When Tony Miglecz takes his tasty '69 Mercury Cougar to show-and-shines and cruise nights, he says "a lot of people just walk right on by. They think it's a Mustang."
On its introduction, the Mustang caused a sensation - and created a new segment for high-styled, small-sized personal cars. It didn't take long for other brands to jump on the ponycar bandwagon and one of those brands was Ford's companion brand, Mercury.
The tall foreheads at Ford Motor Company thought they discerned a gap in the product lineup between the Mustang and the Thunderbird. What was needed, they thought, was a car between the two in size and price that offered more luxury than the Mustang. They decided to have Mercury dealers sell the new offering, and called it the Mercury Cougar.
Introduced for the 1967 model year, the Cougar sold 150,893 copies in that first year. The 1968 style was very similar to that of the first-year car, but the '69 version was quite different. Sales that year were down, to just over 100,000, perhaps because Ford had pulled back on the Cougar's very successful racing effort.
In 1990, Tony Miglecz was driving through Inglewood on his way to look at a big-engined Ford Torino. As he passed a used car lot, he spotted a black '69 Cougar and ended up buying it. The two-door hardtop had just over 65,000 miles on it, but it was about to get some hard use.
"I drove it to the rig for five years," Miglecz says. "It's been out Forestry Trunk Road. It's been out to Grande Prairie and all areas north of Grande Prairie." While he was driving the car "all over Alberta," Miglecz says, he was rounding up good parts for its eventual restoration.
"Every year, I'd bring the car in and spend $1,000 on it," he says. Underneath, the car was improved with a negative wedge camber corrector, bigger front and rear sway bars and '71 Torino brakes. "It was a 351 Windsor two-barrel single exhaust car, so right away I got the dual exhaust on it and put on an Offenhauser dual-plane manifold with a four-barrel carb."
Ford products came with one of two 351 cubic inch engines in '69 - either the 351 Windsor or the 351 Cleveland, named after the engine plants where the power plants originated. The Cleveland, Miglecz says, was the engine of choice. "They make really good power. They sound completely different and it's a nice motor, too, to look at."
The Cougar's original Windsor engine did provide one benefit, he admits. "The undercarriage was in good shape. That's part of the 351 Windsor thing because the rear seal used to leak like crazy. On the way up to Grand Prairie I used to stop at Drayton Valley for a tank of gas and a litre of oil. That's what saved the floor - that 351 Windsor slobbering all over it."
Once he decided to get to work on the Cougar, Miglecz started using all those parts he had collected. "I always wanted a Cleveland (with a) four-speed," he says, and that is what now powers the car. One door that he had collected along the way proved to be something of a mystery as it was painted an odd purple colour that was never offered on production cars. What Miglecz discovered was that the door had come from one of 150 cars all painted the same shade and used by an insurance company.
The car, originally black, is now gold, he confides, because there used to be another black '69 Cougar in town that sometimes was driven in an overly-spirited manner. "I got into some trouble a few times because of that," Miglecz explains, "so I figured I'd change colours.
"When you get off work from the rigs, sometimes you're used to graveyards," Miglecz says. "I'd get up at two in the morning and go out to the garage. I always figured it was a successful week if I got one part done."
Something he found a bit liberating was that, unlike more popular cars with large fan bases, some of whom are purists that disparage any change from a car's original configuration, Cougars are just about unknown. This freed him to make some non-stock changes like the side scoops on the car, which came from a Mercury Marauder.
"When I put that side scoop on, 98 per cent of the population doesn't know that it doesn't belong on the car," he says. "I figured I could do anything to it. It's exactly the way I like it. I build them how I like them and if other people like them too, I'm glad to hear that."