By on May 5, 2010

Detroit has a long list of sins it committed over the decades, but one of the more pernicious ones is name debasement. Think of the Chrysler K-cars wearing the once proud names of New Yorker and Imperial. GM’s history of name debasement and other crimes in naming is extensive. But it’s difficult to come up with a more egregious one than what was done to the Cougar. Better pop a Zoloft, because this is a depressing CC: beige, boxy, generic, feeble, padded half-vinyl roof and tin foil wire wheel covers. But the crimes against names and humanity must be documented for future generations.

Few car names are more evocative, lyrical and lasting in their initial impression than Cougar. The first 1967 Cougar was launched with heavy use of a live cougar in tv and print ads, and the “untamed elegance” was one of the tag lines that stuck in our brains.

The Cougar had a terrific start, defining a niche above the pony cars as a more upscale variant, and stayed fairly true to its identity for the first few iterations. But of course, it too got sucked into that vortex of seventies bloat and deadly excess. We’ll be back to look at both the early and mid-life versions soon. But when the big 1977-1979 Cougars went away, they were replaced by something totally different: a boxy little coupe, sedan, and horrors: even a station wagon.

The agony was stretched out over three years no less. In 1980, the Cougar appeared as a coupe only, with a typically wretched half-padded top and opera windows. And of course there was that generic front end that was passed around Detroit like a bad case of STD. It was all met with a giant yawn, and sales plummeted. Then in its second year, 1981, this lovely four door sedan was added. It was obviously (like the coupe) a rehash of the former Fox-body Zephyr, but uglified in its new supposed role as a semi-upscale car.  And in 1982, the final atrocity: a Cougar wagon, even available as a woody no less.

Let’s try to put these in perspective: pretty much all Fox-body cars had a certain intrinsic goodness, which made itself more manifest in certain versions. The first Zephyr (and Ford Fairmont) had a certain simple and honest aspect, unsullied (for the most part) in their role as straight forward economy cars in the vein of the Dart and Valiant. And of course, other Foxes ended up in other equally successful roles, especially the Mustang, and the ’83 and up T-Bird and Cougar, and remarkably, even in its most luxurious forms, the Mark VII and Continental.

But this Cougar gets the distinction of being the weak link in the Fox lineage. Ford showed it was possible to screw up even something this good. Like making the 88 hp 2.3 liter Pinto four as the standard engine! OK, it was a pretty rugged little mill in the right application, but a Cougar? And if that didn’t quite evoke the excitement of the sign of the cat, the 94 hp 200 CID six was available. As well as one of the feeblest V8′s ever to come out of Detroit, the 119 hp 255 (4.2 liter) Windsor. At least the slightly better optional 134 hp 302 (4.9 liter) V8 came along to bail out the rest of the line up.

What were these cars like to drive? Who knows? I’ve never set foot in one. Probably in the effort to give it a better ride, the Zephyr’s reasonably decent handling was undoubtedly sullied to some degree with softer springs and more weight. Does anyone care? The seats look reasonably comfortable. Performance was mediocre across the board. And Ford’s new AOD transmission did not get off to a good start.

Of course, Mercury redeemed itself with the new 1983 Cougar (as Sajeev Mehta will attest to), although that roof line wasn’t exactly everyone’s cup of Darjeeling. Well, if this was all a bit too depressing, look at it this way: getting the worst Cougar out of the way was like eating the spinach on your plate first; every other Cougar CC to come can only be an improvement (more or less).

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68 Comments on “Curbside Classic: Ford’s Name Debasement Sin – 1981 Mercury Cougar...”


  • avatar
    relton

    The Mark VIII was NOT on a Fox platform, the Mark VII was. I realize this only one I on the Mark, but it does make a difference.

    Bob

  • avatar
    Amendment X

    I’m happy I wasn’t alive during this time period.

  • avatar
    twotone

    Ford/Mercury should re-issue the Cougar targeted to MILF’s looking for a boy-toy. They could still use “live cougars” in the print and TV ads. Perfect product placement for Sex in the City.

