Power Profile: John Hetherson’s ’68 Cougar Dan Gurney Special

There’s something about a classic muscle car still wearing its battle scars from days long faded. We imagine stories of youth and revelry, adolescent foolishness and high speed hi-jinks taking place somewhere among the back roads of America. These cars were purpose built with little regard for civility or a local speed limit, and with every blemish there’s a story to tell.

For Pennsylvanian John Hetherson and his ’68 Mercury Cougar Dan Gurney Special, the car is only part of the story.

With only a hint of what lies beneath it’s hood, The Heatherson’s ’68 Cougar “Dan Gurney special” will soon hunt the western Pennsylvania country roads.

This is actually a very special car to me as it helped me get through a very tough period in my life” John begins. “In 2013 I was hit by a car while on duty as a police officer with the Baltimore Police Department. I took a 65 mph impact to my body which resulted in a severe concussion, cuts and bruises to my face and body,” he continues. “The worst of the injuries being the traumatic amputation of my left foot.”

Crediting the amazing doctors and staff at the university of Maryland shock trauma hospital, John’s foot was reattached and saved after 13 surgeries and years of physical therapy. His career as a police officer, however, was over.

Nearly a year into his miraculous three year recovery process, John decided his idle time was over and set forth on searching for something to do. “I decided to start looking for a project car to work on,” he says. “I searched for months all over Pennsylvania and Maryland with no luck, until I stumbled upon a Craigslist ad for my ’68.”

Sitting in this barn for over three decades, John pulled this Dan Gurney special into the light after discovering it a mere five miles from his home.

Heatherson tells us the Cougar had been sitting inside a barn for close to thirty years until he dragged it out, amazingly just five miles from his home. The energized Pennsylvanian explains, “the Cougar’s resuscitation began soon after, beginning with a brand new blueprinted 306 powerplant with FiTech fuel injection fueling an estimated 450 horsepower!

Flowtech ceramic coated headers expel fumes through custom 2.5 inch dual exhaust while the engine accessories are capped off by a Power Master alternator. “I went with a TCI close ratio 3-speed and an Eaton Detroit Locker in the rearend with 3:55 gears,” John adds. Needless to say every line (fuel, brake and coolant) was replaced as was the fuel tank.

Adding a bit more bite to this Cougar, John dropped a fire breathing 450-horse 306 between the shock towers after placing the original engine and tranny aside for safe keeping.

Rebuilding More Than Just a Car

In a nod to the cars past, Hetherson opted for the larger 15×9 styled wheels that are repops of the original ’68 mag rims while the front and rear suspension was replaced with stock spec parts.

Instantly noticeable is the lightweight fiberglass hood. The one-piece reproduction of a functional GT-E hood was sourced from Canada adding potency to the ’58 style Rocket Olds air cleaner stuffed below. “It fits perfectly inside the hood scoop almost like it belonged there,” Hetherson says emphatically.

As would be expected of a car following a 30-year hibernation, the interior needed little more than a thorough cleaning. “With the exception of the shifter and the radio, it’s all original,” says John.

Eventually the plan is to respray it with its original Grecian gold hue but like its owner, the rehabilitation can be a slower process than what we hope for.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without the help of my friends and family,” John shares. “There’s just no way.”

Without missing a beat he adds, “I’m very fortunate to even be here and honestly, I’m not sure how I am. I have a new outlook on things now and this car is part of the process. It will be with me forever.”

For John and his ’68 Cougar it’s not so much about the battle scars as it is emerging stronger on the other side. Every car does indeed have a story, and this one and it’s new owner, has a great one to tell.

About the author

JP Emerson

My affliction with vintage iron is matched only by my knowledge of classic Rock ’N Roll. Although a heavy lean to all things Ford blue, I have a sharp appreciation for all makes and models, especially those that gulp gas and drop oil to mark their territory. Having provided work for multiple magazines, manufacturers, SEMA, and a top secret list of celebrity and auto insiders, I understand the bond between cars and owners.
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