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Mercury Cougar

Published: 21st Apr 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!
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Mercury Cougar
Imposing frontal aspect with large chrome bumper and distinctive snub square radiator grille Imposing frontal aspect with large chrome bumper and distinctive snub square radiator grille
Rear window on the convertible is glass and zips out in a separate panel Rear window on the convertible is glass and zips out in a separate panel
Fake wooden veneer on dashboard and steering wheel breaks up an otherwise sombre black interior Fake wooden veneer on dashboard and steering wheel breaks up an otherwise sombre black interior
Plenty of grunt available from Ford’s 351cu Cleveland V8 engine fitted with more economical two-barrel carburettor. Four barrel Plenty of grunt available from Ford’s 351cu Cleveland V8 engine fitted with more economical two-barrel carburettor. Four barrel
Spare wheel with original petrol can sitting atop takes up quite a bit of space in the boot Spare wheel with original petrol can sitting atop takes up quite a bit of space in the boot

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What is a Mercury Cougar?

One of the less well known cars from the American muscle car era of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s that still has an avid following, predominantly in the USA. Built by the Mercury division of the Ford Motor Company ostensibly created by Edsel Ford in 1939, that nicely bridged the gap between Ford and Lincoln Zephyr in the early days, the Cougar model was first introduced in 1967. It was Mercury’s upmarket luxury Ponycar, along with its more muscular cousin the Cyclone CJ powered by a 428ci V8 big- block Cobra Jet engine, produced in very small numbers.

History

The Mercury Cougar was launched two years after the phenomenally successful Ford Mustang and was indeed based upon the same unitary steel chassis and bodyshell with a three inch longer wheelbase and its own individual panelwork. The suspension layout comprised of coil springs at the front with leaf to the rear and drum brakes, front discs being an option. The model fitted neatly in the marketplace between the Mustang and the Thunderbird, similarly harking back to the early days of the Mercury branding within the Ford empire. Available initially only as a two-door hardtop, the Cougar’s distinctive vertical slatted front grille with concealed headlamps was very reminiscent of an electric shaver head! At the rear were sequential taillights, a styling cue taken from the Thunderbird. Naturally with the Cougar name, Big Cats played their part in sales campaigns. Period tele- vision and print “Sign of the Cat” theme advertising saw glamourous models with big cats on leashes with cars. Even Farrah Fawcett starred in them.

Unlike the Ford Mustang, the Cougar was not available with a straight-six engine, but options ranged from a 289ci V8 rated at between 195-225bhp to the more powerful 390ci V8 rated at 280- 335bhp. Fitted with the latter engine which developed an impressive 427lb ft torque at 3200rpm, the Cougar’s 0-60mph time was a vivid 8.1 seconds. Transmissions were three or four speed manual or three-speed Merc-O-Matic automatic.

In addition to the base model, other packages included the more luxurious XR-7 complete with a wooden rim steering wheel, simulated wooden dashboard, and leather trim or the more sporting GT (390ci engine as standard) with black-faced competition instrumentation, plus uprated power brakes and suspension. Some 150,893 Cougars were produced in 1967 and the model was named Car of the Year by Motor Trend Magazine.

The second series Cougars came along in 1969 using the same wheelbase but with a wider and longer body, and a convertible was introduced, along with an Eliminator package (available in the bright colours of yellow, orange and blue) featuring a rear boot spoiler, body stripes and larger wheels and tyres. Engine options ranged from a 302ci V8 through to a 428ci V8.

In 1970 a special edition styled by fashion designer Pauline Trigere was offered which included a hound stooth pattern vinyl roof! The overall styling of the second series Cougars was perhaps not as pleasing as the earlier cars, and in 1971 things improved with the last of Mercury’s ponycar Cougars were introduced which were heavier and larger than its predecessors. Front end styling now incorporated a vertically slatted square central grille with hideaway headlamps discontinued, though hidden wipers were a feature between 1969 1973. Twin headlamps were now located in horizontal slat surrounds. Engine options were either the 351ci V8 or 429ci V8. Sales figures dropped steadily since 1967 to just over 60,000 cars produced in 1973. The Cougar model lived on, but from 1974 it became more of a luxury car in its own right and shared a chassis with the Mercury Montego.

Driving

These cars drive very similar to a Mustang which is not surprising asthat’s what they were based upon, and offer a reasonably soft ride quality. However, there is a higher level of refinement, leather trim and better dashboards. With a whole range of options available they make a good handling car even better with proven V8 engines and transmissions, though cars fitted with the 427ci engines tended to be tad nose heavy.

A 390ci V8 engined Cougar could run the quarter mile in 16 seconds, impressive enough back in 1967! The 1968 Cougar 428 Cobra Jet just squeezed into the ten quickest Ponycars rating. The V8 engine fitted with a twobarrel carb and driven sensibly can be quite economical on fuel though with the four-barrel option it’s rather more thirsty when used to the full!

Prices

An excellent original 1967-1968 GT or XR-7 model will now fetch around £6000-£7000, while a rough example needing work would be nearer £2500. You would pay £4000-£5000 for a fine example of the last series Cougars 1971-1973, and as little as £1000 for a runner requiring restoration.

What To Look For

  • When checking the bodywork, the usual areas the dreaded tin worm attacks are the front and rear wings, wheel arches, heater induction cowl, and tail light panel. The last of the Cougars produced share a number of panels with the Mustang which include the bootlid, rear quarter panel, floorpan and doors. Fortunately for us Brits replacement body panels are all available if required
  • .
  • When purchasing a Cougar particularly one that requires restoring it’s worth checking that there are no parts of the car missing. Although nowadays it’s possible to source an excellent variety of replacement parts, but they are quite expensive.
  • Cougar running gear also relies on components from the Mustang which have been well proven for reliability with robust V8 engines and automatic transmissions. However, regular oil changes and servicing are important. Any traces of rusty coolant water under the bonnet or around the engine bay could be signs of engine over heating
  • .
  • Automatic transmissions were the most popular choice and changes should be smooth. Check for oil leaks mainly from the front and rear seal which if not detected early enough could lead to problems. A tired braking system shouldn’t pose too many problems, as again its Mustang with replacement parts readily available.
  • If the car appears to sit low at the back, the leaf springs, which are not known for their longevity, could be tired and require replacing. On a test drive ensure that the car steers well and doesn’t have too much ‘float’ which could require a simple adjustment or perhaps reshimming the steering box. If the car pulls or has uneven tyre wear, these indicate that there are problems with the steering.
  • The Cougar interior with its mixture of leather and PVC and fake wooden veneer adds that touch of luxury, but if it needs replacing its all available but very expensive. If you desire a Cougar convertible and the hood needs renewing then its going to set you back around £1000. The rear screen is not plastic but glass and not an integral part of the hood and can be unzipped and pr even removed.

Verdict

An interesting alternative to a Mustang and some of the more ubiquitous cars from the muscle era. While early cars are deemed to be more collectible, don’t over look the last of the breed produced between 1971-1973. The well appointed XR-7 convertible model would be top of the wanted list, though less than 10,000 were produced and may prove hard to find, so you may have to settle for an XR-7 Coupe, which are still not easy to source. Restoring a car that requires major work could work out to be very expensive if you obtain new parts from the USA and may not be cost effective in the long run.


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