Southeast Texas Cats Mercury Cougar Club

It was about a year ago I met Thomas Folk in person in a Home Depot parking lot. It was during a Saturday evening car show, but neither of us had our Mercury Cougar’s at the event.

When you invest the time and effort into a classic car, you want to talk about it, and it only took about a week before Mary was completely tired of hearing about problems with pulley alignment and my hypotheses as to why the dash lights weren’t working.

Tom and I talked cars and discussed the potential for creating a local club. He stepped up and did the networking with the Cougar Club of America and tracked down other Cougar owners in the area. I put together a logo and a Facebook page, and in December 2018, we had our first meeting of the Southeast Texas Cats.

Our December meeting will mark the one year anniversary, and while our event attendance isn’t breaking any records, I think it’s pretty remarkable that a free organization run by enthusiasts has made it an entire year.

The November event was a cruise I suggested in the Clear Lake area that started at the Seabrook Waffle Company and ended at the Lone Star Flight Museum. Apparently I wasn’t the only person who thought the Seabrook Waffle Company was a great spot for a Saturday morning car meet because the local Volkswagen club was there as well.

We had a nice drive down Nasa Road 1, then up Space Center Parkway around to State Highway 3 to end at the Lone Star Flight Museum, which was having some nice activities in conjunction with Memorial Day.

Here’s a quick video recap of the cruise, and if you’re in the Houston area and want to know more about classic Mercury Cougars, stop by one of our upcoming meetings.

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Installing LED headlights on a 1967 Mercury Cougar

I like the warm, yellow glow of vintage halogen headlights. Unfortunately, they’re not so great for actually seeing at night. The go-to fix for the past 10 years has been High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlight conversion kits. Of course, these bulbs draw much more power than the originals, which wasn’t great for vintage wiring that was never meant to handle that sort of amp draw in the first place. The solve that issue, it required the installation of a headlight relay and some new wiring to alleviate the load. Otherwise, turning on your brights might result in a fire.

With LED technology becoming so commonplace I figured there had to be a better solution. We converted all the bulbs in our boat to LED years ago. Surprisingly, there still wasn’t a great LED solution being carried by any of the major restoration and parts shops.

Projector LEDs are by far the best option, but most of them are really funky looking. I wanted something that looked as original as possible. My search led me to a site called dapperlighting.com. They have a projector LED headlight called the OE7, which still looks like the vintage 7” glass lights used on Mustangs, but it has a projector housing inside with an LED bulb. Unfortunately, my 1967 Mercury Cougar has four 5.75” headlights.

Dapper Lighting also sells an array of 5.75” lights with various halos, colors, and even options to make them change colors and work as turn signals, etc. It’s neat tech, but it’s not what I needed at all. My headlights don’t even show unless they’re turned on, so having halos that come on with the parking lights or turn signals built into them would be a complete waste of money.

My search moved on to eBay. I found a vendor called Stark Lighting that was selling stock looking 5.75” glass bulb housing with an H4 bulb socket on the back paired with LED bulbs. It was a plug and play solution, but I was hesitant to purchase them. Being a non-projector bulb and housing, I was really worried about the glare. I can’t stand those cars on the road that put the HID bulbs in a housing that was never meant for them and blind everyone on the freeway.

After much debate and a drive home from the grocery store during which I couldn’t tell if my headlights were turned on or not, I finally decided to give them a try.

cof

While the Stark Lighting eBay listings proudly display the Sylvania logo, there was not any sort of logo to be found on any of their packaging.

The housings are real glass, but they don’t have the same concave surface as the stock lights.

The bulbs have a large heatsink and fan on the back. I have my questions regarding the longevity of those little fans, but we’ll see.

The metal retaining rings took some finagling to seat over the H4 housings, but there were no issues with the bulbs protruding out of the back. There was plenty of clearance for everything. All four bulbs have high- and low-beam capability, so you just leave the center blade exposed when you press the connections together on the high-beam only plugs.

