1972 and 1973 Mercury Cougar

The 1972 Mercury Cougar found Cougar taking one more step toward Its ultimate fate. The once-plentiful engine options were now down to only three, all 351s.

The weakest was a low-compression, two-barrel unit with single exhaust, rated at 163 horsepower by the new SAE net measurement. Strongest was the CJ351, with four-barrel carburetor, dual exhausts, and a rated 266 horsepower. In the middle was a standard 351 with the CJ's four-barrel carburetor.

1972 mercury cougar
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
The factory portrait of the 1972 Mercury Cougar hardtop.

As the Cougar's image continued to shift away from sport and toward luxury, enthusiasts must have wondered what would happen next. The answer, at least for one more year, was more of the same.

Though looks hardly changed at all, the 1973 Mercury Cougar grew to 199.5 inches long overall, thanks to that year's new federally required 5-mph "impact" front bumpers. L-M and some enthusiasts may still have thought of this as a ponycar, but Its dimensions were now close to those of an intermediate.

Model choices were as before. Engine options now numbered only two: two-barrel 168-horsepower and four-barrel 264-horsepower versions of the 351. The good news was that, at year's end, sales would show a gain over the previous season's for the first time in Cougar history. The enthusiast's cloud was the manufacturer's silver lining.

1973 mercury cougar
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Many consider the 1973 Mercury Cougar to be the last of the genuine Cougar ponycars.

For 1974, Ford brought out a smaller ponycar, the Mustang II, but Mercury would have nothing to do with it. L-M, after all, was in the luxury business, the keeper of the "fine-car tradition."

But the Cougar name obviously had a lot of pulling power left, so the ponycar actually became an intermediate this year by adopting the basic platform of the workaday Montego. That's how things stood through 1976.

The following year, the Cougar name was applied to Mercury's entire mid-size line, which meant that you could buy a four-door sedan and even a wagon adorned with little cat emblems.

Meantime, Lincoln-Mercury (and most everyone else save Chevy and Pontiac) soldiered on for a few years without a ponycar in the traditional sense. An Americanized version of the European Ford Capri was brought over beginning in 1970, which gave dealers a stand-in of sorts until currency fluctuations priced it out of the market in 1978.

A downsized Mercury Cougar XR-7 coupe appeared for 1980, basically a twin to that year's new Thunderbird. For 1981 it was complemented by a line of Cougar sedans and wagons derived from the compact Ford Fairmont/Mercury Zephyr platform, a replacement for both the old Montego-based cars and the Granada/Monarch luxury compacts.

Unhappily, there wasn't a ponycar or a performance-oriented model in the bunch for any of these years.

1974 Mercury Cougar
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Many enthusiasts thought the 1974 Mercury Cougar an utter disgrace, resembling little more than a high-zoot Montego model.

The 1980s, of course, saw a new-generation Cougar, based on the "aerodynamic" Thunderbird design first seen for 1983 and distinguished chiefly by a more upright rear window treatment, appropriate for a product of Dearborn's bucks-up outfit. Bolstered by the advent of a turbocharged XR-7 for 1984, this Cougar was the closest thing yet to the spirit of the deftly designed original.

Nothing in life ever stays the same, of course, but thank goodness for memories. Cougar may have begun by prowling the middle ground, but it was anything but a middle-class car, especially the early models.

The XR-7s, GTs, GT-Es, and Eliminators of the 1960s will long prowl our memory, and they already roar in the dreams of car collectors everywhere. And if, after reading this, you feel the urge to put one in your garage, we'll understand. After all, memories worth having are worth preserving, and with love. Most of all, love.

Though the Cougar was destined for extinction, it had an illustrious six-year run fueled for the large part by an innovative and memorable advertising campaign. Continue reading for more on Mercury Cougar advertising.

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