Adding XR7-G exhaust cut-outs to a 1967 or 1968 Mercury Cougar

There’s one detail of the 1967 Cougar that always bothered me — the way the exhaust sits under the rear valance.

Originally, I believe the Cougar had turn-down exhaust tips that were somewhat hidden, but through the years almost everyone has run the exhaust under the valance, both to keep fumes out of the car and to give it more of a muscle car style.

However, in 1968, the XR7-G package boasted exhaust cut-outs with chrome trim rings, which to me, makes the back end of the car look much classier. Since I was undertaking body work to prep my car for paint, I decided to retrofit the XR7-G trim rings and exhaust tips onto my 1967 standard.

I ordered the trim from West Coast Classic Cougar. While it seems like a high quality reproduction part, all repro parts have their quirks. The odd thing I found about these trim rings is that one mounting peg is a different size. With pegs facing up, the right peg is a size smaller than the center and left pegs. This really doesn’t matter except that the spring nuts supplied with the rings are all the same size. They fit tightly on the center and left pegs, but fall right off the right peg. You will have to source a smaller size spring nut to mount them.

One good part about these trim rings is that they are symmetrical, so you can easily flip them over to trace the pattern onto your valance.

Step one was to remove the rear bumper guards and brackets. Not all Cougars had the bumper guard option, but if yours had them, and you are removing them, don’t throw them away. Each bumper guard has a core value of $50 and the brackets trade for about $100 a pair.

I got varying measurements from XR7-G owners as to how far apart the cut-outs should be spaced. I found my exhaust pipes lined up right under the top mounting holes for the bumper guards, so I used those to mark the centerline for my cutouts. I’m not trying to pass off my car as an XR7-G, so I would much rather have good exhaust alignment than perfect factory specifications. If you’re measuring from the bottom edge of the valance, on mine the outside edge cuts were exactly 8″ off the end-curves of the valance.

I could have probably cut the entire shape out with a dremel, but on the Classic Cougar Community forum, a member suggested using aviation tin snips to quickly do the bulk of the cutting and then just clean up the edges with a dremel. I decided to give that a shot — plus it gave me an excuse to buy some nice tin snips.

The only downside to the tin snips was the bend it puts in the lower portion of the valance, but it was easily tapped straight with a hammer and a dolly. I finished cutting and cleaned the edges up with a dremel.

Drilling the mounting holes precisely enough to get the bottom edges to line up perfectly straight was the trickiest part. Using good metal bits and stepping up the hole sizes made it much easier. In the end, I had to oversize a few holes to give the trim some adjustability.

My exhaust hangers were adjusted all the way down to get the pipes under my rear valance, so it was easy enough to raise them up to move the exhaust tips into the new cut-outs. However, it wouldn’t be a DIY project without an unexpected challenge. I didn’t notice that the backside of one hanger bolt had two nuts on it, and I twisted off the head trying to tighten it back up.

Thankfully I had a replacement nut and bolt rolling around in my toolbox, so it only caused a short delay.

The old rusty exhaust tips already look better poking through the new cut-outs. It will look really great when I have the larger, shinier XR7-G tips welded onto the system.

Once I had proof of concept and good measurements, I ran through the entire process again on the reproduction rear valance that I’m prepping to install before I paint the car.

I think I may toss the flat nuts and use speed nuts to install the trim rings, so that they are easier to unscrew if I want to repeatedly install and remove them while I continue doing body work and changing things on the car.

So now that I have the XR7-G exhaust trim, the real question is whether or not I should add the XR7-G hood scoop!

Learning to Paint: Cut and polish

I only had an 18-hour window to apply clear coat after the last coat of color to ensure adhesion. However, I needed to wait a minimum of 24 hours after spraying clear before I could start the cut and polish process.

The clear coat brought out the color of the black cherry paint, but it had noticeable texture. I also had two runs on the air cleaner lid, which were easy to see, but very hard to photograph.

While I had plenty of lower grit sandpaper for paint prep, I hadn’t thought about the grits required for the polishing process. I made a run to my local True Value, but the finest grit they carried was 320. Thankfully O’Reilly’s had a full section of polishing supplies, so I purchased 1000, 2000, 3000, and some polishing compound.

Because I needed to remove the two runs in the clear, I started the process with 600 grit dry sanding. Once I got a cross hatch pattern across the entire surface, I rinsed the lid and sanded with 600 grit wet. I did another rinse, then sanded 1000 grit wet. Then I went to 2000 grit wet. Then I used my random orbital sander for 3000 grit wet. Then I finished the lid with a buffer and polishing compound.

