The cars we loved.
When Ford’s Mustang hit the market in 1964, it made a tremendous impact. So much so, that just about everyone selling cars in America either went to the drawing boards to rush their own interpretation of the Pony car. It was not long before the market became crowded with F bodies, Mopars and lesser but no less impactful players like the AMC Javelin.
So when Ford’s Lincoln-Mercury division set it sights on making its own pony car, it would start by expanding on the Mustang theme with a European luxury twist. It would take two years with no less than four major stylistic revisions before the larger Cougar code name T-7 would be rolled out to market in 1966. After promptly creating a stir for what Mercury knew would be a receptive market, the Cougar would get a limited “test” run in Southern California, where potential Cougar buyers were driving Jaguars and Mercedes. It carved a new niche, opposite of the Mustang, as Mercury advertising proclaimed the Cougar to be Untamed Elegance.
In keeping with the elegance part of its image, the Cougar would be available with only V8 engines, going from the Mustang’s 289 all the way up to Ford’s 390 “Maurader GT” V8. While based on the Mustang, the Cougar shared only its inner structure, rear deck and roof. Initial press coverage was mostly positive. Motor Trent went so far as naming the Cougar the Car of the Year in 1967. The public was equally dazzled, but it would be short lived.
Mercury had successfully opened the door to a new niche in the pony car wars. The interior was loaded with many standard luxury features like air, a upper console. and later leather seats. A 3 speed floor mounted manual was the low end choice while the 3 speed Merc-o-Matic auto with a gear holding feature became a popular transmission choice. while a While exterior was generally designed to look elegant and restrained with a simplicity suggesting Euro influence. Mercury would save the visual complexity for the front end. The split grille was very Pontiac-like while the hidden headlights would become synomoius with sport luxury on competoir products (Camaro SS for instance).
Shortly after a national rollout in 1967, a new top luxury package was introduced. Called the XR-7, it would become the signature luxury trim of the Cougar line for the rest of its production life. Mercury went out of its way to appeal to the upscale customer, who wanted more youthful personal luxury. Details like the electric razor style grille imparted elegance when combined with hidden headlights. Mercury would go so far as to feature a little chromed cougar logo in the front until Jaguar protested it down in a lawsuit.
While the Cougar cost about $350 more than a Mustang, it would not be confused with any Jaguar, or anything else in the market for that matter. Sales were brisk as Mercury had captured the youth appeal of the Mustang, while offering luxury and the style of a Thunderbird in a smaller package. Performance options abound with the GT Performance package offering sharper handling and a 390 cid V8 with low restriction dual exhaust.
The untamed part of the Cougar would come from the ultimate performance version, the 1969 and 1970 Eliminator. The Eliminator was clearly Mercury’s attempt to jump deep into the Musclecar field. While less elegant that other models, it offered 335 hp from its Cobra Jet 428 V8. 1969 also marked the introduction of a convertible and a slight restyle, making the Cougar bigger, heavier and arguably less attractive.
Like many pony cars, the Cougar went racing if only for just one year. The quick pullout did not help the Cougar’s image, which by 1969 was not as focused as earlier model years. Speculation on why the sudden cold reception to racing led many to believe that the Cougar ‘s potential might have stole some of the Mustang’s thunder, either way sales were going down while small changes were evolving the Cougar further from the original ideal of “untamed elegance”. Eliminators were somewhat gruff and garish while all Cougars were becoming bloated versions of their once slim and elegant selves..
More drastic changes to the Cougar evolved it into a larger awarkely styled personal luxury coupe by 1971. The impending safety and emissions regulations were hard on the Cougar, like other V8 powered cars. Sales continued to take a dive as the number of performance options decreased. Luxury would be all that the Cougar had as V8 engines would go on a drastic power diet during the worst of the emissions/safety and fuel crisis era. The first generation Cougar of 1967-68 will always be remembered for its style and elegance.