There are a variety of reasons why people abandon vehicles in fields. It’s something you see from coast to coast in rural areas, suburbs and cities. The most common undoubtedly is that the car stopped running and that’s where it sat. Norman real estate investor John Lungren’s 1967 Mercury Cougar didn’t move from a Del City meadow for nearly three decades. Then he rescued it and has been supervising its restoration since 2014. It’s not show condition yet. But the old coupe is well on its way to being the stylish ride that rolled off a Motown assembly line the year mini-skirts were getting shorter and the Viet Nam war was getting longer.
“I’d been searching for an older model muscle car,” Lungren said. “It could be an older Chevelle, Mustang or Cougar. A guy I know found my 1967 Cougar that had been sitting in a field near here for 29 years.”
He’d previously owned a 1970 Cougar as a high school student in Hastings, Nebraska. Something in the American psyche craves having the automobiles we grew up with.
“It was my first car in 1974,” Lungren said. “It had banana seats, a 302 engine and 8-track tape player. The car was red with a red interior. After that I had a 1968 Pontiac Firebird that was also red on red with a 350 engine and three on the tree transmission.”
The 1967 Mercury Cougar was a basket case. It had sat under Oklahoma sun, hailstorms and wind. Rodents had found their way into the car’s interior and made it home for generations. Lungren pointed out a space between the passenger side roof and headliner fabric where the biggest rat nest had been removed.
“This car was not in good shape,” he said. “It hadn’t run for all those years and the door had a racing team name painted on it. I heard this car ran a lot of oval tracks around Oklahoma in the late 1970’s and early 80s. It doesn’t have the original engine in it. Now there’s a 351 cubic inch Windsor small block with a three-speed on the floor stick. It accelerates very quickly.”
Cars are built to last and this one has been amazingly resilient. Much of the sheet metal and most of the exterior trim is original. The deck lid had been bashed in and had to be replaced altogether. Early Cougars have hidden headlamps. The opening and closing mechanisms work on this one.
“The right door is original but the left is not,” he said. “Ken’s Cougars in Edmond is where I got the new carpet, seats and other materials. I had to buy a replacement steering wheel and finally found one at a swap meet but couldn’t get the guy down a penny from the $175 he wanted. It’s a new-old one and is really nice.”
1967 was the first year for the Mercury Cougar model. It was the auto division’s “pony car” offering, targeted to compete with the Chevrolet Camaro and as a classier alternative to Ford’s Mustang. Sticker price for Lungren’s Cougar was $2,826. It has roll-up windows and an after-market Sears air conditioning unit. A television commercial found on Youtube for the 1967 model throws down a now laughable musical taunt. “Cougar, if you’re man enough/ It’s the meanest/ Most masculine road animal yet.”
All Lungren did to get the long dormant engine started was put in a new battery and away it went.
“It burns a little oil but runs good,” he said.
Indeed, he gave his Cougar the gun and made it fishtail on a quiet north side industrial drive. Barreling down Flood Avenue the old car ran great.
“I think it’s a good-looking car,” Lungren said. “It’s a rich man’s Mustang because it’s longer and wider. Ford was selling tens of thousands of Mustangs and Mercury needed a car similar to it.”
Lungren found a Chevrolet restoration guy in east Norman who agreed to take on his Cougar project.
“It was a referral from a friend of a friend,” he said. “And he has had to farm-out the interior work. No one wants to replace headliners, so that was done in south Oklahoma City. Someone had sawed through the metal of the dash and stuffed an 8-track tape player in there. Finding the correct bezel to cover that up was difficult. Parts have been shipped in from all over. The guy helping me will say, give me your credit card and boom, here comes a box. Fifty bucks here and two hundred bucks there. You get what you can get when you get it. I’m having trouble finding the trunk lid locking mechanism so I can use a key to open it up instead of a screwdriver.”
Lungren’s had the car at two different paint and body shops before finally getting it nice and shiny again.
“Mills Body Shop on 24th Avenue SW had it for a number of months,” he said. “It’s red with a red vinyl interior.”
In 1967 the exterior paint color for this shade was called Cardinal Red. It’s more of a crimson. Sweet seat covers and glossy fenders in complimentary shades of crimson.
“I just started driving it around a couple of months ago,” Lungren said. “It’s a fun car to drive. You pull up someplace like the bank drive-through and people will say, ‘Wow, that’s gorgeous’.”
Have you seen a cool vehicle around town? Writer Doug Hill is always on the lookout for future Dig My Ride columns. Email him at email@example.com.