1969 Mercury Cougar

The big news for the 1969 Mercury Cougar was a trio of new models. The Mercury Cougar GT-E and the Mercury Cougar XR-7G were gone, but the hoped-for convertible arrived in standard arid XR-7 trim, along with the Eliminator hardtop, "inspired" by "Dyno" Don Nicholson's world-record-setting Cougar funny car.

1969 mercury cougar convertible
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
The Mercury Cougar convertible made a belated debut for 1969.

Unlike the high-dollar GT-E, the Eliminator was built for more modest pocketbooks, though for the same general purpose. Though listed as a separate model, dealers had to specify two option groups to come up with an Eliminator.

The $130 "Eliminator Equipment Package" included high-back bucket seats; special Instrument panel with tachometer, Rallye clock, trip odometer, and warning lights; front air dam; rear spoiler; styled steel wheels; blackout grille; hood scoop; remote-control rearview mirror; performance axle; and bodyside tape stripe. (Why a tape stripe would be added as part of an "equipment" package is anyone's guess.)

To that was added the $70 "Eliminator I Group," made up of black curb moldings, "Rim-Blow" steering wheel, custom door trim, rear seat armrest, door-mounted courtesy lights, and padded interior moldings. Interiors could be had in black, blue, or white, with either black or blue carpeting. Exterior paint choices were Competition Orange, Yellow, Blue, or White, with black or white graphics.

All Mercury Cougars wore thoroughly revised styling for 1969. The familiar 111-inch wheelbase was retained, but overall length stretched by 3.5 inches, width swelled by three inches, and height came down a half inch. These changes made the 1969 Mercury Cougar appear much sleeker and larger than its predecessors, but also less cohesive and individual.

The distinctive two-piece grille was replaced by a full-width horizontal-bar assembly, with a bulge where the divider had been. The wide sequential taillights remained, but they were now concave Instead of flush-fitting. A Buick-like bodyside sweepspear curved down from just above the front bumper to the bottom lead edge of the rear wheel well.

1969 mercury cougar convertible instrument panel
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
The instrument panel of the 1969 Mercury Cougar convertible was somewhat busier than previous models.

In all, the 1969 Cougar lacked some of the purity that had set the 1967-1968 design apart from rival ponycars. Whether the new convertible and Eliminator outweighed the styling negatives is unclear. What was clear was that sales were still slipping. In fact, they now fell below the 100,000-unit level for the first time.

At least Cougar didn't suffer alone. The ponycar market had peaked, prices were going up, and emission controls and rising insurance rates were starting to take the fun out of such cars. It was a portent of things to come.

Once again, Cougar ended a model year with a different engine roster than at the start. Taking over at the bottom was a revised small-block with a 1/2-inch longer (3.50-inch) stroke on the same 4.00-inch bore as the 289 and 302, which worked out to 351 cubes.

In two-barrel base form it put out a claimed 250 horsepower, with 290 horsepower optional via four-barrel carb. The two-barrel 390 was dropped, but the four-barrel version returned at Its rated 1967 output, 320 horsepower.

Topping the list was a new 428-cid big-block called "Cobra Jet," replacing the 427 and available with or without Ram-Air Induction. Curiously, both were rated at 335 horsepower, though the force-fed version undoubtedly had more.

A functional hood scoop and racing-style hood lockpins came with Ram-Air, while all 428-equipped cars got a heavy-duty radiator, handling package, and E70 fiberglass-belted tires as standard. The four-barrel 351 was standard for the Eliminator.

Transmission choices on any offering were more or less dictated by engine. The CJ, for example, required either four-speed or heavy duty automatic.

After a false start in 1968, a performance version of the 302 called the Boss officially bowed at mid-year. There were two setups, a four-barrel street version rated at 290 horsepower and a racing unit with dual quads. The latter, basically the Trans-Am engine from the racing Mustang Boss 302, had the same rated output, though that was just a ruse to quell cries from the insurance companies.

Enthusiast magazines that tested the Boss Cougar found the high-revving small-block a bit weak for the over-3,500-pound curb weight despite the mandatory four-speed manual transmission. Late in the model year, a still larger big-block, derived from Ford's NASCAR engine, with 429 cid and a nominal 370 horsepower, may have been installed in a few Cougars, though it's unclear whether it actually was.

Sadly, the Mercury Cougar was in its decline. Read more about the underperforming Cougars of the early 1970s on the next page.

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