By Adam Icenogle
Looking to repeat Mustang numbers, Mercury’s pony car arrived as a 1967 model. The Cougar was conceived as a sports-luxury car, and featured pneumatic headlights concealed behind a cascade grille. Taillight design was consistent, and included sequential turn signals. $2851 put you in a base Cougar with a standard 289 V8. For $324 more, the Marauder 390 GT engine provided 320 horsepower.
Two years and more than a quarter-million sales later, Cougar convertibles made the scene for 1969. The 428 “Cobra Jet” V8 was the weapon of choice with or without Ram Air induction, and the new “Eliminator” paralleled Ford’s Mustang Mach I.
By 1970, production fell to 72,343 cars, about half as many as the initial run. However, Eliminator buyers could feed lots of fuel to either a four-barrel 351 plant, or the 375-horsepower Boss 429 engine.
An evolutionary redesign for 1971 eliminated the Eliminator. Gone too, were the Boss engines and the entire pony car concept. XR-7s sold well, but other numbers were down. The GT did not survive the 1972 model year, and only 53,702 copies were built as the car slowly became something different.
In 1974, as the Pinto-based Mustang II disappointed enthusiasts, the Cougar was dressed up as a neo-classic, with Lincolnesque opera windows, and a false vertical radiator. The swanky Montego twin measured 18 feet bumperguard to bumperguard, and weighed over two tons. 91,670 people bought them, and many opted for twin comfort lounge seats.
The 1977 XR-7 was aligned with the equally over-decorated Thunderbird, which had formerly shared a platform with an even more elaborate Lincoln Mark IV. Four-door Cougars were offered in 1978, as were Cougar Broughams, XR-7s outsold the original, with a record 166,000 in Cougar sales.
In 1980, six-cylinder Cougars shared the smaller Fairmont/Zephyr platform. An optional V8 yielded just 118hp. Sales were also downsized to just 58,028.
An all-new Cougar was presented in 1983 as an upscale clone of the aero-styled Ford Thunderbird. 75,743 Cougars came with a 3.8L V6, or an optional 4.9L V8. XR-7s were shelved, but returned the following year as turbo four-cylinder models.
Lockstep with the Thunderbird, the 1989 Cougar was reworked yet again. These cars were more modern, but very heavy and represented a diminishing number of large coupes still clinging to the front-engine/rear-drive layout left over from the muscle car era. An XR-7 brought $24,073, nearly ten times what it cost in 1967.
As brands like Plymouth and Oldsmobile disappear, Mercury hopes to reach younger, particularly female buyers with the latest Cougar. Its edgy styling and front-drive/hatchback format are meant as an alternative to a number of Japanese competitors. Rumors of a new Eliminator and a Cougar convertible suggest that Mercury is prepared for a performance image, and that they still know more than one way to skin a cat.
Tags: 428 Cobra Jet V8, Adam Icenogle, Auto Round-Up, Boss 429 engine, Eliminator, Mercury Cougar, muscle car, Mustang, Mustang II, Mustang Mach I, Oldsmobile, Pinto, Plymouth, sports-luxury car, Thunderbird, XR-7
Originally posted on Thursday, March 10th, 2011 at 1:01 pm
Category: Auto Round-Up News