Home » Mercury Monday: The Mercury Cougars Of The 1980s Are The Fox Bodies Everyone Forgot About

Mercury Monday: The Mercury Cougars Of The 1980s Are The Fox Bodies Everyone Forgot About

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Welcome back to another installment of Mercury Monday! Your titular host, Jason, is out, so I’m taking over the reins of the series that nobody asked for, highlighting a marque few people talk about. Today, we’re looking at another unusual Mercury. The Mercury Cougar started life as a pony car before evolving into a personal luxury car before finishing out as a tuner of sorts. During the 1980s, the Cougar was also something else: the Fox platform car that you probably forgot about.

As Autoweek explains, in 1961 Mercury was recovering from an attempt to be a separate division, with bodies that weren’t hand-me-downs from Ford. At around the same time, Ford engineers were at work on the project that would become the Ford Mustang. Lincoln- Mercury designers proposed a design for the new car, but ultimately lost to the Ford Production Studio. That didn’t stop Lincoln-Mercury brass from wanting a slice of the pie, and the division wanted to release its own version of what Ford was cooking. Ford wasn’t convinced about a Mercury model until after the Mustang became a smash hit. The new car was given the green light, and was to be a more luxurious pony car slotted between the Mustang and the Thunderbird.

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Wallpapers Mercury Cougar 1967 1
Mercury

The Cougar was born in 1967, and its name was actually a finalist for what became the Mustang. While nowhere near the Mustang’s galloping sales figures, the Cougar was no slouch, either. Lincoln-Mercury expected to sell 85,000 of them in the first year, but the cat jumped out of the gate, selling 150,893 examples in its first year. The Cougar was also practically an instant success. But we’re not here to talk about the Cougar’s pony car years. Instead, we’re headed to the 1980s.

From Pony Car To Personal Luxury Car

Mercury Cougar 1977 Wallpapers 1
Mercury

From 1967 to 1973, the Cougar remained a pony car, but found itself battling sinking sales. As Hemmings notes, in 1970, there were just 72,343 Cougars sold. The second-generation launched in 1971, and sold 62,864 units that year. That number fell to 53,702 in 1972 before hitting 60,628 units at the end of the second-generation. In just five years, the Cougar’s sales were more than halved.

Next year would bring winds of change for both the Mustang and the Cougar. For 1974, the Mustang became the Mustang II, riding on a platform derived from the Pinto. This was a problem for Mercury, as a Pinto-based Cougar would have reportedly clashed with Mercury’s own Capri. Ford executives reportedly considered killing off the Cougar entirely, but Lincoln-Mercury argued that it needed the Cougar. Lincoln-Mercury’s solution was to send the Cougar upmarket. The third-generation Cougar became a derivative of the larger Torino and its style more personal luxury than pony car. By this time, the Cougar long had a more luxurious trim, XR-7, but now it embraced the luxury packaging even more.

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In 1977, the Cougar took another turn, becoming Mercury’s version of the Ford LTD II. That meant Cougar sedans and Cougar wagons. This is about as far as the Cougar got from its original concept. The wagon soldiered on until 1978, with the sedan dying off in 1979. To Lincoln-Mercury’s credit, broadening the Cougar did work for sales, as 213,270 units found a home in 1978. The XR-7 stuck around, being a more luxury version of the Cougar. But in 1980, Mercury would flip the script again.

The First Fox Cougars

Cougar
Mercury

In 1980, Mercury put the Cougar on an extreme diet. The XR-7 lost 15 inches in length, four inches in width, and about 900 pounds in weight. The new XR-7 was just 16.7-feet-long and oh yeah, it now rode on Ford’s Fox platform. This meant having the Mustang as a platform-mate again, and gaining mates in the form of the compact Ford Fairmont and Mercury Zephyr. It also had an additional mate in the form of the Capri, which looked visually similar to the Mustang.

But while the Capri was the pony car, the Cougar took the position of a personal luxury car, offering up all of the 1980s luxury that you could handle.

Images Mercury Cougar 1980 1
Mercury

I’m talking padded landau roofs, opera windows, plush velour, and leather. This was the era in which American luxury barges had seats that looked like the pillowy chairs at your grandma’s house, and rear ends looked like they had integrated continental tire kits. And this is the Malaise Era we’re talking about, here, so you got V8s that made morsels of power. The 255 cubic-inch V8 made 115 horsepower with the 302 pumping out 130 horses.

