Brantley Gilbert was the proud owner of a 1968 Mercury Cougar ... until he needed money to keep his band on the road. He tells Taste of Country how the sale went down -- and how he got his precious car back (Hint: Jana Kramer was involved).

"It still had the fold-out headlights; it was awesome," the singer shares. Unfortunately, back in the day, he wasn't rolling in the dough and he needed some extra cash.

"I needed to get the guys to Texas and back, so me and my dad went up to the guy, told him we'd sell the car to him for $4,000," Gilbert says. "He was gonna show it, and he said, 'If you ever want it back, just come to me and I'll sell it for the same thing you sold it to me for.'"

With that in mind, the 'Bottoms Up' hitmaker went back to retrieve the car 8 months later, but the new owner suddenly wanted $25,000. Gilbert knew he couldn't afford it, and a few years went by ...

Until one night, when he was still engaged to Kramer, Gilbert had had enough. "I had my mind set on it one night; I was just going to take my da-- car and if he had a problem with it, we'd handle it," the rough-riding singer explains. "But my ex-fiancee at the time actually talked to him and I got stuck with the bill, but we did get it back. So it's in the garage."

Gilbert is again the owner of the Cougar, but also has a few motorcycles to his name these days. With his country music success, the odds of needing to sell the car for cash are slim. He has a third studio album, 'Just as I Am,' out, and a strong fan base -- the perfect recipe to keeping cash in his pocket and the car securely parked in his garage.

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