Wayne Cook
March 1, 2004
Photos By: Jeff Ford

Charles and Lois Powell of Naples, Florida, knew deep down the factory had it right when it built this car. It's a '68 Mercury Cougar XR-7 GT. Besides being the full-house XR-7 and a GT, it's got the optional 335hp 390 engine and factory air-conditioning. So, when it came time to spend the money, they chose to make the Merc into a monument of its original glory. Why mess with perfection? This seems to be the theory behind this Cougar project, and we agree.

The rust-free cat was bought on consignment in California in 1988, and shipped directly to the Powell's Connecticut home. Charles and son David then set out to restore the body to showroom perfection. Except for one replaced quarter-panel, the body is completely original sheetmetal. It was stripped to the bare surface, and all parking-lot dings removed. The original Y-code Grecian Gold paint was applied, and all exterior trim was replaced with N.O.S. parts. Sporting a black vinyl top and factory styled steel wheels with OE-type rubber, the overall effect reminds us of an Olympic athlete in a business suit. It's muscled elegance.

Under the hood, the 390 engine has been completely rebuilt. Now displacing 406 ci and shining with original chrome valve covers, air-cleaner lid, and brake-master-cylinder cover, the combustion timing has been livened up a little using the 428 Cobra Jet cam. Equipped from the factory with a Holley four-barrel carb and dual exhaust, the FE engine was originally made to get this car moving in a hurry and, with the updated displacement and cam, it still does. Even so, it has all the factory emissions-control equipment in place and functioning properly. Working through a hardened C6 three-speed-automatic transmission, the motivation goes to a factory 9-inch axle with 2.75:1 open gears. Even with that freeway gear ratio, we're willing to bet this Cougar can come on plenty strong when the light turns green. We know from experience a quiet and good-running FE torque monster makes that easy.

The original interior is black XR-7 fare, with a full console and the factory premium AM/eight-track sound system with "quad sound." We like it, and the prospect of a nice air-conditioned environment, combined with the chance to roll out some of our old BTO eight-tracks, makes it an inviting choice for a big-time road trip. As a matter of fact, the Powells used to drive their cool cat. But, in 1999, it became a car-show-only love affair. The pampered kitty now travels on a trailer by appointment only. With a car this rare and clean, it's almost a crime to drive it, yet the temptation must be great.

If we owned this car we'd be subject to the constant temptation of hooking up those big cubic inches to an overdrive gearbox and hitting the highway. we'll bet Charles has to exercise considerable restraint to keep from firing up the Cougar for cruise night at the local drive-in.