Story and photos by Al Rogers
Running into a primo muscle car legend is rarely a Craigslist coincidence or a word-of-month barn find. It usually takes being in the know, especially back before people shopped for old iron on a screen hooked up to the world wide web.
Back in 1983, when Jay Williams was cruising to college in a swaggering 1969 Mercury Cougar Eliminator, die-hard car guys joined clubs to meet up with like-minded gear heads. The club pubs were where they got their news and their leads on potential purchases. It’s how Williams first came upon this hyper-rare, all-ebony 1970 Mercury Cougar Eliminator.
“In 1983, I bought a 1969 Cougar Eliminator and joined the Cougar Club of America and that is why I was getting the newsletter,” he said. “The ’69 was my daily driver through college.”
Shortly thereafter, in the fall 1986 edition of the CCOA’s At the Sign of the Cat publication, Jim Rakowski’s article about a mysterious black Cougar Eliminator appeared and Williams never forgot it.
Williams recalled that Rakowski was the registrar who chased and recorded all the known Cougar Eliminators built in 1969 (2,250 of them) and ‘70 (another 2,267), the only two years of production. During that run, the Cougar Eliminator was known for its special interior and exterior appointments as well as its powerful V-8 engine choices to back its tough image and name.
On the inside, Eliminators featured Hi-back bucket seats; specially finished black instrument panels; a tachometer; elapsed time clock; and a visual check panel for both 1969 and 1970, with a few minor additional differences between model years.
Outside, standard 1969 and ‘70 Cougar Eliminator features included front and rear spoilers; a racing-style exterior mirror; bright rocker moldings; a hood scoop; and a blacked-out grille. Black or white side graphics called out the Eliminator name and added some race cred, especially against the bright colors that most Eliminators were sprayed.
Eliminators were advertised in a very limited pallet of high-impact colors: white, bright yellow, Competition Orange and Bright Blue in 1969, and Competition Orange, Competition Yellow, Competition Blue, Pastel Blue, Competition Gold and Competition Green for ’70. However, a handful were sprayed in other hues by special order. When this black ’70 appeared at the Spring Carlisle meet, it set the Cougar world abuzz. After all, why would someone order black stripes on a jet-black Cougar Eliminator?
“[Rakowski] had gone in spring to the big Carlisle, Pennsylvania, swap meet and he didn’t actually see it, but some friends of his that were there at the swap meet told him about seeing a black 1970 Cougar Eliminator,” Williams said. “It had the 428 Super Cobra Jet and dual quad carburetors and they pretty much described the car and, well, at that time, he had never heard of — and nobody had ever heard of — an Eliminator painted black. They were supposed to be only a few specific colors selected by the factory, but it was possible to special order cars in any color, but up to that time, nobody had heard of an Eliminator in that color.”
In addition to the non-standard dual carburetors and jet-black paint, the Cougar at Carlisle was missing a Eliminator-only feature that helped smokescreen its past from the pros.
“That car had a standard gas filler door while Eliminators had a special one, so they decided it was a fake.
“Sometime after that, [Rakowski] got a call that [a club member] had bought a black 1970 428 Super Cobra Jet Eliminator at Carlisle, so Jim’s response to him was that it was a fake. Well, the guy didn’t think so; he didn’t want to think he bought a fake car, so Jim told him how he could get a copy of the factory invoice through a Lois Eminger and a few other telltale things he could tell to document the car.”
So, the guy that had bought the car spent the summer getting the invoice and he even tracked down the original owner. When he got the copy of the invoice, yes, it was a real Eliminator 428 Super Cobra Jet and it did have the special-order paint on the invoice. And also, the original owner had confirmed that the dual quads and the solid lifter cam and some racy stuff had, in fact, been installed by the dealership so Mr. Rakowski took all that info that had been gathered up and put it in this article that I read in 1986. The article, it really stuck with me, and that sounded like the genius car in the world. Big Block, dual quads, Drag Pack, four speed, black — this car just sounded really, really cool. As far as I was concerned, it was the ultimate Cougar; the Cougar I’d have bought if I hadn’t been six years old when it was built.”
From college in Oklahoma, Williams followed the saga of the slick black ’70 Cougar Eliminator on the pages of At the Sign of the Cat. All the while, he never expected to lay eyes on it, much less see it parked in his garage, but fate had a plan.
“In my last year of college, I learned that a guy I knew in Oklahoma had bought the car, and the Cougar community, in the days before the internet, was pretty tight knit, so it wasn’t a secret that this guy had this car,” Williams said. “I got in touch with him and went to see this car that I had read about and thought was so neat.
“At that time, I asked him if he had any plans to sell it. He said he probably would. His idea was to do some restoration and turn around and sell it, and I asked if he would consider selling it ‘as is’ and he said, ‘Yeah.’”
