First introduced for 1967, the Mercury Cougar embarked on a journey through distinct generations, each marked by its unique blend of style, performance, and adaptability to the shifting tides of the automotive landscape. From its inception as a luxurious counterpart to the Ford Mustang, through its iterations as a sophisticated cruiser and a symbol of changing times, the Cougar’s history mirrors the evolution of automotive design. Let’s take a look at each generation, from its initial markings as an upscale Mustang until the last one rolled off the assembly line on this day in 2002.
Introducing the Mercury Cougar
First Generation (1967-1970): The Mercury Cougar was first introduced in 1967 as a pony car, positioned slightly above the Ford Mustang in terms of luxury and features. It was based on the Ford Mustang’s platform but featured unique styling and a more upscale interior. The first generation Cougar was available in a variety of trims and engine options. It featured distinctive hidden headlights, a split front grille, and a pronounced muscular stance.
Updates during the first generation:
- In 1969, the Cougar received a restyling with a more aggressive look. The convertible option was introduced this year.
- The high-performance XR-7 model was introduced, featuring a wood-grain dashboard, leather seats, and other luxury features.
Second Generation (1971-1973): The second generation Cougar debuted in 1971 with a larger size and new styling. It adopted a more angular and aggressive appearance, featuring a longer hood and a “prowler” front end design. The convertible option was discontinued after the first year of this generation.
Updates during the second generation:
- In 1971, the Cougar received the iconic “electric shaver” grille design.
- The XR-7 continued as the luxury-oriented model, offering more features and comfort.
Third Generation (1974-1976): The third generation, often referred to as the “Mustang-based” Cougar, arrived in 1974. It was based on the Ford Torino platform and was larger and heavier than its predecessors. This generation saw a shift towards a more luxurious and comfort-oriented approach.
Updates during the third generation:
- The 1974 oil crisis and changing market demands influenced the Cougar’s design and engine offerings to focus on fuel efficiency.
- In 1976, a XR-7G model was introduced, which featured distinctive styling and a limited production run.
Luxury becomes a focus
Fourth Generation (1977-1979): The fourth generation Cougar, based on the Ford LTD II platform, was introduced in 1977. This generation continued the trend of emphasizing comfort and luxury over sportiness. It had a more squared-off design compared to its predecessors.
Updates during the fourth generation:
- Engine options continued to prioritize fuel efficiency over high performance.
- The XR-7 remained the top trim level, offering additional luxury features.
Fifth Generation (1980-1982): The fifth generation Cougar underwent significant changes as it moved to a smaller platform based on the Ford Fox chassis. This generation marked a departure from the larger, more luxurious models of the past, and it adopted a more streamlined and contemporary design.
Updates during the fifth generation:
- The Cougar XR-7 was still available as the higher-end trim, offering more features and a more upscale interior.
Sixth Generation (1983-1988): The sixth generation Cougar, introduced in 1983, continued to be based on the Ford Fox platform. It underwent a major redesign, adopting a sleeker and more aerodynamic look, with a rounded front end and smoother lines.
Updates during the sixth generation:
- Engine options varied, with both V6 and V8 engines available.
- The XR-7 trim maintained its focus on luxury and comfort features.
Seventh Generation (1989-1997): The seventh generation Cougar, introduced in 1989, marked a significant departure from previous generations. It moved to a front-wheel-drive platform and shared components with the Ford Thunderbird. This generation featured a more modern and aerodynamic design.
Updates during the seventh generation:
- The XR-7 model continued, offering a blend of sportiness and luxury.
- Over the years, there were various engine options and technological updates.
The last Mercury Cougar
Eighth Generation (1999-2002): The eighth and final generation of the Mercury Cougar was introduced in 1999. This generation returned to a rear-wheel-drive platform, sharing components with the Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique. It aimed to recapture some of the sporty and performance-oriented characteristics of earlier Cougars.
Updates during the eighth generation:
- The exterior design featured sharper lines and a distinctive front end.
- Engine options included V6 and V8 choices.
- The Cougar’s production was discontinued in 2002 due to declining sales and a shift in market preferences towards SUVs and other vehicle types.
This Day in Automotive History: On August 30, 2002, the last Mercury Cougar rolled off the assembly line, marking the end of the model’s production history. Over the course of its various generations, the Cougar evolved from a sporty pony car to a more luxury-focused coupe, adapting to changing market trends and consumer preferences.