Eric English
October 1, 2005

Our childhood experiences set the tone for adult preferences in automobiles. Yours truly spent his formative years riding around in the back of a '65 Fairlane Ranch Wagon, yet from such humble beginnings was born an insatiable desire for all things Ford. Kind of surprising, considering the three-on-the-tree, 289-powered wagon was unremarkable in all respects.

Olympia, Washington's Karl Gehlhaar also spent his youth traveling within the confines of a Dearborn, Michigan, product. But his childhood Ford experience was something far more sporting than a slabsided Fairlane wagon. His youthful experiences were in the leather seats of his mom's '67 Cougar XR7-in fact, the very one you see across these pages.

Karl's connection with this Onyx Black cat began in 1969, when his parents purchased the two-year-old XR-7 as a lease return from Burien Motors. Total cost? A whopping $2,560.25. By Cougar standards, it was midlevel fare, with the standard 289-2V, C4 Select-Shift, substantive XR-7 package, and the Mercury styled steel wheels, which differed considerably from Ford Division's.

While not packing big power, the red pinstripes are a perfect complement to the solid black exterior, creating one of the most striking combinations we can imagine. The black topcoat looks better than ever thanks to the deft hands of Classy Chassis' Butch Kingery and the chemical properties of Dupont paint products.

Inside, the red leather XR-7 interior has been relieved of the evidence of Karl riding shotgun on the console, or doodling on the dash with a pencil-actions that make us cringe now, but seemed quite sensible to an eight-year-old boy. AAA Class Upholstery reupholstered the seats with the original leather, and stitched a custom steering-wheel cover from the same material. The Cougar XR-7 has always been a personal favorite, with its impact strongest inside. Check out the rich woodgrain, full instrumentation with the six-grand tachometer, an overhead console, and leather seats. It is all an integral part of the XR-7 package.

While the original 289-2V powerplant provided years of faithful service, Karl knew this would be one item that wouldn't remain stock. It would receive internal modifications, with a more powerful persona when the key was turned. Ford Powertrain Applications' Stan Johnson prepped a set of iron Ford Racing GT-40 cylinder heads. Karl assembled the bottom end once Performance Engine Development accomplished the machine work. A hydraulic roller cam from Comp Cams delivers crisp throttle response along with an Edelbrock 600-cfm carburetor and a Performer RPM intake manifold. Other goodies include Ford Racing roller rockers, ceramic-coated FPA headers, a Mallory ignition, and the 289 High Performance open-element air cleaner.

Karl swapped out the original 8-inch for a nodular iron 9-inch unit, Traction-Lok, and steep 4.11 gears. The unique part comes from the vintage Hone-O-Drive overdrive unit splined to the front of the 9-inch carrier. Acquired from fellow Cougar enthusiast, Jim Pinkerton, Karl tells us the overdrive is in the vicinity of 30 percent, effectively causing the 4.11s to act more like 2.80s with the flip of a switch on the open road.

Karl's Cougar includes a complete performance suspension from TMC Motorsports, along with four-wheel disc brakes. In front are factory four-piston Kelsey-Hayes disc brakes from John Benoit at Cascade Classics, along with a Stainless Steel Brakes rear disc package.

Karl's wife LaDonna and son Ian are solid supporters of his affection for classic cats. The Gehlhaars' Cougar is treated with the care and respect that's befitting such a life-long friend. It's long-term ownership stories like this one that we love to tell.