The sum that the would-be seller tossed to Williams was all the money in the world for an Eliminator, and certainly more than a college student would have stashed under the bunk in his dorm. Williams had to pass on the car, but it never fully left his mind.
A few years after Williams graduated from college, passed the bar exam and his job went from being probationary to permanent, his thoughts turned back to the black Eliminator. That was in 1989.
“I was single and didn’t have any dependents and expenses, so I was feeling good compared to my broke college school days and, long story short, we made a deal and I bought the car.”
Getting the car was just half the battle. While complete and in decent condition, the Cougar Eliminator still deserved a quality restoration. However, Williams wasn’t feeling all that plumb in the wallet right after dishing out the dough to buy the muscle car. Then family priorities leapt in front of the Cougar Eliminator and it grew dusty as Williams married, moved while chasing new job opportunities and life in general took precedent.
“In the meantime, I bought a lot of parts and did a lot of research and just drug it around with me, basically without accomplishing a whole lot.”
While he may not have got a lot done on the actual car during that time, Williams learned a lot about his car’s unique past and features, all of which would help him when it came time to authentically restoring it.
The details that Williams confirmed or learned included the car’s original purchase from dealer B.A. Jewell Lincoln-Mercury of Pennsgrove, N.J., which is now defunct, and the identity of the original owner, whom he interviewed. The owner verified that the car’s original (and desirable) 428 Super Cobra Jet received a “day two” hop-up right in the garage of B.A. Jewell, which added the dual 4V carburetors and solid lifter camshaft.
According to a 1968 Car Craft article, FoMoCo had intended to install the dual-quad 427 set-up on at least 50 428 cars to homologate the package for racing in two of the NHRA’s super stock classes, but that never came to pass for 1968. Instead, Ford Motor Co.’s Autolite Parts Division offered through dealership parts departments a dual-plane intake manifold kit with carburetors and linkage for doubling the venturi of the 428. (A less streetable single-plane dual-carburetor intake manifold was also available, but since FoMoCo did not offer this intake within a kit, buyers had to order the parts individually.) FoMoCo could easily offer the dual-carburetor setup since the parts were off-the-shelf 427 components, and each already had a part number.
Car Craft added that the dual-carb setup on the 428 was tested on driver Ed Terry’s 3300-lb. Super Stock Mustang at Lions Drag Strip and the car’s elapsed time dipped into the 10-second territory: 10.94 seconds at 125.86 mph. According to author Don Green, that was enough to beat the SS/F and SS/E records, which were at 11.21 and 11.10 seconds, respectively.
The 428SCJ in Williams’ Cougar also received a set of headers and a Ford dual-point distributor from a 427.
“Although the latter two modifications were not specifically documented as being installed at the same time, it makes sense that they would have been, and I elected to keep the engine in that configuration,” Williams said.
While the dual-carb set up may be his Eliminator’s most exotic feature, it’s an otherwise well-optioned car with a list of options that would be impressive on any Eliminator: 428 SCJ with the Drag Pak; 3.91-geared and 31-splined Traction-Lok rear axle; four-speed close-ratio transmission; Ram Air induction; console; power front disc brakes; rear window defogger: AM/eight-track stereo radio; decor group; deluxe belts; protection group; F70x14 raised white-letter tires; and courtesy lamps.
According to its Marti Report, Williams’ car is one of 32 1970 Cougar two-door hardtops built with a special paint/trim code. From his years in the Cougar club, Williams knows of a total of three originally black 1970 Cougar Eliminators, but records don’t definitively state how many were originally painted that color by the Lincoln-Mercury Division. Williams does know his special Eliminator was ordered through the Philadelphia Ordering District on Oct. 20, 1969, and built about a month later at Dearborn on Nov. 28. It was sold on Dec. 1 and was probably the only one like it sold for the 1970 model year.
“When Kevin Marti ran the numbers, he determined it was a ‘one of one’ car even without taking the special paint into account,” Williams said. “That’s not too surprising since ’70 Super Cobra Jet cars are pretty rare to begin with, and since the Drag Pak option was intended to appeal to racers, most cars so equipped are pretty bare bones. This car, on the other hand, came loaded: decor interior, courtesy light group, eight-track stereo, Deluxe seatbelts, sports console, rear window defogger, etc.”
Regardless of exactly what the Marti Report stated, Williams was already dedicated to his Eliminator and its restoration by the time he received the report. Although he had restored several cars, including the 1969 Eliminator that he drove to college, he left the bulk of this restoration to the professionals at Billups Classic Cars in Colcord, Okla. Employee Jack Guyll was charged with the tear down, sheet metal and body work and a majority of the reassembly. Casey Kelly completed the suspension detail, carburetor and paint detailing. Skeeter White applied the exterior paint while Tommy Guyll and Jason Billups applied the underbody paint. Gerald Billups built the 428 Cobra Jet Engine.
