When Herb Stuart bought his son a ’68 Mercury Cougar for a high school graduation present, he had no idea that the car would someday win him big awards and recognition for its speedy performance. In addition, the car turned out to be a big hit at the premiere New Motorama—an indoor car show in Green Bay, WI held on Easter weekend.
With Father’s Day coming up, this Cougar story is a perfect tale to tell, since father and son worked on the car together back then. They installed a new interior and new front suspension components. At the time, Herb figured that working with his son would help prepare him for the restorations of two other cars he owned—a ’69 Shelby GT500 and a Model A Ford coupe.
After the Cougar was fixed up, his son drove the car to college, while he played with his other projects at home in Suamico, Wis. All went well until the Cougar’s engine decided to cough up a valve one day. This caused some major engine damage, so he helped his son get another car to take to grad school.
Instead of just scrapping the Cougar, Stuart bought a rotisserie and started on a major overhaul of the muscular Merc. He came up with a 4.6L 1999 Ford Cobra 32-valve dual-overhead-cam V8 and started off in a new direction. He added a set of Ford Racing headers and a Dynomax exhaust system, along with a hot-sparking MSD ignition system. Bolted up behind the motor was a T45 five-speed manual gearbox and a Ram clutch that drove to a Currie nine-inch rear axle fitted with 4.11:1 gears and an Eaton TruTrac locking differential.
A Rod & Custom Motorsports Mustang II style suspension was substituted for the car’s original front underpinnings. It incorporated rack-and-pinion steering. At the rear, Stuart went with heavy-duty leaf springs and Koni shocks. Wilwood disc brakes were fitted at all four corners and the hefty front and rear tires were mounted on American Racing rims.
Stuart spent seven years building the car, but the hard work paid off in a Cougar that was equally suited for show or go. The car’s first outing was the Northwood Region Shelby Owners Club track event in Canada where it turned in an impressive performance. It then took part in the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational. But the biggest honor was when Popular Hot Rodding magazine picked Stuart’s Cougar to be on its “Muscle Car of the Year” list. Not bad for a Mercury that started as a father-and-son project car.