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35 Year History Of The Mercury Cougar
Cougar Celebrates 35 Years of Glory
A MAN'S CAR?
When the Cougar was revealed to the public in 1966, the mindset held that men controlled the money and made the decision on the major purchases. That may have held true, but it was an idea on its way to extinction. From the beginning, women were clearly taken by the comfort and luxury of the Cougar. At the end of the first year, statistics indicated that one in six of Cougars sold was purchased by a woman.
Five years ago, when the Cougar hit its 30th anniversary, the latest statistics indicated that the Cougar remained a car of choice for female buyers. At that point, 46 percent of the Cougars sold were purchased by women.
CATS ON THE PROWL
They were noted for their style and luxury as far as the sales approach went, but there was always the idea that a Cougar would make a fine race car. There is no better proof than the Group II racing campaign (also known as Trans-Am racing) of the Sports Car Club of America in 1967. Mercury put the Cougar to the test, going head-to-head with Mustangs, Barracudas, and Darts. This newcomer (another newcomer, Camaro, was entered as well) proved more than adequate. Cougar started in the front row in the first event at Daytona, which set the stage for the rest of the year. The car's first win came in Texas, and Peter Revson subbed to make it two in a row with a Lime Rock victory. Going into the season finale, the record book showed four wins for the Mustang and four wins for the Cougar, definitely a surprise to the Ford camp. Parnelli Jones' Cougar experienced some pit-stop misfortune and Ford ended up winning the title by a mere two points. It was a defeat that sits hard with Cougar fans even to this day. The car did not compete in subsequent sanctioned road-course racing.
The twists and turns weren't the only places where Cougar racing was evident. Dyno Don Nicholson and Fast Eddie Schartman, among others, piloted Cougars to many drag race wins.
While not on the major league level, Cougars have been put to work on oval tracks as well. Mark Myers of Wheatfield, Indiana, shared the story of his Cougar oval track car. "The picture of the car is from 1980. I used to run the car at Rensselaer Raceway (no longer in operation) and Broadway Speedway (now Crown Point Speedway), both in northwest Indiana. A guy who had been running a '68 Cougar with a Boss 302 engine was whipping the Chevys pretty good. When I hurt my Mustang pretty bad, I had already been hooked on the Cougar, so I knew what my next car would be."
Not suprisingly, the Cougar is a hit well beyond the North American continent. Leon Bray of Brisbane, Australia, owns a litter of Cougars and believes there may be as many as 250 classic Cougars in Australia. "They have been imported from the '60s, including two that were imported by Ford and have compliance plates attached by the factory," he says.
These cars include a full range of models: a couple of Boss 302 Elimiators, '69 R-code and S-code cars, '69-'70 GT convertibles, and '68 GTs. The '69 convertibles are really popular and there may be a GTE on the continent. The searchers are on its trail.
The Cougar Club of Australia is a chapter of the Cougar Club of America. It's basically a registry because the Cougars are spread so far and wide that meetings and gatherings are impractical. There are a number of Cougars enthusiasts with mulitple cars. One Cougar owner in Briscane can claim seven cars, all '69 and '70 models. A few more have three cars and a number possess two.
In the course of our survey, we also received a response from an owner in South Africa, so you can see the Cougar truly has universal appeal.
While much of the attention is given to classic Cougars of the 1967-1973 era, the car continued to occupy a place on American highways with new models each year. As is the case with every long-running marque, there are some periods that are less positive than others.
A complete history of the Cougar from 1967 to the present is found at www.coolcats.net. This site is primarily devoted to '83-'88 models, but does utilize cyberspace to inform interested readers about changes in the cat's evolution. The following information was obtained from that source. (Thanks to Eric Dess for permission and great insight.)
* '74-'76--Low on power, using LTD II/Montego platform and virtual clones to these cars
* '77-'79--Thunderbird chassis. Realize best sales year (213,000) in 1978
* '80-'82--Fox chassis, starting to lose some identity. Offered with four-cylinder engine and V-6
* '83-'86--Fox chassis, but gaining back styling cues. XR-7 offered with turbocharger
* '87-'88--Encompassed 20th anniversary and special cars were sold before they were made
* '89-'90--Car was stretched and suspension was improved. Unfortunately, no V-8 engine
* '91-'92--H.O. 5.0 engine now available. The controversial 25th anniversary edition released
WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE COUGAR?
