The original Ford Mustang was a major success for the Dearborn automaker, and so was the Mustang’s swanky offspring, the Mercury Cougar.
When the Mercury Cougar was introduced on September 30, 1966, members of the automotive press reached for a handy trope. This new upmarket pony car, they typed, was “a Mustang in a tuxedo.” Based on the Ford Mustang, the pioneer of the pony car movement, the Cougar boasted a luxury interior, a slightly longer wheelbase, and a more generous list of standard equipment. And in its own way, the Cougar was as successful as its low-priced sibling.
Ford made no secret of the fact that the Cougar (project name T-7) was, under the skin, essentially the Mustang package with a few critical upgrades. The wheelbase was stretched from 108 inches to 111.2 inches, while the front shock towers were engineered from the start to accommodate the FE series big-block V8. But in contrast to the Mustang, there was no six-cylinder Cougar; the base engine was a 289 CID V8. The top powerplant choice for the inaugural year was a 390 big-block with a four-barrel Autolite carb and 320 hp, offered as part of the GT performance package. Transmission options included manual three and four-speeds and the trusty Merc-O-Matic, available here with the Select-Shift manual-ish floor shifter.
With a comfy base-price cushion of nearly $400 over the Mustang ($2,851 vs. $2,461) the Mercury crew was able to build a number of deluxe styling features into the Cougar’s exterior presentation. The upgrades included hidden headlamps, an elegant fine-tooth grille, and elaborate tail lamp assemblies with sequential turn signals, a neat gimmick first seen on the 1965 Thunderbird. Speaking of Thunderbird, more than one observer recognized that the Cougar might be more than simply a pony car. Potentially, it could eat into the T-Bird’s sales at the lower end of the personal luxury category.
The Cougar’s cabin was equally swank, with premium vinyl fabrics, an upgraded dash, and deep-pile carpeting. And though it wasn’t standard, most were equipped with the snazzy Sports Console between the bucket seats, a $57 extra. Additional extra-cost options included Tilt-Away Steering Wheel ($60.05) and the AM Radio/Stereo-Sonic tape deck setup ($188.50). In mid-’67 the XR-7 package arrived with leather interior trim, an overhead console, and special badging.
With sales of nearly 151,000 units in 1967, the Cougar was not in the same league as the Mustang at more than 472,000 cars produced, but for the Mercury brand it was a smash hit, accounting for nearly half the division’s total volume that year. Motor Trend magazine named the Cougar its 1967 Car of the Year, and other accolades followed. While the first-generation Cougar was discontinued in 1970, Mercury continually rebooted the nameplate over the years, often with products that shared little with the original pony car theme. The final, eighth-generation Cougar of 1999-2002 was a compact three-door coupe with front-wheel drive.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.