Mercury Cougar is one of the most famous muscle car names of the latter half of the 1960s and the early 1970s. The nameplate was used to brand a series of diverse automobiles such as muscle cars, luxury two-door tourer, mid-size cars, and even a sports compact.
Mercury being the luxury division of Ford Motors, shared many mechanical components, the chassis, and body structures with its Ford cousins throughout its production.
Most of the time, the Cougar nameplate was associated with two-door coupes at various time intervals during its decades-long production until 2002. It was also available as a convertible, a sedan, station wagon, and even a hatchback.
With nearly 3 million cars produced, the Cougar is the highest-selling model lineup ever produced by Mercury. It is Mercury’s second model lineup with the longest-running production, 34 years production is second only to the Grand Marquis which was produced for 36 years.
In this article, I will pay more attention to muscle cars that bared the Cougar nameplate.
The story behind the name.
Mercury marketing division was fond of naming their cars after the big cats. They got a tradition of naming their cars after cats such as the Lynx, Sable, and Bobcat.
They advertised their model lineup at their dealerships with slogans like “The sign of the cat” with pictures of big cats atop their cars. During much of its production, the Cougar followed the tradition of being marketed as a Mercury badged Ford product.
Many Mercury models shared body panels with their Ford counterparts and to make the Mercury models stand out from the Ford cars, the Mercury models were distinguished by exterior styling changes ranging from the front grille, headlamps, taillights, to the entire exterior body panels.
Being a subdivision of Ford Motors, it was assembled at the Dearborn Assembly plant, a part of the Ford River Rouge Complex in Dearborn, Michigan from 1967 to 1973.
Mercury Cougar Generations.
The first and second generations were derived from the much popular original pony car, the Ford Mustang. It eventually replaced the Mercury Cyclone muscle car in the Mercury model line.
However, for its third and fourth generations, the Cougar was based on the chassis of the Ford Torino, an intermediate model lineup. Initially as the counterpart of the Ford Gran Torino Elite.
Fourth-generation was split into two model lines, the Cougar replacing the Montego as the intermediate model of Mercury with the Cougar XR7 becoming the counterpart of the Ford thunderbird.
For its fifth and sixth generations, the Cougar was based on the Ford FOX platform.
For the fifth generation, the Cougar has separated again into two model lines, with Cougar XR7 being the counterpart of the Thunderbird and the Standard Cougar replacing the Monarch being based on Ford Granada.
The sixth-generation saw Cougar going back to the old routes by reverting to the two-door coupe body style. The sixth-generation Cougar was based on the Ford Thunderbird.
The seventh-generation Cougar was based on the new Mercury MN12 platform which was specifically developed for Cougar, Thunderbird, and Lincoln Mark VIII. By 1997, Cougar and Thunderbird were discontinued while the Mark VIII was discontinued in the following year.
The eight-generation Cougar was unveiled in 1999 as a sports compact hatchback and was based on the Ford Contour chassis. It was sold only under the Mercury brand and is the only version of the Cougar with no direct Ford counterpart.
Development of the Cougar project started back in 1962 as a design proposal for the T-5 project. The T-5 project resulted in the creation of the most famous pony car ever, the Mustang.
Ford being a mainstream brand focused on providing automobiles for a much common stream market. Lincoln and Mercury were associated with luxury and comfort.
Lincoln and the Mercury subdivisions then sought to produce their own version of the Mustang.
Henry Ford II wasn’t much keen on the project proposals of both companies and doubted the financial success or reception for the Mercury and Lincoln versions. However, he gave his permission to the Mercury version in mid-1964, following the reception and financial success the Mustang achieved in such a short time period.
Mercury Cougar project was internally designated as the T-7. The Cougar shared its chassis with the 1967 model year revised version of the Ford Mustang. But it had a longer wheelbase than the Mustang. Both the Mustang and the Cougar derive their mechanical underpinnings from the rear-wheel-drive Ford Falcon unibody compact chassis architecture.
Initially, it was developed as a rebadged version of the Mustang, the 1967 Cougar received its own body designed from scratch. It retained the popular European performance car body proportions, the long hood, and the short deck proportions of the Mustang.
