Creating a Right Hand Drive Cougar in the Land of Oz
By Leon (aka Wombat)
This 1968 XR7 302-4v with C4 that was built in Dearborn, delivered to Atlanta and imported into Australia in April 1996. It is probably one of the volume XR7s, originally lime green poly with ivy green interior, PS, AC, disc brakes and no console. By the time it became available for sale in Brisbane Australia, it had been painted black, been re-trimmed in black vinyl and had an Edelbrock performer manifold and carb with Ford Motorsports rocker covers and air cleaner. The engine ran OK but, with the speedo reading around 20,000 miles, it looked like it had about 320,000 miles from the wear on the running gear and drove like it was suspended on jello.
Why Right Hand Drive?
Australia still has the steering wheel on the side where they were originally fitted and until 1999 cars registered for general road use had to be right hand drive and had to conform to a number of transport department requirements relating to seat belts, indicators and windscreen glass. Until this year left-hand drive vehicles over 30 years old were restricted to Club events.
The Cougar was driven left-hand drive on Club registration for nearly 9 months before the decision was made to convert it to right-hand drive. Although I drive regularly in the US driving a LHD coupe in a right-hand drive environment requires much more concentration to ensure that you drive safely and takes the fun out of the ownership. And I purchased the car to enjoy it.
Selecting the Best Surgeon
There are as many opinions about RHD conversions as there are owners of American cars. Some owners prefer to do most of the work themselves, while others (like me) need a drive-in drive-out service because they don’t have time to do the work themselves.
We spent about 2 months talking to conversion specialists before selecting John Green from Probe Engineering to do the job. John has been converting Mustangs and Fords sing 1980 and has engineered his conversions to ensure that the car steers correctly and is virtually a mirror of the original vehicle. We then had to wait for several months as John had 5 cars booked in for conversion before mine. A recommendation by itself.
The first steps are to strip the interior and remove the engine to get access to the firewall
When you get the engine and gearbox out you find a whole lot of interesting things like an air conditioning compressor with a thrown rod and shock towers that are cracked and covered with sealant – probably in an attempt to stick them together again!
With the interior trim, dashboard and heater removed the discovery process continued; the original lime green poly paint, the QC sheet, a business card of a prior president of a Cougar club in Atlanta, 6” speakers fitted with a cold chisel. We also found out why the heater did not work - it had dumped all its contents on the floor and rusted out the passenger side, soon to be driver’s side floor.
The old metal was removed to make way for the new firewall. There are several options to build a new firewall. The most thorough option is to create a mirror image of the existing firewall so that all components mount on the opposite side This keeps the correct relationship between vertical and horizontal planes and retain the relationships between other components, such as pedal to seat distances. The conversion does offer a number of opportunities to improve on things, like getting the steering wheel an inch or so further away from the chest.
The doors come off and the dashboard can is cut from the car. The dashboard will be cut into six sections before it is welded back together as a mirror image. One of the advantages of the Mustang heritage is that the jigs used to convert 68 Mustangs are roughly the same as the Cougar. There are some slight variations in mounting holes and height from the transmission tunnel. The size of the firewall cuts can be clearly seen when the dashboard has been removed.
Recreating the Structure
John has pressed replacement firewall panels that mirror the original components. These panels are welded into place and several additional cuts are made to complete the alignment of the firewall. The consistency provided by these panels allows a mirrored accelerator linkage that retains the original accelerator feel through the pedal, rather than use a cable. The holes to move the wipers to a right hand drive sweep can be seen just below the base of the windscreen.
This close-up shows the pressing for the right side of the firewall where the booster and steering column are mounted. The pressing also allows for the clutch master cylinder for manual transmissions
The dashboard frame is welded together on the jig before it is positioned back in the car. The wiper motor and arms are located on the right side, just behind the mounts for the instruments. This conversion positions the ashtray and heater controls in correct positions. Some conversions place the heater controls where the ashtray should be located to make it easier to run cables and vacuum hoses. Parts of the dashboard jig are still in place (at the base of the dash to the tunnel) and new speaker buckets have been fabricated to repair the previous damage
The instrument panel is cut into several sections, plastic welded and re-chromed and a new metal facing fabricated for the wood grain finish.
