Mark Houlahan
Brand Manager, Mustang Monthly
April 15, 2011
Photos By: Tracy Stocker

Dan Heller is no stranger to fast Fords. He grew up in El Paso, Illinois, where his father owned a Ford dealership--he's been around some serious sheetmetal over the years. Dan started working at his dad's Ford store when he was just 12 years old; sweeping floors and running for parts. Thirty-nine years later, he owns the store now and has several family members in the business as well. Dan is still around serious Fords though, owning an '06 Heritage Edition Ford GT supercar (to say we're jealous would be an understatement), as well as a small collection of classics like a '57 T-bird, a '63-1/2 Falcon Sprint, a '66 Mustang GT K-code fastback, and others. But there's one thing Dan's never owned over the years, and that was a classic Ford powered by a 428 Cobra Jet.

"I always wanted a Mustang or a Cougar with a 428CJ in it," Dan tells us. His love for fast Fords that would put anything Chevrolet had back on the trailer come race day is well known amongst family, friends, and business associates, which is why Dan got the call on the Cougar you see here.

Monte Nicholes, a technical engineer for Ford, came across the Cougar and instantly got on the phone to Dan about the car. "It took no time and very little thought. This car had to be purchased and put into a restoration," Dan stated. The Cougar was all there with no rust, but it had been sitting for many years. The interior was sun faded and starting to deteriorate. There were small dents and scrapes--battle wounds from years of driving--but otherwise it was stock and very restorable. With the Cougar's keys in Dan's hands, it was time to decide what direction to go with the Cougar's restoration. After hearing good things from friends about Rich Rinke's Turn Key Restorations in Oxford, Michigan (www.rinketurnkey.com), Dan looked to Rich for a plan to make the car look brand-new. Turn Key specializes in Pure Stock and F.A.S.T. (Factory Appearing Stock Tires) drag cars, and that was fine by Dan. Of course, who wouldn't turn down a concours look that can hang tough at the dragstrip too?

"This was my first project with Turn Key. It was a two-year concours restoration and they did a really great job," Dan said. Rich Rinke, in a previous life, was an engineer on SVT vehicles for Ford. Turn Key specializes in high-end restorations, but it pays a lot of attention to driveability because of its background. Built to NHRA Pure Stock specs by using the original carb, exhaust manifolds, and intake, the engine was then upgraded with steel connecting rods and forged pistons that meet NHRA specs. Dan Jensen, one of the primary organizers of the Pure Stock Drags built the engine for the project. The cam is a custom grind based off of the stock specs, but the grinder had a few tricks to make it a little better than what the specs would belie. Holley Carb shop rebuilt the stock 730-cfm Holley carb, while a Pertronix ignition sits inside the factory distributor.

Backing the Cobra Jet is the original C6 trans with a stock valvebody and torque converter feeding a 3.91-geared 9-inch rearend. QC Coatings handled the high-temp coating on the exhaust manifolds, while a TIG-welded 304 stainless steel and mandrel-bent 2-1/2-inch exhaust with MagnaFlow mufflers gets the fumes out the back in short order. Like many F.A.S.T. and Pure Stock cars, it's the little things--the tweaks here and there--that turn a good e.t. while staying within the margins of the rule book. On the stock polyglass tires the Cougar ran 12s right out of the box on its first shot at the dragstrip.

The interior is nearly all original to the Cougar except for the carpet. The Cougar logo on the walnut shifter was missing, but one was sourced from Ken's Cougars, which was very helpful in the restoration. An aftermarket Custom Autosound stereo was added for some light cruising tunes and to hear lane calls over the FM signal most racetracks have. The Cougar also sports factory A/C.

"Cougar parts are about twice as much as Mustang parts. We went though great pains to find N.O.S. components to meet the restoration standards," Dan stated. "Absolutely everything works on the car, and the doors close like a brand-new Lincoln," Dan further commented. Dan thanks Norm Fugate, an engineer and 37-year ride and handling guy, who is really particular about specifications and NVH (noise, vibration, and harshness) for such matters.

Dan's quest for fast Fords certainly hasn't been satiated by the Cougar, though. His current project is a '65 LTD two-door hardtop with a 390 and four-speed combination. "My dad sold the car brand-new. It's always been in our area and has had only two owners, and we were able to get it back. We installed the three deuces the day it was sold and they're still on the car," Dan told us. Sounds like another one destined to look right but go like stink, just the way Dan likes 'em.

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The Details
Dan Heller's '70 Mercury Cougar Eliminator

Engine

  • 428 Cobra Jet Q-code Ram-Air
  • Factory crank
  • Forged steel connecting rods
  • Forged aluminum pistons
  • Custom cam based on factory specifications
  • Factory cylinder heads
  • Factory intake manifold
  • Factory 730-cfm Holley carburetor rebuilt by Holley Carb Shop
  • Built by Dan Jensen to factory specifications

Transmission

  • Factory C6 Three-speed automatic
  • Stock valvebody
  • Stock torque converter

Rearend

  • Ford 9-inch housing
  • 3.91 gears

Exhaust

  • Factory manifolds
  • MagnaFlow mufflers
  • 2-1/2-inch stainless exhaust

Suspension

  • Front: Stock, tuned by Turn Key Restorations
  • Rear: Stock, tuned by Turn Key Restorations

Brakes

  • Front: Stock 11-inch disc, single-piston caliper
  • Rear: Stock 10-inch drum

Wheels

  • Front: Cougar Styled Steel, 14x6
  • Rear: Cougar Styled Steel, 14x6

Tires

  • Front: Goodyear Polyglas, F70-14
  • Rear: Goodyear Polyglas, F70-14

Interior

  • Stock black vinyl with houndstooth check pattern high-back front buckets, matching rear bench, full instrumentation, woodgrain shift knob, console, Custom Autosound stereo, air conditioning

Exterior

  • Competition Green (Eliminator-specific paint), blacked out grille, Eliminator stripe package, hoodscoop, rear wing, body color sport mirrors

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