Roughly two years after the first Mustangs landed in Ford showrooms, the Mercury Cougar made its debut.
When the muscle car craze began to heat up in the mid-1960s as baby boomers came of age, however, the market demand for performance quickly became impossible for domestic automakers of any ilk to ignore. So when Ford sold over a million examples of its new Mustang in the first year and a half it was on sale, those numbers did not go unnoticed by the Mercury brass. Roughly two years after the first Mustangs landed in Ford showrooms, the Mercury Cougar made its debut.
Sharing the majority of its mechanical hardware with the 1967 Mustang, the Cougar sported a 3-inch-longer wheelbase along with European-influenced styling and luxury appointments that helped differentiate the model from its Ford counterpart; a formula that would prove effective enough for Motor Trend to name the Mercury Cougar its Car of the Year for 1967.
While the Cougar recipe had proven effective, muscle car mania continued to build momentum toward the end of the decade, and with it, the demand for more extroverted models that wore their high-performance credentials on their sleeves grew. To go up against attention-grabbing models like the Chevrolet Camaro SS396, Pontiac Firebird Ram Air 400, and Ford’s own Mustang Mach I, Mercury debuted the Cougar Eliminator for 1969, a model which abandoned any sense of subtlety in a bid for the hearts and wallets of horsepower-hungry performance enthusiasts.
Cougar Goes High Impact
It should be noted that the Eliminator wasn’t Mercury’s first attempt to bring potent high performance to the Cougar. Offered at the Cougar’s debut, the GT package shoehorned a 390-cube big-block V8 into the ’67 model along with a number of other performance upgrades, while 1968 saw the addition of the 335-horsepower, 428ci Cobra Jet, as well as the 390-horsepower, 427ci V8 to the options sheet. Both were available as part of the GT-E options package, which included uprated suspension, brakes, cooling, and other go-fast components, as well as a handful of aesthetic tweaks.
Despite the capability on tap with the GT-E, the fact that only a few hundred buyers had opted for package had Mercury concerned that the Cougar was getting lost in the crowd amongst a field of attention-grabbing offerings from other marques.
The Eliminator package served as their response in 1969, and its intentions were made clear from a glance. Available in head-turning paint hues like Competition Orange and Bright Blue and outfitted with a large hood scoop, front and rear spoilers and a model-specific graphics package, the Eliminator put its cards on the table for all to see.
Fortunately it had the hardware to back up its performance look. The standard engine with the Eliminator package was a 351 Windsor small-block V8 rated at 290 horsepower and 385 lb-ft of torque, while the 390-cube four-barrel V8, the 428 Cobra Jet, and the high-winding Boss 302 V8 were optional, offering a notoriously underrated 320, 335, and 290 horsepower, respectively. These mills were hooked to a three-speed manual gearbox as standard, while a C6 automatic and a four-speed manual transmission were also optional.
Though it was never made officially available, Mercury also managed to get the Mustang Boss 429’s big-block mill into a pair of Cougar Eliminators, which the company then sold to drag racers Dyno Don Nicholson and Fast Eddie Schartman for use on the drag racing circuit at a bargain rate of $1 apiece.
Drag Pak Options
Two particularly rare options for Cougar Eliminator models were aimed directly at the drag racing set of enthusiasts. Opting for the the Drag Pak option added the following:
• 3.91 gear ratio
• Traction Lok differential
• Engine oil cooler
The even rarer Super Drag Pak took things a step further, swapping in a Detroit Locker rearend with a 4.30 gear ratio to go along with the engine oil cooler.
The Eliminator color palette also expanded to six options from the four offered the previous year with the addition of Competition Green, Competition Gold, and Pastel Blue, while White was dropped from the options list, and a new set of graphics were also added.
The standard engine was now either the 290hp 351 Windsor V8 or a 300hp 351 Cleveland V8 depending on build date and availability, with the latter being the more desirable of the two not only due to the higher horsepower rating, but because its canted valve positioning offered better cylinder head flow. While the 390ci V8 was dropped from the options sheet, both the Boss 302 and 428 Cobra Jet motors made a return essentially unchanged from the previous year.
Flying Under The Radar
Despite being armed with some of the most potent performance hardware Ford had on hand and looks to match, the Cougar Eliminator failed to make a significant impact on enthusiasts, with Mercury selling just 2,250 examples in 1969 and 2,267 in 1970 – a far cry from the 74,458 and 40,970 Mustang Mach 1 models that Ford had sold those same years.
While some of that could be attributed to Mercury’s established public perception that was more synonymous with comfort than quarter mile times, the Cougar’s longer wheelbase and additional heft versus the competition meant that – while undoubtedly quick in Eliminator guise, Mercury’s pony car was often outpaced by its competitive set both at the stop light and the drag strip – with Car Life magazine noting that “the Cougar has grown too big and plush to be able to roll up its sleeves and scrap with the new, young tough stuff.”
The 1969-70 Mercury Cougar Eliminators have become sought-after collectibles.
Due to its brief production stint and the relatively low number of cars built, the 1969-70 Mercury Cougar Eliminators have become sought-after collectibles for Blue Oval fanatics, with the values of clean, highly optioned examples reaching well into six-figure territory in recent years.