Mercury Cougar was positioned in between the Ford Mustang and the Ford thunderbird. It was supposed to be comfortable, luxurious yet powerful enough to be sporty. Being a Mercury, it offered many advanced comforts and ride quality-oriented mechanical components and features than the Mustang.
It was marketed as having a European performance style and comforts.
Mercury Cougar was tuned for better ride quality and handling than the Thunderbird.
Cougar also became the first Mercury to come with hidden headlamps.
First Generation Mercury Cougar
1967 Mercury Cougar
The first-generation Mercury Cougar was unveiled in 1966.
At the launch, the first-generation Cougar shared its engine lineup with the Mustang, but only the V8 units.
The base engine was 4.7-liter (289 cu) V8. You could have it with either two-barrel carburetion or four-barrel carburetion, delivering 200 horsepower to 250 horsepower respectively.
The 6.4-liter (390 cu) Marauder V8 was also available as an option. This engine delivered 320 horsepower.
Despite Henry Ford II’s skepticism, Mercury Cougar ended up being accounted for nearly 40% of the 1967 Lincoln and Mercury sales combined.
Motor Trend magazine gave it the Car of the Year award, the first Lincoln/Mercury vehicle to achieve that.
Mercury Cougar was initially introduced as a two-door hardtop and came with a base sticker price of $2854. A full option Cougar XR-7 could cost $4500, which was the base price of a Thunderbird.
It was easily distinguishable due to the electric shaver grille, slatted chrome trim, concealing tail lamps with dark lenses behind vertically slatted trim. Sequential turn signals were also included as standard.
The Mercury Cougar was offered in two trims. The standard trim, and the XR-7.
A simulated wood trim dashboard, black face gauge cluster, an overhead console, T handle console shifter for the automatic transmission were available for an extra $185.
Automatic climate control and power windows were available for all other mercury models except for the Cougar.
Tilt away steering wheel was also available as extra paid option. A power-operated steering column swung upwards when the driver’s door was opened to provide better accessibility when getting in and getting out.
150,893 Cougars were produced in 1967.
1968 Mercury Cougar
1968 Mercury Cougar also came with side marker lights, front outboard shoulder belts as standard to comply with new federal safety regulations.
For the first time ever for a Ford, Cougar also offered an electric sunroof as a factory-installed option.
In 1968, the 4.7-liter V8 was temporarily substituted by the 4.9-liter (302 cu) V8 which was specifically designed to comply with new federal emission regulations. This engine produced 210 horsepower with two-barrel carburetion and 230 horsepower with four-barrel carburetion. The 4.9-liter V8 with four-barrel carburetion became the standard powertrain of the Cougar XR-7.
By mid-year, a lower compression 4.7-liter V8 was available again.
Marauder 390P, the 6.4-liter Marauder V8 with a two-barrel carburetion powertrain package was introduced for non-GT Cougars. this engine delivered 280 horsepower.
The Cougar GT-E came with a 7-liter (427 cu) V8 as standard. This engine produced 390 horsepower.
Another powertrain option was available by mid model year. A 428 Cobra Jet with Ram Air Induction. This engine delivered 335 horsepower.
113,720 cars were made for the 1968 model year.
1969 mercury Cougar
In 1969, the Cougar model went through a revision. The straight-lined body sides were replaced with a coke bottle styled sweeping body crease sloping down from the hoof line to the rear wheels.
The side vent windows were deleted as the Cougars now came with Direct Air system as standard.
The front fascia retained a full width horizontally slatted grille with matching centerpiece. Hidden headlamps were retained.
The concave tail lamps were used instead of the previous years of convex design.
A new convertible variant was added to the model lineup. The convertible was also available as either a standard or an XR-7 trim variant.
All the convertibles came with a power-operated roof as standard.
The engine lineup underwent many changes as well.
The 289-small block V8 was dropped in favor of the 351 V8 with two-barrel carburetion as standard powertrain for the Cougar. This engine produced 250 horsepower. The four-barrel carburetion increased the power output to 290 horsepower.
