If you were to make a bet, in 1967, about which would be around the longest, which would you pick:
Mercury, now growing faster then ever before in it’s history.
Stu Evans Lincoln Mercury humming along as the worlds top Mercury dealer for nearly two decades.
Or a new 1967 Cougar that just rolled into the showroom.
I doubt you would pick the car. What happened certainly defies the odds…
A simple twist of fate.
Stu Evans had hoped for greater things in life. 1945 brought the end to the war. . He was 37 years old, pumping gas and fixing cars at a gas station in Ecourse Michigan. It hadn’t always been this way. He had played 367 games in the National Hockey League. He played for the Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Maroons, and Montreal Canadiens. He even won the Stanley Cup in 1935 with the Montreal Maroons, but that had all come to an end in 1939. In those days professional sports were barely professional. They got paid but they certainly never got rich. He was still coaching young hockey players but that was more a hobby than a vocation. There had to be something better.
However, as it turned out, Stu was in the right place at the right time. Ecourse was just a stones throw from Ford headquarters and some how he had earned the attention of no less than Henry Ford II. Incredibly, HF II granted Stu Evans a franchise for a new Mercury dealership. The pent-up demand for new cars was a virtual guarantee of success.
The Mercury brand had been the brain child of HF II’s father, Edsel Ford. Edsel felt that the company needed a step in-between Ford and Lincoln. Launched in the fall of 1938 as 1939 models the new brand would feature its own distinctive styling atop a slightly stretched Ford chassis. The wheel base would be 4 inches longer, and the body a full six inches wider. But underneath beat the heart of the popular 85 HP Ford flathead V8. In the first year over 65,800 were sold. For 1941 the Mercury and Ford would share much more of the body work although the Mercury was still on a 4" longer wheel base. But almost as quickly as Mercury got started production came to an abrupt end in early 1942, as production shifted to support of the war effort. Many of the newly minted Mercury dealers would rapidly fail.
Once the war was over the auto manufactures made a mad dash to see who could get production going again. HF II had become the President of Ford in September of 1945 and he wasted no time combining Lincoln Motor Company and Mercury into the Lincoln / Mercury Division. His strategy was simple new dealers could thrive with the new mix of middle to high priced cars. And both Lincoln and Mercury would need lots of new dealers to keep up with GM and Chrysler.
On November 1st 1945 the 1946 Mercury Eights rolled off the line and virtually just down the street to Stu Evans new Lincoln Mercury dealership at 4688 West Jefferson. Evans proved his worth by rapidly moving his dealership to the top of the list. Soon he would rise to be the top selling Mercury dealership and stay there for several decades. By 1964 he had outgrown his original location and built a new dealership from the ground up at 32000 Ford Road in nearby Garden City Michigan.
The economical Comet had been a huge boon to sales but the newly introduced Mustang was setting the market on fire. A Mercury Mustang just couldn’t come fast enough. In September of 1966 their wishes would be granted: the Cougar would put Mercury dealers in the fast lane. The Cougar was a step up from the Mustang and the new Cougar XR-7 was a solid step above that. Almost a third of all Cougars built following the January introduction would be XR-7s.
Bill Blaylock had only been working for Ford for a few months. He had just completed his MBA at Columbia following earning his undergrad degree from Stanford. At the time, that was the hot ticket to great career at Ford, they were hiring every Columbia MBA they could find. And he was on the cutting edge of great new things: he was part of the new Computer Department. He could have had any Ford vehicle as a company car, had he been willing to wait just a little longer, but the powerful call of the Cougar XR-7 was just too much. Stu Evans had been promoting the new Cougars in the newspaper and April Fool’s day or not, on April 1st 1967, he found himself in the Stu Evans showroom signing the order for a new Cougar XR-7 GT.
Being the number one Mercury dealership in the world, and doing it virtual in the shadow of Ford World Headquarters, has it’s benefits. Bill Blaylock’s Cougar order was turned in on Monday April 3rd. It was serialized the next day, built on the 12th, and he was driving it the 14th!