Perhaps my favorite feature of these is the rad optional digital instrument cluster. I’m a sucker for the little tricks that automakers used to make cars seem futuristic back then.

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Mercury Cougar 1980 Images 1
Mercury

Sales weren’t strong, with 58,028 units getting sold in 1980, and 73,817 went home at the end of the fifth-generation in 1982. The XR-7 made up for 16,867 of those cars in 1982. The Fox-based Cougar sedan and wagon helped the totals, soldiering on until 1982. And this isn’t even the weirdest Fox-based Cougar.

The Forgotten Fox

Mercad
Mercury

In 1983, the Cougar saw another redesign. Now, if you looked at this car and assumed it was front-wheel-drive, I wouldn’t blame you. At least to me, it has those vibes.

But sure enough, under the sheet metal of this coupe was the now-familiar Fox platform. By this time, the Cougar gained a stablemate in the form of the Ford Thunderbird, and other platform mates would eventually include the Lincoln Continental Mark VII, Mercury Marquis, and more. I had completely forgotten that any Cougar rode on the Fox platform until fellow dirt cheap car fan Stephen Walter Gossin pointed these out. Gossin even provided us a picture of his own in the Autopian Slack, which usually looks vaguely like a junkyard.

Screenshot (30)
Stephen Walter Gossin

 

The sixth-generation Cougar did away with the sedan and wagon, instead existing solely as a personal luxury coupe. Power options were different, too. The 302 made a comeback, still rated at 130 HP. New for this generation was a 140 cubic-inch turbocharged Lima four, an engine shared with the Thunderbird Turbo Coupe. Opting for the turbo four netted you better power, with 145 HP in automatic Cougars and 155 HP with a manual. A 232 Essex V6 was available, too, and made 120 HP before getting fuel injection and upgraded to 140 HP. By 1988, the 302 got up to 155 HP, matching the turbo four’s max output.

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This Cougar is also notable for its reported use of computer-aided design and a laser-guided paint system. Nice touches include little bits of detail like wipers that hide under the hood and doors designed to reduce wind noise. Options included power windows, air-conditioning, and cruise control. Other options included leather, woodgrain dashboard panels, a return of the digital instrument cluster and incredibly, one of those talking car chime systems.

Images Mercury Cougar 1987 1
Mercury

This Cougar was better received than the last, and sales peaked at 135,904 in 1986. In fact, for every year but its launch year in 1983, this generation of Cougar has sales above 100,000 units. And it was without help from sedan and wagon variants!

The Cougar went on to get two more generations, both with worse year-over-year sales numbers. Perhaps the weirdest Cougar is the eighth-generation. That car wasn’t even really a Cougar, but the third-generation Ford Probe.

Mercury Cougar C2 2001 1600 01

Since Ford killed the Probe, the design was punted over to Lincoln-Mercury, where it became the Cougar. The eighth and final generation Cougar had tuner car looks, vastly different from all Cougars before it. But after a few years of slow sales, even it was killed off.

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Looking back, it’s interesting that the Cougar started off as a car between the Mustang and Thunderbird, but through time it nudged closer and closer to the Thunderbird. Still, if you’re a fan of Malaise Era cars and want something just a touch different, consider a Cougar. These cars are the Fox body cars that don’t really look the part.

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Sid Bridge
Sid Bridge
1 year ago

At the risk of showing my age, it trips me out that you consider these cars “Forgotten.” They were everywhere. I always found it interesting that this Cougar was so similar to the Thunderbird, but they made such a substantial alteration to the roofline and rear windows to differentiate it. It was a move that seemed a bit like it would hurt the economics of brand engineering.

Also, they probably stick out to me because my grandmother drove one. It was yellow. Or tan. Mostly yellow. It was yellow-tan. It looked like a ripe-ass banana with headlights. And she was really, really short so she always kept a cushion on the drivers seat in that tan-yellow-ripe-ass-banana interior.

SlowCarFast
SlowCarFast
1 year ago
Reply to  Sid Bridge

Whoa! My short grandmother (she claimed to be 5 foot, but no one believed it), also drove a yellow-ish car. Hers was a LeBaron sedan, two tone with gold on top and a landau roof. I never could describe that yellowish color or figure out why anyone would like it.

