Good morning! Today we’re going to take a look at two vehicles from Ford’s orphaned middle child, Mercury. They’re both pretty nice vehicles in reasonable shape. So what would stop you from going downtown and buying one (or two)? Well, they both have those silly automatic seat belts. But hey, it means you can’t consider one over the other for that reason alone.
Yesterday, we ventured into the world of Werther’s Originals in the glovebox and tissue boxes on the rear deck, and looked at two probably-elderly-owned American sedans. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but there wasn’t as much outright disdain for them in the comments as I expected. The strongest charge that could be leveled against them, it seems, is that they’re boring. There are worse crimes.
The Chevy won by a bit, but personally, I’d rock either one of them for cheap daily transportation. Given the choice, I think I’d lean towards the Spirit, for ease of repair and maintenance, and I think it will stay nicer longer. But either one would do.
One car cultural phenomenon that never ceases to amaze me is the battle over seat belts. In my household growing up, it was never a question: First thing you do when you sit down in the car is fasten your seat belt. It’s ingrained, and now I feel weird even backing the car out of the garage without fastening it. But I know there are some drivers, even now, who refuse to wear them, even though it’s the law in every US state except New Hampshire.
Federal laws have stopped short of requiring seat belt use, but they have made every effort to make it hard to not use them. Buzzers and chimes, interlocks, red lights on the dash, and – starting in 1989 – a requirement for some sort of “passive restraint system” in cars have made it impractical, but not impossible, to avoid seat belts for whatever reason. By far the most irritating of these systems was the motorized automatic shoulder harness, which still required a lap belt to be fastened manually for any real protection in a crash. Of US domestic makers, Ford embraced this “solution” most strongly, and both of today’s cars, I’m sorry to say, are so equipped.
Engine/drivetrain: 3.8 liter overhead valve V6, four-speed automatic, RWD
Location: Vallejo, CA
Odometer reading: 129,000 miles
Operational status: Runs and drives great
The Cougar nameplate jumped around a bit over the years: It started out as Mercury’s version of the Ford Mustang, then aligned itself with the Torino and Elite, then the Thunderbird for many years. In 1989, when the Thunderbird graduated from the ubiquitous Fox platform to its own independent-suspension MN12 chassis, the Cougar came along for the ride. Like the Fox generation, the MN12 Cougar and Thunderbird had different rooflines – the Thunderbird had a sleeker fastback style, while the Cougar retained a more formal upright rear window. Personally, I like the Cougar better; it looks like its own thing, rather than an imitation of a BMW 6 Series.
In 1989, the Cougar was available only with Ford’s Essex 3.8 liter V6, or a supercharged version of the same, in the sporty XR7 version. Theoretically, you could get a Cougar XR7 with a five-speed manual, but I’ve never seen one. Ordinary non-supercharged Cougars like this one were only available with an automatic. This one runs and drives well, according to the seller, and is currently registered.
Inside, it looks comfy, and has the typical uneasy blend of traditional and high-tech elements so common in American cars of the late ’80s. There’s a digital dash, but lots of fake woodgrain also. The matching blue leather upholstery is in decent shape, and the seller says all the power toys work – yes, including those silly seat belts.
Outside, you’ve got shiny paint, straight sheetmetal, and nice alloy wheels. If it’s as solid mechanically as the seller claims, this could be a good deal on a car that kind of flies under the radar.
Engine/drivetrain: 3.0 liter overhead cam V6, four-speed automatic, FWD
Location: Garden Grove, CA
Odometer reading: 178,000 miles
Operational status: Runs and drives “just fine”
The Villager is one of very few Mercury models with no corresponding Ford model at all. Ford’s introduction to the minivan market was the rear-wheel-drive Aerostar, but Mercury joined forces with Nissan to create the Villager, which Nissan sold in its own dealerships, wth a few changes, as the Quest. The styling inside and out is very Ford-like, but the mechanicals underneath are all Nissan, based on the Maxima sedan, including its VG30E three-liter V6.
Ford appears to have taken a belt-and-suspenders approach to passive safety with the Villager; if I’m seeing it right, this van has both motorized seat belts and a driver’s side airbag. Which is curious, because I thought minivans were classified as light trucks, meaning it wouldn’t have needed any passive restraints at all until 1995. It looks pretty clean inside, especially for a thirty-one-year-old minivan.
The seller says it runs and drives well, the air conditioning works, and they also mention something I don’t think I’ve ever seen in an ad before: they say the interior is odor-free. After some of the things I’ve smelled in used cars over the years – cigarette smoke, mold, pets, and once what I can only describe as sweaty feet – hearing that the interior of this van smells like nothing at all is definitely a selling point.
Outside, it has a few dings and dents, but overall it looks pretty good. And I feel like Jason needs to discuss these taillights some time; there’s a whole lot going on back there. Up front, of course, the Villager features Mercury’s signature light bar, and I guarantee one bulb is burned out in it, because one bulb is always burned out in those.
I’ve owned two cars with automatic seat belts before, both Fords actually, and you do get used to them after a while. They’re an annoyance, but I wouldn’t turn down an otherwise nice used car because it had them. These both look like pretty nice used cars. Which one are you willing to overlook the motorized belts for?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)