Story by Jon Mikelonis with contributions from Eric Dess.
For auto manufacturers, naming a car after an animal can be
a double-edged sword. On the up side, developing a marketing
campaign around the vehicle is made easy since the creative
people have a clear association from which to draw on. In
the case of Ford Motor Company, the visual parallels used
to promote certain species (Mustang, Thunderbird, and Cougar)
have sometimes been communicated to consumers with images
of wild horses galloping at high speed
across desert playas, long-talloned birds swooping after prey,
felines sprinting through metropolitan cityscapes. On the
associations like these are solidified in the eye of the consumer,
little room for the reinterpretation or reclassification of
the model as the
economies of manufacturing automobiles sometimes require.
A vehicle whose perceptions of design and performance are
so obviously carved out from the behaviors and physical traits
of the creature the car was named after, die-hard in the consumer's
mind. Somehow, remarketing a car that is named something ambiguous
like the Fairmont or Capri is easier for consumers like us
This 1982 Mercury Cougar Villager
is quite collectible and holds a respectable position
in the Mercury lineage. However, 1982 meant the prospect
for V8 power was dropped from the Cougar lineup. Station
wagons were added marking Mercury's greatest deviation
from the original 1967 Cougar's intent to bridge Mustang's
performance and Thunderbird's luxury.
Throughout history, Ford Motor Company has done a superb
job making sure certain "animal" models, specifically
the Mustang, honored the essence of their signature through
good times and bad. Other models, like the Mercury Cougar,
have not faired as well. In 1967 the Cougar was introduced
to bridge the gap between Mustang's performance and Thunderbird's
luxury. The end of the musclecar era had an impact on the
performance facet of both the Mustang and the Cougar. However,
we never saw Ford stoop so low and offer the Mustang as a
four-door or a station wagon. While it is hard for an outsider
to speculate exactly why, at times, the Mercury Cougar deviated
so far from its origins, we can confidently say there was
absolutely nothing agile or "cougar-ish" about the
Cougar "Villagers" that were produced in 1977 and
1982. In fairness, when Mercury finally rebounded with a Cougar
that embodied all the agility and elegance of a mountain lion
in 1989, the market didn't seem to respond. Still today, the
short two-year run of the supercharged Cougar XR7 is little
known, even among many performance Ford enthusiasts.
Mercury Cougar Evolution
To truly appreciate how satisfying in was for dedicated
Cougar fans to see a return to performance in 1989 with the
XR7, it helps to understand the origins, lineage, and deviations
of the Cougar. Cougar started off on the right paw when it
was built on a slightly lengthened Mustang platform and incorporated
the same musclecar-era drivetrains, but that only lasted until
the 1972 model year. The following chart provides a good summary
of how the Cougar meandered off and on its path from 1967
until the supercharged XR7 was produced for 1989..
Introduced in the heart of the musclecar
era, Cougar offered the most exciting performance drivetrain
packages and options during this period. Heavy breathing
small blocks, Clevelands, Boss motors', FE's, 385-Series
motors, and 4-speeds were available to meet the "performance
and luxury" pony car niche the model was designed
to fulfill. The essence of Cougar was established but
faded after the 1972 model year with an impending energy
During this range,
the Cougar lost footing when it was forced to endure
tight government smog regulations and the gas crisis.
The 1974-1979 Cougars were less nimble to boot since
Mercury moved them on to the more hefty full-frame intermediate
chassis. Lowlights included the lack of a manual transmission
option for this entire period, a 220hp 460 option in
1974, and the introduction of a "Villager"
station wagon in 1977.
A return to uni-body
construction started Cougar back towards a more agile
pony car personality. The "Fox chassis" was
implemented. Built around the Monarch body style these
Cougars were smaller and lighter that 1979 models but
still boxy and very formal. By 1982 the V8 was dropped
from the base Cougar and seven models were available
including a four-door and a station wagon. The downgraded
120hp 4.2L V8 was optional in the XR7. Sales hit an
1983-1988 indicated revival when the
Cougar mimicked the new Thunderbird's "aerobird"
styling while remaining on the "Fox chassis".
Cougar fell only a year out of sequence with the Thunderbird
Turbo Coupe when it offered a turbocharged 4-cylinder
and a 5-speed in the 1984 XR7. Although the turbo XR7's
only mirrored the Turbo Coupes for the 1984, 1985, and
1986 model years, Mercury saved face by making the 5.0L
available in 1987 and 1988. However, the manual transmission
option was gone.
The turbocharged XR7 wasn't available
in 1987 and 1988 but Mercury made up for it by offering
their equivalent to the Thunderbird Super Coupe in XR7
for 1989. No V8 was available but the Cougar essence
was back in a supercharged V6 and standard 5-speed manual
gearbox. Unfortunately, the supercharged XR7 was dropped
after the 1990 model year. In 1991 the HO 5.0L was offered.
Cougar was discontinued after 1997 and awaited a modest
return in 1999.
Consistent with Lincoln-Mercury's announcement
to move its headquarters from Detroit to a more "hip"
southern California location, the all-new youth- oriented
Cougar was unveiled. Likely a necessary business decision,
the FWD sport-compact was more marketable for the masses.
However, the deviation from true Cougar origins has
left performance enthusiasts knowing the most exciting
Cougars ever made were produced from 67-71, 84-86, and