Wayne Cook
September 5, 2007
Photos By: Jim Smart

This '68 Mercury Cougar XR-7 belongs to Gina and Jack Manchester of East Carlson, Utah. Shortly after marrying in September 1966, the Manchesters saw a brand-new '67 Cougar while visiting Jack's brother at his home in Eagle Mountain, California. It was then that Gina first fell in love with the distinctive design of the first edition of the Mercury Cougar.

Fast forward 31 years to 1997. That's when the Manchester family came across the car you see here.

Having missed out on a chance to buy this Cougar several years earlier, they were bound and determined the Mercury wouldn't escape their grasp a second time. When they contacted the owner, they were told that an offer of $1,100 had been placed on the car, which had both the XR-7 and GT options, meaning a big-block engine and front disc brakes. The family countered saying they could send someone pronto with $1,200 in cash. That did the deal. One of the clan went over to retrieve the vehicle and try out the acceleration provided by the 390ci FE V-8 on the way home.

Once the car was theirs, there were many planning discussions. There have been other project cars from the musclecar years in the Manchester garage, including a '67 Mustang and several GTOs. Hours were spent pouring through catalogs from such places as Auto Krafters, The Paddock, National Parts Depot, Highway Classics, and Ken's Cougars. The family decided on a comprehensive refurbishment. They also decided this car would be Gina's ride since hubby already had a newer WS6 Firebird to play with.

Looking over the numerous catalogs gave them a feel for the Cougar restoration landscape, and they discovered there was plenty of help available. They ordered the desired parts, and the car was at last taken to the shop where it would reside for the length of the restoration.

First the engine was pulled and completely disassembled. Engine components like the block and heads were sent out to the machine shop where everything was hot tanked and cleaned up. During the machine work, close attention was paid to the block, crank, and cylinder heads. These days, finding an FE block without a defect can be a problem, and the Manchesters were lucky the Cougar had one that required only a 0.030 overbore to return it to service.

To begin the rest of the project, "everything on the car that could be removed was removed." The whole body shell was cleaned, and the small amount of bodywork needed was completed. Upgrades included a front spoiler, a rear wing spoiler, and a Cougar Eliminator-type hoodscoop.

The original green hue was replaced by PPG two-stage black paint. Stacy of Ray's Paint and Body in Price, Utah, laid down the paint with flawless results. When the paint and bodywork were complete, the engine was reinstalled along with the recently freshened C6 automatic.

With the drivetrain in place, work began on assembling the outside of the car. This meant new rocker moldings as well as emblems. Side marker lights from a '69 Cougar were installed along with bumpers and pinstriping.

The interior of the Cougar was completely gone over, starting with a new headliner. Next, reupholstered deluxe bucket seats from a '70 Mustang were installed. The extra-nice custom console was made by the Manchesters' uncle and incorporates the stock ashtray, light fixture, and shifter plate. A Grant steering wheel adorns the column.

Originally intended for fun on the show-and-shine circuit and for cruise-night outings, the Manchesters realized that if they hustled, they might just complete the Cougar in time to join the '99 HOT ROD Power Tour. Sure enough, things on the Mercury were squared away by Mother's Day 1999, just five days before they joined the Power Tour in Flagstaff, Arizona.

They ended up driving the car for a 4,300-mile shakedown cruise, and report that the Cat performed admirably. Other than a leaky fuel pump, a temperamental distributor, and a blown exhaust-manifold gasket, everything went fine, and they had a splendid time. This just goes to show that when you put your time and effort into fixing up a classic Ford or Mercury, the result will be a cool-looking vehicle that's good to go.

This is one of our favorite engines of all time. Often referred to as the Thunderbird V-8, the 390 was a torque monster of an engine that was purposely underrated at 335 hp. The red cylinder block and chromed Power by Ford valve covers give this FE a factory custom look that is bad to the bone.

What's an XR-7?
For the '68 Cougar, there were two optional trim packages available: the XR-7 and the GT. These packages could be ordered together or as individual options. The XR-7 package included a wood-rim steering wheel and black-face gauges in a simulated-walnut dash. There was also an overhead console and special vinyl and leather upholstery on the seats. A leather-covered T-shift handle was included with automatic transmission. The GT option was more than a trim package as it included both the 390 engine and front disc brakes. While the 390 was the top-dog engine for 1967, the 428 became available in 1968.

A few 427-powered cars were also produced and were known as GT-Es. Also part of the GT package were a firmer suspension with heavier shocks and a thicker antisway bar. The GT cars had Wide Oval tires and a low-restriction exhaust system.

One other limited-production package available for 1968 only was the XR-7G. The G stood for Gurney, as in Dan Gurney, who was driving for the Mercury camp in 1968. The XR-7G included racing mirrors, hood pins, driving lights, and a fiberglass hoodscoop. A sunroof was part of the package, as was quad-tipped exhaust and special wheels and tires.

The Details
1968 Mercury Cougar XR-7 GT
Owner: Gina and Jack Manchester, East Carlson, Utah

390ci FE
Cast crankshaft and rods
Bored 0.030-in oversize
Sealed Power pistons
Sealed Power chrome-moly rings
Compression ratio of 10.5:1
Edelbrock 600-cfm carburetor
Chrome-plated Power by Ford valve covers
Comp Cams 292H camshaft
Mallory Unilite ignition

C6 three-speed automatic
B&M 2,500 stall 11-inch Street Fighter torque converter

3.00 gears

2-1/2-inch exhaust system
23-inch Cherry Bomb mufflers

Front: Stock
Rear: Stock

Front: Stock
Rear: Stock

Front: American Racing 200S Daisy, 15x7
Rear: American Racing 200S Daisy, 15x7

Front: Mastercraft, P225/60R14
Rear: Mastercraft, P225/60R14

Auto Custom carpet, Grant steering wheel, Mustang bucket seats, custom Console

Ray's Paint and Body of Price, Utah, completed all bodywork and installed an Eliminator hoodscoop and both front and rear spoilers

Photo Gallery

View Photo Gallery