By Brian Earnest
Pat Pacarenuk knew the offer was a no-brainer without even thinking it over. When too-good-to refuse offers fly in through the window, you don’t ask questions, you just say yes.
When Pacarenuk had the option to buy one of 100 Mercury Cougar Eliminator muscle machines that would be sold in Canada back in 1969 — and order it any way he wanted it — he couldn’t agree fast enough. “I worked at the local Ford dealership and my boss came in one day and said they got a notice from Ford Motor Company that they were going to sell 100 of these [Eliminators] in Canada and he asked me if I was interested in buying one,” recalled Pacarenuk, a resident of Fort Frances, Ontario, just across the Minnesota border. “Well, he knew I was into the muscle cars and we were all into racing then, so I ordered this from the factory.
“They were going to let 100 people order these and you could order it any way you wanted it, and I ordered it exactly the way I wanted it.”
Some 43 years later, the Eliminator is still the way he wanted it, and one of the nicest and most original examples of the breed you’ll find anywhere in North America. Pacarenuk has been the car’s only owner, and even though he drove the wheels off it and tried as hard as he could to break it the first few years he had it, the lethal Mercury and its owner have remained inseparable.
“Absolutely not — I didn’t expect to have it this long,” Pacarenuk joked. “At the time I probably didn’t expect to live this long!
“I was really thrilled with the car, and I beat the crap out of it for the first few years and then the light came on and I took care of it after that. At the time, I was young and I had some money and was always buying and selling cars, so I always had three or four cars at any given time. In about 1974-’75, I started running this car less and less, and then I put it in the garage and started working on other things and life happened and pretty soon it just got put away for about 23 years.”
FoMoCo proved it was getting serious about making cars for serious muscle car guys like Pacarenuk when it rolled out the Cougar-based Eliminator for 1969. With so many cars dotting the landscape, you had to be a serious player to compete in the muscle car wars, and the Eliminator was, especially if you went up the ladder and opted to swap out the base 290-hp/351-cid Windsor V-8 in favor of a the 290-hp, 302-cid small-block “Boss” V-8, S-Code 390 (320 hp) or the 428 Cobra Jet with 335 hp, which is what Pacarenuk dialed up. Buyers could get hood scoops that were either for looks or functional — Pacarenuk opted for the latter. To get the Super Cobra Jet version, buyers also had to select the 3.91 or 4.30:1 rear gears and engine oil cooler in the Drag Pak option.
Right off the lot, 428-cid versions could run 14.1-second quarter-miles and hit 100 mph before hitting the finish line, and Pacarenuk admits he wasn’t shy about testing his Eliminator’s racing tires on rural roads against anybody who wanted to go.
“We didn’t have any tracks back then. All our racing was done out on the quiet country roads, you bet,” he chuckled. “The local police officers, and there were very few of them around, but they used to tell me they always knew where I was because I left tracks on the road, because I could lay rubber in all four gears and there were very few cars around then that could do that.”
The Cougar, of course, was the kissin’ cousin to the Mustang in the Blue Oval family, and it was bigger and heavier than previous versions. Cougars rolled on 111-inch wheelbases and the hardtop coupes weighed in just under 3,400 lbs.
The new Cougar grille had horizontal pieces that protruded slightly at the center. Bucket seats and retractable headlamps were standard. Rocker panel strips, wheel opening moldings and two parallel full-length, upper-level pinstripes decorated the body sides. The back-up lamps wrapped around the rear fenders and the tail lamps were trimmed with concave vertical chrome pieces. A vinyl interior with foam-padded bucket seats and carpeting was standard.
The Cougar two-door hardtop ($2,999) and convertible ($3,365) were the base models. The Eliminator package included front and rear spoilers, a blacked-out grille, a hood scoop, argent-colored styled steel wheels similar to the Torino GT type, appropriate side striping and a rally clock and tachometer. With the CJ 428-cid engine option, cars received a hood scoop, hood hold-down pins, a competition handling package and hood striping.
Only about 2,200 Eliminators were built, including the 100 that went north of the border. The fact that his car was relatively rare wasn’t Pacarenuk’s main motivation for hanging onto the car, however. He simply liked the car, never had anybody try to buy it from him, and never had a good reason to get rid of it. Even as the car sat idle and slightly beat up for more than two decades, it seemed like only a matter of time before Pacarenuk got around to fixing it up and driving it again. The excuse to bring the car out of hibernation finally came about 13 years ago.
“We were going to have a big centennial parade and I wanted to put it in the parade,” he said. “I started working on it in ’99 and ran it in the parade and since then, I’ve been running it and showing it.”
Pacarenuk says he didn’t need to rebuild the engine or transmission, which certainly made restoring the car easier. Mostly, the car needed a little TLC and some relatively minor mechanical attention. “It was body and paint, basically, but by then, I had to do the brakes and wheel cylinders and master cylinders. The engine is untouched,” he said. “I pulled out the carpet and the underlay was getting bad, so I put new underlay in it, and I had to put a new headliner in it because the mice had gotten in there somehow, but that’s it. The glass is all original, the seats are all original. We’ve kind of taken car of it.”
The odometer on the rumbling Eliminator now says 65,000-plus miles, and while it’s tempting to go out and roll up some more, the Eliminator has to share time with several other collector cars in Pacarenuk’s stable, including three Cougar XR7s.
“It’s a little hard to get along with at low speeds. It’s not a good low-speed car, but it runs out on the road nice,” he said. “I don’t look at the odometer, but I don’t drive it a lot simply because it costs so damn much to drive it. Plus, I want to preserve it and the odds of getting hit by some idiot or something — you’d just hate to have that happen. When I took this down to Carlisle for the All-Ford Nationals, I had it in an enclosed trailer, and a guy T-boned the trailer with the car in it. If it had been an open trailer, he’d have wrecked the car, but as it was, he just wrecked the trailer.”
Regardless of where he takes it — even to big national shows — Pacarenuk can be confident he won’t be overshadowed by a bunch of other Eliminators in attendance. The car may have originally been a bit lost or overlooked in the muscle car jungle when it was new, but it is certainly appreciated for its uniqueness today. “At the All-Ford Nationals, I believe there was only like a half a dozen of them there, and that was the year they featured the Cougars,” he said. “I would say it’s under-appreciated. The Mach 1’s, the Mustangs, the Bosses and all those, everybody thinks of those. These were always the uglier daughter, or whatever you want to call them.
“They were not quite the one,” he adds with a laugh.
Pacarenuk never counted himself among those who overlooked the Eliminators, however. He is in the small fraternity of original owners of the rare muscle Mercs, and he’s gotten more fun out of his Eliminator than he ever bargained for.
“You can floor it at 20 mph and the tires will light up and away it goes!” he says. “I did that the other day just cause it feels good! It still throws you back in the seat.”
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