The Mercury Cougar – the "Upper-class Mustang"
Mercury is a Ford division that disappeared in 2011. It originally targeted a customer base between the luxury of the Lincoln and the Ford of the man on the street. Also designed to rival with Pontiac and, above all, Chrysler, Mercury relied on Ford's know-how while enhancing the range. With the ambition of counter-balancing the efforts of General Motors with the release of the Chevrolet Camaro, which had been combined with Lincoln since 1958, Mercury brought out the Cougar in 1967.
Gar Laux, at the helm of the Lincoln-Mercury division from 1966, gave the green light to his designers to give, as the British had done with Jaguar and their E-type, a feline dynamic to the coachwork in addition to an evocative name: the Cougar was born. Built on a Mustang platform, the Cougar was refined, the headlights hidden, and the silhouette was styled like a work of art with chrome on the wheel arches, radiator contours, openings and bumpers: a little gem that was voted car of the year and sold for $250 more than a Mustang (i.e. $2850).
Dan Gurney was hired as test driver to promote the Cougar in the famous Trans Am races: the XR-7, which won four victories, became popular and over 150,000 units (all Cougar models included) were sold during the first year. From its beginnings to 1970, it was impossible to have a small inline series engine like the Mustang's; all seven engine versions were V8s between 4.7 and 7 liters. The spirit even permeated the interior as the Mercury pony car was intended to be powerful. Hence, the suspension, brakes, exhaust and tires were reworked and clearly improved to offer optimal comfort.
The second generation from 1971 to 1973 appeared after worrying sales, and competition in this sector was stiff to say the least. With Gar Laux removed, McLaughlin maintained a policy of absence from competition and restricting the Mercury to the American middle class, which did not necessarily work. The new Cougar traded its double grille for a more prominent small square grid, the headlights were now apparent and the bumper was redesigned. The field of action for the engine was reduced: only three V8s were offered, including the 7-liter 429 Cobra Jet that attracted attention thanks to the Mustang but was later paralyzed by the oil crisis.
The range changed in 1974; built on the more imposing Torino platform, the Cougar, which had nearly been abandoned, headed towards a different sector: the luxury sedan (the Lincoln division was undoubtedly instrumental in this). Sales of this model took an upturn until 1976, nevertheless they were not as flamboyant as for the first generation, despite the return of the 7.5-liter big block.
It was not until 1977 and the fourth generation that Cougar started making its highest profits, but the results were a little altered due to the brand's marketing reorientation towards the intermediate ranges. Nevertheless, a wagon model with a wooden panel would stand out: a Cougar Woody designed on the success of the Town & Country would leave nobody indifferent. Of course, the XR-7 was continued but its sports attributes were overshadowed by the Capri that was all the rage at the time.
Finally, four more generations would follow each other between 1980 and 2002, the last of which reached the European market after shedding its name in favor of that of its mother company, Ford. The Cougar is an esthetic success with an incomparable style. Its mechanical credibility is still a symbol of trust even today.