I love top 10 lists. You know the ones. The 10 best places to live. The 10 weirdest places to hang glide. The 10 proven ways to survive a fall from the top of the Empire State Building.
They tend to be mindless mental popcorn.
That’s why I had to chuckle when I came across the Ten Forgotten Classic Cars That Are Criminally Overlooked list by Chris Perkins of Road & Track magazine that was posted on the MSN news feed page.
Among the cars listed was the 1967 Mercury Cougar. Perkins noted, “The Ford Mustang is easily one of the most iconic cars ever made, but its Mercury brother, the Cougar tends to be forgotten. The first-gen Cougar has more or less the same bones as the Mustang in a package that’s easily as pretty.”
It definitely had the looks but to be honest the criminal part is remembering it and not forgetting it. A 1967 Cougar — with 110,000 miles — was my first car. I bought it in 1974 from my aunt for $750. She had used it to commute primarily to McClellan Air Force Base.
There is no polite way to say this but here goes: The Cougar is why none of my next 10 vehicles were Fords. Part of that was the fact my father and mother both favored Chevrolets. But part of it had to do with the unique design of the vehicle.
After I bought the Cougar from my Aunt Verlie, I asked her why she left a hundred pounds of lead weights in the trunk. She just smiled, said take them out and see. Like a typical 17-year-old I didn’t have sense enough to ask a follow up question. A few days later I took them out. I got behind the wheel, started driving and a half block later I hit the brakes for the stop sign at the end of our block. That’s when I found out why Verlie had lead weights in the trunk. The trunk was so light that it had a tendency to slightly fishtail when one applied the brakes to come to a complete stop. Nothing major but it was noticeable. The lead weights went back into the trunk.
After a few months I noticed other Cougars whose headlight covers were in the upright position even when the headlights were off. What really set apart the Cougar from other cars in 1967 was its hidden headlights. When the lights were off and the covers down it did indeed making the Cougar one of the prettiest cars on the road. But the vacuum system operating them had a tendency to go out a lot and wasn’t cheap to fix. While I never had that problem, I resolved if that ever happened to do the same as the last thing I wanted to do was to go to drive at night and not be able to do so because the headlight covers wouldn’t move.
The surprise for me was the rear turn signal — another pretty boy touch. They ran between the license plate holder and the outer edge of the body frame. When you flipped on the turn signal, it would start at the license plate and work outward toward the edge like a rolling flashing neon light. There were four distinctive lights that would come on one after another and then it would repeat.
When my left turn signal stopped working the independent mechanic who had been working on my car said he couldn’t do it and sent me to the nearest dealership, Frank Andrews Lincoln Mercury in Roseville. It was there a mechanic told me there were five relays on each side — including one for the brakes — and there was a short somewhere. The only way at the time to find which one it was — this was in the Dark Ages before all the fancy diagnostic equipment — was to replace them one at a time.
If it ended up being the last one it could cost me $800 or I could have them replace all of them with just one turn signal relay but I’d lose the sequence turning effect but it would be half the price. I rolled the dice. As luck would have it, they found the right one on the first try setting me back just under $200.
Probably the most enduring reason I would never buy a 1967 Cougar again had to do with my going from 190 pounds when I bought it to 240 pounds and climbing when I sold it.
To say the Cougar was close to the ground was an understatement. It made low riders look like 4-wheel drive monster trucks. Getting in and out of the Cougar was about as easy as stepping in and out of the Gemini space capsule. Passengers in the back seat hated it even more. The Cougar door was about twice the weight as the Mustang requiring a rear seat rider to do a combination squat and bench press to get in and out.
That said, it was a pretty ride.
Fortunately I got over my aversion to Fords.
This week marks 10 years and six months since I bought my 2006 Ford Escape hybrid from Manteca Ford. Except for one, it is by far the best vehicle I’ve ever owned and that includes Volvos, Firebirds, Grand Prix and such. The one vehicle it doesn’t top was the graphite grey 1980 Datsun 280ZX two-seater with T-top and plush grey leather seats. But in fairness to Ford, I’d take the Escape any day. Both are fun to drive and extremely dependable. The Escape, though, is much more practical.
And after watching the odometer turn 100,000 miles last week, it feels like I’ve just broken it in.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 209.249.3519.