Home » Mercury Electric Seat Belt Blues: 1989 Mercury Cougar vs 1993 Mercury Villager

Mercury Electric Seat Belt Blues: 1989 Mercury Cougar vs 1993 Mercury Villager

Sbsd 2 1 2024
ADVERTISEMENT

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.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

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.

Screenshot From 2024 01 31 17 32 58

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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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.

1989 Mercury Cougar – $2,700

00o0o Fi0bdphwbd6 0ci0i5 1200x900

Engine/drivetrain: 3.8 liter overhead valve V6, four-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Vallejo, CA

Odometer reading: 129,000 miles

ADVERTISEMENT

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.

00y0y Iod6hjh5gbj 0ci0i5 1200x900

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.

01717 Aiptt5ugfs1 0ci0i5 1200x900

ADVERTISEMENT

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.

00o0o Gjjqeasobad 0ci0i5 1200x900

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.

1993 Mercury Villager – $2,500

00a0a Fvgytlxsitq 0ci0pe 1200x900

Engine/drivetrain: 3.0 liter overhead cam V6, four-speed automatic, FWD

ADVERTISEMENT

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.

00000 Jsle7grgfib 0ci0t2 1200x900

ADVERTISEMENT

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.

00707 4l5o6zgglxf 0ci0t2 1200x900

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.

00u0u 5tztv3fmbnb 0ci0t2 1200x900

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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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)

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Subscribe
Notify of
74 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
5 months ago

1989 was a terrible year to shop for affordable cars without those dumb seatbelts.
So many otherwise decent cars I passed up due to those things.

But given these two – I’d definitely select the Cougar.

Mr. Canoehead
Mr. Canoehead
5 months ago

I’d take the van just to avoid the craptastic 3.8. Been there, done that.

Interesting, while GM cars in Canada had the motorized belts, Fords did not.

EricTheViking
EricTheViking
5 months ago
Reply to  Mr. Canoehead

Ford Escort and Mercury Tracer sold in Canada had those irritating motorised shoulder belts as shown in Canadian brochure and the closer look.

Scott Ross
Scott Ross
5 months ago

I went to high school with a guy who had the Supercharged XR7 with the 5 speed, you could get those so cheap in the mid 2000s. Unfortunately the guy who owned it beat the crap of it and blew it up, then had a “buddy” rebuild it poorly and it blew up within 6 months after a rebuild.

Dhunt
Dhunt
5 months ago

Had an 87 Cougar LS as my first car. The thing was a plush, well lit living room on wheels. Didn’t have the auto belts. My next car was a 93 Integra SE, though. Only problem with those auto belts is if you are ducking in the driver window to get out a CD when the car is off. The seatbelt will put you in a full nelson once you turn on the ignition!

Pneumatic Tool
Pneumatic Tool
5 months ago

Honestly, I’d take both, but since that’s not an option, I went with the cat.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
5 months ago

Except for cargo space theCougar is better in every automobile metric. So with only $200 separating them I say Cougar. It’s not my favorite Cougar, that goes to the 67-68 model with the 3 part blinking taillights. The best taillights ever.

Myk El
Myk El
5 months ago

I wish to thank you for not linking to the Alan Jackson version of Mercury Blues. Going with the Cougar, but if I had the money, tell you what I’d do. I would buy two.

EastbayLoc
EastbayLoc
5 months ago
Reply to  Myk El

I was always partial to the David Lindley and El Rayo X version myself

Myk El
Myk El
5 months ago
Reply to  EastbayLoc

I think I MAY have heard that one prior to your mention, but not in a long time if so. Thank you for the mention. It rocks.

EastbayLoc
EastbayLoc
5 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tucker

I do like the original a lot. Steve Miller, who I usually like, covered it too but his version was weird.

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
5 months ago

YMCA

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
5 months ago

I’d go for the Villager. Both are slow. But at least the Villager is practical and can be more realistically used to haul large things.

XLEJim700
XLEJim700
5 months ago

“Things that coo fer a hunnerd, please.’

JDE
JDE
5 months ago

The Cougar is the shoot from the hip choice, lower miles, better style, relatively reliable if forgettable drive train, but I had to go Minivan. the Nissan reputation was pretty solid by 93, the 3.0 v6 was peppy and mostly reliable as well. I could actually use the van for stuff and it would most likely be driven without seats 90 percent of the time so I could lug stuff around without the fear of weather or easy theft really.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
5 months ago

Both seem to be okay choices. It depends on what you want. Do you want to soak up some road miles in comfort and maybe play with throwing a V8 in the car? Cougar. Do you want a practical vehicle that can haul people and stuff? Villager.

I’ll go Villager since I’d much rather have a Lincoln LSC or Mk VIII from that era(-ish) to play with than a Cougar.

Dumb Shadetree
Dumb Shadetree
5 months ago

Fun fact: In that generation Cougar, a trunk release lever was part of an option package. Base models could only open the trunk using the key.
Fun fact: In that generation Cougar, folding rear seats were part of an option package. Base models did not have folding seats.

And this is why, in college, I helped a friend dismantle and remove the rear seats from his car so he could retrieve the car keys he’d accidentally shut in the trunk.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
5 months ago
Reply to  Dumb Shadetree

Yup… a lot of features we take for granted were optional in vehicles back then. Another reason why the cars of today are actually the best cars.

Hot Stuff
Hot Stuff
5 months ago
Reply to  Dumb Shadetree

If I remember correctly, the remote (electrical) trunk release on the Cougar didn’t work unless the ignition was in the “on” or “acc” position. I owned one of these from 1989 to 2006. The remote trunk release was inside the glove compartment door. For valet parking, you could lock the glove box and give the parking attendant only the ignition key, keeping the valuables in your trunk and glove box (which used a separate key) secure.