The 390 Marauder V8 was offered exclusively with a four-barrel carburetion setup. This setup delivered 320 horsepower.
The 428 Cobra Jet engine with or without Ram Air induction was also available. This engine delivered 335 horsepower.
As a mid-year lineup update, Mercury introduced the Boss 302 V8 engine to the Cougar Eliminator. This engine was exclusive to the Eliminator and was offered in a four-barrel or twin four-barrel carburetion setup. The four-barrel street version delivered 290 horsepower while the twin four-barrel version was also officially rated with the same power output.
Not a single Mercury Cougar with a Boss 429 engine was ever made as a production car. Two cars were made as factory drag cars for the drag racing legends, Fast Eddie and Dyno Nicholson.
100,069 Cougars were produced for the 1969 model year.
1970 Mercury Cougar
The 1970 Mercury Cougar went through another revision to the front fascia and now the full width grille was once again replaced with the electric shaver grille. Now it came with a body-color centerpiece and received a new front bumper and completely redesigned front fenders.
Locking steering column and high back bucket seats were added to comply with new federal safety regulations.
For the 1970 model year, Mercury Cougar was available with the same 351 V8 with two-barrel carburetion as standard.
390 Marauder V8 was dropped entirely from the lineup. 390 Marauder V8 was available with exclusive four-barrel carburetion, and it was replaced with a 351 Cleveland V8. The old setup delivered 320 horsepower and the new Cleveland V8 delivered 300 horsepower.
The Cleveland engine was an all-new design and had many advantages over the older Marauder.
429 Cobra Jet and the Boss 302 remained as the sole engine options for high-performance cars.
The Cougar model lineup excluding the Eliminator received a special option package styled by fashion designer Pauline Trigere.
This package included a houndstooth pattern vinyl roof with matching upholstery. Both the upholstery and the roof were available together or separately.
72,343 cars were produced in 1970.
1967 – 1968 Cougar GT
The GT performance package was available for both the standard Cougar and the Cougar XR-7. The GT package improved the performance and handling of the Cougar.
It included a 390 Marauder V8 with heavy-duty suspension, larger brakes, a low restriction exhaust system, and unique wheels as standard.
A new GT-E package was introduced for 1968, and it was positioned above the GT package.
GT-E package offered a 427 V8 engine mated to a three-speed automatic transmission. It also received its own badge, a quad exhaust system, power disc brakes, and a redesigned grille as standard.
428 Cobra Jet engine was also made available for the GT-E package along with the 427 V8. The 427 V8 delivered 320 horsepower while the 428 Cobra Jet delivered 335 horsepower.
Only 394 GT-E Cougars were produced. 357 out of the 394 came with 427 V8 engines while the remaining 37 came with 428 Cobra Jet.
1969 – 1970 Cougar Eliminator
The Cougar Eliminator was developed as a counterpart of the Ford Mustang Mach 1.
Cougar Eliminator replaced the Cougar GT as the high-performance variant of the Cougar.
The Eliminator package came with a performance-tuned suspension, upgraded wheels and tires, a front air dam, and a rear spoiler as standard.
The exterior changes were made to make the Eliminator more distinguishable. Blacked out the vinyl roof and the hood scoop, racing style side-mirrors, unique body stripes and badges.
The only available color options were the bright blue metallic, competition orange, white, and bright yellow.
The Cougar Eliminator was available as a hardtop only.
Eliminator came equipped with the 351 Cleveland V8 as standard and the Boss 302 engine was offered as an option by the mid-1969 model year.
The Boss 302 engine was exclusive to the Eliminator package.
1967 Cougar XR-7S
Mercury offered the Dan Gurney Special variant of the XR-7. This variant was known as the XR-7S.
It featured unique decals, turbine-style wheel covers, and a chrome engine dress-up kit.
1968 Cougar XR-7G
In 1968, a new version of the XR-7S, the XR-7G (G for Gurney) was unveiled.
The XR-7G package was a performance-oriented appearance package.