The crew tore into the job in 2016, but Williams wasn’t totally hands off: he completed the disassembly work, such as pulling the engine and transmission, and restored various sub-assemblies including the console, steering wheel, gauge clusters and several other smaller components.
Many of this car’s original and hard-to-find parts remained in good condition, but he still had a list of parts to chase down. Fortunately, the hobby had evolved since Williams bought his Eliminator in the 1980s, and now there are more venues for parts hunting beyond club publications and swap meets.
“[The bumper guards are] really common on ’67 and ’68 Cougars, but for some reason, were rarely ordered in ’69-’70,” Williams said. “They’re rarely seen on Eliminators, but this car was ordered with the ‘Appearance Protection Group’ which, along with things like rubber floor mats, included front bumper guards. Mine were missing though, and I didn’t realize it was supposed to have them until the restoration was underway. It turns out that the ’69-’70 Cougar guards aren’t shared with any other years or models, aren’t reproduced and aren’t available from any of the Cougar parts vendors across the country. I even watched eBay for a couple of months without a set popping up. I finally found a restorable set via word of mouth on a parts car in Sand Springs, Oklahoma.
“Another surprisingly hard part to find was the transmission mount,” Williams added. “Turns out that the mounts used by big-block and small-block cars are different, and the big-block style aren’t reproduced. Good originals are scarce, but in this case,I did find one on eBay. The seller was apparently parting out a big-block Torino and didn’t realize the mount fit other cars. If it had been listed as a Mustang/Cougar part, I might not have been able to afford it. As it was, it kind of slipped under the radar and I was able to get it at a reasonable price.”
While the goal of the restoration was to make the Cougar Eliminator look like new, it wasn’t to bring it to the specs with which it left the Dearborn factory; it was to bring it to its “Day 2” condition when it left B.A. Jewell Lincoln-Mercury and was driven into its original owner’s hands.
During the restoration, the Eliminator was given a stock-type dual exhaust system, but with larger-diameter pipes and cut-outs for the headers, fabricated through the talent of Russ Engman of Muskogee, Okla. While the engine was being rebuilt, it was discovered that the original heads were gone, but had been replaced on the original engine block by correct Cobra Jet/Super Cobra Jet units. That bit of knowledge helped Williams decide to up the car’s performance quotient.
“While somewhat disappointing, I didn’t feel any guilt sending [the heads]out to be ported and rebuilt by Kuntz & Company of Arkadelphia, Ark.,” he said.
During the restoration, the reason for the standard Cougar gas filler door was answered. The car had apparently been damaged in an accident back in the day and a standard Cougar gas filler door was installed. It’s likely a rare Eliminator filler door with the prowling cougar outline couldn’t be sourced.
While the build sheet explained a lot about the car, it also left Williams with at least one question: Why would someone load up an Eliminator with performance and luxury options, but choose the base (and relatively boring) 14x6 steel wheels with hubcaps? His educated guess was that the owner had aftermarket mag wheels in mind for the car and didn’t want to spring for Merc’s fancy Cougar wheels, which would have been a waste of money on what was already an expensive car. The Eliminator package added 10 percent — $310.90 — to the Cougar two-door hardtop’s $3114 base price, and that was before any additional options. This Cougar was already stickering at $4649.70 when it landed at B.A. Jewell Lincoln-Mercury, and that was before the dealership added the trick “day two” features.
“Given the way [the original owner] worked the order sheet otherwise, I surmise that aftermarket wheels and tires were always a part of the plan,” Williams said. “I don’t know what he might have installed, but ‘Fast Eddie’ Schartman ran Spyders on his factory-sponsored Super Stock Cougar, and I’ve always loved the way they looked. I picked up this set at least 15 years ago, saving them for the day the car would be ready.”
Today, those 15-inch Motor Wheel Corp. Spyder Sports Wheels are the Eliminator’s only exterior modification on a restoration just finished in March 2018.
Although he opted for a down-to-metal, nut-and-bolt restoration, Williams has set his sights on chasing elapsed times more so than chasing chintzy trophies.
“I don’t really expect it to win a lot of awards though, and didn’t build it for that,” he said. “The ‘day two’ period modifications pretty much take it out of contention in the stock classes, and without a wild paint job and custom interior, it doesn’t really fit with the modifieds. It’s its own thing, and I’m OK with that.
“It’s important to me that the car be fully functional and drivable, and not a trailer queen, and the folks at Billups were fully supportive of that,” Williams continued. “Short-term, I’d like to take it to a few events and show it off a bit before putting some long-distance miles on it.
“Some quarter-mile trips are definitely in my plans, as well.”
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