It's hard to build a nice street machine without spending a lot of money. It takes hands-on know-how, passion, and a lot of time. That's Steve Saavedra's deal. He heard about a Cougar that was prowling the streets of Ventura, California, through a friend of his aunt's. That's when it started, that craving to make his own automotive-statement mark on the world. He loves older musclecars--especially ones he can afford, and he built this car with his own hands.
The knowledgeable ones preach that a car purchase should not be made in the heat of the moment. Instead, the decision should be made based on facts and a dispassionate appraisal of the car's good and bad points. Take it to a shop and have them do a compression check--you know, look it over with a jaundiced eye--and then make your decision. All that's great, but car crafters don't approach cars of their dreams with such little passion. That's for folks out shopping for a toaster. This is about a musclecar--and that goes much deeper than the condition of the tires. Steve had heard all that advice and ignored it, seizing the anonymous Mercury sight-unseen with his hard-earned three large. The honeymoon lasted all of 50 feet before the cat blew a radiator hose, puking coolant all over the concrete. Sometimes love hurts.
That was a rocky start for Steve and the Cougar, but out of that has sprung a solid relationship. The Merc is Steve's daily driver, but between the demands of basic transportation and a 24-year-old's limited resources, the Cougar hardly qualifies for Chip Foose or Troy Trepanier headliner status. Instead, it's been a steady, three-year effort to massage and groom this alternate body style with subtle yet critical cues. The Cougar had laid down a mere 87,000 miles by the time Steve brought it home. Now with over 140,000 on the clock, Steve's proud of the fact that so far all the car has needed is a new rear main seal and valveguide seals as patches to keep the precious fluids where they belong.
The 351W has never left its original cradle, and other than a few performance bolt-ons, it continues in that tradition. Quick quarter-mile blasts are not Steve's Holy Grail, so the Cougar can lay no claim to an e.t. slip--and it's just as well. That's not where Steve's heart lies. Instead, Steve went looking for a way to improve upon the Cougar's outward appearance--in essence a major makeover that would peel away some of the years of neglect and abuse and give the cruiser a fresh start. Steve had no experience with bodywork, so he signed up at Cerritos College for a class in collision repair. There he met a few other true believers who helped him learn how to take the waves out of his West Coast body.
At the college, he had a shop to begin the restoration. At first, it was learning how to make basic rust repairs and doing a skin peel to remove all those "little old lady dents" that peppered the car. The original white paint eventually became a great base for Steve's first shot at automotive painting. With gun in hand, he laid down several layers of RM Diamond '72 Chevy Mohave Gold, followed by yards of tape and masking paper to add the Wimbledon White stripes on the hood. It's a great first effort of which Steve is particularly proud. In fact, the work on his car has now led him to a career in automotive paint.
But there's more to image than just a well-executed paint job, so Steve took on stance as his next big adventure. The task was simplified with help from his friends at Don & Harold's Alignment in Long Beach, California. Shorter springs in front along with "age lowered" stock rear leaf springs delivered what Steve was after, so all that was left was the rolling stock with his own subtle touches, including the Mercury emblem on the wheel center caps that escaped from a Marauder.
Since a car crafter's machine is never really completed, Steve says his plans for more horsepower are torn between a roller-cammed 351W, a 428ci big-block, or perhaps a twin-turbo'd 351W. More realistically, before the additional horsepower will come a larger disc-brake package up front with matching Crown Vic discs in the rear, because regardless of how much horsepower the Cougar commands, Steve's still gotta stop. Which is good because Steve's already found another '69 XR-7 Cougar that's in desperate need of some attention, along with a '68 Galaxie fastback with a 390 FE that's begging for more power. So like the rest of us, Steve has his automotive future already planned for him, painted in various shades of Mercury gold.
What: '69 Mercury Cougar
Owner: Steve Saavedra
Hometown: Norwalk, California--the past haunting grounds of Ford performance promoter Kaufmann Products
Engine: Because the Cougar is a daily driver, a radical cam and race-gas compression are not realistic, so Steve stuck with the proven parts, such as an Edelbrock Performer dual-plane intake, a Holley 670-cfm Street Avenger carburetor, a K&N filter, and an Edelbrock air cleaner. The distributor is stock but upgraded with Pertronix internals and an ACCEL coil, while Hedman 1 5/8-inch headers route the exhaust through Flowmaster 2 1/2-inch pipes.Transmission/Converter: The FMX three-speed has been faithful if not stellar. Steve refers to the converter as a "crappy, stock 1,800-stall." That tells you everything you need to know.
Rearend: It's nice when your choice of street ride already has a 9-inch in it, complete with a 3.50 gear and a Traction-Lok limited slip.
Suspension: There's probably more work here than anywhere else in the car. The front consists of 1-inch-shorter springs with KYB shocks and a stock front sway bar. The rear springs are stock but assisted with Competition Engineering traction bars and matching KYB gas-filled shocks.
Brakes: The Cougar still runs the stock 11-inch front discs and stock rear drums, but there are plans for a set of Mustang Cobra or Crown Vic 12.5-inch rotors.
Wheels/Tires: In front, the Cougar spins a set of 245/45ZR17 Nitto 555s on 17x8-inch Mustang Bullitt wheels, while on the back the same wheels mount larger 275/40ZR17 Nitto 555 drag tires.