    Twotone

    • 0 avatar
      MarcKyle64

      Or Cougartown :)

    • 0 avatar

      I would say owning a Fox Cougar (though mine is one of the eye catching ones) in today’s age of Cougars/MILFs comes with extra giggles I never expected, but its really not that great. Then again, it’ll only bring more of the right people back into Mercury dealers if Ford remade them.

      Is Jill Wagner old enough to be a Cougar, or is she just a Puma?

  • avatar
    geeber

    And of course there was that generic front end that was passed around Detroit like a bad case of STD.

    What a perfect line that accurately describes how bad things got in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

    This is a case of a mediocre car with the wrong name. The car probably wasn’t much worse than its contemporaries from GM and Chrysler, although that isn’t saying much. But in no way, shape or form was this a Cougar.

    Mercury tried to distinguish the sedan and wagon Cougars from the “personal luxury” variant by affixing the XR-7 suffix to that model. Along with the 1980-82 Thunderbird, the 1980-82 Cougar XR-7 was one of the ugliest cars ever to come from Detroit.

    Those two HAVE to be one Dearborn’s deadly sins…

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Ford entered the decade with the over-use of that front-end, then differentiated a bit until the Taurus took off, then every Ford until the early 90′s looked a bit too much like a Ford Taurus, and a little bit too little like the model it was supposed to be.

      The styling of those early-80′s vehicles was driven by two things that affected every OEM … the desire to improve aerodynamics and thus fuel economy, but without having the tools (powerful computers and CAD software) or experience to do that job. As a result of this transition from hand-drawn to machine-drawn designing, and tooling, the majority of the vehicles on the market tended to look as though the designers had nothing more at hand than straight-edges and triangles.

      The range of engines from 4-cyl to 5LV8 was supposed to give the customer a choice … and to improve CAFE numbers … no point in over-engining a vehicle if the customer is happy with the small mill, and, even with a decent “delete-option” credit, most customers don’t bother to tick that box (and the dealer doesn’t encourage them to) and CAFE suffers.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      That line jumped out at me too. Well said Paul!

  • avatar
    educatordan

    The interior at least still looks good after all these years. I’ll take one as long as I’ve got enough money left over to make it a four door Mustang. Wonder if the manual transmission pedal assembly from say an early 80s Fox body ‘Stang will fit?

    • 0 avatar
      john.fritz

      I think it will Mr. E. Can’t swear by it but I seem to remember my roommate (at the time I was driving this thing) who owned a fox-body 5.0 saying that a clutch/manual tranny swap was no problem.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Here’s one of the many things I love about this site. I can ask an idle question that I would in my mind expect the question to only be answerable by the experts of say “Car Craft” or “Hot Rod” or “Fast Fords” and the like, or fanatical fanboys on a dedicated forum. But here on TTAC there’s always someone who knows enough to at least rumiate about the possibilities. I love TTAC!

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      Wow, there really aren’t any Ford historians commenting on this site. Google “LTD LX”. 4 door Fox bodied with Mustang 5.0 drive train, back about 1984-1986 timeframe. Better yet, try ltdlx.com.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      @geozinger: No need to disparage folks who lack your in-depth Ford knowledge. We can’t all be Ford historians like you.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @Paul, et al…

      Sorry, my comments weren’t meant to be disparaging. I guess having grown up around lots of Ford people, I imagine much of this stuff to be common knowledge.

      I really was trying to be amusing when posting these comments, but apparently will need to include the (humor) and (/humor) tags when I do.

      Again, my apologies.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      @geo: It’s ok. I grew up in an Oldsmobile/Pontiac family. When my father was test drivng used cars and came home with a W-platform Bonneville I remember my mother remarking to her kids privately: “I think he’s gonna buy this one, it’s a Pontiac.” My automotive universe has expanded since then but I have much minute GM triva stuck in my head, so I understand.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @educatordan,

      Thanks for letting me off the hook. I guess I have a pretty extensive database rolling around in my head of all of the domestics, up until about the start of this century.

      I grew up in a Ford/Mercury family, but lusted after certain Chevys, Pontiacs, Olds and Dodges. My wife’s family was all Oldsmobile, and when I started dating her, I became truly indoctrinated.

