After a lengthy build full of custom fabrication, we were finally at the point with Project Max Effort where it needed paint. Still wearing its aged and discolored original white coat contrasted with bare steel, Max's appearance just wasn't flattering for a car with so much quality work in it. It was time to get Max respectable looking, and we needed the right guy to show us how it could be done. Thankfully, we met that guy at the Goodguys Columbus show, where he was standing next to the coolest custom 1967 Cougar we'd ever seen.

That guy was Wes Adkins, aka "Wild Wes." Adkins has been an artist and painter literally his whole life; he started learning by helping his father in his small paint shop when he was just a little Wild. He learned the body and restoration trade quickly and began painting when he was only 12 years old. By the time he was 18, he was already winning awards for his work on show cars. As luck would have it, Adkins is an admitted Cougar fan, and knew our own project well. What started as a happenstance conversation quickly grew into the opportunity to explore the boundaries of designing, restoring, and painting what may be one of the nicest street-legal Mercurys in hot rodding history. We just had to figure out how to do it all with materials and tools you can easily get using techniques you can duplicate at home, then cram all Adkins's know-how into a short 14-page story!

Evolution of Design

When we started on our 1967 Cougar project, we knew everything under the skin would be modern race equipment, but we wanted the exterior to have a vintage racing flavor. Something like Shelby American would have built if there had been a GT350 version of the Cougar. With that in mind, we asked artist Tavis Highlander to sketch the first incarnation of the Max Effort Cougar based on Jerry Titus' Team Terlingua 1968 Mustang, one of the earliest Trans-Am racers with the blacked-out hood treatment.

With an ethos of function over form, we didn't give Max's paint scheme much more thought until paint and body time. By then, we felt the simple white/black look lacked the colorful punch that it deserved, so we called up Highlander again to bench race ideas. This time we decided to pay homage to the Bud Moore Trans-Am era Cougars, but combine it with a different upper treatment. Turning back to that original Shelbified Cougar idea, we remembered our favorite Shelby of all time: the one-of-one 1967 GT500 Super Snake. So Highlander took the Super Snake's unique three-stripe theme, combined it with the Trans-Am Cougar lower body stripe, and created a new vision for Max Effort. As you can see from the end result, it pays dividends to plan your paint design well in advance; a quality rendering like one from Highlander can be the shining beacon you need in the darkest hours, motivating you when your ride is sitting in a corner, stripped and awaiting rust repair.