If a passenger in Gary Wirth's '67 Cougar gets bored looking out the window or listening to the growl of the big block 390 under the hood, he or she can always monitor the cat's vital signs through a long row of custom gauges on the dash above their knees.
The '67 is Gary's second Cougar: He and wife Barbara also have her Uncle Harry's 1973 Cougar convertible for top-down driving.
Gary found his '67, even though he wasn't looking for it, while browsing ads on a popular on-line auction site. The Cardinal Red body caught his eye, but what he really found attractive was the rare combination of a 390 four-barrel engine and wide-ratio, 4-speed manual transmission. It's also equipped with a 3.25 ratio locking axle for quick starts.
An Ellicott City, Md., native, Gary is the third owner of the '67.
"This car was originally owned by a Ford mechanic for 33 years in New Mexico," Gary says. "He wooed his eventual wife while driving this cruiser. He made very thoughtful modifications," including two engine rebuilds, awesome gauges and dash work, and added power steering.
"A year or so after he passed away, his wife finally sold the car to two classic car enthusiasts in Sacramento, California," Gary says. "These guys spent over $45,000 doing a complete restoration of a 1970 Cougar convertible, and own several more classics, including two AMXs. The car did not sell in Southern California, even though it was advertised to the Cougar club there. I spotted it on eBay, and immediately was interested because it was a big block Cougar with manual transmission-not many of these around. I won the auction, and shipped it home."
Gary's not sure what changes were made to the internals of the engine, but he's hoping eventually to get a better understanding of what modifications it received.
Since purchasing the car in December 2003 from California, Gary has replaced kick panels, battery cables, horn chrome center ring, parking brake handle, hood insulation pad, trunk underlayment and mats, and added door-edge guards.
The standard Cougar has had some other modifications, too, including: Mallory ignition, K&N intake, rally wheels, stereo system with rear speakers, manual front disk brakes, power steering, and of course, the custom dash and gauges.
The "S" code cat has a light parchment interior, power steering, CD player and a custom wood dash housing various gauges, including a fuel pressure gauge, separate gauges for engine temperature, transmission temperature, water temperature, and a second "oil temperature" gauge he's still figuring out. A big dwell gauge/tachometer resides above the console in the center of the dash. Vacuum and amp gauges are complemented by a few interesting switches and lights. Under the hood, Gary's car has three solenoids wired in series.
Gary, who works for Ahold USA/Giant Food as director of professional services in the pharmacy division, has had the '67 to a couple of club events and he also enjoys driving it on weekends. But he's not adding miles very quickly to the 83,000 original clicks on the odometer.
Like many other DCC members, Gary, didn't own a Cougar until adulthood.
"My first special car was a 1997 Supra twin-turbo, which I modified. Very fast car. Perhaps the best overall car I ever owned. The Supra has become the dream car of the [sport compact] generation, with whom I could no longer relate, so I sold the car last year.
"My wife Barbara's uncle…owned a 1973 Cougar convertible, which he bought new and loved. In his 90s, he finally decided he could no longer drive it, and offered to sell it to me. So began my interest in Cougars. Barbara and I committed ourselves to fix the Cougar and keep it in the family. Our first cruise with the top down was really fun, a very cool experience. After considerable time and searching, I found a great source for NOS 1973 parts, and the convertible is really coming around.
"I never thought I would buy a second Cougar, but spotted the special '67 on eBay at a reasonable price. Barbara and I-mainly me-jumped at the opportunity. Buying a car on eBay from the West Coast was quite an experience."
Gary says he has learned a lot from other DCC members, and he's also gained some wisdom about owning a classic Cougar: "Keep reasonable expectations, otherwise it can become a serious money pit. You have to drive it to enjoy it."
Now he's focused on learning how to drive this '67 without enjoying all the gauges too much.