When did cars start seemingly coming only in white. black, gray and silver? In 1969 it was a far more colorful world when Cougars came in 18 different standard colors plus over 700 in custom ordered shades. Ted Taylor’s white over Dark Aqua '69 XR-7 convertible reminds of what we are missing.
History is really a time-line made up of before and after: a series of tipping points that serve to mark chapters. On the personal scale the changes are best seen looking backwards: the day you got your first bike, the day you got your drivers license, the day you graduated or got married or drafted or started your first real job. On the national scale we all know the dates; August 6th 1945, the bomb is dropped on HIroshima, July 20th 1969; the moon landing, September 11th 2001. We all know the dates. The common theme throughout is that things would never be the same going forward. But not all of these turning points are burned into our memory, some of the most important slip past us with no notice at all.
They called it the Mother of all Demos. It happened on December 9th 1968 at the Association for Computing Machinery / Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. (ACM/IEEE) Fall Joint Computer Conference. Over the course of 90 minutes Douglas Engelbert would layout virtually every aspect of modern personal computing. Windows, hypertext, graphics, navigation, command input, word processing, dynamic file linking, and even the computer mouse and video conferencing. From that day forward nothing would be the same. Until that point computers were massive machines kept in special climate controlled rooms. Instead of being as big or bigger than your desk, they would one day sit on your desk, or even in your hand.
A short introduction
The Complete Mother of all Demo’s
Before the computer electrical engineering was mostly about heat and light, with radio and TV as an interesting sideline. Early computers could store a lot of information and retrieve it and then calculate lots of statistics, but they had yet to become problem solvers. The moon landing math was done primarily on slide rules. All of that was about to change. Computers would not only accelerate product design they would become embedded in almost every product.
Before 1969 the Cougar, and most Fords, were almost entirely the province of mechanical engineering. Even the electrical parts were mostly the product of mechanical engineering. In 1968 the only transistorized part in the standard Cougar was in the optional radio. The trademark sequential signals would break new ground in 1969 they would operate using electrical logic, instead of a mechanical system. The electro-mechanical era was coming to an end. From 1969 on the electrical content of new cars would grow exponentially.
1968 electro-mechanical sequencer
1969 solid state sequencer
But this about cars, Cougars to be more precise, and December 9th 1968 was also the day that the Dearborn plant finally built the A7 Western Canada Region District Sales Order number 1383. It was about time. The order had been placed back in October, the 16th to be exact, by Ritchie Motors of North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. We can only imagine that they had expect this Cougar XR-7 convertible to be delivered before winter really took hold, but that would not happen. The new Cougar would finally leave the factory gates on December 12. We can’t know for sure, maybe it was the mid-winter arrival, but the new Cougar would not be sold for more than a year, finally finding it’s first home in January of 1970.
Order number 1383 was a convertible, ordered for stock. The new Cougar convertible was a terrific show room draw. The first two years of Cougar production did not include a convertible model. And this was during a time when virtually every vehicle on the market was sold as soft top even big full-size boats had convertible options, so it was unusual that a ragtop Cougar wasn’t available. When the new for 1969 Cougar convertible finally became available 9820 convertibles rolled out of the factory, nearly 10% of total production. The convertible option was pricey, adding $299 to the sticker for the standard Cougar and $280 for the XR-7, nearly a 10% premium Never the less, almost 17% of Cougar XR-7s were built as soft tops. The enthusiasm would not last, the next year convertible production would drop by more than half.
1969 would mark the turning point for convertibles. Only the threat that the government would no longer allow convertibles in 1974 was able to produce a slight up-tick in convertible sales in 1973. Close another chapter.
If we define a really successful engine family as selling a lot of units, then the FE is going to be the engine to beat. If we also factor in success at the race track, nothing else even comes close. Developed in 1958 as the go to engine for the Ford product line the FE was more compact than the MEL series that was destined to power the big Mercury, Edsel, and Lincoln products. While the first production engine to make 400 advertised HP was the big 430 cubic inch MEL, it was the FE that was doing the winning at the track, and pretty much every type of track.
Starting out at a modest 332 cubic inches, by 1961 it had grown to 390 cubic inches rated at 401 horsepower with three two-barrels carbs. One year later it would grow again to 406 cubic inches and get cross-bolted main bearing caps. It would grow again in 1963 to 427 cubic inches. The 427 bore was so large that even a slight shift of the core during casting made it difficult and expensive to built. A smaller bore with a longer stroke created the 428 a less expensive alternative that with the addition of better heads, intake, and exhaust, became the 428 Cobra Jet.
By far the 390 was the most popular of the FE engines. It was built in 19 different specifications across a broad range of compression ratios, solid-lifter and hydraulic-lifter cams, and carburetor configurations. However, after just 8 years it was on the way out.
The baddest of the bad, the Thunderbird 390 3 x 2V
When Ford designed the chassis that underpinned the new for 1967 Mustang and Cougar it was designed to let the massive 390 fit under the hood. Perhaps to underline the point, the very first Cougar built, and the majority of the special show units, all featured the 390 under the hood. It would be the standard engine in the Cougar GT and was available in all Cougar models. In late 1968 the 428 Cobra Jet, by virtue of having the same FE based external dimensions first appeared in the Cougar.
