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TCP History Correspondent
A guy just can’t be all bad if his first Cougar was a ’68 with Cragers, air shocks, cherry bombs (loud mufflers), shag carpet (can you say “so '70s?”), and an 8-track tape deck. “I waxed it once a month and slathered the tires with Armor All twice a week. That car sounded so sweet when you down shifted in front of Sunset High School doing 50 mph,” recalls Don Rush, not a bad guy at all.
|The owner of West Coast Classic Cougar in
Salem, Oregon, Don was recently selected Vendor of the Year by TCCN subscribers
through the web site's annual Vendor Survey. The results of this
survey can be found in the TCCN On-line Parts Supplier Directory (TCP Tech).
Don is both a Cougar hobbyist, as well as a Cougar parts vendor.
So let’s start with the hobbyist bit first.
Over the years Don has had many, many Cougars of his own, in addition to those he obtained to sell in whole or in part. His current project is a ’68 standard GT-E that his long-time friend Dave Brost, crafted into a convertible for him. This is a highly modified car with lots of unusual appointments, so keep your eyes open for more on this project in the coming months.
|West Coast Classic Cougar in a nutshell: Don Rush, his cordless phone and 10,000 square feet of classic Cougar parts.|
|As a mere lad of five, growing up in Hood
River, Oregon, Don remembers, “being captivated by the sequential taillights
on an aqua ’68 that belonged to friends of the family.” Later on,
in 1986, while still a Junior in high school, Don and a friend bought a
’67 Cougar for parts for $75.00. After they took all of the parts
they needed for their cars, the two intrepid and budding entrepreneurs
sold the remains “for a tidy profit, making a big impression on 17 year
olds making less that $4.00 an hour.”
Now it is a bit of a stretch from that less than auspicious beginning to the current three acre spread just outside of Salem, Oregon. One acre is a fenced wrecking yard, there is a 10,000 square foot building full of Cougar parts, and the family home. Don’s business has always been home-based, but between 1986 and 2000, in addition to his own home and garage, he had to resort to off site storage, including the detached garages of a rental house he owned, and even stuffing the proverbial grandparents’ barn out in Hood River. Don smiles when he relates that in the good old days in Portland “many of my early customers remember going from one end of the neighborhood to the other and back again in search of their parts.”
|Need a fender? Don's got it, along with just about every other part L-M ever bolted to a classic Cougar.|
|To get an idea of the size of his business,
I asked Don how many Cougars had passed through his hands. He averages
about four early Cougars a month, so his best guess is, “500 not including
’74-’97 Cougars, which I have only begun hunting in the past two years.”
I think it is fair to say that Don’s main business today is used early
Cougar parts, which account for approximately 85% of his overall sales.
Reconditioned used parts are about 10%, and the remaining 5% consists of
reproduction and NOS parts.
With a name like West Coast Classic Cougar you’d expect Don to sell a lot of parts in California, Oregon, Idaho, and Washington. And, he does—about 25% of sales go to these states. However, it is the east coast, with its rock salt on the roads, and the Midwest (catchy name, rust belt) that are the largest market, absorbing 65% of his parts sales. Less than 10% of WCCC's parts are shipped to Europe, Australia and beyond.
|From his new facility near Salem, Oregon, Don Rush ships classic Cat parts across the country and beyond.|
|Not unlike other owners I’ve talked with,
certain unusual things come up when Don discusses his business. He
says, “I can’t think of too many places I haven’t sent parts to.
China comes to mind . . .” And, he just sent a set of ’67 taillights
to Turkey, of all places. In May he cut a ’70 Cougar in half, made
a huge crate, and sent the rear half to Ontario. Then, he has sent
several complete roofs (with sunroof panels installed) back east.
About 10% of the business comes from those pesky Mustang people trying
to upgrade their rides, and a very small fraction goes to street rodders
or customizers, mainly driveline components.
Don seems to go well beyond the pale when it comes to describing parts for his customers who are buying sight unseen. He strives to send the right part the first time with little room (the goal is no room) for false expectations. Touring his facilities, any customer can see that just pulling and shipping parts can be a full time job.
|Keeping used parts customers happy requires sending the right part and being straight about the condition of that part. According to the 2002 TCCN Vendor Survey, West Coast Classic Cougar gets it right more often than any other parts supplier.|
|I asked Don about the future of the Cougar parts business, his challenges and his plans. In characteristic fashion he exclaimed, “Overall this is just a fantastic business to be in. I love it when customers send me pictures of their cars finished or not, so I can share in their sense of pride and accomplishment. But every year the quantity and quality of good used parts goes down and every year more people are looking to restore their Cougars to levels almost unheard of a few years ago.” Looking out a few years, Don continues, “Due to over hunting, early Cougars in parts car form will dry up over the next decade. I need to start focusing on rebuilt, reconditioned and related parts. Although I do not have near the passion for the ’74 and up Cougars, many of my customers do and I enjoy helping them find that elusive part or rare option just as much as the early Cougar owner.”|
|Cougar nut's dream come true: An entire wrecking yard full of Cat parts!|
|And he goes on to add, “I am always encouraging my customers to find a way to self-fund their hobby. Several examples include selling items on eBay, using their unique God-given talents to start restoring a certain part and market their services through a club. You never know what it could lead to.” Well said, Don. And that comes from a hobbyist who obviously took his own advice and is doing very well for himself, combining business with fun.|
|A piece of the first production Cougar's headliner now resides permanently at West Coast Classic Cougar as part of Don's TCCN 2002 Vendor of the Year award.|
PHOTOS BY STEVE EITZEN