      I have a pretty big appetite for all things automotive and am happy to share my information. Like I said before, I wasn’t speaking down to anyone, but somewhat amazed (bemused? amused?) that some of these cars were forgotten or overlooked. My attempt at humor was not transparent. Bummer.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      @geozinger: No worries :)  Hey, I totally screwed up on this CC, having forgotten that there was a Cougar sedan and wagon already in the prior generation. There are some things my mind seems to just want to forget!

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @Paul,

      OK, no problem.

  • avatar
    john.fritz

    …every other Cougar CC to come can only be an improvement (more or less).

    Glad you added a qualifier Paul.

    I owned one of these and drove it for several relatively trouble-free years. It finally did succumb to body rot, morning sickness and general malaise. I have nothing more to say about it.

    Well, except for my response above. Now I’m done.

  • avatar
    sfdennis1

    Agreed that these were the “dark days of Dearborn” before they found their Euro-mojo and regained at least some respect a few years later…

    In a half-defense, it wasn’t that much of an atrocity of a malaise-era Mercury, the seats look plush, therre’s enough fake wood on the dash, etc…it had to get much better gas mileage than the previous version…but oh such a sad representation of what was once a sexy, sleek and desirable model.

    This Cougar, and the contemporary ’80-82 Thunderbird were, without a doubt, depraved sins against two previously respected nameplates…

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    By the way, don’t forget that about the time this car was developed (and all the ilk of its generation, besides the issue of aerodynamics/fuel-econ-CAFE/lack of good CAD/E tools) Ford Motor Company was flirting with bankruptcy … and was only saved from beating Chrysler to becoming insolvent because FoE was sending plane-loads of profits back to Dearborn (even Bob Lutz was there at FoE in the later part of that period).

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      I’ve heard it sad by many “experts” that the major reason Ford has not shown the hubris of GM during the past 30 years is because of their “brush with death” in 1982. GM didn’t get hit as hard.

    • 0 avatar
      BDB

      You can add Chrysler, too, at least until Diamler raped them.

      Both Ford and Chrysler had periods of ascendancy and some real hits after their early ’80s brushes with death until the Caropocalypse, M didn’t outside of their truck line. It was just steadily downward for GM.

      Ex. when the second gen Taurus was about to be released, GM had JUST fielded a competitor that was competitive with the first generation Taurus (the Lumina). Before that they were trying to push the outdated A-bodies as a competitor. They were screwing around trying to create an entire new division to get a decent small car whereas Ford and Chrysler released the Escort and Neon using existing brands.

      Even when it came to the early SUVs, the Explorer and Cherokee were superior to the Blazer.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    Oh, and btw, in the interest of full disclosure, I can tell you that from the time I was a small boy I was a certified Cougar Nut!

    At one time, we had 3 1969 Cougars at home all w/351-2V engines … XR-7 Convertible, Base Model HT (w/bench seat, one of about 1,200), and the one I still have, 1969 XR-7 HT Burnt Orange Metallic, Black Vinyl Roof, Black Leather Interior and Power Everything.

    Gosh, I’m so excited about this topic that I just realized that I typed most of the words in the preceding paragraph with a leading capital…

    In the words of Kent Dorfman “This is gonna be great!!”

    btw, I truly think there is no possible CC Clue that Paul could give for a 69 or 70 Cougar that I wouldn’t get! Since we know a write-up is coming, I’ll throw this gauntlet before Paul: Show me the piece, or part of the piece, I’ll take a crack at identifying it.

    • 0 avatar
      majo8

      I’m right there with ya Robert. I’m currently restoring a 67 XR7 ( Tiffany Blue, 289 ), and have been a fan of the early models since I first became aware that cars existed.

      Looking forward to competing with you on that first CCCCC ( Classic Cougar Curbside Classic Clue ) when it eventually appears. I just hope I get to the computer before you do……

  • avatar

    whoever is responsible will truly end up in Hell. Condemned to drive Calibers for the rest of their lives.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    There aren’t too many Ford historians on this site. Mercury offered a Cougar Villager wagon (in 1977 only), along with the sedans that ran until 1979. (Full disclosure, my father was a Ford man, back when that stuff mattered.)

