Restoring a 1967 Mercury Cougar

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Robert Arnoldink has long been a fan of classic cars. The owner of three Auto Body Xperts collision shops in western Michigan, he has spent a lot of time at car shows with his 1974 Pontiac Firebird Formula. His wife has been by his side, though she didn’t really share his enthusiasm.

So a couple of years ago, when looking for a new vehicle to restore, he realized he could do something to make shows fun for her. He bought a green ‘67 Mercury Cougar and started transforming it into the copper-colored car she owned as a 16-year-old—but with a twist.

“We changed the whole color on it,” Arnoldink says. “It’s a Nissan copper color with a pearl on it.”

The PPG copper color is a throwback to the original car, but the pearl makes it stand out in the sun by reflecting different colors.

“I picked the pearl color because I wanted something that had more pizzazz than the ’67 paint scheme; I wanted something that really stood out down the road,” Arnoldink says.

To ensure that the cougar appealed more to his wife beyond the exterior, Arnoldink moved on to another important part of the car: the interior. This proved to be his most difficult task.

“It was really a relatively rust-free car, which is unusual on these cougars, but the interior was all shot,” Arnoldink said, adding that the interior—or what was left of it—was an olive-green color.

Restoring the inside of the car became one of the most intensive parts of the restoration process, one Arnoldink had never attempted before.

“I bought a kit for it to do upholstery,” Arnoldink says, explaining that he got his from Mustangs Unlimited. “You completely strip the interior right down to the seat frames and you start all over with it; you rebuild it all with everything in the kit.” 

The car had been sitting in a barn for 25 years, so it was going to need a lot of other fixes. For starters, the engine was missing parts. A complete dismantle was done, and the 289ci, 4.7-liter Windsor V8 engine had to be rebuilt by a neighboring auto shop. Everything but the block and the heads were junked before it was brought back to life. An Edelbrock intake and carburetor were installed to create a “high output 289.”

Arnoldink also lowered the car so that he and his wife have an easier time getting in.

“I think it’s an age thing,” his wife, Karen, says with a laugh.

That’s one of the reasons Arnoldink didn’t “soup up” the car. He wanted Karen to be able to drive and enjoy it.

“He justifies [restoring] it by saying it’s for me, but he has just as much fun doing it for himself,” Karen adds. “I enjoy going around to the car shows with him. It’s fun to hear what people say about your car.”

The $25,000 project was finished in time for show season last year and won some awards. It’s affectionately named Hope in celebration of Karen’s status as a three-time cancer survivor (a sticker on the back of the cougar says as much, sparking conversations with other survivors at shows).

Arnoldink said it’s an award in itself that most shows he goes to only have one other cougar, if that. “I like cars that are different,” he says. 

Not only do he and his wife get a car that stands out, but also a familiar trip down memory lane every time they drive it.

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