Several materials and finishes were tried for the facia before we selected a cabinet grade veneer which, although not as luxurious as some of the new polymer finishes, is about 10% of the cost a polymer finish cut in Germany. Unfortunately the correct colour is not in vogue for kitchen cupboard doors at the moment and we are looking at ways of making the finish slightly darker (More like a Cougar and less like a Volvo). The fuse box is relocated to the centre of the dashboard, for easier access and the main harness now runs down the right hand side of the car.
Functioning Vital Organs – Steering and Brakes
With the engine back in place you can see some of the changes required for the conversion. The brake master cylinder is from the local Ford Falcon and can be rebuilt with parts from Kmart. Hoses for the headlight vacuum and windscreen washers now exit from the centre of the firewall and will be mounted under the export brace. The entry and exit points for the air-conditioning can be seen on the far right of the picture. The air-conditioning has been converted to the latest gas with a new condenser and compressor
What can’t be easily seen is the power steering box from the local Ford Fairlane, which sits just below the brake booster. This steering box is internally boosted and does not require a ram to power the drag link. The drag link was cut and re-welded (X-rayed) to fit the lower steering arm length of the Fairlane steering box and maintain correct steering geometry
With everything reinstalled in the engine bay it’s hard to identify the changes. The obvious give-away is the brake booster. The vacuum and air-conditioning hoses around the now passenger side shock tower will be tidies up when the car gets stripped for painting this winter (when it gets down to 55 degrees F) We will probably re-route the headlight hoses through the guard for a cleaner look.
Getting the Eyes to Work
The headlights have been replaced with quartz halogen units that dip to the left, so they don’t blind on-coming traffic. The headlight relays are concealed in the dark spot under the washer bottle
The front parking lights have been converted to amber indicators and small parking lights installed under the front bumper bar. Side lights have been re-coloured amber and converted to side repeaters
Unfortunately sequential lights are neither legal nor illegal in Australia and, depending on the inspector and, again depending on the inspector, all indicators must be amber. At the rear the reversing lights have been converted to amber and a relay allows them to be used together as reversing lights.
After several attempts to get the amber indicators and sequentials working together, a simpler approach suggested by Mike Oberhart was used. A flasher can is spliced into the input side of both the indicators and hazard lights and the indicator wiring spliced together in the boot to connect the front and rear circuits. Simple and effective but unfortunately we’ve lost the ability to use sequential indicators (haven’t given up on this one yet) – If the end lens is amber ……
The wipers now sweep to the A pillar on the drivers - right hand side of the windscreen
The interior is trimmed in grey euro-leather (couldn’t make up my mind on the final paint colour) and a Pioneer CD tuner installed. Tweeters are mounted in the original centre dash position with 4” 3 ways behind the kick panels and 4 way 6x9s on the rear parcel shelf. A stacker and sub-woofer will be added when the car is repainted. All gauges function, although a new fuel gauge looks like it will be on the agenda in the near future.
Inertia reel seat belts installed front and rear. A plus for the conversion was the upper seat belt mounting for the 68 cat. Rear belts require additional upper mounting points
There is still some minor work to be done on to window winders, the wood grain for the overhead console and the remote central locking.
The Little Extras soon Add-Up
Like everything else, it has been the unexpected that delayed the conversion (apart from spending 3 weeks a month out of the country). Delays, like when the electroplaters lost all the bolts and when the powder-coaters sent the parts from an MGB rather than the parts from the Cougar, saw a three-month job extend to a 6-month job. By the time we’d finished replacing worn or non-functioning parts the bill had increased by $2500.00
Was it Worth the Hassle?
Absolutely!! The Cougar is a pleasure to drive. I can now get full, unrestricted registration and drive the car whenever I want – and that’s what it’s all about.
Thanks To John Green – Probe Engineering – spent
a whole lot of time to make sure it was done right All members of the Cougar List Service Steve Eitzen and Gary Weisenberger –
all the information in TCCN Mike Oberhart – for good practical suggestions Cindy Miller – for having a set of
running cat wheel caps for sale
Special Thanks To
John Green – Probe Engineering – spent a whole lot of time to make sure it was done right
All members of the Cougar List Service
Steve Eitzen and Gary Weisenberger – all the information in TCCN Mike Oberhart – for good practical suggestions
Cindy Miller – for having a set of running cat wheel caps for sale