The difference in depth, shine and texture was amazing. I still had some unwanted texture in the grooves, so I actually repeated the entire 600 wet through buffing again. The lid looked fantastic.

I was actually using the air cleaner before this project started, so I was anxious to get it back on the car. I tackled the bottom of the assembly next. I decided to forego the 600 dry sanding portion and just start with the 600 wet. By the time I finished, I could barely move my arms. I don’t think I’ve done this much intense sanding and polishing in my entire life.

I got the air cleaner back on the car, and I decided to tackle the valve covers and oil pan later.

The biggest lesson learned is that preparation is everything. My paint is smooth, but if you look down into it, you can see that the surface of the metal is not. There was quite a bit of pitting in these old rusted parts, and I should have done more sanding before the primer and more coats of primer to smooth it all out before the color coat.

Here’s a side-by-side example of the difference the cut and polish makes.

I do have confidence that I can tackle painting the entire car with the turbine sprayer and get an acceptable result. However, unless I fix some of the underlying alignment and body issues first, it’s just putting lipstick on a pig.

Learning to Paint: Applying clear coat

I spent an entire morning sanding down the color coat I had applied the day before to remove all of the cardboard and plastic that had stuck to the paint when I flipped various pieces before they had cured. I had previously sanded it all with 400 grit, but this time I wet sanded with 600 grit to get a better finish.

I dug out some wire hangers and worked out a new tactic for the my second attempt at color.

I mixed, re-mixed, and then mixed the color again hoping it would be more red this time around. It looked the same as it had before.

Once I had two nice coats of color back onto the parts, I let them cure for an hour, and I prepped for clear coat.

The Eastwood Clear mixes 2:1, so it’s a bit thicker than the color and base coats that mix 4:1. In the future I think I would add reducer when using it with the turbine sprayer.

The Eastwood instructions only call for two coats of clear, but the Kindig It Paint with the Pros instructions call for five coats of clear. It was going on really thick and really clouding up the air in the garage, so I quit at three coats. There really had been virtually no overspray with the base and color coats, but even using the low VOC activator in the clear coat, it was creating serious fumes. People walking their dogs along the street were coughing as they passed the house.

The first coat went on really well and made the color shine, but the second and third coats went on cloudy and had me worried. Thankfully, they dried clear.

I gave all of the parts plenty of time to cure before touching or moving them this time. I’m proud to say that after having to prime twice and shoot color twice, I got the clear right the first time.

I would have liked less texture in the final project. I think reducer would have helped. As I analyzed the parts in the light, I thought, it’s not TERRIBLE, but I wouldn’t have paid for this job. However, it can only get better after the cut and polish.

Repairing a 1964 Gibson Skylark GA 5T Tremolo Tube Amplifier

“Adopt a son,” was the tagline under the Instagram photo. A local music shop had a vintage Gibson amplifier listed for sale in remarkably good cosmetic shape — except for the logo.

1964 Gibson Crestline GA 5T Skylark Tremolo

I had a quick chat with Mary about the rising value of vintage instruments that veered into a promise to sell the large Line6 AX2-212 amplifier sitting in my study, and I was off to retrieve the Gibson.

The amplifier had the original speaker, the original leather handle, no tears in the tolex or cloth, and very minimal rust on the faceplate. Unfortunately, the amp didn’t play quite as good as it looked. We still brokered a deal, and I brought it home. That’s when I took the week long deep dive into vintage radio and amplifier repair.

Yes, we have gone way beyond banana bread.

The Death Cap

It wasn’t until 1969 that Underwriters Laboratories mandated three-prong plugs on appliances. Amplifiers from the 1950s and 1960s came with a two prong power cord, which could be plugged in either way. The lack of earth ground made those amplifiers susceptible to RF noise. To combat this, designers added a capacitor between the negative terminal of the power cable and the chassis ground of the amplifiers. It was well-known and accepted at the time that if a musician was touching the guitar strings and touched another reverse grounded object such as a microphone, he or she would receive a noticeable shock. The problem with having a capacitor coming from the cable to ground was that if it failed open, it would deliver the full 120 volts AC to the musician.

The “paper caps” and the “death cap” on the unmolested board.

While I wanted to keep the amplifier as original as possible, I decided removing the “death cap” and adding a three-prong power cable with ground to earth was the way to go. I also relocated the positive cable lead to run through the fuse before the switch for a little added protection of the amplifier internals.