The result was a stock looking headlight with a very white light.

rhdr

I drove the car around for a weekend with stock headlights on the driver side and LED headlights on the passenger side. There was a dramatic difference.

rhdr

I could see much further down the road with the LEDs.

I was hoping that after the conversion I would be able to just change the bulbs from the rear of the housing instead of removing the entire housing, but there is a retainer clip over the bulb that can’t be opened with the housing installed in the car.

I don’t feel like these lights cause crazy glare for oncoming drivers, but I aimed them down more than what the manual specifies just in case.

Now even in a well-lit parking lot at night, I can still tell my headlights are on when I pull the switch. This has definitely been one of the best modifications I’ve made to the car.

1960 Crestliner: Phase 2

Last week we headed to Illinois four days earlier than the rest of the family to get the Crestliner running and comfortable for the 4th of July.

While we were gone I had a rebuilt outboard put onto the back of the boat. When the shop installed the outboard, they also replaced the rotten transom board for me.

When we started the project, we had an idea that we would pattern a new floor with painters plastic or butcher paper. This didn’t work too well. It was very difficult to keep the plastic tight on both sides on the curved edge. It was also impossible to reach both sides at once without being in the middle of them. We ended up doing side to side measurements every 6 inches to create a pattern.

Not perfect, but not bad

The subfloor of the boat had been filled with styrofoam, but throughout the decades, it had become water-logged, crumbly and moldy. When I looked up replacement options for closed cell foam, the slick mix and pour foam that would have perfectly formed to the subfloor troughs was far too pricey for this project. After googling several types of closed cell foam, we landed on pool noodles! $50 for enough to fill the whole thing.

We secured the floor over top by screwing it into the metal ribs.

The next step was the front seat. My father had a bench screwed down on all sides, but we wanted to make it open up to provide access to the storage we found underneath. This was obviously the original design since the hinges were actually welded in place.

We decided to cover the seat and the floor with a vinyl imitation teak decking. It’s soft on the feet, non-slip, pretty to look at, and it keeps you from getting splinters. After the flooring we took considerable time to install some swivel chairs. It was difficult because they bolted in both sides.

During the spring we made some cushions for the aft part of the boat using some closed cell foam and sunbrella leftover from our sailboat interior. Our next step was to make some bases for them. We chose to do a rectangular plywood base with 2x2s as joiners in the corners. After we had them all put together and painted, we traced them onto the floor where we wanted them. I then took them out of the boat and cleaned the plywood floor carefully before sticking down the vinyl decking. Then we bolted down the side seats and left the middle seat as a floater, which can be also be used as a step or a coffee table.

The last thing we needed was to get the lights running on the boat. That was fairly simple as the wiring isn’t very complex so we just ran all new. We ended up buying new stern and fore lights as well.

Our last obstacle was some safety concerns on the trailer. Our forward winch wasn’t working at all, so we got a replacement for it along with some new tires at the local farm store.

We did a quick test run in the yard, as well as some backing practice. The yoke of the trailer turned out to be a bit crooked, so pulling straight back involved a sort of S pattern wobble with the steering wheel to compensate.

Finally we got to take her down to the river! I can’t wait to take her out many more times in the future.

Capturing Jupiter Opposition 2019

Living in Houston, I don’t do much astrophotography. When I do attempt to capture the night sky, it’s usually with a wide angle lens and a long exposure, like this shot from the Lick Observatory in California a few years ago.

However, this month all of the news outlets in Houston were hyping up Jupiter and claiming that you would be able to see not only the planet, but also its four largest moons with only binoculars June 10. I decided to had to check it out.

I pulled out my vintage Leica R 400mm f6.8 Telyt and stacked both a 2x teleconverter and a 1.4x teleconverter before attaching it to a Sony A7II and bolting it all to a good tripod.

I’m not a big fan of teleconverters since you lose stops of light and some detail, but I was going for maximum magnification, and this rig got me the equivalent of a 1120mm lens.

