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Mercury Cougar - der "große Bruder" des Ford Mustang - mittlerweile doch aus dessen Schatten hervorgetreten und leider nicht mehr günstiger als ein vergleichbarer Mustang!

Feature Article from Hemmings Muscle Machines

January, 2004 - Mark J. McCourt

When we were 19, we wanted our performance cars to be aggressive, lightweight, and stuffed with as much V-8 as humanly possible. Steering and stopping were unimportant compared to going, back in the days when four-barrel carburetors sat atop big-block engines and four-speed manuals transmitted too much power, easily overwhelming the tentative grip of skinny Wide Ovals. That we're a bit softer around the edges proves our hormone-and octane-fueled nineteenth year is just a memory, but our lust for American muscle never dies. If you want to relive your high-performance youth, but real world obligations and a plush bottom dictate a more mature package, capture a Cougar--Mercury's fantastic upscale ponycar for grown-ups. 

With the jealousy of a neglected stepsister, Mercury had watched Ford sales take off when they introduced the Mustang in 1964; they would have to wait a few years to get their own "personal" car. Instead of competing with the Mustang in the youthful market, Mercury wanted its derivative to take a European CT-inspired tack, with raw performance tempered by Thunderbird luxury and road manners. Because Ford's pony was so well received, Mercury got the green light to design their own car instead of simply giving the Mustang a fiberglass facelift. The windshield, vent glass, and parts of the inner body structure were the only directly interchangeable items. The Cougar rode on a three-inch-stretched 111 -inch wheelbase with six-inch-longer rear leaf springs and softer suspension bushings, and an extra 123 pounds of sound insulation to make the interior quieter. These changes underpinned a handsome long hood/short deck two-door hardtop, the only body style available in the Cougar's first two years of production. 

Where the Mustang's sheetmetal was simple and flat-planed, the Cougar's was elegant and sculpted. Sharp-edged fender tops looped through the upturned bumper edges and chrome-trimmed wheel arches, making a continuous character line that accented the contoured body sides. The rear window was slightly sunken between the notchback roof's C-pillars, creating a flying buttress effect that carried through the rear fenders, and the front and rear fascias shared a vertical theme, with quad headlamps hidden behind split grilles and sequential taillamps behind / matching bars. The design / team's European influences (they boasted of Jaguar) continued in the Cougar's interior, where round gauges resided in a simple dash, and comfortable vinyl-covered bucket seats were separated by an optional center console that was home to the gearshift selector. Popular options included air conditioning, AM/tape radios, a Tilt-Away steering wheel and power brakes, bench seat was available. 

The upscale Cougar model was the XR-7, which debuted halfway into 1967. The XR-7 combined more sport and luxury, and featured a wood-grained dashboard with matching steering wheel, competition-style instrumentation and sporty toggle switches (a Ia E-type), an overhead console and leather seating surfaces. The $2,851 base hardtop or $3,081 XR-7 could be augmented with the $323 CT Equipment Package, which brought a V-8 and included the Performance Handling Package's firmer suspension with solid rear bushings, stiffer shocks, heavy-duty springs and a larger .84-inch anti-roll bar; six-inch-wide steel rims with F-70 x 14 tires hid the package's power front disc brakes. 

To celebrate the factory-sponsored 1967 Team Cougar's Trans-Am racing successes, Mercury cooked up the Dan Gurney Special. This inexpensive factory- or dealer-fitted cosmetic package included signature decals, chrome engine accents and turbine wheel covers over whitewall tires, and is seen on our feature car, owned by Sudhakar Reddy. The base and XR-7 Cougars, as well as an altered Dan Gurney package, carried over into 1968, mainly distinguished by new side marker lights. They were joined by the racy GT-E, which was a $1,311 option package available on base or XR-7 Cougars. GT-Es were set apart with anodized aluminum side moldings, argent lower-body paint, a blacked-out grille with horizontal trim and a hood scoop that only functioned when over a Ram-Air V-8. These cars came with the Super Competition Handling Package (Performance Handling Package plus .95-inch anti-roll bar and heavy-duty Gabriel Adjustomatic shocks), which, when combined with the standard early production side-oiler V-8 or later 428 Cobra Jet, made them the most highly sought first-generation Cougars. A mere 394 were built, and all but three came with the Select-Shift Merc-O-Matic transmission. 

Another rare 1968 Cougar, with just 619 built, was the $4,055 XR-7G (C for Gurney), which could be had with most engines and included special equipment like a vinyl roof, Lucas or Marchal fog lamps in a bespoke valance, a hood with locking pins and a fiberglass scoop, an adjustable racing mirror, and a dual exhaust system with quad tips. As with the Shelby G.T. 350H, the Hertz Corporation purchased 188 XR-7Gs to rent, many fully equipped with the 390 GT/automatic combo and a power sunroof. 


