1969 Mercury Cougar: This Cat can Hunt!
We’re all familiar with that first gaze when it comes to a killer car. It hits you square in the fun-button. Your pulse amps up, your spirits rise and you can tell from one hundred feet away “this guy knows what’s up.” The same can be said for a car that falls short of the mark “Wow – that guy missed.” Northern California’s Gil Cuesta didn’t miss. He hit the bull’s eye. What’s more, his 1969 Cougar looks better and better the closer you get. This car was built with love and it shows.
Cuesta is a product of the 1980s and 90s San Francisco Bay Area car scene – a scene steeped in Lowriders, slammed imports, candy paint, euro touring cars with some 60s/70s muscle sprinkled in. Where a good majority of hot rodding’s top builders started their journeys with hot VW’s (Alan Johnson, Dave Kindig, Zane Cullen etc.), Cuesta cut his teeth on Asian imports. His customizing acumen was evident early on. He built a candy-painted Nissan Sentra with a phantom top and reverse wires. He pimped his lady’s ride, a 1990 Honda Prelude, with a sinister stance. He then tried his hand at late model American Muscle, slamming a 2000 Mustang GT on 20-inch wheels. In 2000, twenties were giant, even controversial. Cuesta pulled it off and got noticed.
As the new millennium progressed his passion turned solely to American muscle but he kept his eye on street trends. He wanted to do a Resto-Mod car with his deeply-rooted “stance-above-all-else” credo. A regular Goodguys Get-Together attendee, he had seen enough Camaros, Chevelles, Mopars and Mustangs to last a lifetime. He wanted different. In 2007, he came across the forgotten child of 60s muscle – a Mercury Cougar droptop – the first year the marque offered a convertible. Now, this was something different. He pounced on e-Bay’s buy button, and meow…the crusty kitty was on its way to the bay.
This car was built with love and it shows.
Unfortunately, the economy took a dive and the great crash of 2008/2009 was on. He had made some progress, but the build got mothballed. Cuesta considered taking a complete loss before he met some car guys at a show. They formed an instant bond and formed the TIMELESS car club. The creative desire returned and by 2011, the economy and Cuesta’s passion were back in high gear. He spent all of his spare time with his club guys in his garage. He even started a company around the car he calls “Timeless Innovations.”
The Cougar underwent serious surgery – it would become the beacon for Cuesta’s new company. The body was smoothed, emblems and door handles were shaved, and gaps tightened before primer and final prep. A hood scoop from an XR7 was massaged into place. The color was a perfect choice – BMW Space Gray shot at the Timeless car club’s “compound.” He then towed the car out to the California Delta where Brentwood Auto Upholstery tore out the worn original vinyl before replacing it with light gray leather and a custom console as well as the custom ragtop. Billet Specialties goodies are everywhere inside the cabin including the 13-inch steering wheel, pedals and window cranks. The Tremec T5 trans is given its commands through a Hurst shifter.
Under the hood, Cuesta’s cat went from meek meows to primal screams. The choked down, original 5.8 liter 351c.i. Windsor V8 was redone with a COMP street cam, Edelbrock’s Performer intake manifold aluminum heads, MSD ignition, March Performance front drive assembly, and an aluminum radiator with a Flex-a-Lite electric fan. It howls through Hooker headers, Magnaflow mufflers and custom side pipe exhaust, which offer a vintage Trans Am road race vibe.
Being an urban street-stance guy, Cuesta went the opposite direction with his suspension set-up and he nailed the aesthetics. He knew full well the Cougar wasn’t going to be flogged at 150 mph on road courses or abused on the AutoCross. To him, form was more important than extreme hi-speed function. Meanstreets Performance installed RideTech’s strong arms up front with level 2 air suspension as well as RideTech’s 4-link out back. AccuAir ride control gets it over the speed bumps and gets it way, way down when parked. Hints of import camber come into play when it’s fully aired out, the front chin spoiler literally centimeters off the ground. The smoked Forgeline GA3C wheels (19×8 and 20×10) are pure rolling perfection on this car! To Cuesta and so many of us, stance is everything.
When we walked into the All American Get-Together exhibit building, Cuesta’s Cougar stopped us in our tracks. To be quite honest, it took our breath away. Cougars are the forgotten Pony Car. We rarely see them if ever. This one is the rarest of the litter. As for Cuesta? He’s just glad to be part of the scene. “It means the world to me you guys like my car so much,” he said. “I’m just a small guy on a budget. To have my car selected as the Gazette Pick out of over two-thousand cars at this event is one of the best things to ever happen to me with cars. I can’t believe it.”
You should believe it, Gil. You nailed it. Not only that, you have shown the world just how cool Cougars can be. Happy hunting out there.
Photos by Mike Harrington