For reference, this is how close 1120mm gets you to the moon on a full-frame, 35mm equivalent camera.

I have the StarTracker app on my phone, so I knew right where to look in the sky. The hardest part of the evening was waiting until Jupiter made its appearance above the neighbor’s trees about 10:30 p.m.

I took a couple dozen shots at varying shutter speeds and ISOs, but it seemed like f8 (plus the lost stops from the teleconverters, so actually f22), 1/500 second at ISO 1600 gave the clearest results. However, I had to develop the RAW files twice — once to properly expose Jupiter and once to expose the moons. Then I combined the two files into one photo.

There is Jupiter with Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. It’s not going to win any awards, but it’s pretty cool that you can see at least some amount of detail on Jupiter even using old lenses from the 1970s.

Restoring my Dad’s 1960 Crestliner

When we were kids, Sunday afternoons after church were often spent out on the Mississippi in our family boat. We would swim in the gross brown water, fish, tube off the back of the boat, or explore the sandy islands that dot the river. We used to take the boat on vacations with us, and we always took the cousins out when they came to visit.

The 1960 Crestliner was the first boat that we owned. My dad got it from his parents when he was in high school. My mom says it was in worse shape then than when I got it. My dad fixed it up and used to drive it way too fast, ramping off barge wakes.

Our family moved on to other boats, but my dad was not the kind of man to get rid of old things. We started to have more of an Armada in our yard. When he passed away a couple years ago he left us three boats as part of his large “collection” of items.

I chose the Crestliner to keep for myself for three reasons. 1. It’s aluminum and so simply designed that not much can go wrong. 2. It’s small and easy. 3. It was the first and meant the most to my dad.

I’ve had it for a couple years now, but I just got started on the process of restoring it into something that we can use again as a family.

The first step was to rip up the rotten wood floors. After that I had to take out all of the flotation foam because there was years worth of compost underneath. I scooped out six five-gallon buckets of dirt from the bottom of the hull. It turned out that most of the foam was old and rotted anyway, so I threw it all out.

Then we hosed it down and I took it over to a mechanic to get the engine inspected. Phase 2 will be a new wooden floor, new seats and a running engine. Hopefully in time for the 4th of July!

5 Tips for Better Writing

Check your facts

You know exactly what you think you know until you look it up.

Hmm, that mango looks like it would make some great guacamole.

Even if you’re positive everything is correct, take the time to utilize spellcheck, check your AP Style Guide, and run any bold claims through sites like Snopes.com or FactCheck.org.

Remember to check your graphics and photos for accuracy as well.

Keep your message focused

Cramming too many messages together causes clutter and confusion.

Those poor children.

Lead with what is important and keep your messages brief and to the point. Rambling is an easy way to lose readers. Make a new post for each topic.

Update your messaging

What was once inspirational can end up being offensive.

First step to helping, stop calling them retarded!

Revisit your strategy. Do the slogans and calls to action used in the past still make sense?

Be aware of cultural connotations

Stay sensitive to the culture and history of your target audience.

Was this craigslist user named Jim Crow?

I doubt this poster was even aware of the cultural history of his or her title, but if a business was to make the same sort of mistake, it could cause major backlash.

Focus your message to each channel

Hot links and video are great, unless you’re working in print.

What is this new paper technology? No batteries required!

Blogs are not the same as Facebook, which is not the same as Instagram, which is not the same as LinkedIn, and you get what I’m saying. Craft your message to best fit each channel, but to complement across all channels. Nothing is more irritating than messages that are cut off, links that don’t work, or the promise of photos or video when there are none.

London Calling: The long tow home

Well, the Cougar and I managed to fulfill our acting obligations. She did a great job looking like a running car that was getting gas, even though she wasn’t running and the gas pumps didn’t actually work. I just did my best to follow directions and look distraught everyone time the gas station attendant died in my arms. However, once we finished, the big question was, how do we get home?

My wonderful parents, still bailing me out of trouble at age 41.

