The December 2018 Ride of the Month is Gene Whitson's Grecian Gold '68 XR-7

The December 2018 Ride of the Month is Gene Whitson’s Grecian Gold '68 XR-7

The Golden Touch

After a sold out concert and a night of hard partying, Jimi Hendrix had an epic hang over. It was February 13th 1968, and he was about to speak to a bunch of high school kids. Playing guitar in front of thousands never felt this frightening. He had dropped out of Seattle’s Garfield High not that long ago and now he felt like the same insecure high schooler as he walked the halls of Garfield High towards a special pep rally. The Garfield High student body was mostly black kids from the Central District and they were far more familiar with Motown and pop than FM oriented hard rock. Fortunately Pat O’Day, Mr. “KJR Seattle, Channel 95” was there to introduce him. “Standing before you today is a man who may soon surpass the Beatles in popularity!” This they understood, and responded with wild cheering and applause; one of their own, bigger than the Beatles! Jimi was supposed to collect an honorary diploma but somehow left the building without it.

Jimi Hendrix with Seattle DJ Pat O’Day at Garfield High.

About 10 miles north up Interstate 5, at Olympic Mercury, they were taking delivery of a new '68 Cougar XR-7. It had taken long enough to get it. The new Grecian Gold Cougar had been ordered for stock back in November. With a black vinyl top and black interior it was a striking car. The XR-7 was very well equipped before you checked any of the boxes. By adding the C4 automatic transmission, Sports Console, Power Steering and Power Front Disc Brakes, the package was almost irresistible. It took less than 10 days for the golden Cougar to find it’s first home; a Seattle area lawyer purchased the Cougar as a gift for his girl friend.

In 1968 Gene Whitson was 4 years old. For as far back as he can remember, his family owned an automatic equipped Grecian Gold 1968 Standard Cougar. They had bought it new, and Gene literally grew up riding in that car. Gene tells us: “My dad had kept the dealer brochure for the ’68 Cougar and I can remember reading it cover to cover over and over again, years before I could drive, and wishing my parents had bought the GT-E! As a young child, and through to my pre-teen years, I also liked American muscle cars of all kinds. I think that’s because my dad liked them, and my uncle liked (and owned) them, my cousins liked them, and my older sister’s boyfriends drove them.”

Eventually the Cougar would become his first car. “Once I got my driver’s license at 15 years old, in 1979, my parents let me have the Cougar in exchange for $200 my mom was short for her college tuition. Prior to getting my driver’s license, I had made money by mowing lawns. After got my driver’s license, I started working at rental car places by the airport. In my capacity as car washer and shuttle driver, I got to drive a lot of cool cars, including Corvettes, a 1967 Mustang Shelby GT500, and even a DeLorean.”

This is a Standard '68 Cougar. The big difference between Standard and XR-7 is on the inside.

“Within six months of getting the Cougar as my own, I had it repainted a medium-dark blue with white pinstripes at Maaco for $600. We live in Albuquerque, and the original Grecian Gold had been oxidized badly by the brutal sun here. As things broke on my Cougar, my dad was always there to help with the work (I had to pay for the parts), as he was when I wanted a killer stereo in it. One of my two best friends had a 1969 Ford Bronco that was a lot of fun offroad and he also put a killer stereo in it. Every weekend night, me and my two best friends (and whoever our dates or guests were) would get beer from whoever we could (my older sister’s boyfriend, her friend’s boyfriend, one of my best friend’s older brother, etc.), go north of the developed areas, into what we had called “the mesa,” made bonfires, drank beer, and jammed to hard rock music. In sum, my high school and college years were all about friends, cars, drinking, and rock and roll. Oh, yeah, there was school, too, of course.”

If you look closely you can tell that these two pictures are from almost the same spot… The grass is long gone in favor of water saving zeriscaping, but the houses in the background tell the story.

After graduating from college, Gene’s Cougar would take him from Albuquerque, through southern California, and then up the coast to Seattle to start his first real job as an engineer for The Boeing Company. It would be the beginning for Gene, but also mark the end for the Cougar. Gene tells the story; “The car, and engine, had about 120,000 miles on it, and starting in Oregon, it started missing badly. It seemed to help if I got out and rotated the distributor one way or the other until it idled as smooth as it would. I had to do that every one or two hours the whole last day of the trip. Needless to say, I didn’t think it would be reliable enough to get me to my first REAL job, so I immediately traded it in for a 1985 Merkur XR4Ti. It was fun but it only lasted me a few years before the coolant system failed and the engine seized up. My vehicles since then were a 1990 F-150, a 1996 Thunderbird, a 2011 Mustang, a 2013 Mustang GT, and a 2016 Mustang Shelby GT350. I still have the 2013 Mustang GT and 2016 Mustang Shelby GT350.”

Our first cars tend to have a hold on us, and Gene was no different. “After getting my dream car, the 2016 Shelby GT350, I decided to indulge my nostalgia for my first car. When I started thinking about maybe buying another ’68 Cougar, I found West Coast Classic Cougar on YouTube and subscribed to their channel. When WCCC posted their auction video of the subject car, I was blown away by how good a condition it was in. As you may know, Don did a 43-minute walk around (and under) video, and I started thinking I’d like to have it, and I wouldn’t really have to do anything to it, which is a plus since I recently moved back in with my elderly parents to help take care of them. I played the video for my parents and my mom was very excited about it also since it was the same color that she had picked out in 1968. Unfortunately, my dad had a stroke 15 years ago and now also has dementia/Alzheimer’s and so I wasn’t surprised that his biggest concern was where I was going to park it. Dementia/Alzheimer’s patients just don’t like change of any kind.”
As the pictures tell the story, this is one Cougar that really did appear to need nothing. Of course experience tells us that at best this is a temporary condition and Genes Cougar was no different. “I just took delivery of the subject car in late July of this year and then had recurring problems with the power steering high pressure hose breaking (three times!)” A bit of a transmission refresh was also in order. Thanks to The Old Car Garage for the power steering work and Dr. J’s Auto Clinic for the Transmission rebuild.