Unlike Mustangs, Cougars were never offered with six-cylinder engines. The V-8, with its 4.00 x 2.87-inch bore x stroke, 2-bbl. carburetor and 9.3:1 compression ratio was standard, and it made 200hp at 4,400 rpm and 282 ft.-lbs. of torque at 2,400 rpm. An easy step up was the four-barrel-carbureted "Super 289;" with 9.8:1 compression and high-octane gasoline, it made 225hp at 4,800 rpm and 305 ft.-lbs. of torque at 3,200 rpm. 

Jumping to the big-block "6.5 Litre" V-8 with a 4.05 x 3.78-inch bore x stroke, 2-bbl. carburetion and 1 0.5:1 compression ratio brought 280hp at 4,400 rpm and 403 ft.-lbs. of torque at 2,600 rpm. Available alone or in CT Equipment Package-equipped cars was 1967's top Marauder 390 CT engine, which was the four-barrel Holley, dual-exhaust version of the 390-inch V-8 that made 320hp at 4,800 rpm and 427 ft.-lbs. of torque at 2,400 rpm on premium fuel. 

Engine availability changed in 1968 when a V-8 replaced the standard 289, which later became a lowercost alternative. It made 2bhp at 4,600 rpm and 295 ft.-lbs. at 2,600 rpm with its 4.00 x 3.00-inch bore x stroke, 9.5:1 compression and 2-bbl. carb on regular gas. The 4-bbl.-carbureted, 10.1:1-compression version made 230hp at 4,800 rpm and 310 ft.-lbs. at 2,800 rpm on hi-test. The 390 Marauder CT V-8 returned with 325hp at 5,200 rpm and 427 ft.-lbs. of torque at 3,200, but it was no longer the top option; the new CT-E initially came with the hydraulic lifter-equipped "7-Litre" 427 V-8 which, with its 10.9:1 compression ratio, 4.23 x 3.78-inch bore x stroke and single 4-bbl. carburetor, made 390hp at 5,600 rpm and 460 ft.-lbs. of torque at 3,200 rpm. This engine was supplanted in April 1968 by the new Ram-Air 428 Cobra Jet V-8, which had 10.6:b compression and a 4-bbl., and made an underrated 335hp at 5,200 rpm and 440 ft.-lbs. of torque at 3,400 rpm. No mailer the performance level or rarity, all of these Cougar engines are shared with the Mustang and other Mercury and Ford vehicles, so parts availability and interchangeability are excellent. 


Cougars came standard with a three-speed manual transmission, while both base and XR-7 models could be fitted with a sturdy "top loader" four-speed manual. For owners more interested in show than go, the manually shifted C4 (with 289s and 302s) and C6 (with 390s and 428s) Select-Shift Merc-O-Matic three-speed automatic transmissions were a popular option, coming standard with the 427 engine. In 1968, a heavy-duty three-speed manual was available with the 390 Marauder CT engine, as well as a four-speed manual. Merc-O-Matic transmissions could be had with either a 302- or V-8, and in conjunction with the CT group. 


The differential that came with many Cougars was Ford's eight-inch hypoid unit. It's a very durable rear that works especially well with automatic transmissions. Big-block models used the famous bulletproof nine-inch rear with 31-spline axles. A number of axle ratios were available both years: 1967 Cougars could have non-locking units from 2.79 to 3.89, and limited-slip units ranged from 2.75 to 4.11, with the 3.25 Power Transfer a popular choice. In 1968, open differentials from 2.50 to 3.50 were available, and locking ratios ranged from 2.75 to 3.50. 


Like many American cars in the 1960s, four-wheel drums were the Cougar's standard fare. In this case, they were finned 10-inch cast-iron units with optional power assist, offering 251.3 of swept area. A smart upgrade was the power front disc/rear drum combination, which gave the dual-line braking system greater resistance to fading and offered 330 of swept area. The optional 11.3-inch discs from 1967 were clamped by four-piston fixed calipers, while those from 1968 used single-piston calipers. Brake components are readily available and are easily interchanged with those from other Ford cars. 


Because the Cougar was designed to be plusher than the Mustang, it used slightly softer suspension tuning. The independent front used coil springs, upper wishbones, single lower control arms with drag struts, voided bushings and an anti-roll bar; and the rigid axle rear used semi-elliptic leaf springs with padded iso-clamps and an impact-absorbing articulated strut; tubular shocks were used front and rear. As with Mustangs, an upgrade to Shelby-equipment heavy-duty anti-roll bars and shocks will sharpen handling without ruining the Cougar's generally compliant ride. 


