The vintage Mercury Cougar is pretty rare to find on the streets these days, but Ford enthusiasts like Robert Bartram are keeping them alive and well. Bartram’s example not only looks great, but runs better than most on the street and track.
Bertram, a longtime Ford aficionado, spent a lot of time racing muscle cars throughout the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s with his high school ride, a 1969 Mustang Mach 1 that he still owns today. Unfortunately, Bartram wrecked the Mustang and that’s what prompted the purchase of the Cougar you see here.
“When I wrecked the Mustang, it was totaled and I bought it back from the insurance company,” Bartram tells us. “I am planning on repairing it, but I was looking for something that I didn’t have to work on at the time and found the Cougar online. It had been for sale for a long time. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted—it had a 351 Cleveland, and it was orange ,and I didn’t like that.”
Bartram purchased the Cougar around 2016 and began making the necessary changes. The orange paint was removed and replaced with Ford’s 1969 Gulfstream Aqua hue, and Bartram added Cougar Eliminator touches to liven the car’s exterior appearance further.
The Mercury was originally built by a fellow out of Florida, and despite its outward factory appearance, it actually has a full chassis beneath it that includes a narrowed 9-inch rearend and big wheels out back.
“I’m not a big tire fan, but having them does make it nice because you can pretty much go to any track and get down it. You do lose e.t. with the big steamroller tires.”
As previously mentioned, Bartram wasn’t happy with a number of the car’s features and got to work making it his own.
“I tore it all apart, repainted it a different color,” Bartram explains. “It was more of a poser car than Pro Street.” The more-show-than-go version of the Cougar would eventually disappear, and Bartram pulled the formidable engine from his derelict Mustang and dropped the drivetrain into the Cougar.
The engine is a Jon Kaase Boss Racing Nine that displaces a massive 547 cubic inches. It’s built off of an A460 block that was stuffed with Diamond pistons and Lunati connecting rods and crankshaft. For ease of maintenance and longevity, the engine utilizes a Comp Cams hydraulic roller camshaft, and it’s topped with Kaase Boss Nine cylinder heads, and a Davinci carburetor.
“Most of these engines go in show cars, but I wanted to race it. He recommended the wedge engine, but I liked the wow factor,” Bartram tells us of his decision to go with the Boss Nine engine platform. Rhodes Custom Auto fabricated the stainless headers to fit the chassis, and the big-block Ford powerplant made a stout 905 horsepower on the dyno in naturally aspirated form. But Bartram didn’t stop there and added a single-stage, Induction Solutions Guardian nitrous system that he has jetted for an additional 250 horsepower.
“I have sprayed 400, but it didn’t run much faster. I wanted to keep the engine safe.”
Backing up the big-block is a C6 three-speed automatic transmission with a reverse manual valve body and transbrake. Bolted to that is a Gear Vendors overdrive unit—the choice of many drag-and-drive competitors—for great cruising speeds. With the big, tall tires and 3.70:1 ring and pinion ratio in the rearend, the engine RPM stays calm at highway speeds.
The all-steel machine runs on 93-octane pump gas on the street, and Bartram has a secondary tank full of 112-octane race fuel for the on-track, nitrous oxide-enhanced runs.
“I wanted to run eights and drive it on the street,” Bartram says. It’s very low-maintenance. I haven’t had the valve covers off in six years.”
Having ridden along as a passenger during two Drag Week events in 2016-17, the Port Deposit, Maryland, resident decided he would give driving a shot with the Cougar. In 2021, he did just that, and entered the Ultimate Iron class.
“We dropped out on day four,” Bartram recalls. “We were in first place, but broke a leaf spring on the trailer and had a bent and broken trailer hitch. I had to prove to myself we could do this, though.” Bartram averaged an 8.77 over three days before dropping out, so the performance was there for sure.
It would be the following a while before Bartram got his chance at redemption, with the next drag-and-drive event he attended being Sick Week in 2023. The five-day test of man and machine began in Orlando, Florida, and also included tracks in Bradenton and Gainesville, as well as Adel, Georgia, before returning to Orlando.
“We ran in the Unlimited Iron class because of the chassis rules, which puts us in with Steve Morris, Tina Pierce, and Alex Taylor,” Bartram says. “We ended up third place on the podium. We finished and some of the faster cars didn’t make it.”
The Unlimited Iron class and competitors that Bartram mentioned featured 10 cars at this event, with half of them clocking 6-second elapsed times. Bartram and his Cougar were outgunned for sure, but you have to finish the event, too, and Bartram was able to accomplish that.
“We were happy just to finish and ended up with an 8.85 average for the week. We ran a 9.0 at South Georgia Motorsports Park, but ran 8.70s most of the week. That’s what we were tuned for. We left a little on the table, but the car is only legal to go 8.50s. It was a good week. There was no parts breakage and the traffic was bad going to Bradenton. We drove 160 miles and it took us six hours.”
Indeed, Bartram has his 8-second street car, with credentials to prove it can handle anything on the street, even in the Florida heat.
“I’m pretty happy with what we have achieved,” Bartram says when asked about his future plans. “There is so much wear and tear, and it’s stressful. I’m possibly going to sell it and do something different, but need to figure that out.”