A common answer was usually the year and model currently housed in each respondent's garage. Most common responses included the '67 and '68 models, the '70 Eliminator, and the convertibles.
"The '67 XR-7 Cougar is my favorite. It has clean lines on the outside, unlike the '68 models which carried the mandated sidelights and reflectors."
-Joe Celio, California
"My favorite year is the '69. The larger body makes the car look lower, longer and sleeker, and also separates it from the Mustangs of that year. The '67-'68 was too close to our Ford cousins, in my opinion."
-Robert McMullen, New Hampshire
"Our personal favorite is the car/style/type we own, the Cougar Eliminator. It's Mercury's version of the Pony musclecar."
-Phil and Nancy Elder, Florida
"My favorite is the '69 convertible. I like the style and lines. You get both power (351 Windsor) and grace in one package. Top up or down, it's one of the best-looking cars Mercury ever built."
-Mitch and Kerri Morehart, Virginia
"Unlike most Cougar owners, I appreciate the '71-'73 XR-7s the best. The steering is much more precise and the engine bay will hold any engine easily."
-David Parisi, Georgia
"My favorite Cougar is the '68. Some may argue that the '67 is prettier with its unencumbered fenders and quarter-panels, but the '68 offered many safety upgrades as well as the widest variety of specialty models, engine selections, and options."
-Jeff Bingaman, Washington
"The '68 XR-7 W-code GTE is my favorite. It is a very "sixties" kind of car. Lots of trim, emblems, colors, and cool unique features. It's a very busy looking car and I like that. It has something no Shelby or Mustang ever got, a 427 side-oiler straight from the factory. Most Ford people do not know or believe they really exist and it's always fun at a car show."
-Frank Paty, Florida
"The '70 Cougar Eliminator. It was the complete package of awesome power, great styling with the competition color paint, scoop, spoiler, and still a great road car, as all Cougars were."
ARE COUGARS UNDERAPPRECIATED?
"Yes, definitely, but I am OK with that. Their status keeps the prices down to an affordable level. It also makes Cougars that much more special in my eyes."
-Paul Damato, New Jersey
"Cougars have been left out in the cold. Mustangs and Camaros were cheaper and more readily available (more Ford and Chevrolet dealers than Mercury dealers). Cougars were priced and positioned as luxury sports cars and, as a result, fewer were made and fewer remain."
"Cougars are absolutely one of the least respected or appreciated cars. Once someone sees and gets involved with these cars, they come around. I've converted quite a few bystanders."
-Marc Wolitz, Virginia
"I don't feel like Cougars are unappreciated or underappreciated. I believe they are just sort of overlooked. People will move to Cougars in numbers sometime. When they do, we can be smug for being here first."
"Yes, very much so, but I rather like that. It is part of the Cougar's appeal and mystique as far as I'm concerned."
MORE PRETTY PICTURES
The latest edition of the "Cougars and Kittens" calendar is now available for 2003. A must-have for Cougar owners, this calendar features beautiful cars and kittens throughout the Cougar world. Produced by Overton Photographic, this calendar seeks out top-quality cars and presents them in large format for maximum enjoyment. A balance of model years and body styles makes this calendar more attractive.
For more information on how to obtain the calendar, please see the advertisement in this issue or contact Overton Photographic at www.overtonphoto.com.
Jim Karamanis, President, Delmarva Cougar Club
Carl Graziano, Editor, At The Sign Of The Cat (Cougar Club of America)
Scott Ferguson, President, Cougar Club of America
Phil Parcells, National Database Registrar, Cougar Club of America
Kevin Marti, Author, Cougar by the Numbers (1967-1973)
Eric Dess, Owner, www.coolcats.net
Cougar Club of America: www.cougarclub.org
Delmarva Cougar Club: www.dcconline.org
Southern California Cougar Club: www.socalcougarclub.com
Cool Cats: www.coolcats.net
Marti Auto Works: www.martiauto.com
Sunshine State Cougar Club: www.sscconline.com