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California Dreamin'
Yes, everything might be bigger in Texas, but that rule also apparently applies to garages owned by native Texans, wherever they might live. How else to explain the three Cougars—two with Texas-size Cobra Jet 428 motors—in Virginia resident Jim Stagner's garage?
Jim Stagner
Jim is a bit of a rarity in the Cougar community: He's the original owner of one of the big-block cats, a Competition Orange 1969 Eliminator, which he bought new in June 1969 from Sierra Lincoln Mercury in Fullerton, Calif.
The cat has about 89,000 miles on it and had its coming out at the Cougar Club of America's Nationals East in Carlisle, Pa., earlier this month. Jim drove it to Carlisle from his home in Lakeridge, Va., after his grandson and son-in-law drove it from California, where it had been undergoing a recently completed restoration.
The original black interior is in excellent condition (the headliner has been replaced). Behind the CJ428 is a C-6 transmission and 4.30 Detroit Locker (the car originally had a 9-inch non-traction lok 3.50 and, after that, a Traction-Lok 3.50). Other features include the Eliminator Decor Group, Ram Air induction, power steering, power front disc brakes, hood lock pins, combination AM radio-8-track stereo tape, tinted glass-complete, Deluxe Seats and front shoulder belts. Dealer installed options include a 427 mechanical advance distributor and solid core plug wires, Traction Lok, right hand racing mirror, and map light. In the mid 1970s, the original engine threw a rod at about 66,000 miles, so the car got a new factory short block.
Jim Stagner
In addition to routine work, Jim has added new suspension components, a new rear end (including axles) and a new windshield to the car and had its transmission rebuilt. Modifications to the car over the years include Hooker headers, MSD ignition/coil/rev limiter, an electric fuel pump, rear mounted battery, a B&M Street and Strip Converter, custom wheels, Lakewood Traction Action traction bars and a 20 percent overdrive (six speeds).
This Eliminator originally was Jim's only car and his daily driver, but he also raced NHRA Pure Stock and AHRA Showroom Stock from 1969 to 1972 (this is before any performance mods were done). From about 1985 until 1998 the car sat stored in a garage. Now that the restoration is complete, it will be a weekend cruiser and, maybe, a nostalgia drag car.
Jim Stagner
With years of successful drag racing under his belt, Jim has learned a few valuable lessons, he says.
"For Pure Stock and Showroom Stock drag racing [which is close to street racing], when you are running stock tires, an automatic is better with a big engine than a stick," he says. "You don't make spectacular smoke, but you turn quicker times. My CJ428 C6 Cougar was a half-second quicker in the quarter than my SCJ428 four speed Mach 1 Mustang."
As you can imagine, with an original owner car like this, Jim has quite a story to tell.
"The plugs are so hard to change that I would get to the drags as the first guy there," he says. "I would make numerous time runs to clean the plugs so I wouldn't have to change them. Any new folks who got there when I was making the early timing runs would assume they would kill me in class since I would be popping and banging and turning high 14s or low 15s. Besides, nobody knew about Cougars. Then, in eliminations, I would blow their doors off.
"When I first started racing, there were usually 25 to 30 cars in my class. After a couple of years, nobody would run my class unless a new guy showed up. I ran trophy 47 times and won 45 times. I won my class in the Ford Drag Club Northern Nationals. I have trophies from Fremont, VacaValley, Irwindale, Oklahoma City Raceway, Frontier Raceway, and Connecticut Raceway."
Jim Stagner
Jim says his cat was the quickest purely stock car around the San Francisco Bay area. "It held the quickest time in NHRA G pure stock (stick and automatic) of 13.69 and 104 and later AHRA F showroom stock automatic at 13.50 106," he says. "Cars with slicks and headers and stuff were quicker, but of the off-the-showroom-floor cars, it was the quickest."
Jim was born in Texas, but has spent most of his life in California. He's also lived in Oklahoma, Illinois, Oregon, Washington and Massachusetts.
When he's not changing spark plugs on one of those big block engines or cruising, Jim works part-time for Dimensions International in Washington, D.C., a company that supports the Federal Aviation Administration, where Jim worked for 34 of his 38 years in government service.
So, what first attracted Jim to Cougars?
"I like Ford products and I like drag racing," he says. "I had been drawn to Ford products since I was in high school and my Mom first went to work for a Lincoln Mercury dealer. I had two matching ‘64 Comet Cyclones, one that I raced and one, a daily driver. I traded the racing Comet in on the CJ428 Cougar to get more speed and more class."
With three nice classic cats in the garage, Jim must have his dream car, right? Well, he says, he also would like to own a 1968 GT-E with a 427 engine. "And as long as we're dreaming, I would also like to own a 427 Cobra. Shoot, I'd even take a 289 Cobra." Gee, what a trooper.