    Back during this time I was in the market for my first new car, I remember looking at the 1981 Cougars and decided they were waaay too sedate for my money. I got a Mercury Capri RS Turbo instead.

    They would have been great for my mother, but even she decided on a Mustang at that time. Had I known the 1983 Cougars were on their way, maybe I would have waited. But most likely I still would have ended up with a Fox-body Mercury Capri, like I did back in ’81

    • 0 avatar
      supremebrougham

      I have a Matchbox version of the ’77 Cougar Villager. It was a light green (till I got bored as a kid and tried to give it a paint job).

      Well, since I’m here I’ll throw out my bit of Cougar history.

      My grandparents and a few aunts and uncles went through a number of ’77-’78 Cougars and T-birds. These were always presented to me as personal luxury coupes, so the idea of a Cougar as a “sports” car seemed odd to me as a kid. The early 80′s Cat only served to reinforce in my mind the idea of the Cougar as being a luxury model.

      It’s unfortunate that Ford didn’t produce many models during the 80′s and 90′s that will be considered classics, but for me, the Cougar (83-97), along with the Mustang, Thunderbird, Grand Marquis coupe, Mark VII and VIII and the Town Car will always be cars I wouldn’t mind having in my garage. (And I’m an Olds man!)

  • avatar
    MarcKyle64

    I drove a 1978 Cougar equipped with the 351 Windsor block. The damned thing weighed over 4,000 pounds. That thing was a bloated slug of a car. I measured my mileage once – 9.9 mpg. You guys need to do a ‘sins’ on that one.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Coming!

    • 0 avatar
      majo8

      I owned one as well ( a 77 ). Best feature — 6-way power front bench seat. Perfect for the drive-in! You could tilt the back of the seat down low and raise the front part high to arrive at a perfect angle to watch the movie…….if you were so inclined.

    • 0 avatar
      Jordan Tenenbaum

      I also had a `78 Cougar; my first car. Mine was the base model with the 302. The 302 promptly gave up the ghost, and was replaced by a 302 from a late 80s Thunderbird. I never measured my gas mileage, but it was a fun car. Never seemed that heavy.

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    So what’s the big deal here?

    This is nothing more than a Mercury Fairmont (Canada only) that somebody snuck over our northern border. ;)

    Parsienne, anybody?

  • avatar
    Syke

    I remember this car in the Ford variant, the LTDII. My then-father-in-law had one. Ray was an excellent machinist and electrical repair person, otherwise he was a rather quiet, henpecked, boring individual.

    The car suited him perfectly.

  • avatar

    These cars – along with the Thunderbird – confused me as a kid as I couldn’t understand why these generic dad-mobiles had the name Cougar on it.
    Back then there were plenty of earlier generation Cougars on the road, the first gen was beautiful, the second and third a bit bloated but nice enough from a kids perspective,the forth gen looked like a Thunderbird, which looked like an LTD. But this car just seemed a leap too far in my mind. Back then I was realizing a lot of the domestics were the same car, just with different names, grilles etc. There were others, Pontiac’s that look like Caprices,Ford Grenada’s with Lincoln markings, that did the same thing.
    As a child I thought I was onto something, that I was not fooled by their trickery. Now all these years later I find on TTAC I wasn’t the only one, fancy that.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    Ford sold the Granada version of this car in 1981 as well. My wife’s grandmother bought one new, the paint fell off it, and my father-in-law repainted it. About 14 years later, my wife’s grandmother was too old to drive, so we wound up with the Granada.

    I recalled seeing how bout the hood would rust through on these cars. Not as if it was the part of the hood over the battery, it was all over. Ours was no exception.

    Ours had the straight-six. So, it was just like the Fairmont we’d worn out (see a pattern?) It wasn’t particularly fast, but it was durable and the handling really wasn’t too bad. Other than the mousefur seats, the thing had a serious chance at being durable.

