Those among us who are students of history, or those who can personally recall the '60s, clearly understand how the domestic auto industry has changed through the decades. No, we're not talking about the current market challenges or the struggles for existence that many brands have encountered in the last 10-15 years. Rather, we're speaking of the variety of products offered by corporate siblings-think Chevrolet and Oldsmobile, Dodge and Plymouth, and of course Ford and Mercury. Back in the day, these companies regularly produced cars that were unique to their own brand. Today, such differences seem to be the exception to the rule.
Alas, we come back to one of the reasons for the overwhelming interest in cars of the '50s and '60s. Put simplistically, variety is the spice of life.
Tony Clark is one individual who witnessed the varied offerings of the '60s firsthand, with this gorgeous Sunlit Gold Mustang hardtop now having a special place in the story. When this car was created at the San Jose assembly plant in 1968, Tony was a top salesman at George Black Mercury in British Columbia, Canada. Part of his compensation package included a sweet Cougar XR7.
While we don't need to explain the familial connection between the Mustang and Cougar to Mustang Monthly's knowledgeable readers, we will emphasize the tremendous appearance difference between the two. The fact is, the Cougar looked little more like a Mustang than a Plymouth Barracuda, and it quickly developed a loyal fan base that continues to this day. Ironically, despite plenty of time behind the wheel of the more luxurious and sophisticated Merc, Tony always preferred the styl- ing of the Mustang.
Tony says that, at the time, there was really no way to ditch the Cougar in favor of a Mustang, as it was all but forbidden by his dealership connection. Competition was intense, even between sister companies, and salesmen were expected to remain loyal to the brand that put food on their tables. Tony did so for a number of years, and by the time he moved on to the largest Ford dealer in western Canada, the Mustangs of the time didn't hold his interest. It wasn't until years later, when Tony and his wife, Lorna, retired, that a vintage Mustang entered the picture.
When the couple began spending winters in Palm Springs, California, it seemed the perfect opportunity to search for the kind of Mustang that Tony would've driven if given a choice in 1968. Eventually, a virtually oneowner hardtop was discovered, and it surely fit Tony's criteria for "something special." A ream of documents was included, revealing its original purchase on July 30, 1968, from Downey Auto Center in Downey, California. More than a base model, the original window sticker listed an array of options-dare we say almost Cougarlike in their emphasis on comfort and power. Major players included the Sprint A package, interior dcor group, air conditioning, power disc brakes, and F70-14 Wide Oval whitewalls. More common are the power steering, automatic transmission, floor console, tinted glass, vinyl top, and remote mirror. The original Downey sales paperwork also notes to "add wire wheel covers," which are still present today.
Tony's lead to the '68 was a newspaper ad placed by the original owner's niece, caretaker of the car for a short time prior to its sale. The condition was indicative of 86,000 well-cared-for miles-original paint worn through in places, and a C-code 289 that ran like a top.
A comparatively easy restoration ensued, with the rust-free body appreciated by the crew at Eastgate Auto Body, who did a bang-up job of stripping, prepping, and laying down a fresh topcoat in the original hue. This group also did the necessary interior painting and installed the new vinyl top. Mechanical issues were turned over to R&L Automotive, which determined that little more than cosmetics were necessary. The C4 transmission had been recently rebuilt, and the 289 checked out strong, requiring just a new timing chain, cleaning, and concours detail.
The end results are just as Tony had hoped for. While dry weather is hit and miss in the Pacific Northwest, he and Lorna enjoy a spin in their wellequipped hardtop when the sun shines bright. Decades since being penned, '68 Mustang styling does as much for Tony today as it did when he was living large in a Cougar. Could there be any better definition of timeless design?