In 1969 the venerable 390, and the new 428CJ were both available in the Cougar. But the handwriting was on the wall, it would the final year for the 390. Only 3055 examples. approximately 3% of all Cougar production, were built. The 428CJ would last one more year. By 1971 the mighty 390 would only find its way into a few fleet ordered full sized Fords and Mercurys. The FE era had come to an end.
Regular people, that is people that don’t understand our fascination with Cougars and old cars in general do not understand that these cars are living history. They mark the turning point from typewriters and mimeograph machines to word processors and laser printers. They take us back to when music was on flat vinyl or on tape. This is as good as got before all of the rules were changed. When you see people smiling when you drive by in your old Cougar they are remembering the way we were before we reached the tipping point.
Very few people bring as much passion to the Cougar hobby as Ted Taylor. Ted is 60, married, two kids and two grand-kids. He owns his own business. Nothing there that would give you a clue, but you know his story because for so many of us, it is our story too.
It started like this: “As a kid my family, and extended family, all drove boring sedans, except my Great Aunt Annabel who drove a 1968 302 deluxe Cougar, white with a black top and red pin stripes. I though it was so cool. Then as I started to drive, I wanted a Cougar and had my sights on a 1968 XR7 with a big block. That wasn’t to be, and I learned to drive in my Dad’s 1972 Capri. Several years later Aunt Annabel stopped driving and I was able to buy her 1968 Cougar, a car I still have today. This car started my love for Mercury Cougars.”
There are some who would say Ted has a Cougar problem. Once you have owned one… you want to own all of them. Sound familiar? Ted explains: “Over the years I’ve had many nice cars as daily drivers and I’ve continued to own, fix up and sell several classic cars. Currently I have a 1951 Chevy Styleline Deluxe that I did a concours level restoration on in the 90’s, a 1970 Cougar 429/5spd, and the previously mentioned 1968 Cougar which I completed a concours restoration on in 2015, It was the cover car in Legendary Cougar (Vol.3, Issue 1)”
So what do you do when you already own two of the most beautiful Cougars out there? You buy another one. “About 2 years ago, I decided I wanted another Cougar, and what was missing was a convertible. So I started looking for a 69 or 70. I had two requirements. First it needed to be an XR7, and second not a big project. After looking at several possible candidates and coming close to a deal on a 1970, last year another club member connected me with a well known and respected Cougar collector that might have a '69 Cougar convertible that would suit my needs. We spoke, and traded photos. I then realized that it was a car I had seen and photographed several years earlier.”
“What attracted the car to me was the color combo, Dark Aqua metallic with a white top, and a two tone interior in dark aqua and white. What made it even more special what that it is a 390 S-Code with a 4 speed. I made the 8 hour drive up to inspect the car and made a deal. A couple weeks later I went back with a trailer and brought it home.”
“It had been partially restored by another well known Cougar collector several years ago in western Canada, going though a couple other collectors coming into the states in 2014. The car presented really well with nice paint and interior. Having not being driven much, it was in mechanical disrepair, nothing terrible, it just needed some attention.”
“The previous owner who restored it desired the car to be a bit different from how it was originally built. Originally a 390/C6 car, he decided to make it a 4 speed manual and sourced a period correct transmission and the other necessary Ford OEM parts to make the change. He also took the liberty, while the car was apart to add power windows, the unique Comfort Stream heater, Am-8 Track stereo, and correct styled steel wheels. All done correctly with original Ford OEM parts.”
If you are familiar with Ted’s cars the phrase “to a high standard” comes to mind. In no time at all Ted was bringing out the best from the new convertible: “Cosmetically the car was quite good. So far, I’ve replaced the top, installed a new set of period correct white wall tires, and gave it a good detail in and out. Mechanically it need quite a bit of attention to make it a good driver. It had carb problems, I first tried rebuilding the AutoLite 4300 that it came with it, then I changed to a Holley 3795 (from a 1968 S-Code), the top loader four speed synchros were bad, so a rebuild was in order. I had to go through the brake system completely, master cylinder, brake cylinders, new lines and such. It also needed rear springs and bushings, and new shocks all the way around.”
“But I’m not done yet, when previously restored they didn’t detail the engine compartment, why I don’t know. So that needs to be done and the complete grill assembly is not as good as the rest of the car so I will need to address that as well.” We can be confident it will be perfect as usual.
Ted’s Cougar represents several turning points. It marks the end of automobiles designed mostly by hand and operated mostly by mechanical systems, the beginning of the end for convertibles, the final year of the 390. We are at another turning point. Will we be nostalgic about how it used to be?
A note of apology. Ted got me the materials for this very promptly. As expected he did a magnificent job. The delay is entirely my fault. I became somewhat obsessed over the virus as I received a container shipment from China right as things started to get crazy. I accidentally cut my finger while cutting the shrink wrap off a pallet. If was a minor cut in fact I didn’t notice it until I realized i was leaving little red spots on everything I touched… I developed laryngitis, that had me coughing a lot. Amazing how you can clear out an aisle in the grocery store with a minor cough. Anyway I am fine but it got my attention. Then we lost power at the house for 14 hours and had to replace most of the refrigerated groceries, then the septic tank backed up into the house and for some strange reason it caused the drain on the kitchen sink to clog just outside the reach of my pipe snake. As of this morning the septic tank has been pumped out and the sink is draining again. I figure that if the virus doesn’t get me the plumbing nastiness will. In the mean time I think I am going to turn off the TV and try to get some Cougar therapy.