Well, big thanks to my parents who made the four hour drive from Montgomery Saturday morning to drag me home. They even picked up a trailer in Conroe, so that it would only be a 24-hour rental rate instead of the steeper U-Haul one-way fees.

I went to Home Depot and bought a 1-ton come-along to make loading the car easier, and it was … for a minute. We got it about halfway onto the trailer when the come-along jammed up. That’s when we started attracting bystanders. Unfortunately we didn’t attract enough to just muscle to car up onto the trailer, but we did attract enough to have lots of extra opinions on how to make it all work.

Once the Cougar was finally loaded, we took a ride into downtown Corpus for lunch at the dog-friendly Executive Surf Club. It was the only relaxing, vacationy part of the trip, which I had promised Mary would be so incredibly relaxing and vacationy, except for the evening I’d be working on the movie. (Sorry, honey.)

My mother’s attempt at a group selfie.

We cruised a few miles down the coast to get a look at the ocean before going back to pick up the rig for the drive back to Houston. Of course, there was a mandatory stop at DQ, so my mother could get a Blizzard.

Just looking natural at the trailer club out behind the Dairy Queen.

We made it back to Spring around 8 p.m., and I made enough commotion trying to back the trailer into my driveway that it attracted all the neighbors. Big shout out the everyone who helped pushed the Cougar off the trailer and into the garage.

Back in the garage, ready for a rear-end tear down.

Well, some lessons learned.

First off, Hollywood is rough. Even if you’re the main character in a crime documentary re-enactment scene, your pay slip still says “extra.”

Movies do not pay well enough to cover classic car maintenance and repairs.

Maybe I should invest in a vehicle with some towing capacity and a trailer hitch.

And most importantly of all, I have an amazing family. Thank you again to Mary for picking me up off the side of the road and sitting around in a hotel all weekend while I dealt with the car issues. Also, huge thanks to my parents for spending an entire Saturday driving to help me get the Cougar hauled home.

I’m a lucky guy.

London Calling: The show must go on

After some discussion with the local producer about replacing my car with a Camaro, it was decided that “The Phantom” needed the authenticity of a white 1967 Mercury Cougar to match the crime scene photos. A guy named Joe had trailered in a 1980s Ford Crown Victoria from Austin for the scene.

Joe, being an absolutely amazing guy, agreed to use his trailer to pick the Cougar up from the transmission shop where they had FINALLY looked at the problem around 3 p.m., but then said they wouldn’t get to it until Monday.

Three of us could not push this car up the ramp. She’s a heavy girl.

We deposited the Cougar in front of the gas pumps at the Sunny’s Convenience Store, carefully making sure the axle didn’t slide out when we were rolling it around.

These gas pumps don’t actually work. #acting

Mary’s one question was whether or not there would be a food buffet where all the actors could just graze in between shoots. There was — sort of.

As the production assistants finished setting up lights and removing all the blatantly modern signage from the gas station, I was issued my authentic 1983 street wear — a grey polo with a grey sweater. Apparently in the crime scene photos, Kevan Baker was also wearing a hat, so they stole a sweaty baseball cap off one the PAs and stuck it on my head.

I’m going to look goofy as heck in this movie. Also, watch for continuity because the bloody, dying gas station attendant falls into my arms. However, that meant my sweater got bloody on take one, and we did it about 25 times. Then we switched back to some pre-death scenes after I was bloody. Should be interesting to see if it shows.

Hurry up, and wait. That’s what making movies is all about.

So after all the intense gas pumping, stabbing, and first aid scenes, they wrapped it up with a Police ID of … you guessed it, the wrong Carlos. To add a bit of irony, the actor who played the actual killer was used as a stand-in with the Police for the ID scene.

They shot this scene from behind the car to catch the bright mag lights shining in onto the perp. They had instructions to let the light wander off the guys face onto the camera lens and then back. I’m really curious to see what it actually looked like in the camera.

The Cougar rolled out of scene, taking 5.