    For what it’s worth, we’d also had it’s successor for a while, the 1985 LTDII wagon in our driveway with the V6. It was in the shop monthly, while the 1981 Granada with a straight six and it’s predecessor, the Fairmont wagon with a straight six, rarely went to the shop.

  • avatar
    catbert430

    Just before the 1981 model year started, I received the order forms for my company car that was to replace the 1979 Malibu.

    As the choices in previous years had been limited to only Malibus, I was excited to see Pontiac Phoenix, Olds Omega, Dodge Aries, Ford Granada, or Mercury Cougar.

    I couldn’t believe my eyes. Mercury Cougar! I immediately went to the nearest L-M dealer to look at one and found out the awful truth.

    The real Cougar was now Cougar XR-7 and the plain Cougar was a Ford Granada with a fake Lincoln grille slapped on the front.

    I ended up ordering the Olds Omega Brougham because it had a ton of chrome and velour and I was excited about FWD.

    Maybe I was wrong but, I hated all the Fox-bodied Ford sedans with a passion. They were so painfully generic and cheap-looking. The Mustang and Capri were the only Fox cars that I thought were acceptable.

    I was a big fan of the GM X-cars so, in retrospect, my opinion was flawed.

  • avatar
    BDB

    Ha, I remember this car! My grandma had it, in the station wagon variant no less! She kept it until 2001, when she couldn’t drive anymore. The only reason it lasted that long is she didn’t drive much, and it was garage kept.

  • avatar
    whynotaztec

    Hey Catbert -

    “As the choices in previous years had been limited to only Malibus, I was excited to see Pontiac Phoenix, Olds Omega, Dodge Aries, Ford Granada, or Mercury Cougar.”

    Sounds like you were in the bowels of hell.

    • 0 avatar
      catbert430

      It’s all about perspective.

      It would have been Hellish indeed to have to spend one’s hard-earned money on any of those cars but, I was choosing one for free including free gas, insurance, maintenance, and repairs.

      That made all the difference.

      I’d love a totally free new car now no matter how sucky. Free Chrysler Sebring ? Sign me up.

  • avatar

    Although your article is valid, this was not the first real affront to the Cougar name. The 77 model was the first 4 door, essentially a freshened Montego, and a Villager wagon model debuted that same year. After that naming catastrophe, the little boxy foxy Cougar was just a whimper. Too bad they were both actually very nice vehicles for their day.

    This particular CC Coug is surprisingly nice, in upgraded LS trim with the cushy leather seats! A mini Grand Marquis….

  • avatar
    JeremyR

    We had a Cougar wagon of approximately this vintage, alongside a ’79 Pinto. I learned to drive in those cars. The Cougar was quite a beast!

  • avatar
    tklockau

    These cars weren’t that bad. When I was a kid a neighbor had an ’81 or ’82 Cougar wagon, black over red (no fake woodgrain) and it was a reliable hauler. He had it several years and it still looked good when he sold it. The sedan and wagon should never have been named Cougar though. I would argue the Fox-based Zephyr was a poor rebadging in light of the Lincoln-Zephyrs of the 30′s and 40′s.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    I had one. It was the two door sedan. It had the 302 in it. It was given to me to drive because the fleet of 1981 Chevrolet Citations the AAA leased fell apart to the point where the entire fleet was returned to the Chevy dealership killing the leases.

    So I cruised Colorado in this car throughout the summer, working. Compared to the dreadful, but new Pontiac J2000 and the 1981 Citation that fell apart around me while still under a year old, the Cougar was great! It doesn’t look like much, but it was a very good car. I know that surprises you.

    I didn’t consider the car a Cougar either – I really saw it as a Mercury Granada in it’s second generation, or a precursor to the Ford LTD II, which just precedes the Taurus. If you recall, the entire Mercury line was successful only with the Capri and the Cougar during the late 1970s and renamed their intermediate Montego line as Cougars for about five years. No one really believed these Cougars were really Cougars, even those of us who learned to like these cars.

