Eric English
November 10, 2005
Photos By: Jim Smart

From the beginning, Cougar offered unique styling, strong performance, an aggressive competition program, and perhaps what the model is best known for--upscale content. Each and every Cougar was equipped with a V-8 from the factory. We dig the concealed headlights and sequential taillights of the early cars, along with the XR-7 package that had everything from leather seats to full instrumentation. We completely understand the Cougar enthusiasts' commitment to their breed.

It's Also About Performance
Despite a serious luxury emphasis, Mercury certainly wasn't shy about promoting the Cougar as an all-conquering performer both on the street and on the track. Mercury hit the fledgling SCCA Trans-Am series hard in Cougar's first year of production, hiring successful NASCAR crew chief Bud Moore to run the show. High-profile drivers for the team included regulars Parnelli Jones, Dan Gurney, Peter Revson, Ed Leslie, and David Pearson. Extremely competitive from the start, the effort came oh-so-close with Cougar battling the Carroll Shelby-managed Mustang team through the final race in Kent, Washington. In the end, the Cougar team came in just two points shy of the manufacturer's championship, with Mustang scoring its second Trans-Am crown. A fierce rivalry between the two FordMotor Company teams apparently led top brass to wind down to one factory team in 1968, with Shelby getting the nod. While privateer Cougar Trans-Am cars were seen throughout the '68 season, the official effort was over after just one year.

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With Trans-Am out of the picture, Moore packed up his Cougar contingent for 1968 and turned to the NASCAR Grand Touring division, also known as the Baby Grand series.

But you'd be mistaken if you thought Cougar performance was limited to various types of endurance racing. The Mercury Division had long been a major player on the drag racing scene, as well. Cougar-based Funny Cars were among the first of the breed, with drivers such as Fast Eddie Schartman and Dyno Don Nicholson running under 8-second e.t.'s with their injected and blown 427 SOHC Cammers.

From the beginning, the Cougar was offered with most of the best engines in the Ford arsenal. For 1967, we find the 271-horse 289 High Performance V-8 decidedly absent. Mercury opted on the side of a subtle, yet firm, application of torque in Ford's 390 High Performance.

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In 1968, Mercury offered performance with a vengeance in more ways than one. The 390 High Performance GT engine remained, however, a pair of 400-plus-cube giant killers were where the real beef was. The new Cougar GTE was initially offered with a 390-horse 427. On April 1, 1968, the 428 Cobra Jet replaced the 427. The GTE was the only way to get a 427 in a Cougar. Yet, the Cobra Jet could be had with virtually any Cougar trim package.

Did you know?
Ford's bulletproof 9-inch rearend took up residence in every '69-'70 Cougar by virtue of a standard 351ci V-8. Both the overall width and spring-perch widths for the '69-'70 Cougar 9-inch is identical to the width of '67-'68 Cougars and Mustangs, meaning a perfect swap candidate.

1967

When we say the Mercury team nailed Cougar down right from the beginning, we do mean the very beginning. You're looking at what owner Jim Pinkerton refers to as Cougar One, or serial number 7F91S500001. This first production cat sports the 390 GT 4V, styled steel wheels, and a dressed-to-impress red-on-red color combo.

  • Available engines: 289-2V, 289-4V, 390-4V GT
  • Production: 150,893
  • Special appearance and/or performance packages: GT, XR-7, Dan Gurney Special
  • Notables: XR-7 and Dan Gurney Special models make their debut mid-year. Team Cougar nearly wins the Trans-Am championship in their first and only season. Cougar was named Car of the Year by Motor Trend.

Did you know?
Boss 302 Eliminators were never offered with Ram Air, despite carrying the same hoodscoop used on Ram Air Cobra Jet Cougars. Despite a look all its own, Cougar closely mirrored Mustang offerings when it came to powertrains, yet there were notable exceptions.

  • Ford's 302 debuted in 1968 in Mustang form, and came only in a 230hp, J-code, four-barrel guise. Cougar had the J-code, as well, but was also available with a 210hp, F-code, two-barrel 302 that wasn't offered in the Mustang.
  • The Cougar GTE was 1968's top cat, where early production included the 390hp, W-code, 427 FE, an engine unavailable as a factory Mustang option.
  • Just as in 1969, '70 428 Cobra Jet Mustangs were identified as either R-codes (Ram Air), or Q-codes (non-Ram Air). Cougars followed this same pattern in 1969. But in 1970, all 428 Cobra Jet Cougars were Q-codes, even when equipped with Ram Air.

