“Aruba Cougar” has Earned Another Life
Every old car has a backstory. Some are unknown, others have detailed timelines. This 1970 Mercury Cougar Eliminator, though, has a background that’s hard to match.
An American oil executive bought this rare Cougar new and took it with him on assignment to the Caribbean island of Aruba. After a short stint on the island, the owner moved and left the car on the island. A local then purchased the car, and it was reportedly raced on the island’s drag strip for years before being sold again.
After sitting outside for decades, ravaged by the salty island air, the Cougar was eventually purchased by someone who wished to see it restored to its original glory and reached out to Kurtis Lawrence and his team at KTL Restorations in Danville, Virginia. While the current owner wants to remain anonymous, he’s happy with the story of the Aruba Cougar being shared.
KTL has a well-earned reputation as Cougar restoration experts. Tom Lawrence bought his first Cougar in the late-’60s. His love for the cars grew as he owned a succession of them. His son, Kurt, grew up around the shop, absorbing his father’s skills and learning more as the restoration work grew.
The Aruba Cougar presented a different type of challenge for KTL. While most vintage cars in the United States rust from the bottom up because of snow and ice chemicals used in northern states, the damp, salty air on Aruba caused the Cougar to rust from the top down. This meant the chassis was in relatively good shape, but the sheet metal had major issues.
So, why was this rust bucket saved? Mercury produced more than 72,000 Cougars in 1970, but only 2,268 Eliminators. This heavily optioned model also was the only Eliminator produced with a conventional rearend with 3.00 gears, according to KTL. Beyond that, the current owner sees the car as a piece of Aruba history, so there’s also sentimental value.
The car’s original 351c.i. Cleveland V8 was rebuilt to produce the advertised 300 horsepower. So was the four-speed transmission. Other options include power steering, power front disc brakes, air-conditioning, a center console, and an AM/eight-track stereo system.
After extensive sheet metal repair and replacement, Brandon Lewis and Joshua Hackworth helped Kurt prep the body for the Glasurit/BASF Competition Orange paint. Much of the original exterior trim was able to be restored, while the KTL crew had assistance from Kings Auto Upholstery on restoring the interior.
Thanks to KTL, this storied cat has earned another life. It has also become very special to the people of Aruba, many of whom have followed the details of its restoration and continue to cheer its appearance (and award wins) at events in the United States.
Photos by John Jackson