    The 302 ascended mountain passes with ease and the car didn’t wallow around curves any worse than the X and J cars did. The Cougar was quiet, and had a very nice ride – and did have enough road feel to let you know you were moving. The car only got floaty over roads that had repeated dips, but rarely enough to be noticed. A couple years earlier, I had a Ford Fairmont Futura that was a revolution to me over the year I drove the heck out of it. Both the Cougar and the Futura were very nice cars.

    As to styling, what drove me particularly nuts about the Cougar was the hood ornament, which was a profile of a Cougar. Spending all that time in the car, I was forever looking at that. So, after the first day, I had to turn the hood ornament 45 degrees so that I couldn’t see it anymore – just it’s edge.

    Gas mileage was not good. Compared to the X and J cars, the Cougar forced me to stop more often to fill it’s tank. But, unlike the GM products that broke down on me above timberline during the winter, repeatedly, the Cougar was dependable, comfortable and assembled well enough to last.

    It was both the Futura, and the Cougar that first surprised me and made me aware that not all American manufacturers built crappy cars. Before that time I thought they were all junk. So, I am a little surprised to have such a favorable feeling towards this silly sedan, even today.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      It’s hard to fault the intrinsic goodness of the Fox, even when they have silly names and hood ornaments.

    • 0 avatar

      Foxes get better with age. And Paul’s article is proof that history will be far kinder to these vehicles than any of its Detroit competition. There are varying degrees of bad in any aspect of life, and this article explains it quite well.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    Hard to imagine that they used the same name for this thing as they did for the upscal Mustang of the 60′s. Thank God I was unaware of this atrocities place int eh history of Ford when I was growing up in the 80′s. It might have scarred me for life.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    I always feel like I have to preface my comments with,”having learned to drive in a 1952 Hudson Hornet”, but I did and all subsequent commentary needs to be filtered through that kaleidescope. For the era, this car was SOP. Yes, the naming doesn’t do justice to the heritage of the initial XR-7, but throughout the industry panic was endemic. The Cimmaron was spawned in this tawdry atmosphere. Many dealers, with admittedly optimistic planning volume numbers, found themselves lucky to achieve 50% of their target. VW, buoyed by diesel success (remember dealers adding $2500 to the Monroney on a $7000 vehicle), had the hubris to start Westmoreland. I cannot think of anyone who went through this unscathed. As a benchmark, the American Motors point in Portland, Oregon,which had been in operation since 1913, closed their doors. The location is now widely recognized as Powell’s Books, not as the partnership that survived WWI, the Depression, WWII, Korea, etc. I would submit that the aftereffects of the 1978 Oil Crisis are still being felt today. The fact that we are debating naming practice of the time is proof.

  • avatar
    Monty

    I see some are confused with this CC. Paul’s only arguing that Ford sullied a legacy name calling this car a Cougar, as opposed to this being some sort of “Deadly Sin” vehicle.

    It’s a shame Ford used the Cougar name for anything but an upscale Mercury version of the Mustang, but this car and it’s derivatives/siblings were not a bad car (damning with faint praise!) and as noted by more than a few commenters, were actually a good bit better than the domestic competition. My father had a Fairmont, and then later I worked for a guy who had a Cougar just like the one pictured, and they were both pretty decent cars. Especially the Fairmont, which in two and a half short years got almost 200,000 miles on the odo, travelling through British Columbia’s mountains. Never went into the shop for anything more than scheduled service the entire time my dad owned it.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    While I personally don’t like a 4-door Cougar, Dodge has been selling the just-as-bad 4-door Dodge Charger for a while now. Whether it was a truly poor marketing decision is debatable.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      If Dodge would have just called the current sedan “Coronet” then what is now the mega-bloated Challenger could have been a retro Charger.
      ____________
      The LC platform Challenger is closer in dimension to a ’70 Charger than to a ’70 Challenger. Plus, I think more people like and identify with the ’68-’70 Charger styling than with the muscle car era Challenger.

