WINNIPEG, ALBERTA, CANADA – It all started back on January 23, 1995, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, when Gord and Kelly Nelson purchased a local “Buy and Sell” publication from a gas station. It was Gord’s custom to pick up one of the shop & swap papers whenever he and Kelly were traveling to the Vancouver area. On this trip, they’d stopped at the gas station to fuel their ’72 Chevrolet Suburban before making the trip west for the birthday of Kelly’s grandfather. Although they had made this trip many times before, this time was different. On this occasion, there was an advertisement for a 1970 Mercury Cougar Eliminator 428 Cobra Jet in the Classic Car section of the monthly shopper.
These hot cats were special to the Nelsons. Back in the mid ’80s, the couple passed on the opportunity to purchase a Cougar Eliminator just like the one listed. However, they’d just gotten married and starting a family took precedent then, so purchasing a muscle car was not high on their list at that moment.
By the time Gord spotted this Eliminator in the “Buy and Sell,” Kelly had grown tired of hearing her husband talk about “the one that got away.” She encouraged her husband to check it out, and if everything met his requirements, she gave him the O.K. to buy the Cougar. The couple went over to see the car and agreed on a price with the seller. Then they made a quick dash to a local bank for the cash, grabbed a new battery and five gallons of fuel and then started the trip from east Vancouver to the home of Kelly’s father in Langley City, BC
Little did they know it would be the last time they’d get behind the wheel of the Eliminator for the next 20 years.
Once it was in Langley, Kelly’s late father, Allan Walker, agreed to haul the ’70 Cougar Eliminator to Alberta on a rented open car trailer. During fuel and food stops, Walker was asked many times if the car was for sale. He’d politely explain it belonged to his daughter and son-in-law, and that they’d recently purchased it in Vancouver with plans to restore it.
Not long after the purchase of the Eliminator, Gord started investigating their car’s history, starting with a Marti Report. He learned the car was sold at Zephyr Mercury Sales in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Gord reached out to the dealership with a phone call, but they did not retain any paperwork or original documentation for his car. Further research indicated it had been ordered as a dealer demonstrator and remained at the dealership until it was finally sold 13 months later.
From the Marti Report, Gord also learned there were just 2,267 Mercury Cougar Eliminators produced for the 1970 model year, with 192 equipped with the 428-cid CJ engine and with Merc-O-Matic automatic transmission. Only 30 were painted Competition Orange.
Gord expanded his investigation beyond the Marti Report and was actually able find the first owner of the ’70 Cougar Eliminator -- a doctor who left the car intact. The doctor decided to sell the car after relocating his medical practice to the West Coast. The car was not originally equipped with factory-installed smog equipment, so after considering the process and cost to bring the Eliminator up to California emissions standards, he let it go. The Eliminator was then sold to a stereo shop salesperson who rebuilt the 428-cid Cobra Jet engine, added a Crane camshaft, headers, dual carburetors and aftermarket wheels. It turns out that the third and last owner prior to Gord and Kelly Nelson’s purchase was a car collector. He was told by the second owner during his purchase that the factory Ram Air and styled steel wheels had been stolen from his garage.
There were 41,000 miles on the Eliminator’s odometer when Gord and Kelly took the keys. Its interior appeared to be original, and phone conversations with each of the three previous owners verified it had remained intact and unchanged since day one. While the mileage was low, the Eliminator had not led a sheltered life. It was used daily and raced by the second owner at a local drag strip.
Initially, the Nelsons intended to complete a quick cosmetic refresh of the car, but things quickly shifted into high gear and the work turned into a full-blown restoration. With help from Ron Healy, the Eliminator was completely disassembled down to the body shell, then mounted on a home-built rotisserie. The undercarriage was sand blasted while the outer sheet metal was stripped by hand. Upon inspection, Gord discovered the body was very sound except for the quarter panels. Each had rust on the lower section, behind the wheel openings, and both had small damage throughout the outer Class A surface. Gord decided to replace both quarter panels. The torque boxes, floor pans and inner fender aprons also needed attention. Each was stripped, repaired and painted to look factory new, with Gord doing the work from his home workshop. While working in this area of the body, he noticed someone had cut holes in the shock towers for access to the upper control-arm grease zerk fittings (a common practice back in the day). Each hole was repaired and given the factory-correct look.
