Mustang MonthlyFeatured Vehicles
Rare Pair of Cobra Jets: 1969 Mercury Cougar XR-7 Convertible & 1971 Ford Mustang Convertible
Reminders of Ford’s Total Performance Heritage
It was a fortuitous set of circumstances that brought me to a deserted road west of Calgary on a cold, gray September day. I was in Canada for a Ford new vehicle media preview, and while I was there I reconnected with Fred Philips, who 13 years ago outbid me on eBay for one of the two four-wheel-drive 1969 Rambler Americans that were raced by James Garner's American International Racers. Fred invited me to see his collection, which includes much AMC exotica: the first Vignale-built AMX prototype (the one with the Ramble Seat); Peter Revson's 1968 Javelin Trans-Am car; and the car that first connected us, the Garner AIR Rambler American that raced in the 1969 Baja 1000. But when I arrived at his hangar, he had a big surprise for me.
Fred had arranged for me to shoot four cars: his 1972 AMC Matador Machine; Geoff Shurrock's 1971 AMC Rebel Machine (coming together in a future issue of MCR); and a 1969 Mercury Cougar 428 Cobra Jet convertible and a companion 1971 Ford Mustang 429 Super Cobra Jet convertible, both owned by Calgary cardiologist Tim Prieur.
Upon arriving at the location where the opening spread was shot, I explained to everyone that I wanted to shoot both Cobra Jets together—in motion. I asked Geoff if I could climb in the trunk of his Rebel Machine. He gave me a look like he was thinking, Are you crazy, Rich? as I hunkered down in the trunk, adjusted the settings on my Nikon D200, and shouted, "Let's do it!"
If getting a single-car tracking shot is hard, a two-car shot is close to impossible. But after two passes I got the shots I could, then concentrated on shooting each of Tim's Cobra Jets on their own. The Cougar was first. By the time we finished, a drizzle had turned into steady rain. But Tim, understanding that I had just this one chance to shoot his rare, one-of-96 Cobra Jet ragtop, said, "I don't care if it's raining; it's just a car." You just got to love this guy's attitude.
Tim Prieur explained how he got into Fords: "My exposure to Fords occurred early in life. My father always drove a Ford. In my preteen and teenage years, one of the ways I spent special time with my father was to attend the local Ford dealership and 'kick tires' together. During high school, one of my close friends had free use of his mother's 1969 Cougar XR-7 Cobra Jet convertible, one of only three delivered to Western Canada. It was the perfect combination of power and luxury in a vehicle. Later in life, as I was able to build my own collection of vintage Ford muscle cars, I watched for a similar Cougar that might allow me to relive old memories."
In 2013 Tim came across a video created by Don Rush of West Coast Classic Cougar, describing a one-owner XR-7 Cobra Jet convertible he had bought sight unseen, and how it was an amazingly original car. "The video captured how virtually all of the numbered parts were original to the car, right down to the mufflers, and it was structurally very sound," remembers Tim. "It was originally purchased by a retiring employee of a Mercury dealership in metro Chicago. He ticked all the option boxes with the exception of tilt wheel and cruise control, as in his experience they were both fraught with problems. The car then spent the next 40-plus years in California. I felt I had potentially found my cat."
Unfortunately for Tim, the car was sold and subsequently restored. It was sent to Tom and Kurtis Lawrence at KTL Restoration in Danville, Virginia, well recognized for their top quality work with Cougars.
Subsequently the car was offered through RK Motors in Charlotte, North Carolina. In the sales listing, the car was described this way: "It all starts with the body that sits in a fresh coat of the factory-correct Dark Aqua Metallic paint. Combine that shade of blue with the white touches throughout and you have a stunning ride. According to the Marti Report that is included in the sale, this is one of only 46 XR-7s with this paint and trim combination. The white accent stripes stretch across the hood and disappear under a stock and functional ram-air hoodscoop. Within the accent stripes are the markings of what lies under the hood: Cobra Jet 428. With either the white top up or down, the car is both menacing and luxurious. At the back of the car is the XR-7 logo above a body-wide rear taillight."
Pretty graphic, don't you think?
Lift the hood and you'll find a perfectly detailed original 428ci Cobra Jet that was rated in 1969 to make 335 hp with 10.6:1 compression. Many of the components inside the engine bay still have their vintage tags, like the Autolite battery that states, "Needs water only three times a year!" The block, resplendent in the famous FoMoCo blue, looks fantastic against the black engine bay. The transmission? Ford's nearly bulletproof C6 Merc-O-Matic with power going to the 3.00:1 Traction Lok rear axle.
The FKA-coded interior combines vibrant white seating surfaces with contrasting aqua console carpet and dash accents. Power steering, power brakes, and the automatic transmission make this Cougar a dream to drive. To the left of the driver are the power window controls, while the dash features gas, road speed, engine speed, oil pressure, and water temperature gauges. In front of the passenger is an analog clock and more Cougar XR-7 badging. Behind the front seats are two additional bucket seats. It is the epitome of sport combined with luxury, something that distinguished the Cougar from its Mustang cousin.
As Tim allowed me to photograph the XR-7 in the rain, I learned his philosophy about car collecting: "While by all standards the car has seen an over-the-top restoration, it is my belief these cars are meant to be driven. As time allows it can be found on the beautiful backroads of the Alberta foothills."