    • 0 avatar
      superbadd75

      Ajila, had they retro styled the new Charger, it wouldn’t have aped the looks of the Camaro the way that the Challenger does/did. Dodge doesn’t have enough recognition in any of its classic names in young people today like Ford and GM do with the Camaro and Mustang. The last of the classic Dodge musclecar names died in the ’80s, attached to modified Omnis and K Cars.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      Why do you think that a retro-Charger coupe would lack the visual impact of the current retro-Challenger?

      The new Challenger is so large that I think it would work better as a Charger.

      Dodge doesn’t have enough recognition in any of its classic names in young people today like Ford and GM do with the Camaro and Mustang.

      Not to the level of Mustang and Camaro, but I bet that “Charger” has more recognition than “Challenger”.

      In fact, when the current Charger sedan was released, Dodge claimed they chose to use the Charger name because it was second only to Ram as the name most associated with the Dodge brand.

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      The mess of the whole Charger/Challenger situation can be easily summed up by the apparent corporate mandate to adhere to having that lame crosshair ‘gunsight’ grille on all Dodge vehicles.

      Rather than designing the 4-door around that grille, they had went with some sort of retro 2-door design with the hidden headlights and tunnel-back rear window that mimicked the classic ’68-’70 car (which was arguably more classic than the 1970 E-body), they could have saved money by keeping the same front fenders and hood (sans hidden headlights) on any 4-door version.

      Instead, Daimler went with two distinct (and more costly) body styles that share no sheetmetal (but use the same chassis and drivertrain) just to use that grille. Doesn’t seem like such a hot business decision, to me.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    It just astounds me that someone, somewhere, way back then went to a car dealership, saw THAT car, and just loved it enough to bring it home. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. And I imagine it was a fairly expensive car in the day too!

    My Grandmother would still probably like it today – her favorite car of all time was her equally pimped-out ’85 Oldsmobarge 98, which I had the displeasure of driving to school most days in High School in the mid-80′s. At least the barge was black and not beige. That turd was a complete waste of $19K in 1984.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Given my late ex-father-in-law, as an example; nobody bought those kinds of cars for ‘love’. They bought them for ‘transportation’, ‘comfort’, and indexed with ‘the best deal I was able to get’.

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    There is no way they should have been able to make the front fenders on the 67-68 Cougar. They should have totally die locked, ripping the fender to shreds when it opened. But somehow they did it. Slides? I don’t know, but that top ridge always blew my mind.

    And the fact that they projected a picture of the car, at night of course, on the GM HQ when it launched. Clever devils. ;-)

    Image here: http://www.coolcats.net/welcome/cougarhistory.html

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    The only thing I can say about this version of a Cougar is that it was an improvement over the Zephyr. I sold both of them when they were new and this car had better market acceptance. So while on the one hand it was an abomination for a Cougar from a marketing standpoint is was a good move. The real disaster was the XR7 and Thunderbird of this vintage. The XR7 looked like it had been designed by a five year old.

  • avatar
    NoChryslers

    At least now Ford is redeeming itself.

  • avatar
    donkensler

    I began my career with Ford in ’78, and this was the sort of car that made us younger employees roll our eyes when we saw it. Not really awful – just really mediocre (awful described the first gen Fox Bird and XR7). In those days the Fox Mustang and the Fiesta were about the only Dearborn products that gave me hope that someone in the company knew what a car was, so I bought a ’79 Mustang and my first two management leases were ’83 and ’84 Mustangs.

    On winter days we often would take strolls through the Executive garage in the Glass House after lunch and see various European and Australian models that had been imported for testing and were on loan to various VP’s and other execs. To a person our reactions always were “Wow! Why can’t we make cars that look this good here?” Ah, but those were the days when Ford management thought they knew what Americans wanted, and believed the Japanese challenge would subside…

    This one is definitely not a Deadly Sin, just symptomatic of the mindset around Dearborn in that era. For Deadly Sins, we need the aforementioned Bird and XR7. Oh, and the 75-80 Granada/Monarch (I’m still waiting for a CC on that one so I can unload my rant).

  • avatar
    big_gms

    @ Syke:

    The LTD II was Ford’s version of the 1977-1979 Cougar (the “regular” ones, not the XR-7). And then of course there was the Fox-body 1983-1986 LTD/Marquis (perhaps this is the car you’re referring to?). Ford’s version of the Cougar presented here was the 1981-1982 Granada.