Here’s an internet example of that car for your viewing curiosity.
https://th.bing.com/th/id/R.d4a1011ee7708adb0ee12049be64cc21?rik=THfOrDgMMsSf9A&riu=http%3a%2f%2fsmclassiccars.com%2fuploads%2fpostfotos%2f1985-chrysler-lebaron-4-door-sedan-almost-like-new-1.jpg&ehk=aWXANNxzQ%2fcF%2bJowjJTUa7EGg2DE7i7eL0iBmz22c0g%3d&risl=&pid=ImgRaw&r=0

Sid Bridge
Sid Bridge
1 year ago
Reply to  SlowCarFast

Ladies & Gentleman, THE AUTOPIAN: The only place where you can find a complete affinity group for people who had short grandmothers who drove banana-colored malaise-era cars.

SlowCarFast
SlowCarFast
1 year ago
Reply to  Sid Bridge

Yeah, my response may have been a bit overdone. I was just shocked that someone else bought such an odd colored car.

ColoradoFX4
ColoradoFX4
1 year ago
Reply to  Sid Bridge

Hey, my grandmother also drove a yellow/tan Cougar! Mid eighties, V6, nothing remotely cool. I can still smell the cigarette smoke…

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
1 year ago

I’m hoping Mercury Monday will eventually feature the Mercury pickups from the 60s.

Larry
Larry
1 year ago

Hmmm, I was under the impression that the final generation of Cougars was based on the European Mondeo . . . Contour/Mystique in the States.

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange
1 year ago
Reply to  Larry

They were although there were all built in the US including the european market cars. In Europe it was sold as the Ford Cougar and did nominally replace the Probe as the larger coupe option.

Angrycat Meowmeow
Angrycat Meowmeow
1 year ago

I 100% forgot the last gen Cougar existed. I haven’t seen one of those in years.

Hangover Grenade
Hangover Grenade
1 year ago

I drove a Thunderbird SC in high school and college. I loved that car so hard. But I could never get behind that vertical rear window of the Cougar.

Cam.man67
Cam.man67
1 year ago

I know they were less reliable than Torch’s Yugo, but I always have kinda liked the Probe-based Cougar. I remember a kid I graduated with had one in eye-searing yellow. His likes to eat head gaskets, as I recall.

Jeff Wilhelm
Jeff Wilhelm
1 year ago
Reply to  Cam.man67

In college I had a professor who was a car guy. I along with the other gearheads got to know him pretty well and in our 3rd year, he announced he was retiring. His wife needed a new ride to bomb around town, so he decided to splurge on a new ride for them as a special treat. Ended up with a new Cougar, dark green metallic. He was a finance prof, and hated depreciation with a passion I still can’t grasp.. so this was a big deal.

She apparently loved it for a few months and then things went south. The car would routinely just quit while driving, to the point she was scared to drive on public roads. Dash was constantly lit up like a Christmas tree and it burned oil and gas like a 70’s muscle car.. he traded it soon after and I’ll never forget the hatred he had for that car..

STEPHEN WALTER GOSSIN
STEPHEN WALTER GOSSIN
1 year ago

Sadly, the only picture I could easily find of it (that was A) digital and B) not in a box in a closet) was of the day that I junked it, 22 years ago.

You can still see my UNC Wilmington parking sticker on the rear glass.

I hand-built the engine when I was 17. It was my first car, my first rebuild, my first real project and the car that put me on a path that brought me to this site today.

I still miss it. Thinking about it still makes me smile.

Justin Short
Justin Short
1 year ago

7th generation 30th anniversary edition ex-owner here, still a fan!
Loved the vertical rear window and the square side glass.
V6, auto of course, loved every mile I put on it. Independent rear suspension, cruised at 90mph with power to pass when needed, without horrible mileage, large but nimble for it’s size, comfortable for long rides. God I miss it! Whatever its roots it served me very well.

Dhancock1980
Dhancock1980
1 year ago

I personally own a 1986 Cougar. Thank you for this story!

Dhancock1980
Dhancock1980
1 year ago
Reply to  Dhancock1980

1985* I mean. Typo.

Lew Schiller
Lew Schiller
1 year ago

Ok so what was the Zephyr / Fairmont based on?
I had an ’80 Zephyr for a couple years when I had a sales job.
It was…fine.

