Editor's Choice
1968 Mercury Cougar

Herb Stuart actually bought this 1968 Cougar for his son as a high school graduation present. Together they installed new interior and suspension components and Stuart's son drove it during his college undergrad years. However, the fun ended when he was driving it to work one morning and the engine dropped a valve causing catastrophic damage. Rather than rebuild it, Stuart and his wife, Johanne, found another vehicle for their son, and when he went away to grad school, Stuart kept the Cougar.

The garage restoration (without a solid plan) started in 2000 when Stuart bought a rotisserie and new Rod & Custom Motorsports Mustang II–style front suspension with rack-and-pinion steering. Originally the thought was that the Cougar would be a good learning experience for Stuart that he could apply to building their 1969 Shelby GT500 and Model A coupe, however, a certain engine changed all that.

"My wife said, ‘someone dangled a Cobra engine in front of my face,' and that's when I decided to go with a full OBD-II engine management system from The Detail Zone, which allowed full retention of the HVAC system," Stuart told us.

Seven years later in 2007, Stuart and his wife took their first drive in the Cougar all the way to Canada to attend the Northwoods Region Shelby Club track event. After some track time, Stuart was hooked. "It's been on a steady diet of 93 octane and Wilwood brake pads at various road course events since," Stuart says proudly.

His participation in events raised his skill level, and combined with the uniqueness factor of being a track-ready Cougar, Stuart received an invite to the 2012 Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI) where he got to go up against some of the best cars in the country. Now he can add PHR's Muscle Car of the Year to that list of accolades.

We chose Stuart's Cougar as our favorite for a variety of reasons. We'll start with the fact that his Cougar was the only FoMoCo product in the show. Were the Ford guys afraid of all the Chevys? Who knows—Stuart was the only one to throw his hat in the ring. Secondly, we've got a soft spot in our heart for old Cougars, and this one was a perfect homebuilt effort. Moreover, Stuart's cat was absolutely problem-free and well-sorted as a track car, yet was docile enough to drive anywhere. We also dig Stuart's great attitude in the face of far more powerful cars.

BY THE NUMBERS
1968 Mercury Cougar
Herb Stuart
Suamico, WI

Engine
Type: 1999 Ford 4.6L 32V Cobra, 295 hp, 306 lb-ft of torque
Rotating assembly: stock Ford
Cylinder heads: stock DOHC Ford
Camshaft: stock Ford
Valvetrain: stock Ford
Induction: stock Ford
Exhaust: Ford Racing headers, Dynomax exhaust
Ignition: MSD ignition

Drivetrain
Transmission: T45 five-speed manual with Ram clutch
Rearend: Currie 9-inch with 4.11 gears and Eaton Truetrac diff

Chassis
Front suspension: Rod & Custom Motorsports Mustang II conversion with Aldan coilovers
Rear suspension: heavy-duty leaf springs with Koni shocks
Steering: Rod & Custom Motorsports rack-and-pinion
Brakes: 13-inch Wilwood six-piston discs front, 12-inch Wilwood four-piston discs rear
Chassis: subframe connectors, Alston four-point rollbar
Wheels & tires: 17x8 and 17x9 American Racing with 245/45 and 275/40 Falken

RESULTS
¼-mile Drag (best): 14.127 at 100.50 mph
⅛-mile Speed-Stop (avg.): 10.280 seconds
Autocross (avg.): 50.764 seconds
Overall score: 103.478