I haven’t done a great job of documenting the progress on my 67. Most of the earlier projects were just so filthy that I wouldn’t have even of thought about touching my cameras. However, now that I’m home with plenty of time on my hands and in between major projects, I thought I’d take a moment to catch up. As I was editing, I realized I didn’t even touch on half the projects I’ve done over the past three years, but nobody really wants to hear about the restoration and alignment of a glovebox latch or the linkage for a shift indicator light. I hit most of the major projects, and I was even able to match up photos for some of it.
Since this car is a pretty plain-jane standard, my goal wasn’t a full restoration. I was hoping to just create a nice, usable driver. I’m hoping to start some paint and body work this year, but we’ll have to see how the world turns out after we get out of social isolation.
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.
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
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
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.
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?
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 …
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.
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.
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.
On the evening of February 4, 1983, Wanda Lopez, a gas station attendant in Corpus Christi was stabbed to death. A man named Carlos DeLuna was arrested and convicted of the murder, then executed by lethal injection in 1989. DeLuna always maintained his innocence and claimed the murder was committed by a man named Carlos Hernandez. However, DeLuna was never able to identify Hernandez and prosecutors referred to him as “a phantom” in court.
Years later, an investigative team determined Hernandez was a real person, lived near the site of the murder, and he had a tendency to stab people.
Well, apparently the first witness on the scene was a man named Kevan Baker, who had stopped to gas up his white 1967 Mercury Cougar.
The white Cougar was a key part of authentically recreating the crime scene.
I made sure the producers were aware that my car was a work in progress and not what could be considered anywhere close to restored, but after sending plenty of pictures, they assured me it would work great for the movie and said the re-enactment scenes would have a soft focus anyway. Plus, the scene is set in 1983, so it’s not like the car would have looked showroom new.
My next challenge was making sure the old girl could take on 250 miles of highway to get to the shoot.
While drivability has gotten better and better over the past year and a half of work, I had kind of taken everything apart to install the air-conditioning and never put it all back together.
I did manage to get the correct console shifter installed and swapped in the refurbished console and radio, but I just didn’t have the time to replace the heater core and tackle the interior portion of the AC install yet. I’ll have to pull everything apart again when I get back to get it finished before the real summer heat starts.
I also finally put the rear emblems on the car. They’re kind of expensive, so I had planned to paint the car first, then put them on, but these people need a Cougar, so it better say Cougar.
Then, just to keep me on my toes, the starter decided to go out last week. I replaced that as well. We’re ready to roll — but I brought plenty of tools, just in case.
There were several times in the past few months when I was tempted to just start banging out dents and spraying spots with primer to get the body work started. I had also been talking to a guy in Austin about stripping her down to bare metal and painting her black.
I guess sometimes it does pay off to take things slow.
Not too long ago, Mary and I were sitting on the couch watching “I am the Night,” that miniseries with Chris Pine about the Black Dahlia Murders set in late 1940s Hollywood. Along with all of the period correct cars in the show, there were several buses and trucks, and I turned to Mary and said, “Who the heck restores old buses? Who even has space for that?”
We pondered over whether it could even be profitable to maintain old buses and work trucks and other specialty vehicles just for use in movies. I also wondered if directors made an effort to work around scenes just so they wouldn’t have to try to find specific vehicles.
A few weeks later one of the officers from the Mercury Cougar Club of America posted in our Facebook group that a woman from London was searching for someone near Corpus Christi that owned a Polar White 1967 Mercury Cougar. I responded that my Cougar matched that description, so he passed on her contact info, and I shot her a message.
Within an hour I was on the phone with a lady named Jenny in London who was booking my car for use in a feature length crime documentary being filmed in Corpus Christi.
And since they needed someone to drive the car in the crime re-enactment scenes, I’m booked as an actor.
My suitcase is in the trunk, and today after work I’m heading south down Highway 59 in this beat-up old car to see what happens next.