The Portland, Oregon, area is known for its swap meets, and the Nelsons frequently crossed the U.S.-Canadian border during 1995 and 1996 to attend Portland auto swap meets in search of Eliminator parts. They bought the styled steel wheels, new-old-stock (NOS) center caps, exhaust manifolds and the correct intake manifold unit from different meets in this area of the country. A Ram Air system was purchased from Perogie Enterprises. Gord mentioned he was glad to have the insight to purchase these parts soon after buying the car, because the price has since increased 500 percent more than what he had paid for them.
During the restoration, the engine compartment and undercarriage were cleaned, repainted and then detailed. All new suspension parts were purchased, including front and rear springs from Eaton Detroit, the original producer of the factory parts, then detailed to look factory new.
In 2003, nearly eight years after the ’70 Cougar Eliminator was purchased, it was time to find a suitable shop to perform the body and paint work. After talking to muscle and classic car owners in the Winnipeg area, a shop was chosen and suitable time frame discussed for completion of the body and paint work. The car was delivered, but after four years of sitting idle with little progress, Gord and Kelly Nelson relocated it to a second shop, only to be disappointed with the finished paint work after a four-year process. After discussing with the shop owner about how the paint did not meet their expectations, it was apparent the shop was not capable of applying a world-class paint finish -- so yet again, the couple found themselves back to square one.
Then one day they heard about Investment Vehicle Restorations in Granum, Alberta, Canada. The craftsmen there were very leery of the previous body and paint work done to the car and agreed to do the body and paint work on the Eliminator with one stipulation: the primer, sealer and paint on the car was to be removed and the shop would start with a clean metal surface. When the primer and paint material was removed, it was evident that the earlier body work had been substandard. Because of the rarity of the ’70 Cougar Eliminator, it was decided to start the exterior body and paint work from scratch.
In December 2013, Investment Vehicle Restorations (IVR) started the body and paint work. In November 2014 -- less than a year after it had been delivered to that shop -- the couple received a phone call from a representative at IVR telling them the car was ready. Gord gave the car a thorough inspection at IVR and was blown away by the results. The body was straight as an arrow and the paint finish was mirror-like and flawless.
During the time the car spent at IVR, a search for parts continued with a majority of them purchased from West Coast Classic Cougar and, of course, eBay. After a 20-year search, NOS trim rings and tail lamp lenses were found. While the seat upholstery and door panels are original, the dash was sent to Just Dashes in California and professionally refinished. Meanwhile, the carpet, package tray, console and headliner are reproductions. A set of Goodyear Polyglas tires were mounted on the styled steel wheels.
The car was assembled and taken to Personal Touch for a final polish and detailing. This included removing dust from sanding during the Eliminator’s earlier two body shop stops.
Twenty years and one month after the Nelsons purchased their ’70 Cougar Eliminator, dubbed “Jailcat” -- so named for its 20 years in captivity -- made its first appearance at the World of Wheels show in Calgary, Canada. There, it received a Best in Class award.
The March weather in Winnipeg, Canada, was exceptional at the time so Gord and Kelly Nelson took it out on the street for its maiden voyage. An uncle who’d been promised a ride came out from British Columbia and they took it out on the open road for a little test-and-tuning. The trio was thrilled to finally try out that 428 CJ. They put it through a light workout and walked away pleasantly surprised by how well it performed.
After two decades, the 1970 Mercury Cougar Eliminator seems to be enjoying its escape from restoration captivity. It has even gone on to take part in numerous world-class car shows, including MCACN-2015 and Concours d’ Elegance of America at the Inn St. Johns 2016 in Michigan.
The icing on the cake came during the spring of 2017 when “Jailcat” took Best In Class honors at the World of Wheels show in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Although Jailcat’s restoration was a long time coming, Gord seems to think doing the restoration right was worth the wait, saying, “That ‘cat’ has taken us to places we never thought we’d ever see or be a part of, and the way it has been received has been over the top!”
FORD PERFORMANCE PHOTOS COURTESY AL ROGERS / FREEZE FRAME IMAGE