- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 18, 2005

Ford beat all the competition by creating the “Pony Car” niche with the 1964 1/2 Mustang.

Not only were General Motors, Chrysler and American Motors caught unprepared, so was sister division Mercury. In 1967 Mercury caught up by introducing the Cougar, a refined, upscale version of the popular Mustang.

The 1968 Mercury Cougar was virtually the same as the handsome 1967 model that appealed to the style-conscious young Karen Luczak.

Fresh from the Upper Midwest, she was a teacher at Gallaudet University and found taking public transportation an unpleasant chore.

In the autumn of 1968 she began shopping for her first new — or otherwise — car. “Never mind that I didn’t have a driver’s license,” she says. “I’d figure that problem out down the road.”

An elegant Highland green Mercury Cougar XR-7 at Lee D. Butler Lincoln-Mercury at 1121 21st St. NW arrested her attention.

She wasn’t at all interested in the 302-cubic-inch V-8 engine that developed 210 horsepower nor the fact that horsepower had to move 3,174 pounds on a 111-inch wheelbase. What did interest her were the “aesthetics.”

“The XR-7 was a beauty,” she says. “I slid into the black leather driver’s seat and, looking up, saw an amazing panel of overhead warning lights, that made me feel like a pilot on a 707.” What she saw attached to the ceiling was a four-light display indicating:

• Seat belts not fastened.

• Door ajar.

• Parking brake on.

• Fuel level low.

She was also intrigued by the four aircraft-style toggle switches on the dashboard operating:

• Left map light.

• Panel light.

• Courtesy light.

• Right map light.

“The concealed headlights are another awesome feature of the 1968 XR-7,” she says.

With all these features swirling about in her head, she did what any young woman would do. She announced, “I’ll take it.”

Next came the fly in the ointment. The salesman said he couldn’t sell the car to an unlicensed driver. Her boyfriend quickly volunteered to put his name on the title and the deal was done. Options and transportation costs on the car included:

• Select shift……..$206.65.

• Power steering…….95.00.

• Oxford roof……….84.25.

• Console with clock…72.55.

• Freight…………..70.50.

• AM radio…………61.40.

• White sidewall tires..36.35.

Miss Luczak promptly enrolled in a driving school, earned her driver’s license and was soon enjoying her new car.

The next summer, in 1969, she discovered why such a handsome car had been on the lot for so many months. “It had no air conditioning,” she says. “Spending the summer in D.C. in a black-roofed, black-interior car with no air conditioning was nothing short of excruciating,” she reports.

She rolled down the windows and let nature take its course. “Riding in that car,” she says, “was like a lady walking in great-looking but uncomfortable high heels — the agony is the price you pay for having such beauty in your life.”

Diligently she made all the monthly payments on time and paid off the $3,200 loan.

When she wed Ed Saulnier in 1972, the loan on her Cougar was paid off, but the title still was in her former boyfriend’s name.

The newlyweds approached the former boyfriend, who graciously signed away the title to “his” Cougar.

During the subsequent third of a century, the unusually reliable car has continued the daily commute as well as taking children Jeremy and Aimee to all of the usual childhood activities.

Both children learned to drive in the Mercury Cougar. During the children’s teenage years the Cougar was kept on the road thanks to the help of Clem Cope, who operated a repair shop for several years.

“The Cougar is a beautiful American car,” Mrs. Saulnier says, “and it has been a dream.”

After 174,000 miles, most of them in city driving, Mrs. Saulnier considers her Cougar much like a child considers a favorite teddy bear. “It’s well used, well worn and well loved,” she says.

“Right now there is nothing spiffy about my car,” Mrs. Saulnier says. “It shows the wear of 33 years on the road.”

In a couple of years, she says, it’s going to get some much-needed attention. “I hope to restore it to the classic beauty it was at one time — and deserves to be again.”

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