Once we finally wrapped, Joe trailered the Cougar back to our hotel and unloaded her in the parking lot for me before going back to the set for his police cruiser. Thanks, Joe!

Now we just have to get the Cougar back to Houston …

London Calling: Waiting is the hardest part

Upon investigation of the breakdown, it seems I had a wheel bearing disintegrate, which then let the rear axle slide out.

Those tires really fill the wheel wells when the axle is extended.

Since I don’t have a traction lock rear differential, all the power is being sent to the road through that driver side rear tire. Once the axle slide out of the differential, there was no more power.

That’s not where everything is supposed to be located.

I need a shop to replace the axle and press in a new wheel bearing and seal. Since there’s oil all over the brake shoes, those need to be replaced as well.

It’s 2 p.m. and the place I dropped it last night just now got it on the lift. They close at 6 p.m. Call time is at 7 p.m.

We discussed towing the car over if it’s not fixed in time, but towing costs bust the production cost of the movie. They’re searching for another car.

I’m starting to get worried my Cougar is going to be stuck in Corpus Christi.

London Calling: The Cruise to Corpus Christi

Sunny skies and open roads

I had to drive to work in the rain. Driving in drizzle during rush hour in Houston is the most hazardous thing you can do in a car. You’re almost guaranteed to get rear-ended sooner or later.

However, I made it to work, and my day ticked ever so slowly away as I waited for the big road trip.

I managed to get out of the office by 4:30 p.m., gassed up the Cougar, and we tackled traffic heading south out of town. She was purring like a kitten.

I noticed an insane amount of police presence along 59, mostly monitoring northbound motorists. It’s as if someone declared there was an immigration crisis at the border and then instructed DPS to make sure they apprehended enough people to prove it. I made sure to stick to the speed limit.

Just before the turnoff onto 77 I stopped for more gas. I probably had enough to make Corpus, but I didn’t want to risk it.

Taste that sweet premium

After filling up, I turned the key, and I got the dreaded slow crank. This was my biggest fear. I JUST replaced the starter last week.

I popped the hood, jiggled the starter cable, and tried the key again. She started right away. I smiled, put her in gear, and headed on down the road.

I had turned off of 77 onto 136 at dusk, and I was cruising down that little road thinking to myself, you did it. You built a reliable driver. Where should we go after this? Maybe we can tour cross-country the way the Bumfuzzles toured in their vintage Porsche. Maybe I’ll make the drive to the West Coast Classic Cougar open house this year.

Then I attempted to speed up, and there was a lurch and a click. I decided that maybe I shouldn’t speed up, and just stuck with cruising at 65. I was only 25 miles from the hotel, no need to rush.

A few minutes later, there was another click and suddenly I lost all power. I guided the car to the side of the road to assess the situation.

She was still running. Temp was great, no warning lights. I tried to put her back in gear — nothing. Reverse — nothing. Overdrive — nothing. Drive — nothing. I was stuck.

I called my Hagerty roadside assistance number. The operator pinged my location and said a tow truck would be there in about 60 minutes. About ten minutes later my wonderful wife rolled up behind me.

I had tried and tried to talk her into coming with me, so we could make a weekend of the event, but she had insisted she wasn’t coming until Friday. Thankfully her FOMO (fear of missing out) got her moving early, and she had left Houston just a few minutes after I did.

We sat together in the Terrain looking up at the stars and petting the dogs until the tow truck arrived.

Sometimes you need a little help to get there

The car got loaded, and we noticed the left rear axle was sliding out. When troubleshooting car problems, it’s usually good to start with the piece that’s falling off. My guess is the transmission is actually still functioning, but there’s nothing connected to the differential to power the car.

We dropped the car off at Greatstate Transmissions. Who knows if that was the right place to take it, but nothing was open at 11 p.m., and I didn’t really want to pay for another tow from the hotel to a shop the next morning. They open at 7 a.m., so I’ll call them early to find out if the Cougar will be moving in time for her big scene.

We’re definitely coming out upside down on this little venture, but hey, it’s already been interesting.