Donald Petersen
Donald Petersen
1 year ago
Reply to  Lew Schiller

Based on? I dunno, it was the Fox body that came out one year before the Fox Mustang. My first car was a ’78 Zephyr wagon. It was swell. Didn’t feel all that Mustangy, but when my first wife obtained a ’79 Mustang, I was surprised at how it felt exactly like my old wagon.

Fred Mertz
Fred Mertz
1 year ago

Trash talk the ’83 Cougar’s design all you want. They inexplicably outsold the Thunderbird, which I thought was a far better-looking car.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
1 year ago

I always had a soft spot for the final gen Cougar, even considered buying one back when they came out. The New Edge-y design really worked for it.

(I can’t wait though for the inevitable MM piece on the “I could had a Miata damnit!” Mercury Capri)

NosrednaNod
NosrednaNod
1 year ago

Does this mean all the go-fast parts Fox Mustangs fit? Kind of like the idea of a sleeper…

LTDScott
LTDScott
1 year ago
Reply to  NosrednaNod

Most of them, yes, but there some slight differences in the suspension that make some Mustang parts incompatible.

Beceen
Beceen
1 year ago
Reply to  NosrednaNod

Sooo, Cougar SVO?

Nathan Whitacre
Nathan Whitacre
1 year ago
Reply to  Beceen

1986 XR7 variant

James Altemus
James Altemus
1 year ago

I briefly had an ’84 Couger, 302, automatic, brown with tan cloth interior, in the early 90s. Such a forgettable car, I don’t even have any pictures of it. Bought it was a blown engine, swapped in a reman, and drove it for another year before sending it down the road.

LTDScott
LTDScott
1 year ago

You neglected to note that in ’80-’82 there were two distinct Cougars: the coupe (clone of the Tbird) was called “Cougar XR-7” whereas there were also separate Cougar sedans (both two and four doors) and even a wagon in 1982-only which were all Fox-platform Granada clones. Starting in 1983 the Cougar only had one body style.

ColoradoFX4
ColoradoFX4
1 year ago
Reply to  LTDScott

You beat me to it. Also, those ‘80-‘82 Cougars were renamed Marquis for ‘83.

LTDScott
LTDScott
1 year ago
Reply to  ColoradoFX4

Not just renamed, the ’83-’86 LTD and Marquis didn’t share any sheetmetal with the Granada/Cougar except the doors, but of course at the end of the day both of them were just gussied up Fairmonts.

LTDScott
LTDScott
1 year ago
Reply to  LTDScott

I stand corrected, it was mentioned but only briefly. I always wanted one of the Cougar 2 door sedans to stuff with a Terminator 4.6 and call it a Coubra.

Joe The Drummer
Joe The Drummer
1 year ago
Reply to  LTDScott

I like the cut of your jib, old chap.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
1 year ago

I had one friend with one of those Cougars in high school, my only real memories of it were when he somehow smashed up one of the fenders on something, and had it fixed by drilling holes in it to pull the dents out, but then the holes were never filled, and, also, another time when he left it unlocked all day and the rest of the football team filled the interior with snow.

Also, they were really, really popular base cars for those 1930s neoclassic conversions, the Tiffany seemed to be the most popular one. Try as they might, there was no hiding that curvy side window, and there was definitely no hiding that plastic fantastic Ford interior. And those companies had the courage to ask S-Class money for their long-nosed fiberglass creations.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
1 year ago

So Torch gets to write Mercury Monday and you get handed off Mercury Malaise? I feel for you…

Dodsworth
Dodsworth
1 year ago

Mercury took the Fox Body Thunderbird and backed into an 18 wheeler trailer and said, “There’s the new Cougar.” Even an Aztek is better looking.

Ramair351
Ramair351
1 year ago
Reply to  Dodsworth

The sad part is, that kind of roofline CAN look good if done right. I’m thinking late 80’s Grand Am or early 80’s Riviera. Both had nearly vertical rear glass and looked so much better than the sixth gen Cougar.

Nlpnt
Nlpnt
1 year ago
Reply to  Ramair351

The really sad part is that the money spent on that roofline could’ve gone to a four-door aero Bird. The market wasn’t ready for a 4-door T-bird in 1968 but 1983 was an entirely different matter and they could’ve gotten another 15 years out of the concept after the market for coupes faded but while sedans were still hot.

Barry
Barry
1 year ago
Reply to  Dodsworth

Seriously, that is one *ugly* car. I don’t usually rag on styling this much, but it seriously hurts me to look at it

Ramair351
Ramair351
1 year ago

Don’t forget that the sixth gen Cougar was available with a supercharged 3.8 V6 and a 5 speed. My dad had one and for the time/it’s size it was pretty dang quick.

