Manufacturing has come a long way since 1969. Even the most unremarkable, throwaway commuter car of today is made to tolerances that would startle Cold War–era aerospace engineers. We totally take for granted tight panel gaps, leak-free weatherstripping, and drip-free engines. Take this Cougar, for example. Study the panel alignment and linger over the silky-smooth paint. This car looks like it was assembled today. And that's because it was.
Dennis Taylor is the original owner of this car. It spent a couple of decades on the road and then sat under a carport in Pensacola, Florida, for another decade after it became road-unworthy. Dennis wasn't willing to part with the car; it was like family to him. Now retired, he was finally able to have the car restored to the exact specifications he dreamt about for decades. Spending several hours researching restoration shops online and through word-of-mouth testimony from friends and acquaintances, Dennis finally decided to send his car to Jeff Lilly Restorations in San Antonio.
There, Jeff and his crew spent nearly two years restoring it. The body had the typical rust holes in the bottoms of the doors and quarter-panels, for which metal man Lou Carrillo made patch panels from scratch. Bob Ives spent dozens of hours trimming and shaping the edges of all the panels to get the gaps tight, even, and parallel. Bob also shot the paint, using Glasurit's basecoat/clearcoat system. The interior was intact but needed a thorough scrubbing and some pieces replaced. The Eliminator-specific 302 engine had long since been replaced with a 428. Dennis wanted that chunk of iron updated with a more modern Windsor-based 413 stroker built by Kutzer Racing. Tremec's stout TKO-600 transmission was tapped to handle the near-500 hp the small-block makes.
The details are where this car shines. Jeff's crew spent hours massaging the body and nearly the same amount of time routing the fluid lines and wiring, trying to hide them as much as possible, yet still keeping them accessible for routine maintenance or repairs. The results are a car that looks like it rolled off a barcode-scanned, computer-controlled assembly line. Its cool exterior is matched by a high-tech suspension and braking system that make this old Cougar look and drive like a modern, high-performance sports car.
Who: Dennis "Dat" Taylor
What: '69 Mercury Cougar Eliminator
Where: Pensacola, FL
Engine: The original engine is long gone, and Dennis also wanted the 428 he had installed years ago to disappear. In its place is a more powerful 413ci, Windsor-based stroker. Built with a Callies crank and rods, and forged pistons, it has a tough-as-nails foundation to withstand any abuse Dennis sees fit to dole out. A 9.5:1 compression ratio means it will still run fine on pump gas, though. The camshaft is a hydraulic roller with specs that the owner doesn't wish to divulge. A pair of ported Edelbrock Performer RPM cylinder heads ensure efficient airflow into and out of the engine, and Mass-Flo's electronic port fuel injection tops it all off. It comes complete with a 1,000-cfm throttle body atop an aluminum single-plane intake manifold, billet fuel rails, a mass airflow sensor that hides in the air-cleaner housing, and all the wiring and sensors needed to run the engine. The accessory drive is from Billet Specialties. On the dyno, this combination was good for 495 hp and 525 lb-ft of torque.
Exhaust: Custom-built 17⁄8-inch headers dump into a 21⁄2-inch, handmade exhaust system with a cross-pipe and Spintech mufflers.
Transmission/Rearend: A Tremec TKO-600 replaced the old Toploader, and it twists the gears inside a Chris Alston Chassisworks' FAB9 rear axle with 3.50:1 gears and 31-spline axles.
Suspension: Dennis wanted a car that could handle corners, so Jeff and he chose a front and rear suspension system from Total Control Products. It comes with Varishock coilovers and tubular upper and lower control arms on the front. Out back, you'll find their Rear Pushrod Suspension System, which replaces the leaf springs with lower trailing arms, a torque arm, a Watt's link, and horizontally mounted coilovers actuated by pushrods. Both front and rear suspensions are fully adjustable for ride height, ride quality, and for aggressive cornering.
Brakes: Baer brakes, front and rear, ensure the car stops as well as it negotiates a corner. With six- and four-piston calipers gripping 13-inch rotors, slowing this car down is a snap.
Interior: The original Comfortweave upholstery was salvageable, keeping the Cougar's interior looking factory-correct. The gauges and steering wheel were also refurbished.
Body/Paint: Painstaking care was taken to get seamless rust repair and perfectly aligned panel gaps before the car was painted. To clue you in on the attention to detail these guys strive for, all the panel gaps measure 3⁄16-inch. The basecoat is Glasurit's Wimbledon White, followed by several coats of clear. Eric Orishack did the final assembly of the body, and Nat Rameriz did the show-quality cut and buff to the paint. See full build photos at JeffLilly.com.
Wheels/Tires: We like classic wheels remade in modern sizes, and this Cougar wears 17- and 18-inch versions of the Magnum 500 wheels, manufactured by Wheel Vintiques. Jeff had them custom-made to his specifications so they'd have the exact offset needed to completely fill the wheelwells. They are wrapped in Dunlop Sport Max GT tires, measuring 225/50-ZR17 and 265/45-ZR18.