The Cougar was built with Ford's "platform construction," meaning the floor, side members and boxed front section would be welded to the body shell to make a rigid unibody. These components were made of galvanized steel, which offered some rust resistance, but 35 years of exposure to winter conditions have let corrosion take hold of many cars. Don Rush, owner of West Coast Classic Cougars in Salem, Oregon, has dismantled hundreds of 1967--68 Cougars, and offers these tips: "The first place to check for rust is the cowl, because the Cougar was built with a sealed cowl and painted after weld ing-- the bare metal in there is very prone to rust. Run water from a garden hose on the cowl and check under the dash for drips." He notes that an inexpensive repair kit is available but doesn't last: "Grab the vent knob and move it in and out hard to see if rust flakes come out of the vent--if the cowl is rusted, it's intense labor to cut out and replace-- costs can top $2,000 very quickly." Don also suggests carefully checking the inner lips of both the hood and trunklid because they too were painted after welding and as a result can rust through. "A nice used hood typically runs $400--500, but trunklids are less expensive." Quarter panels rust ahead of and behind the rear wheel, and as whole reproductions aren't available, excellent used quarters command astronomical prices. Reproduction floor and trunk pans are cheaper and aren't as difficult to replace as the aforementioned quarters. "Shock towers are weak and can develop horizontal cracks at the level of the exhaust manifolds," adds Don. "If they've been cut for suspension access or just cracked, it's major structural work to correct, like the cowl." When it comes down to buying a solid car that isn't running or a car that runs and has "minor" rust, keep in mind that mechanical issues are always less expensive and troublesome to repair than body issues. 


With their upscale styling and pricing came upscale interiors. Cougars could be had with vinyl or vinyl/leather trim, depending on model. "You can basically build a Mustang from the ground up using Japanese parts," explains Dee Ann Baumann, co-owner of John's Classic Cougars in Holland, Michigan, abut with a Cougar, you have to love the car and be willing to put the time and effort into finding all the parts." Dee's company has made a number of Ford Officially Licensed interior products, including upholstery sets, armrests, panel trays, dash pads, headliners and floormats. Carpet sets are inexpensive, but if a car needs a new center console or a set of door panels, locating nice used components is the only option. Restoring a car to your tastes means you can add goodies like a Tilt-Away steering wheel, deluxe console and other luxury touches. 

Restoration parts

Who would have thought that simple wheel lip moldings might become some of the most highly sought Cougar trim items, when thousands of New Old Stock sets, now rare and fetching near $700, probably sat in dealership storage for years? Other exterior aluminum and ritenor plastic pieces are also tough to find. "Windshield moldings interchange with a Mustang's and valances are expensive-- all these parts are available as NOS, it's just the money they cost to buy," remarks Don. "Every year they go up in $50 increments." Don't let this scare you, because many 1967--68 Cougars have been dismantled for parts, and between nice and reconditioned salvaged, NOS and new reproduction, every part of a Cougar can he found. Mechanical parts are just as far away as your Ford dealer or favorite parts catalog. 

Performance parts

Cougars run the gamut from luxurious GTs capable of covering ground in rapid comfort to barely street-legal hairy-chested racers. Their close ties to Mustangs, Shelbys and other high-performance Fords mean that they can easily tap into the deep well of aftermarket performance parts. Their stock 289-, 302-, 390-, 427-and V-8 engines are blessed with reputations for strength and power, and they respond nicely to tuning. Although most engines used four-barrel carburetors and some had dual exhausts, today's speed parts work wonders to further free engine breathing. You can bolt a Holley atop one of Tony Branda's tuned Shelby intake manifolds, leading into aluminum Airflow Research heads, but don't forget a new camshaft with a different grind and lighter pistons. A true dual-exhaust system with headers from Hooker or Flowmaster adds rumble, and to make sure it fires properly, update the electrics with components from Mallory, MSD Ignition or Pertronix. If a Cougar's engine is toast, don't fret--Ford sells crate replacement engines in many displacements and states of tune, so you can easily drop a brand-newV-8 into a classic cat. A modern transmission swap like a Tremec five-speed with a hydraulic Centerforce clutch makes driving a real experience instead of a spectator sport. 

Chassis upgrades

Although Cougars were never boulevard cruisers, they can be tightened up and given a competitive edge with some notable tweaks. The original recirculating-ball steering was available in quick-ratio manual or power form, but a swap to a modern power rack-and-pinion unit pays big dividends in feel and response. Upgraded control arms from Moog and firmer urethane bushings can banish excess suspension play, and gas-charged shocks from Koni or KYB will keep a Cougar planted; thicker-diameter front and rear anti-roll bars bring handling to import levels. Upgrade a drum-brake car to oversized front- or four-wheel discs with a power booster kit from Baer, Master Power Brakes or Stainless Steel Brakes, or if you want to remain stock, use inexpensive bolt-in single-caliper replacements from a Maverick, Comet or Versailles. A set of wide Torq Thrusts or classic Shelby mags would look fantastic on a Cougar and would easily hold a set of high-performance radial tires, giving the Cougar some American attitude to go with its European flair. 

This article originally appeared in the January, 2004 issue of Hemmings Muscle Machines.