FOUND! First Production GT

As a matter of drill, I e-mail an e-Bay advertiser of a Cougar for sale inquiring about the vin and left door data code plate information, if they have not listed that information in their ad.  My email inquiry to seller Bart Burroughs in Grants Pass, Oregon last April was of this routine sort, but his response brought the following codes:

Vehicle Identification Number: 7F91S500041
Data Plate Codes: 65B-K-2B-04G-84-1-U

After my wife, Elaine, picked me up off the floor and I collected myself, a quick reference to some notes I'd made previously revealed the most likely sickening truth . . . this ’67 Cougar GT, made into a drag race car by Bart, was the first production Cougar GT.  Confirming my worst fears, I telephoned Bart because I was fairly certain he had no idea of his cars' rarity, and because once he knew, if the reserve on his auction hadn't been met, he could always cancel the auction if he chose to do so.

Cougar VIN 7F91S500041, the first production GT as it looks today.

Bart's words, while understandable, were prophetic, "Well, I thought it was sort of a low number."  Of course Bart was referring to sequential unit number in the VIN (00041), and he was correct.  But he was unprepared to learn that the car he made into a drag racer 15 years earlier was in fact the first production Cougar GT.

"Well, I thought it was sort of a low number."

What do we mean when we say that this car is the "first Cougar GT?"  And, for those who know that Cougar #1 has all of the equipment that constitutes a GT, except for the fender emblems, how can that possibly be?

Well, for reasons that exceed the space of this article to explain, suffice it to say that the first eight serial numbered Cougars in 1967 were factory show cars and hence not subject to the same production process that those Cougars that followed experienced.  That having been said, perhaps a more relevant question is why is it that 7F91S500011, on the CCOA National Database, 30 serial numbers earlier than our subject car, and one that has not only all of the GT equipment, but also the GT emblems on the front fenders, is NOT the first Cougar GT?

The answer is rather simple, but somewhat obscure.  Prior to serial # 00041 the elements that make up the GT Performance Group (that appears for the first time in the order image of this car) hadn't been approved by the marketing types at Lincoln-Mercury.  These folks were responsible for determining the options and packages available for order, as well as for the prices charged for such packages.  And herein lies a clue—follow the money—the elements of the GT Performance Group, if selected individually would cost the buyer more dollars.  By packaging the elements, the cost could be reduced for the buyer, by the very fact that volume production reduced the wholesale cost of those items to L-M even greater than the price concession to the customer—don’t you just love capitalism, writ large?

Little remains of the "Untamed Elegance" L-M built into the first production GT.

Okay, okay, so L-M decides to create the GT package, so what?  Well the "so what" means that anyone with an earlier produced Cougar with the same exact equipment can't legitimately claim that they have a GT, that's what!  It's called "evidence"—in this case, production evidence.  Here's Kevin Marti explaining how the production database reveals the GT secret:

"We first looked up the codes that would be used in the database to produce a GT equipped car.  For the GT package, there were two different codes used for the 1967 model year on Cougars: O or 6.  This information is in column 43 of what is called the Vehicle Order Image.  It is the data string used to produce a car.  Scanning through the records for an O or a 6 in column 43, we come across the first one with the 41st serialized car, 7F91S500041." (For more information on the production database see the resource listing for Marti Auto Works at the end of this article.)

Cougar #41 (left) with two other '67 Cats owned by Bart Burroughs.

So, we have the first Cougar GT that becomes a drag race car—one that is forever uneconomically altered to prevent restoration to its former “1st” pedigree.  Is that bad?  Yeah, sort of, when you consider the further words of seller Bart Burroughs, "Boy, there's no way I would have made it a race car if I'd have known it was the first GT."

Of course he wouldn't, but he didn't have the information available to him 15 years ago that we have today.  Oh, by the way Bart got the car without even a big block engine in it and with far fewer of its original options than it was first produced with (see copy of the Kevin Marti report and window sticker below).  So, we can't blame Bart for doing what a bunch of us wish we could do:  Create a first rate, low budget, quick, quick (best time for the 351 Cleveland-powered Cat is 11.70) Cougar drag racer.

It's fairly safe to assume that this isn't exactly what L-M had in mind when they added the GT Performance Group to the 1967 Cougar option list.  However, capable of an 11.70 second E.T., the 351 Cleveland under Cougar #41's hood is definitely performance equipment.

When I contacted Bart, we discussed his modifications and I found out that for the better part of 13 to 14 of the past 15 years, the inner fender aprons that he'd cut out of the race car had resided in the weeds behind his shop.  About a year or so ago he decided to clean things up and off they went to the scrap yard.  After I visited with Bart, on my way to Fabulous Fords Forever show in Anaheim, he visited the scrap yard just in case they had not yet been melted down.  No such luck.  And, without the inner aprons with the VIN stamped therein, there was no sense in even thinking about rebodying the car and bringing it back to life for people to enjoy.

Enter John Howell, an irascible old (older than me, so I can say that) guy who's a member of the Cascade Cougar Club and an age-old drag race fan.  About ten days after Bart's GT drag race car fails to make its reserve on e-Bay, John Howell, owner of two ’73 Cougar convertibles, is over at my shop and we are talking about, as usual, all things Cougar.  I mention to John that a Cougar was on e-Bay that sounds just like his ticket, and I show him the printout from e-Bay.  He gets excited.  He rationalizes/  He decides this is not the "right time" for him to invest in a race car, and he departs.  Three days later I learn that the spirit of the almighty Cougar has bitten him in the posterior far worse than I'd dreamed, and that he, John, was on his way from Seattle to Grants Pass, Oregon to buy # 00041! 

Cut to the chase—John Howell buys #00041 and, in early June, he cons me into taking my truck down to Grants Pass to pick up the car and its trailer (something about John's Toyota pickup not being friendly to towing a car through the mountains).  You'll be heartened to know that #00041 is now in the hands of John Howell, who, however, at this point has no idea what the heck he's going to do with it.  A piece of history survives.  Bart Burroughs feels better that at long last his Cougar is appreciated both by him and others for what it truly is.

Cougar #41, the first production GT on its way from Grants Pass, Oregon to Seattle, Washington.

Now, what about that Cougar you were thinking of modifying?  No problem with modified Cougars, I own one myself.  But, best be forewarned about the status of your Cougar before you burn or bend the metal.  You may be, inadvertently, unalterably changing the face of Cougar history.  I know Bart Burroughs wishes he'd known!

Cast of characters (l to r): Jim Pinkerton, who "discovered" the first production GT; Bart Burroughs, who converted Cougar #41 to a race car; and John Howell, the new owner of a piece of Cougar history.

The Marti Report on Cougar #41 includes several pieces of interesting information, including the fact that the car was originally Caspian Blue with a blue interior.  However, the proof of our tale is found in the last line of the "Statistics" box: "This is the lowest serial numbered GT Cougar produced."

The Marti reproduction of Cougar #41's window sticker shows that the car was nicely equipped, but the option that makes this car an important piece of Cougar history is the $323.85 GT Performance Group, which included a 390 4V Marauder engine and performance suspension.