We aren’t the only ones impressed with Gene’s Cougar. “I have shown it at two multi-marque car shows and people did find it unusual, in a good way, that I had the Cougar. At one show, that had more than 150 cars, mine was the only Cougar. I had parked right next to a 1968 Mustang and it was interesting to watch the people go by, some of whom paid no attention to either car, some of whom paid a lot of attention to the Mustang but not the Cougar, and some of whom paid a lot of attention to the Cougar but not the Mustang. BTW, the 1968 Mustang won Best 60’s Original/Restored and my Cougar won runner up. The class had a couple dozen entries. There was only one judge and I can only figure he was a Mustang guy because the Mustang was a 6 and the owner (a very nice guy) didn’t even have the hood up, while mine, right next to it, had the hood up over my very original and beautiful engine bay (with a V8).”

Gene sums things up in a wonderful way; “I have so many memories in my first ’68 Cougar that owning and driving another one helps bring back those memories. And, as a bonus, it also helps me meet a lot of other classic car enthusiasts. I drive it a lot around Albuquerque, either on errands or just to drive it, and I really enjoy people’s reactions. Some don’t even seem to notice but others get a real kick out of it. I rarely take a drive in it where someone doesn’t compliment it/me. I’ve even had more than one person follow me to my destination just so they could talk to me about it and take a picture of it.”

in 1967 my uncle, on my mom’s side, bought a new Jamaican Yellow 1967 Standard Cougar with 4-speed manual transmission. He sold it, though, after just a few years because he had twin daughters. He still loves ’67-’68 Cougars and he went to the 2018 WCCC Open House with me (he lives in Medford, OR). He can’t afford to buy another one, but my dream is to be able to buy him another Jamaican Yellow Cougar. So, if you see one for sale that doesn’t need a lot of work, please let me know."

“My dream, and goal, in retirement, is to buy and own every 1968 model year American muscle car and pony car. Right now, there are 26 models on my list. It’s a big goal, but I like to think big and right now I’m on track to retire at 62 years old with enough money to do just that.”

We all wish Gene the best of luck in achieving his goal, and hope that he has several more Cougars on his list!


Great story. I even met Pat O"day several times as a kid. But that is only a side bar to this great Cougar owners story.

Congratulations. That’s a pretty lofty goal, but I like it. Better get started on a building to keep them in!

Congratulations. Beautiful car!

Great story, glad to see that you’re still living the dream.

Congrats – nice write up and a beautiful Cougar! :sunglasses:

Very Nice Cougar, Congrats on ROTM.

Congrats! Great story and a beautiful car!

Congrats! Great story and beautiful car!

So glad you ended up with this car. We have a prize for you! Mention it on your next order and we will include it for free.

Did you get your free calendar yet? Since you are featured you are entitled.

Congratulations Gene!!! Beautiful Cougar and great story. I like the GT350 too.

I absolutely love this car I first saw it when it was on bring a trailer, I hope my can look remotely that good someday…

Update: I bought another Cougar, a 1968 Saxony standard with 4-speed manual transmission:

I like everything about that one except for the green carpet. Does it look better in person?

The green carpet? LOL, no, it doesn’t look any better in person. I’m quite happy with the car overall, though, and the price I got it for. Being a true survivor, however, it needs plenty of maintenance (e.g., all suspension bushings, rear axle main seal, brake system) and minor restorations (e.g., all the emblem backgrounds have faded, grommets on fuel tank door are missing, passenger side mirror doesn’t match driver side mirror). My cousin and I drove it all the way from Phoenix to Medford, OR to deliver it to my uncle, who once had a Jamaican Yellow 3-speed manual 1967 standard and has missed it badly in the years after he sold it. I’m letting him drive it for as long as he can. I’m happy to say he loves it and really appreciates it. And he actually likes the green carpet! He and his wife have green carpet in their house. We drove from Medford up to Salem to WCCC to sell Don the removed engine bay parts but after he saw it and drove it he advised me to keep all of them and restore the engine bay. He really likes this car and told us it has the chance to really appreciate in value over the next 10 years since it is a relatively rare 4-speed and is probably a one-of-one since it also has a 289, no bumper guards, no rocker panel moldings, no power steering, no power brakes, no air conditioning, and even no radio. I ordered a Marti Personalized Statistics Report to confirm this but haven’t received it yet. Don also pointed out other items that either are not original (e.g., the rear view mirror) or need restored (e.g., the emblem backgrounds). So, from our long road trip in the Cougar, Don’s brief inspection, and the local (Medford) Ford Dealer’s inspection of the underside, we have a list of 34 items that require maintenance or restoration. I’m having seven or eight safety-related items taken care of now at the Ford dealer in Medford. Anyway, it will make my uncle happy for the next handful or so of years and then it will make me happy in the future.

I received the Marti Personalized Statistics Report for my “new” Saxony Cougar and it is, indeed, a one of one even without considering the radio option:

At the end of Bill’s write-up, he states “We all wish Gene the best of luck in achieving his goal, and hope that he has several more Cougars on his list!”

Well, so far I’ve bought two more cougars. The latest is a Cardinal Red 1967: I should be receiving it in about a week.

That was a great buy!