This wasn’t just any Cougar, or even any XR-7. This cat was the ultimate Cougar for 1967, and it was loaded. Of course the GT Equipment Group leads things off putting the S code Marauder 390 4V under the hood. Behind it was the 4 speed top loader transmission connected to a 3.25 ratio Equa-Lok rear axle. Power steering, including the Tilt-Away steering wheel, made it easy to drive. F70-14 Wide Oval white wall tires with Wire Wheel Covers graced the corners. AM radio, tinted glass, and even shoulder harness seat belts rounded out the standard black leather bucket seat interior. Inverness Green with a black Oxford vinyl top continued the theme of understated elegance.
Blaylock didn’t waste any time before putting some miles on the Cougar. Home was Texas and he regularly made the drive, the Cougar never failing him; good thing gas was cheap! The Cougar suffered a few minor scars, the drivers door was hit in an A&W parking lot and subsequently reskinned and painted to match. Of course Michigan is famous for road salt and soon the lower body was starting to show minimal early signs of rust.
As a Ford exec, he qualified for a company car but the Cougar continued to be his favorite. The 390 four speed must have been a handful n the snow so maybe his company cars served to preserve the Cougar for better days. by 1972 the Cougar had only accumulated 46,000 miles but it needed some carburetor work. He put the car in storage and then shortly afterwards the troublesome carb was stolen. He decided to remove the wire wheel covers, putting them in the closet for safe keeping. Since he really didn’t need the car on a regular basis he just didn’t get “back to it”. So for the next 37 years the Cougar would be parked.
In 2009, Blaylock ended up selling the car to a small repair shop in northern Michigan that specialized in BMW Isettas and motorcycles. They refreshed the engine, the brakes, and the suspension, polished up the paint, and contemplated putting the car on EBay. This is where Brian Aust’s story begins.
Two cats are better than one
Brian’s fascination with Cougars began as a child, growing up in Southern Michigan. He tells us: “I always enjoyed the sequential turn signals and the incredibly beautiful lines of the First-Gen Cougars. In Michigan in the ‘70s, even when a car was barely 5 years old, if it was still clean and not rusting yet, it was something special to see. My parent’s were not able to afford these cars nor the space to have a classic.”
“It was in my mid 30s when I finally had my own place with space for a shop, and the financial means to finally buy my dream Cougar. That first purchase came after a conversation with Don Rush of West Coast Classic Cougar, who happened to live near me in Oregon. He said “get a rare one if you want a good investment, just in case you ever want to sell it”. So I bought a nearby XR7-G. Well, a few years later, I did in fact sell that car and have bought and sold a large handful of Cats ever since.”
“Upon getting REALLY excited about the future with these cars, I acquired a GT-E that was on EBay in the Winter of ’05-06’ and wanted to restore that car and get it to Barrett Jackson in Scottsdale some day. Another GT-E came onto my radar locally in the meantime, and that became my beloved “Blackie” that is one of the two Cougars I have today.”
“This Inverness Green GT was mentioned to me shortly after selling that first GT-E as I apparently had some extra cash burning a hole in my wallet and needed a quick replacement (I didn’t, haha). She was in very good, original condition. Especially the interior! It was like a time capsule. The steering wheel still sports its perfect faux wood grain, the chrome clad trim throughout is still almost perfect. There was some “surface wear” on all of the trim, bumpers and exterior. Especially on the lower body, as the rust had began to show itself in those early years driven in Michigan. There were a couple other dents and bruises but nothing that took away from the car overall. Other than these imperfections and a polishing that removed too much pin striping and wore through the paint in a few places, the Cougar was very presentable. The shop wanted to put the car on EBay to sell, but I knew it was such a rare car that I had to do whatever it took, offering more and more money, and they eventually let me ‘have’ her.”
“I enjoyed the originality of the car for a good 6 years. I worked away on many areas of the car in the meantime, doing much of that “brainless work” I enjoy like polishing and cleaning every groove and surface imaginable. Then I turned to mechanical issues cleaning and adjusting the brakes, and many parts of the front suspension and steering (much of which had been unfortunately covered in spray-can undercoating). The wiring and vacuum components were freshened up. I was constantly tweaking and cleaning in the engine bay. I used rust-converter on surface areas on the lower body that needed attention, but generally enjoyed leaving the paint alone and enjoying it’s originality and patina.”
