Modified Mustangs & Fords Editor's ChoiceSteve Hornbaker's'69 Cougar EliminatorWilliamsport, MDThe year 1969 was hot for the Mercury Cougar. A fresh face lift gave the Cat a long, sculptured look, with new hideaway headlights and the new Eliminator model. The Cougar Eliminator started out as nothing more than a name Dyno Don Nicholson put on his Cougar funny car. Later, the Mercury division built an Eliminator show car to test consumer demand and to pump up Cougar's cooling sales. The Eliminator came to be in the spring of 1969 with three available engines (initially) and four special colors. The top-of-the-line Cougar Eliminator was the R-code model, sporting a 428 Cobra Jet Ram Air. Jokingly rated at 335hp the CJ big-block handled all comers from the General to Ma Mopar, and others. That year saw 2,250 Eliminators produced, but the Eliminator only carried on one more year with a production of 2,267 units in 1970, after insurance costs, rising fuel concerns, and anti-pollution advocates made the term "muscle car" a bad thing to say in Detroit.
This Competition Orange example belongs to Steve Hornbaker. He purchased the rare Cat from its last owner in 1999. Listed in Hemmings, Steve saw the ad for the CJ-powered, Drag Pack-optioned Eliminator in Chicago and promptly sealed the deal for the Cougar he had wanted since his high school days. Steve drove the Eliminator for a few years while searching high and low for some of the missing Eliminator-specific parts for the car. As Steve tells us, "The car looked good from 20 feet, but it had issues. The 428 was tired--smoking and overheating to the point of embarrassment. So in the spring of '05 I parked the car."
Steve's good friend Mike Kline, the owner of Rockhill Restoration, took on the job of bringing his Eliminator back to life. "Along with Mike being a hell of a body and paint guy, he is a historian when it come these cars. So it was a win/win for me," Steve added. After more than 900 hours of restoration, paint, and detailing work (and a detailed 428 built by Rick Kelbaugh), the Competition Orange Cat was once again ready for the road. Steve mostly trailers the car to events now, looking for the next trophy to add to his quickly growing collection of awards. "There are three other owners of Drag Pack Eliminators in a 20-mile radius of me, and we are all friends now because of these cars." Isn't that what our hobby is all about?