Don't confuse a "chick car" with a chick's car. The first one is a Volkswagen Beetle with a flower in the dash, but the other could very well leave your car in the dust. Becky Raybuck's '70 Cougar XR-7 convertible falls into the latter category. The color might make you think it's all fluff, but that's where the similarity ends. It's not a track car, racecar or even a show car. It's a ride for those sunny days when she craves the wind in her hair and the sound of eight pistons thumping. We asked Rebecca why she chose a Cougar and she replied, "My husband Denny and I had owned a '70 Cougar XR-7 with a 428 engine when we were first married and we both wanted to own another ever since." It certainly helps that the couple are owners of Predator Performance in DuBois, Penn., where they make a living restoring and hot rodding all manner of cool rides. This time they decided to build something for themselves rather than for a paying customer.
It was several years ago that Denny spied a couple of Cougars on the auction list at Barrett-Jackson. One was a '70 XR-7 'vert just like Becky wanted, and the other was a '69 Eliminator coupe that pushed all of Denny's buttons in just the right way. Cougars aren't exactly mainstream cars, so the couple was surprised to see two of them for sale at the same place. After a short trip to Scottsdale, Ariz., and some bidding action, both Cougars were shipped back to Dubois where they waited for their turn in the shop. Eventually, there was a break in line and Chad Vogele, the hot rod shop supervisor, got the chance to tear into Becky's ride. As Chad said, "We wanted to modernize the car mechanically while keeping all the attributes that made the Cougar such a cool and unique car in its time." They saw the Cougar as the Mustang's bigger, more mature brother. This meant that they wanted to enhance the looks and comfort as well as the performance of the Mercury. It also gave them the chance to stand out in the crowd and build something out of the ordinary.
The body of the previously restored Cougar was completely disassembled down to the last bolt and chemically stripped. Luckily, they found a lot of rust-free sheetmetal. Chad told PHR: "The car was originally sold in Honolulu, Hawaii, back in '70, and later came to the mainland. We were really happy with its condition since that's not the case with cars found here in the rust belt of northern Pennsylvania." Not many changes were made to the body since they liked what was already there. Under the hood, the firewall was smoothed and, in preparation of new suspension, the shock towers were removed. Then it was time to pick the color. "The XR-7 we drove to high school prom in, and had when we were married, was a sort of powder blue color. I guess it was nostalgia, but I wanted this color on my new Cougar as well," stated Becky. With that mandate, the crew at Predator mixed up a custom hue of powder blue pearl paint especially for her ride.
While decisions were being made over paint, work was well underway on the suspension and chassis. The archaic suspension was tossed in favor of a complete Mustang II arrangement, including the power rack that dramatically improves how the car responds to steering input. To complement the new suspension, the team added QA1 coil-over shocks to the mix. The rear leafs were replaced with two-inch dropped versions along with another pair of QA1 shocks. Custom front and rear sway bars limit body roll while chassis twist is kept to a minimum by one-off subframe connectors. Being quick is useless if you can't bleed off the speed in a hurry. To tackle this task, the Cougar was fitted with Wilwood six-piston front and four-piston rear brakes. The front 13-inch rotors spin inside the 18x8 Boyd Coddington "Junkyard Dog" wheels while the rear 12-inch rotors rotate within matching 18x10 hoops.
The XR-7 originally came with a 428 cubic-inch engine and there was never a thought of replacing it with something else. The team at Predator Performance did, however, decide to rebuild the mill and squeeze a few more ponies out of it. The rotating parts were balanced and blueprinted and the block was stuffed with 9.75 compression Speed Pro pistons, an Eagle crankshaft, and Eagle Rods. A Lunati bumpstick (224/232 degree, .481 intake and .490 exhaust) controls Manley pushrods that in-turn work the shaft-mounted Crane Roller rockers. These parts work inside Edelbrock Performer heads to help the mill suck in copious amounts of air through the matching intake and spew it out through Hooker headers. Fuel and air is controlled by a custom AEM sequential fuel-injection system and AEM controls the spark as well. A Griffin aluminum radiator cools water and trans fluid and a set of March pulleys spins all the accessories. Power from the 428 transits through a '70 C-6 transmission with a TCI 3,000-rpm stall converter and into the original Detroit Locker Truetrac-equipped, 3:70-geared, Currie 9-inch rear end. The result is a very streetable engine that turns out 389 horsepower at 4,900 rpm and 454 lb-ft of twist at 3,900 rpm. It just goes to show that even powder-blue-colored cars can be fast.
One of the few aspects of the Mercury not done by Predator Performance was the interior. For this, the nearly completed Cougar was sent over to Weimanns Upholstery in Delmont, Penn., where the factory seats and door panels were reworked in various shades of blue leather and suede. They also stitched up a matching navy blue soft top to tie it all together. The original Mercury had a faux wood treatment to the dash, but Becky wanted the real deal, so a custom mahogany dash and console panels were whittled out of real wood and filled with classic gauges. A Grant wheel mounted on an ididit column keeps Becky heading in the right direction while a Vintage Air Gen II system keeps her chilled in the sticky heat of summer. There's a stereo by Custom Auto Sound, but we think Becky prefers the sound of rushing air and of the mill thumping through the Flowmaster mufflers.
Now that Becky's 'vert has hit the streets, the shop can get to work on her husband's '69 coupe, which will be considerably wilder than her blue cruiser. Unfortunately, the weather has not been cooperating at all with Becky's desire to tear up some asphalt. It was almost July when we shot the Cougar and the "sunny weather" that makes owning a drop top so much fun just hadn't materialized yet. Instead, there have been record amounts of rain, but when the weather finally stops acting up, many miles are planned for the Cougar. Becky told PHR:"Once it clears up, we plan on dropping the top, hitting as many events as possible, and just enjoying my new ride." Maybe a road-trip second honeymoon, too.