Three strand power cable with earth ground installed.

120hz Hum

The most noticeable issue with the amplifier was a very loud hum coming through the speakers even with the volume turned to zero. A lower 60hz hum can be an indicator of poor shielding, but a 120hz hum is usually an indicator of bad filter capacitors.

From what I could tell, the amplifier internals had never been touched, so the circuit was sporting two paper-wrapped electrolytic capacitors — a Maximite and a Minimite. I didn’t have a way to test those capacitors, but it’s generally accepted that the lifespan for a paper-wrapped electrolytic capacitor is 6 – 10 years. Being 56 years old, it was a pretty solid bet that both of them needed to be replaced.

I replaced the Maximite with two modern 22mf 450volt capacitors, and the Minimite was swapped for one of the same. I flipped the amplifier back on, and the hum was gone.

A pair of 22mf 400Volt capacitors in place of the Maximite.

As a side note, if someone is selling you a tube amp and says, “It has a hum, but it still plays great,” walk away. You can’t play great battling that hum. You can’t record with that hum. You can’t perform with that hum. Also, it’s just a matter of time before the leaking capacitors fry the power transformer and cause more damage to the amplifier.

The Mysterious Disappearing Tremolo

This amplifier has a built-in tremolo circuit powered by the oscillations of a vacuum tube. When I purchased the amplifier, it wasn’t working at all. Later at home you could hear the oscillations in the 120hz hum, but it wasn’t evident in the actual guitar sound. Then I tapped on a few connections and spread some crowded wires apart, and the tremolo disappeared completely.

My online searches turned up conflicting diagrams, some indicating a 6EU7 tube and some indicating a 6C4. As I researched both, the 6C4 was noted for it’s oscillations, so I ordered one thinking I had the wrong tube. Turns out a 6C4 isn’t even the right size for the plug. I tried a new 6EU7, and the tremolo was back.

Matched Power Tubes

When I purchased the amplifier, the dates and makes of the tubes varied greatly. The schematic called for two 6AQ5 power tubes, but one was a much more recent 6005. Power tubes are supposed to be electrically matched, so that they have the same plate current and amplification characteristics. The performance of vacuum tubes can vary wildly, so matched tubes were allegedly manufactured at the same time and more rigorously tested to meet the same specifications. When I ordered replacements from Amplified Parts, they sent me a pair of matched new old stock 6AQ5 tubes that were manufactured together in France in 1963. It kind of blows my mind that there’s still parts for these amplifiers sitting in warehouses.

Does the amp sound better with the matched tubes? Maybe I’m just a auditory plebeian, but I can’t tell a difference.

With the three-strand cable, new filter capacitors and new tubes, the amp is playing well, and I imagine it should be able to handle another 50 years. However, if I get the chance to upgrade my testing equipment I’d like to take some measurement and see how far off the original values the other capacitors and various resistors have wandered.

I should also probably spend a little time working on my guitar skills, so they do justice to this amplifier.

7 days chartering in Greece: Day 1 – Planning and Paperwork

A “last minute” birthday invite from a friend led us on an adventure chartering a 42ft Fountaine Pajot Cat in Greece this fall. Last minute for me is only have three months to plan provisions, anchorages, and our sail plans.

We stressed over the plans for the entire three months, but in the end picked a fairly well-traveled path around the Saronic Gulf just west of Athens.

I used the same method as my last trip to plan the provisions. You can read those details here. The only difference this time was that everything was in KG and G and so it took a bit more math on my part. We sent the list off to a provisioning company this time instead of doing the shopping ourselves, and had the supplies delivered to the boat.

We got in early to the marina Saturday, but the food arrived late. The charter manager sat us down to sign paperwork and pay all of the remaining money owed. He explained to us that there would be a $3600 deposit paid, and if there was any damage at all to the boat that we would be out the cost of repairs or all of that money if the repair was higher than their insurance deductible. We could however pay $300 up front to have the insurance put into our name, and we would then be covered for damages. After much debate we decided to go ahead and pay for the insurance money. It was worth it to not have to worry throughout the week.

The marina was a busy place. The docks were just big enough for cars to drive down, and they did. They drove full speed, forwards and in reverse.

After loading the provisions and signing paperwork it was too late to head out. We opened up a few cans of Mythos and headed over to a local place that our captain recommended. He helped us to order a hearty Greek style group meal that ended up being enough food for three days.

We all went to bed excited to start our adventure on the open ocean in the morning.

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.

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.