It included a unique hood scoop, hoop pins, tailpipes from the GT, fog lamps as standard.
This package was available with any engine option.
It was a built to order package and the exact production number is not known.
1969 Cougar Sports Special
The Cougar Sports Special appearance package came with unique pinstriping, turbine-style wheel covers, simulated side scoops, and rocker panel moldings as standard. This package could be combined with the Decor interior package and performance suspension package along with any engine option.
1971 Mercury Cougar
For 1971 model year, Mercury released the second-generation Mercury Cougar.
The Cougar was now aimed at many GM A-body coupes. Cougar was placed in a way to offer competition to the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme.
The second-generation Cougar was also based on the chassis and underpinnings of the Ford Mustang. The second-generation Cougar used a revised version of the first-generation chassis. Though it was based on the Ford Mustang chassis, the wheelbase was increased to 112.1 inches.
Despite the upgrades, the rear-wheel-drive chassis and underpinning were still derived from the Ford Falcon unibody architecture.
The Mustang / Cougar chassis was widened further by three inches to accommodate big block engines such as the 429 Cobra Jet V8.
The second-generation Cougar underwent a revision of the powertrain lineup.
351 Cleveland V8 with two-barrel carburetion became the standard. The same engine was also available with four-barrel carburetion.
The Boss 302 and Boss 429 engine options were discontinued due to increased research and development costs.
The Boss 302, Boss 429, and the 428 Cobra Jet V8 was replaced by a 429 Cobra Jet V8. This engine delivered 370 horsepower with or without Ram Air induction.
Front track was widened from 58.1 inches to 61.5 inches.
All the Cougars now came with front disc brakes and rear drum brakes as standard.
The first-generation Cougar was accomplishing its primary role as a luxurious muscle car. The second-generation Cougar began to transition away from this specific role to derive aspects from both sports cars and luxury cars.
Now the Cougar being based on the second-generation Mustang, it was similar in size and performance to the Mercury Cyclone intermediate coupe. This resulted in phasing out the Cyclone muscle car during 1972 in favor of the Cougar.
The British-made Ford Capri was imported to the U.S market to be marketed as a sports car and it began to fulfill the role of the Cougar within Lincoln Mercury as a sports car.
The second-generation Cougar is the final Cougar variant to derive from the Ford Mustang and also the final variant to be offered as a convertible.
The Cougar was offered in standard and XR-7 trim.
1972 Mercury Cougar.
Ford adopted the SAE net horsepower ratings, which resulted in decreased engine output.
Cougar Eliminator was discontinued as the Boss Mustangs were also discontinued.
GT option included performance suspension, tires, engine cooling components, etc.
The 429 Cobra Jet V8 was dropped due to the lack of demand.
The 351 Cleveland engine was the sole powertrain option. It was available with either of the three varieties.
351 Cleveland V8 with two-barrel carburetion delivered 166 horsepower.
351 Cleveland V8 with four-barrel carburetion delivered 246 horsepower.
351 Cleveland Cobra Jet variant was introduced for the 1972 model year. This engine delivered 266 horsepower.
1973 Mercury Cougar
The four-barrel carburetion setup for the 351 Cleveland V8 was dropped. Only powertrain options were either 351 Cleveland V8 with two-barrel carburetion or the 351 Cobra Jet engine.
GT package was discontinued.
Power-assisted brakes became the standard in 1973 for all Cougars.
The front fascia was redesigned to include a front bumper which was reshaped and enlarged to withstand 5mph crash without any deformation or damage to any internal safety-related components, a new federal safety regulation.
The three-speed manual transmission was dropped leaving all engines mated with a three-speed automatic as standard. A four-speed manual was available as an option, but was rarely ordered.
The last Mercury Cougar convertible, a light blue and white Cougar XR-7 rolled off the assembly line of the Dearborn plant in 1973.
The reason for the discontinuation of the convertible was to comply with the decision of American automotive manufacturers to stop the production of convertibles in anticipation of increased rollover safety standards.
Third generation Cougar was a personal luxury car and wasn’t a muscle car by its own rights despite the nameplate.