the car was not salvageable. What was worse was the ledge that tray was attached to was eaten though. Thanks to my neighbor, who is currently restoring a ’54 Chevy, he stopped over and offered his help. This turned into a 3 hour project, as he cut out the area, bent a new piece of 16 GA metal welding it to the car and then ground down some of the welds to blend it into the existing frame.

I was very pleased with the outcome, it’s strong and once the battery tray is in place you won’t notice the welded plate. I was surprised he took so much time and effort into helping me with this project. He has already offered to come back over and help me with a few other projects on the car, including a few dents on the passenger’s side of the Cougar and showing me how to use bondo to start filling in low spots on the roof.

It might be a bit too ambitious to say there will be time every week to work on the Cougar, but now that some work has been done I have been bitten…again! I will update with some pictures from the work accomplished.

Front End Problems

Okay, so maybe I spoke to soon about having the tie rods and idler arm installed. I began tearing down the front end on the passenger’s side. The first thing I noticed is the wheel well is in a worse condition than the driver’s side. There appears to have been a battery leak. Combine that with probably the worst rust on the cat and you have problems in and around the battery ledge, which will obviously need a new battery tray. Not sure how to attack the rust issue, may have to get it cut out and replaced.

After removing the right front fender, I began the task of cleaning the wheel well again. The disc brake has been removed and the spindle has been cleaned. But as I am sitting in a cloud of dirt and dust, I got to thinking… I refer back to this comment, “Ohhh my dear Oswald… You are getting sucked into it man… Its happening to you… You wont see it coming… You’ll never hear it… You cant feel it… One day, you just wake up and know its there…THE TOTAL RESTORATION BUG!!!!!!!!!.”

I was having thoughts of pulling the engine. Oh and Greg, I see you shaking your head. Stop it! One thing at a time. I will try to stick to that motto. So, the front end is going a bit slower than expected, not that I am too surprised, but I do feel more confident working on this a second time.