TULSA, Okla. – A car show is as much about people as it is about cars. That said, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Mercury Cougar in Tulsa, Oklahoma, this past April 21-22 had a very special meaning for David Rollins. It turns out that 1967 is the year he graduated from high school. David remembered the very day – Monday, May 8, 1967 – when he drove a brand-new Mercury Cougar off the dealer lot of Charlie Johnson Lincoln-Mercury in Waxahachie, Texas.
“I went to the service in it, and came back in it,” Rollins said. “My sister had kept it for a year while I was in Vietnam, and you know I just drove it all these years, and now just enjoy it.”
The solid-black 289-powered Cougar has proved “very dependable,” now with almost 200,000 miles on it and still running strong. David says that grandson Conley Rollins, there with his granddad at the show, will be the next owner.
Another original owner at the Cougar 50th celebration in Tulsa was Chuck Parnell. He and his wife have logged 248,000 miles on their ’68 Cougar, a Dan Gurney Special. He, too, recalled the exact day of the purchase, June 18, 1968; the place, Salina, Kansas; and the dealer name, Long McArthur.
The 2017 Mid-America Cougar Nationals began Thursday evening with a meet-and-greet for early arrivers in a special room in the back of Tally’s Café in Tulsa. The cruise got rained out Friday afternoon late, but the Saturday car show was inside the Exchange Center at Tulsa’s famous Expo Square.
This 50th celebration was the kick-off event for a total of six shows that are spaced around the country for the Cougar Club of America (CCOA) this year. The club president had flown in from California, while Tulsan Randell Christian, the “National Show Chairman” for this event – along with members of his local club (Mid America Classic Cougars) and the Lone Star Cougar Club in Texas – had worked their tails off for the past year and a half putting this event together.
“You usually don’t see a lot of Cougars at any car show,” Christian said. “You’ll see two or three, maybe. But, here we have more than 100 in the building!”
The atmosphere was pure Cougar camaraderie as people who gathered from 20 states and two foreign countries shared a common interest. Most of the Mercury pony cars were 1967 through 1973 model Cougars, all based on Ford’s sporty Mustang platform. The Cougar was the more “luxurious” of the two, but also carried the top performance engine packages – and then some.
Muscle Cougars on display included Cougar Eliminators, one with a Boss 302 engine (trailered some 1,600 miles by Dave Wyrwas from New Hampshire), and several with 428 Cobra Jet big-block V8’s. The “and then some” included a half-dozen of the ’68 Cougar GT-E’s with the 427, a famed racing-inspired V-8.
Less popular with collectors but also represented at this national show were the post-1973 Cougars. Mercury used the Cougar nameplate on personal / luxury mid-sized models starting in the ’74 model year.
Scott Darnell, who also owns a ’70 Cougar, showed his ’76 Cougar XR-7, which looked brand new. “They are not as collectible as the earlier versions,” Darnell said of his luxury ride, “But, it’s a pretty car and it well represents that era.”
The Ford equivalent could be a Thunderbird of the same model year. Darnell wanted a big car and being a Cougar enthusiast he found his ’76. He drove the car 679 miles to Tulsa from New Orleans and said that experienced “the best ride” you could imagine.
Cougar enthusiasts held their banquet followed by the club awards presentation that evening on Saturday, right there in the Exchange Building. As if a signal from the heavens, as soon as the awards were handed out and the event officially ended, Mother Nature turned off her faucet.
FORD PERFORMANCE PHOTOS / COURTESY JERRY HEASLEY