The Perfect Valentine Gift
by George Shearouse
In February 1967, my mother had no idea that Dad was about to surprise her with a Valentine gift she would have for more than 40 years.
It was my father’s intention to surprise her with a new Mustang. My uncle owned a Ford dealership in Lakeland, Fla., and I remember his Mustangs. I am sure Dad was itching for a reason to get one. He had a good friend at Central Florida Motors in Orlando. He said that Dad might be interested in this new line of car that Mercury was about to bring out. That got his attention.
He ordered Mom a brand new 1967 standard Cougar. The Cat was “loaded” for its time. It had A/C (a must for Florida), a 289 V-8, AM radio, automatic transmission and a Lime Frost paint job with a black vinyl top.
Mom taught third grade at Lake Como Elementary School. Every Friday after school, she would go to her favorite beauty shop to get her hair fixed. Dad took advantage of this to stage the perfect setup to surprise her with the new Cougar. He felt it was his duty to always have the cars gassed up and ready for any situation. He always did this on Friday.
While Mom was waiting to get her hair done, Dad popped in and asked her for the keys to her car so he could go gas it up for her. While she was under the dryer, Dad returned, handed her the new keys and said, “I’ll see you at home,” and left.
When Mom was ready to go home, she went out to the parking lot and couldn’t find her car anywhere. She went back into the beauty shop and said “I think my car has been stolen.” Everyone rushed out to the parking lot to help her. In the slot where her car had been parked was a new Cougar with a sign on the window that said, “HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY.” That weekend we loaded up the new Cougar and went to the beach.
Dad managed to get the newspaper to do a story about the first Cougar delivered to the Orlando area and had a picture of the dealer handing Mom the keys.
She drove the Cougar to work every day and it never left her stranded. She taught school until 1998 and when she retired, the Cougar did too, with a mere 67,000 miles on it. Dad hired a professional photographer to get pictures of Mom and the Cougar at her retirement by the school that she and the Cougar went to every day.
My brother, sister and I all took the driving test in the Cougar to get our license. I was allowed to take the Cat on my first date and it really made me feel like I was something.
A lot of time passed with the little Cougar parked in the garage. The paint was showing signs of age and the dash was drooping from years of the relentless Florida sun beating down on it while it was parked in the school parking lot. The roof under the vinyl top was slowly rusting through. The seats and door vinyl were cooked from the sun, but the Cat still had class.
Dad had been talking about selling it for something new. It was really hard to convince him that we just couldn’t sell it, it was family. It was Mom’s car, so it was up to her. She decided to let me take it home so I could work on it. I was so excited! I felt as if it was an honor to be entrusted with the care of the family car. I didn’t know what to do first or how I would be able to afford it, but at least it wouldn’t be in jeopardy of leaving the family.
I knew I needed to start somewhere, so I thought a valve job would be in order and that was something I could handle. This car only had 70,000 miles on it. Well, once the heads were off, I knew this was going to turn into a complete engine rebuild. While the engine was out, it only made sense to drop the transmission, and then the rear end and then … well, you know.
After the mechanical work was done, it was time to start on cosmetics. This is where I was in trouble. The roof! After peeling off the vinyl top, I saw more light than at the planetarium. It was impossible! I was directed to a man named Kenny Driver. He was president of a street rod club in the area and he did fantastic custom body work.
He said that my roof was pretty sad and if I could locate a roof, he would cut off the old one and weld on the new one. Oh great! What was I getting into? I am so thankful for the Internet, the various car clubs and vendor links. I found a guy in South Carolina that had one. Hallelujah! Of course, at this point, I had to remove the interior of the car. I couldn’t believe what I was doing to my Mom’s little Valentine present.
Kenny did a great job. But, he had 14 other projects going on at the time and it would be a long time before he could get to the body work and painting. I had to find someone willing to tackle the mess I had created. I was directed to Jason’s Collision Center. Jason really set me at ease.
“No problem, it isn’t in that bad of shape,” he said. I think he admired the old girl or felt sorry for her. This took some time but the end result was very emotional. While the car was being resurrected, I was busy finding cosmetic pieces and parts, head liner, carpet, trunk accessories and, of course, the headlight and turn signal upgrades.
We loaded the car on a trailer and took it back to David at the “Upholstery Shop” for the finishing touches. I ran into some more obstacles. The inside vinyl door and rear quarter panels were pretty bad. All the responses online said nobody did those and I would have to locate good used ones. No way!
Randy Goodling of the Cougar Club of America came to my rescue and steered me to the SMS Auto Fabrics guys in Oregon. They could do the old electro seal process to make the original look happen if I could send them the old parts. No problem there. Wow! They did a fine job and even had the original material for the seats.
During the time we were getting the interior parts, John Bauer with Pro Installz was busy installing a Custom Auto Sound stereo, speakers, running power and speaker cables and building a special box for the subwoofer and the power amp. Nice! Well, David and his team put it all back together.
Before Carl’s Glass could put in new front and rear glass, I had to decide if I wanted the black vinyl top back on. So much time and energy was devoted to the repair of the roof that I just couldn’t cover it up. I was pretty proud when I drove out of the upholstery shop. I was on my way home to finish it off. The car had a new tuxedo, but a pair of old shoes. It had the original hubcaps, but I have always wanted a set of Cragar SS Mags. NewStalgia Wheel sent me a set mounted, balanced and ready to go.
There was only one thing left to make this love affair complete …
The perfect Valentine!