Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Mercury Cars Work


Mercury Cougar Origins
The Mercury Cougar debuted in 1967 as an upscale version of the Ford Mustang.

One of the most interesting and desirable '60s Mercurys was the Cougar. An upscale rendition of Ford's wildly successful Mustang ponycar concept, it premiered for 1967 as a two-door hardtop in three basic permutations. Convertibles were added for 1969.

Sriding a three-inch-longer wheelbase than Mustang -- 111 in all -- Cougar offered more luxury and standard power for about $200 extra (prices started at $2851). Where Mustang's base engine was a six, Cougar had a lively 200-bhp 289-cid V-8. The big 335-bhp, 428-cid CJ became an extra-cost option for 1969-70.

The 1967-68 Cougars arguably looked best with their crisply tailored lines, hidden headlamps in an "electric-shaver" grille, and a matching back panel with sequential turn signals, a gimmick borrowed from Ford Thunderbirds. Length and width increased on the '69s, which sported Buick-like sweepspear bodyside contours, ventless side glass, less-distinctive "faces," and full-width taillights. The '70s adopted a divided vertical-bar grille with a slightly bulged nose.

Early Cougars came in several forms. The most luxurious was the XR-7, boasting a rich interior with leather accents and full instrumentation in a simulated walnut dashboard. A GT option delivered a firmer suspension for more-capable roadholding and a standard 320-bhp 390 V-8 for extra go.

For 1968 came a GTE package with several unique appearance features and a 390-bhp 427. The hottest '69 Cougar was the Eliminator hardtop, with 428 power and a standard rear-deck spoiler. Convert­ibles saw very low sales: fewer than 10,000 total for 1969 and less than 4300 for 1970.

Cougar never approached Mustang in popularity, though it was more solid and elegant, and just as roadable. Production was still more than respectable: 150,000 in the first year, about 114,000 in '68, close to 100,000 in '69, then about 72,000 in '70. All are now collector's items.

Cougar was the crowning touch to a decade that saw Mercury move into luxury cars rivaling Lincoln even as it recaptured the performance aura it established in the late '40s and early '50s. But the good times of the '60s couldn't last.

As the '70s rolled along, Mercurys became more like equivalent Fords, while govern­ment mandates and the vagaries of petroleum power-politics conspired to sacrifice performance on the twin altars of safety and fuel economy.

By 1980, Mercury had once again resumed its original role as a plusher, costlier, and sometimes larger Ford. The only differences were that the parallel model lines encompassed five or six different size classes instead of one or two, and that Mercury styling often related more to Lincoln's than to Ford's.

For more information on Mercury models, see:

  • Mercury New Car Reviews and Prices
  • Mercury Used Car Reviews and Prices