1968

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Where the GTE was offered only with big-inch muscle, the Dan Gurney-inspired XR-7G could be equipped with mild to wild. Ed Hill's gorgeous "G" sports a 230-horse 302-4V, power sunroof, and striking Madras Blue/Parchment color combo. XR-7Gs were often equipped with the 390-4V GT engine, with some 14 units fitted with the 428 Cobra Jet after April 1, 1968.

  • Available engines: 289-2V, 302-2V, 302-4V, 390-2V, 390-4V GT, 427-4V, 428 Cobra Jet
  • Production: 113,741
  • Special appearance and/or performance packages: GT, GTE, XR-7, XR-7G, Dan Gurney Special
  • Notables: XR-7G and GTE models appear for 1968 only. Power sunroof option was offered, many of which were installed in XR-7Gs. Most visible change for 1968 was the federally mandated side-marker lights/reflectors.

1969

Boss Mustang stylist Larry Shinoda worked his magic on the '69 Cougar and came up with the Eliminator--more or less {{{Mercury}}}'s response to the Mustang Mach 1 and Boss. GTE and XR-7G models were dropped. The good news was the availability of the Boss 302 and 428 Cobra Jet engines in the Eliminator.

  • Available engines: Boss 302, 351W-2V, 351W-4V, 390-4V GT, 428 Cobra Jet
  • Production: 100,085
  • Special appearance and/or performance packages: XR-7, Eliminator
  • Notables: Just like Mustang, Cougar styling is all new, and marginally larger than it's predecessor. The Eliminator model debuts, styled by Larry Shinoda. It was the first year for a Cougar convertible, but the power sunroof availability continued. It was the last year for the 390-4V GT engine.

Did you know?
Genuine vintage musclecars have been on quite a run of late, with the annual Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction in January fetching some of the most outrageous prices of all. Just as we are going to press, a sweet '68 Cougar crossed the block at the 2005 B-J for a cool $31,500. However, this was not a muscle Cougar, but rather a 210hp, F-code, 302-4V Cougar that was much more typical of the classic ponycar than something with a big-inch mill. That's not to take anything away from this immaculate cat that featured a factory sunroof, gorgeous red paint, and several incorrect add-ons, such as a GTE hoodscoop and high-back buckets. It was a stunner, but we'd be surprised if this wasn't a record price for a small-block Cougar hardtop.

1970

For 1970, it would be hard to imagine two more different, yet desirable, examples of the Cougar performance breed: the rev-happy, overtly styled Boss 302 Eliminator and the elegant drop-top 428 Cobra Jet XR-7. The Boss 302 delivered both handling and crisp performance. The CJ was for hard acceleration onto the freeway, good for cruising. Whatever your choice, it was bound to get attention because Mercury didn't build many of these performance Cougars.

  • Available engines: Boss 302, 351W, 351C-2V, 351C-4V, 428 Cobra Jet
  • Production: 72,365
  • Special appearance and/or performance packages: XR-7, Eliminator
  • Notables: The divided "pucker mouth" grille markedly distinguishes the '70 from the '69. the 351 Cleveland engine debuts. Eliminator continues in similar volume as 1969 (approximately 2,200 units).

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1971-1973

Like the Mustang, increasing weight and falling compression ratios conspired to kill hard-core performance in '71-'73 Cougars. For 1971, there were two powerful V-8 engines available: the 351C-4V and the extra-large 429 Cobra Jet. After 1971, the 351C-4V engine was the most powerful you could order.

  • Available engines: 351C-2V, 351C-4V, 429 Cobra Jet (1971 only)
  • Production: 62,864 (1971), 53,702 (1972), 60,629 (1973)
  • Special appearance and/or performance packages: XR-7, GT (1971-72)
  • Notables: Cougar parallels Mustang again with a bodystyle change that would last for three years. Fuel price and availability, insurance rates, and safety issues surrounding high-performance cars hurt sales. There was a big drop in compression ratios for 1972, along with a change to SAE net horsepower ratings. the last year for a Cougar convertible was 1973.

A Club For Cougar Enthusiasts
Cougar Club of America
Membership Services
Beverly Pike
Dept. MF
18428 Siskiyou Rd.
Apple Valley, CA 92307-1415
www.cougarclub.org