“But after 6 years, all of the sudden, I began to really get the itch to bring the car’s paint to another level. I knew that the time would come to restore her, eventually, but I realized that I’m not getting any younger and thought “why not now?” So, in the Winter of ’17 it was time to take the plunge and start disassembling the GT.”
“With the help of friends, we yanked out the engine and transmission and started taking off trim and fixtures and windows. Through a local car club member, who happens to work in my office, I found a painter /body man who really loved the car and wanted to “do another Cougar”. He is a very patient man and I told him I had absolutely no timetable or deadline. I simply wanted to enjoy the process and get the car restored well and within a very reasonable budget.”
“So about a year later, Don the body man had done his magic. I farmed out the front grille assemblies, the rear taillight assemblies, and even all of the side windows for professional restoration. I replaced the clutch, refinished the engine and transmission, and all of the accessories. Upon getting the car back from the painter in spring of ’18 I still had much work to do, and parts to wait for. But 2018 was fun with all of these side projects to do and parts arriving. Many trips over to West Coast Classic Cougar were required. Their location just down the road from me was a tremendous asset for parts and advice and help of all kinds!”
“The interior of the car has always been my favorite part. The ‘67s were just so elegant and perfect out of the box. I love all of the real metal pieces; crank handles, rearview mirror mount, the steering wheel… I also think the whole package with the XR-7 interior plus the GT trim was unique in ’67. The original-designed badging and fenders (without marker lights and reflectors haphazardly added to all 4 corners in ’68) just looks perfect. This car, in particular, was so well preserved: its black leather interior didn’t see UV light for over 30 years. It really preserved it as a very nice, clean, time capsule. The vinyl top is also still original and perfect. (I chose to keep it on and intact, as they are about impossible to replicate perfectly). The tinted glass, windshield and back window are all still very clean and original. I also like the lack of A/C and smog equipment in the engine bay. It makes for a very nice clean look.”
The great news is that if you want to see Brian’s XR-7 GT there will be plenty of opportunities. Brian explains his plan for the future: “I’ve always been as involved with the Cougar Club of America as I can be. I’m also the President of our local Silverton Oregon “Flywheels Car Club” which keeps me plenty busy. I will be going to National and Regional Cougar events all the way through retirement and plan on using my tilt trailer and truck in my Golden Years. My wife Cindy and I also enjoy hosting the West Coast Classic Cougars semi-annual celebration with gatherings at our place for a BBQ and cruise-in/show as often as possible. Our place is always open for looking around in the shop and at our cars. And I welcome taking visitors for rides.”
Giving credit where it is due, Brian had this to say about the restoration of the Inverness Green cat: “West Coast Classic Cougar has always been a huge help with parts and advice, and Critter Creek Cougar Restoration supplied perfectly restored headlight and grill assemblies, vacuum components, and as well as helping me with the re-chroming of vent and quarter windows.”
“I absolutely love the Cougar Community. I have always enjoyed having the uniqueness and beauty of a Cougar and sharing it with like-minded people. Some of the very best friends, even if they’re only seen once in a couple of years or so, that I’ve ever earned, are Cougar people.”
“A 4 Speed XR-7 GT is one of those cars that just doesn’t pop up very often. In fact, for every one of them I’ve seen out there since I’ve owned her, there are at least 3-4 GT-Es. That’s one way I know that it’s a special car. It will be fun to get out there and show the car and share for many years to come!”
Bill Blaylock retired from Ford in the late 90’s. He and his wife were reunited with the Cougar in 2011. Sadly Bill’s wife has since passed away.
Stu Evans passed away in 1996 at the age of 88. Ownership of the business transferred to his grandson John Evans in 1993. As late as 2003 the dealership was still in the top five, but allegations of ineptitude and malfeasance were mounting up. John had purchased a $762,000 yacht, a drag racing team, and horse stables in Houston. In 2008 he filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The dealership emerged under new ownership as Metropolitan Lincoln Mercury and once again began to thrive until Ford announced the end of the Mercury brand in 2010. The dealership closed in 2011. The once great dealership location is now home to an LA Fitness franchise. The '67 XR-7 GT outlasted them all.