FuzzyPlushroom
FuzzyPlushroom
1 year ago
Reply to  Ramair351

That was the seventh-gen (’89-90, until it was replaced by the 302 V8) – and your father’s was one of the last manual Cougars to boot. Neat cars. I’ve always preferred the Thunderbird’s styling, but that’s subjective.

Ramair351
Ramair351
1 year ago
Reply to  FuzzyPlushroom

Ahhh, OK….I did not realize that was separate generation. Dad had it as a company car of all things. He worked at Roush at the time and I believe they were running Cougars in the GTO class…? Anyhow, they had a lot of ties to Mercury at the time so their company cars were almost exclusively that brand.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
1 year ago

I really didn’t realize how little I cared about Mercury products until this series came out.

Theresatimetocomment
Theresatimetocomment
1 year ago

I had a mid-80s V6 example in silver. Digital speedometer. Power…things. Suspension so strangely soft it made the chassis feel stiff. Learned how to j-turn in that thing. Rear wheel drive was fun. Very unpredictable in a skid.

I bought new tires for $25 a pop one time for it at a Discount Tire.

That’s all.

Cautionary Tail-Light
Cautionary Tail-Light
1 year ago

Hideous, lazy, pointless, inefficient and weird. That sixth-generation coupe starts out all straight lines like an early-80s Mazda 929, but then … that curve behind the door. That roofline. Ugh.

I think you might have found the very essence of malaise era here.

R.J.
R.J.
1 year ago

I liked the 1980s Cougar back then. Still do. It was a nice car for the time.

SlowCarFast
SlowCarFast
1 year ago
Reply to  R.J.

Yep! That 1983 Cougar looks off today, but at the time it was SO much better than the squared-off cars which preceded it. It took Chrysler until 1987 before they rounded-off their LeBaron coupe.

I still prefer the 1989 version where they squared-off the rear side windows and got rid of the sealed-beam headlights. It does look 90’s generic at that point, though. The original Cougar had the best styling of all models, in my opinion.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
1 year ago

I feel like the last gen cougar still looks pretty striking and modern, but the interior and performance sort of let it down. If they had made a turbo AWD one, I think it’d have been a completely different story, but with just FWD and a v6… eh… just …. not much potential and lots of wheel spin even in stock form.

Mr. Fusion
Mr. Fusion
1 year ago

I really liked the Fox-body Thunderbird (particularly the Turbo Coupe), and really disliked the Cougar. It was that formal roofline, it just didn’t work for me. Although looking at it now after so long, it honestly does not seem as bad as I remember.

Ford should at least be commended for moving the needle on exterior design and aerodynamics in the mid-80s, culminating in the Taurus. For the first time in quite a while, they actually put in some work on those areas, and the results spoke for themselves in terms of sales numbers.

Joe The Drummer
Joe The Drummer
1 year ago
Reply to  Mr. Fusion

This is true. It just occurred to me how many design cues of the jellybean 90s began in Ford’s wind tunnel, first with the “aero ‘Bird,” then the Taurus. Door frames that stop above the roofline? Ford invented that, AFAIR.

Maymar
Maymar
1 year ago
Reply to  Mr. Fusion

Oh yeah, the MN12 Cougar/Thunderbird (the generation your dad had) was a bit of a fiasco –

Maymar
Maymar
1 year ago
Reply to  Maymar

Huh, didn’t mean to post that, although that’s no where as near as bad an error as going way over cost and weight targets.

Anyhow, the T-bird’s aero roofline is way better, but these Cougars look pretty decent in XR-7 guise.

Donald Petersen
Donald Petersen
1 year ago
Reply to  Mr. Fusion

I have the opposite reaction. I like the Cougar’s roofline better than the T-bird’s. Also, I have long nursed a pet theory that some of the shittiest, rudest, most obnoxious drivers on the road could be found behind the wheel of ninth-gen T-birds. Really, if any were left on the road and one passed you, it would be in the drunkest, most aggressive way possible. And somehow it was only the T-birds of the era. The Cougars were always driven more courteously. No idea why.

Fred Mertz
Fred Mertz
1 year ago
Reply to  Mr. Fusion

Did they turn the rear side windows from the Thunderbird upside down?

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