Last edited 5 months ago by Hot Stuff
Mike B
Mike B
5 months ago

I actually used to own a MN12 Cougar when I was in my early 20’s, circa 99-2002. It had the updated face and interior though, and the 4.6L V8. I actually loved that car, it drove buttery smooth and was super comfy. Cranberry red 94 XR7 with grey leather, and no rot top. I bought it from my grandfather when he wasn’t happy with the trade in price he was going to get on it.

That said, I’ll take the van. It’s more useful, it would be a great mountain bike hauler for the weekends.

Having owned a much nicer Cougar, I couldn’t enjoy that one, though it DOES look rather clean. I hate the old interior, plus Ford 3.8 is WORST 3.8. I think blown head gaskets are a design feature on those.

JDE
JDE
5 months ago
Reply to  Mike B

Certainly that was feature on the previous Gen cougar with the Lima 4 Pot and a Hairdryer. 4 head bolts with boost should have been caught in the years prior, but I suppose the early blow through carb setups in the Mousetangs of the 70’s and Early 80’s were not boosting that much anyway.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
5 months ago

It takes a Villager to raise a child.

Yngve
Yngve
5 months ago

While in college, one of my roommates conned his mother into buying him a new Nissan Hardbody. My other roommate and I went with him to the dealership, and generally made asses out of ourselves…until, that is, we were transfixed by a new Quest. The van was far nicer and more attractive than its contemporaries (this was the dustbuster era) and the moonroof was immense – we could both stand side by side with room to spare. We spent a solid hour oohing and aahing over it (substances may have been involved).

Gimmie that Van!

Gubbin
Gubbin
5 months ago

The automotive utilitarian and vintage Nissan enthusiast in me says GET IN THE VAN. That thing’ll hold a motorcycle, a quarter-ton of hay or a bar band with gear.

Jason Roth
Jason Roth
5 months ago

I’d be more tempted by the van if it weren’t white. I know that’s a bit silly, since it’s an appliance, but still. Boring. Would be fun to drive a personal luxury coupe, and the color on that Cougar is fantastic.

Two personal notes: my beloved Saturn had the auto belt, and like Mark says, you got used to it. And my parents looked at a Cougar as their first joint car back in ’67, but IIRC my 6-4 dad didn’t fit well in it. They had a Matador, but I don’t recall if that was then or one car later.

EastbayLoc
EastbayLoc
5 months ago

I’ll let that Cougar buy me a drink! They are comfortable cruisers for sure.

As far as the mouse belts, I had a 90′ Acura Integra with them. Didn’t care for the belts but after a while I forgot about them. Although every once in a while they would pull tight and cinch up on the passenger. Kind of freaked out a few girlfriends but we laughed about it later. Man, I loved that car.

Tim Cougar
Tim Cougar
5 months ago
Reply to  EastbayLoc

Grew up with a ’90 Accord with those seatbelts. The rest of the car was so good you never even really noticed the belts if you were used to them.

Accordian
Accordian
5 months ago

I went with the Villager because my parents bought the Quest twice, so it must be a good van.

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
5 months ago

The Villager’s a good pick, but I’ll ride with the PLC fans in the chat and take the Cougar. It’s so rare to find one of these without the stupid overstuffed Landau roof tacked on by Jefferson Davis Lincoln-Mercury.

Rabob Rabob
Rabob Rabob
5 months ago
Reply to  Geoff Buchholz

Landau roofs were so awful. What was the purpose and driving force around these? Being a kid of the 90’s I remember seeing all the baroque styled American cars and just wondering WHY?? Japanese were releasing impeccably styled cars like the Integra, the Maxima, Q45, LS at the same time and walking through the GM / Ford dealership felt like they were still fondly in the Malaise years.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
5 months ago
Reply to  Rabob Rabob

I seem to remember hearing or reading something, maybe here about it being a design decision because either the 2-4 look was unsightly on the roof angle so this changed the metric. Or something

ColoradoFX4
ColoradoFX4
5 months ago

Of US domestic makers, Ford embraced this “solution” most strongly…

See, I feel like GM was the most egregious offender. My memory of every late-80s/early-90s GM car, from the Cavalier to the Lumina, was dealing with those motorized mouse belts. But I don’t think Ford ever equipped them in the Taurus/Sable and Panther platform cars.

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
5 months ago
Reply to  ColoradoFX4

My Saturn had the mouse belts — but my recollection of the other GMs was that the regular three-point belt got moved to the door, the idea being that you could leave it fastened when exiting the car. Which of course no one did.

Nycbjr
Nycbjr
5 months ago
Reply to  Geoff Buchholz

this is correct, had a ’93 GrandAm GT with the belt in the door, I never left it buckled!

ColoradoFX4
ColoradoFX4
5 months ago
Reply to  Geoff Buchholz

Oh you’re right, I do remember those door-mounted seat belts.

Spikedlemon
Spikedlemon
5 months ago

The Villager is the practical choice here.

Home renos? Yep.
Pick up everyone and go camping with a tonne of crap? Yep.

Boring, but practical. And, let’s be honest, that Cougar won’t impress anyone.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
5 months ago
Reply to  Spikedlemon

To point #2 you are correct. I personally took the backseat out of my Amigo and Vehicross for the purpose of not being able to give a ride to more than 1 person, preferably of the female persuasion. That being said my interiors says drivers seat were in impeccable condition.

Geekycop .
Geekycop .
5 months ago

Rwd over fwd. Cougar

Roush IMSA car. Cougar

Room enough for a windsor block(personal prefference for 351 over 302) and a 5 speed. Cougar

Perfect first car for your teenaged daughter, to paraphrase Clarkson look at all the steel between them and the tree they will inevitably hit. Cougar

74
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x