At a Glance
1969 Cougar XR-7 Convertible
Owned by: Tim Prieur
Restored by: KTL Restoration, Danville, VA
Engine: 428ci/335hp Cobra Jet Ram Air V-8
Transmission: 3-speed Merc-O-Matic automatic
Rearend: 3.00:1 with Traction-Lok
Interior: White vinyl bucket seat
Wheels: 14x6 styled steel wheels
Tires: F70-14 Goodyear Polyglas white letter
Tim Prieur has wanted a Cougar Cobra Jet convertible ever since spending time in one in high school. A years-long search turned up this one, though he had to chase the cat a bit before making it his own.
The Cobra Jet engine was rated at 335 hp in 1969. The engine-bay restoration includes all the required assembly line marks and hang tags.
White upholstery makes a vivid contrast against the Cougar's Dark Aqua Metallic paint. As befits a luxury muscle car, the car is well equipped with comfort amenities.
Dark argent spokes in the styled steel wheels really bring out the blue in the center caps.
Even though the Cougar has been treated to a full restoration, Tim believes in driving the car on the rolling backroads near his home.
Cobra Jet Swan Song
As with his 1969 Cougar, Tim Prieur has a similar connection to his 1971 Mustang Super Cobra Jet. "As I entered my mid-teenage years, I longed for the chance to own a high-performance Mustang. Starting at the age of 14, I worked weekends and summer holidays in preparation for that purchase.
"By the fall of my grade-12 (senior) year, I had actually saved enough to make one more trip to Metro Ford with my father, bank book in hand, to find that first car. The funds would not allow for a Mach 1 or convertible, but in the end I drove home in a brand-new 1971 ram air hardtop, one of only 183 with such an option for that model. Add to it several more options, including an instrumentation package and an interior decor group, and I was thrilled.
"That Mustang would carry me through the next 10 years, university, moving away from home. Unfortunately, 10 years into its life it faced a winter on salt-covered Ontario roads and rapidly deteriorated. It was replaced with a new Thunderbird, my father's favorite model, though the Thunderbird never fully replaced my first car."
Tim continues, "At approximately the same time as my Mustang was being produced, Mr. Rod Nerney also placed an order for his Mustang. President of Nerney Motor Sales in Attleboro, Massachusetts, Rod was an avid automobile enthusiast. Yearly, after the introduction of the Mustang in 1965, Rod would special-order a new red convertible with as much performance available as his personal demonstrator. For the 1971 model year, Rod knew the days of the high-performance Mustang were drawing to a close, and he special ordered his convertible with a 429 Super Cobra Jet drivetrain. In the end, only eight such vehicles were produced. His suspicions proved valid when the announcement of the 1972 model did not include the 429 powerplant."
Over the years Rod elected to retain and preserve this special car, says Tim. "While replaced with other daily drivers, it remained the family holiday car, including fitting it with a trailer hitch to pull the family boat at Cape Cod. Over the years several reversible modifications were made, including installing 1973 front fascia and side pipes, though the original components were never lost."
Tim says that in 1986, the vehicle was sold to a local friend, and over the next 20 years it was held within several high-performance and Ford collections.
It is here that the story comes full Fred Philips circle. The car was purchased by Tim's friend, the previously mentioned Fred Philips. Fred's fetish, if you will, is for original paint cars. The Mustang retained the original drivetrain, paint, and interior, which, combined with the documentation, made it a true time capsule. Over many visits to Fred's nearby hangar, Tim would always enjoy the chance to inspect this special car.
"In 2012 Fred was shifting the focus of his collection and he offered me the opportunity to take over the care of this unique Mustang," says Tim. "I was delighted. As it had seen little road time in a number of years, it was gone through front to back by our common friend and mechanic, Rory Beane. With his expertise and attention to detail, it returned to the level of performance it displayed in 1971."
Tim believes that, like his Cougar, his Mustang should be driven. Such enthusiasm is truly rare today, as many owners would be reluctant to agree to more than a ride around the block. But on that cold, dark, and rainy day west of Alberta, Tim exposed both near priceless Cobra Jets not only to my Nikon but to the elements as well. That makes Tim, in my opinion, a very special breed of car guy.
At A Glance
1971 Mustang Convertible
Owned by: Tim Prieur
Restored by: Original unrestored, maintained by Rory Beane
Engine: 429ci/375hp Super Cobra Jet V-8
Transmission: 3-speed Select-Shift Cruise-O-Matic automatic
Rear axle: 3.91:1 with Traction-Lok
Interior: Black vinyl bucket seat
Wheels: 15-inch Magnum 500
Tires: P235/60R15 BFGoodrich Radial T/A
Tim Prieur acquired his Super Cobra Jet convertible from friend Fred Philips, after Tim took several trips to Fred's collection to admire the car.
The big-inch Super Cobra Jet looks new, but this is an original, unrestored muscle car. Since the Mustang had been sitting for a while, Tim had his mechanic service the engine to bring it back to 1971 performance levels.
The unrestored interior shows a little wear but is very well preserved.
Yes, those are rain spots on the fender. Tim didn't hesitate to take his rare cars out in bad weather for our photo shoot.
The Super Cobra Jet motor is rated at 375 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque, making the time-capsule Mustang a blast to drive.