- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 26, 2006

Almost 40 years have passed since anybody with a drivers license could walk into a Hertz Rent-A-Car office in California and drive out in a hopped-up Shelby Mustang or a Dan Gurney Mercury Cougar XR-7 G. Of course nobody was supposed to go racing in those rental cars, wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

As a pre-teenager, Stephen Cohen says, he saw advertisements in Life magazine for the 1968 Mercury Cougars featuring an electric sunroof and was captivated. By the early 1990s he began looking for one of those cars that had come out before he could do anything but drool over them.

Records indicate that 81,014 Mercury Cougar coupes were manufactured in the 1968 model year and 32,712 XR-7 Mercury Cougar XR-7 coupes were produced. They all rode on a 110-inch wheelbase.

In April 2002 he purchased what he says is one of the 211 surviving Hertz rental Mercury Cougar XR-7G models in Oakland, Calif. The 390-cubic-inch, 325-horsepower, V-8 engine had been rebuilt and the original interior was remarkably intact. ‘I love a car that gurgles,” Mr. Cohen says.

He had seen pictures of the car and although it was very nice when it arrived on a truck in Leesburg, he says, “I was disappointed in the quality of the paint.”

For the next several years the Cougar underwent a restoration. “It needed to be put back together correctly, and securely,” Mr. Cohen says. “If nothing else, for safety reasons.”

The Dan Gurney-model Cougars featured a vinyl top, engine hood air scoop, special wheels and special tires.

The speedometer tops out at 120 mph and the tachometer stops at 6,000 rpm.

Four toggle switches in the center of the dashboard lend an aircraft cockpit feel to the car.

Inexplicably, the oil pressure gauge is on the passenger’s side of the instrument panel, perhaps to give the passenger something on which to focus while seated in the saddle-colored leather bucket seat.

Near the toggle switches in the center of the dashboard is the Philco AM radio.

A pair of switches on the floor console operate the fog lights and noisily operate the sunroof.

On the outside of the driver’s door is an aerodynamic shaped mirror. “A right-side mirror would be real nice,” Mr. Cohen says, “but that’s not the way it was built.”

On the abbreviated deck lid is a bit of bright work disguised as a luggage rack.

Its purpose is to expand the limited cargo room beyond that in the small trunk. In actuality, it adds some sparkle to the car’s appearance.

The tobacco-colored vinyl top accented with the XR-7 G emblem remains original thanks to a lifetime of being garaged, but the ivory yellow paint below the greenhouse is new, as is the black pinstriping.

In April 2004 the former rental Cougar rolled out of the restoration shop on red-line 6.95x14-inch B.F. Goodrich T/A tires.

When new the Mercury Cougar had a base price of $3,232 and weighed 3,174, almost a dollar a pound.

Mr. Cohen’s almost fully loaded Cougar is equipped with power front disc brakes and drum brakes in the rear.

His remarkable car also has power steering and air conditioning.

According to Mr. Cohen the entire exhaust system as well as the entire suspension system have been replaced to provide a smoother, quieter ride.

After the big engine was detailed, the Cougar was ready to be entered in antique car shows.

Beyond the show aspect, Mr. Cohen says, “It’s really fast.”

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