    I test drove a well used 1981 Granada years ago, and I’d say that while it wasn’t spectacular and not exactly equal to GM mid size cars of the era, it certainly wasn’t bad. It was better than the 1975-1980 Granada by at least a factor of 10, especially in handling. It was downright sprightly compared to the numb, heavy, sluggish feeling of my dad’s 1980 Granada.

  • avatar
    big_gms

    I see some hatred for the 1980-1982 Cougar XR-7. I’m going to draw universal scorn here, but I really don’t find it terribly offensive. The least desirable Cougar of all time, yes, but one of its competitors from that era is far uglier: the “long forgotten and best left that way” 1980-1983 Dodge Mirada. Tacky in the extreme. Downright fugly! I’m sorry I even mentioned that turd, but it really puts the Cougar in perspective. Makes a Cougar XR-7 of that era look tasteful and dignified.

  • avatar
    jacksonbart

    another badly decorated (both inside and out) living room on wheels. I like some living rooms on wheels, but it should be about style and this had none.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    This and the Granada were downsized replacements for the 1975-80 Granada/Monarch in response to the second fuel crisis and fairly well received Fairmont fox cars of 1978. The T-bird and Cougar XR7 were longer wheelbase fox replacements for the 77-79 intermediates of the same name. The 81 Granada and Cougar were exactly what they looked like. Fairmonts with formal roof and front end treatments, extra sound insulation, more chrome and fancier interiors and of course higher curbweights. They used the Faimonts Pinto 2.3 and Fords sturdy 3.3 200 straight 6 from 1981-82 and also for the 81 year offered the 255 V8. That V8 was dropped in 82 in favor of Fords new Essex 3.8 liter 112 HP V6 which promised better mileage and similar power to the heavier V8. These two Foxes of course gave way to the also downsized LTD and Marquis in 1983 with more slanted rear roof and raked grille treatments. Why Mercury ever chose to call the 1981 version of this car Cougar is beyond me when they already had the old Monarch name from before. This is the period in time I grew up in middle school and later high school and while the big 3 were doing daft things like this car, most everything else was of great interest and you never knew from one year to the next what to expect for new models, changes or powertrain developments. The Vette was coming online with a sexy new body and soon to be brawny port injected 350 V8 as was the Camaro and TA. The Mustang was given the 5.0 with more power than it had in years. The Monte SS touted under 8 second 0-60 times when most cars were lucky to do the run in less than 14. The Buick Grand National and Olds 442 were right around the corner along with a T-bird turbo coupe and after the dismal years of 1980-1982 power was starting to make a comeback along with performance sporty models of many cars so to say these were such horrible times in the auto industry is far from correct.

  • avatar
    Prado

    Bad flashback!!! I was unfortunate enough to have one of these as my first car…a family hand-me-down. 1981, 4dr, two-tone, 200 straight six. What a POS! If the 90ish hp six wasn’t slow enough on its own, mine had some type of vacuum / carb issue where if you gave it more than half throttle from a stop, it would stall. Handling was terrible and the sheet metal was paper thin…you could watch the hood flutter at highway speeds. A dismal 20mpg was the norm. The base trim interior fabric did not wear well despite the low miles it had. It was a revelation going from driving this to driving my first new car, an 89 MX-6 (non turbo).

  • avatar

    My first car – the first car I ever fell in love with – was one of these.  My ’81 four-door had the straight six in it, and I wound up paying $200 for it in front of a pizza shop from the guys who owned it.  The car was never intended to be a ‘keeper’ – it was an emergancy purchase after my ’93 Tempo was rear ended.

    The car never gave me any mechanical issues, was getting me over 30mpg on my daily commute up and down the Northeast Extension of the PA turnpike, and otherwise never failed me until it came time to inspect it and it couldn’t pass the PA emmissions tests.

    For those who scoff at the power of this car, I will reluctantly admit to doing something highly illegal.  My return commute was always in the early morning hours when I’d have the Turnpike essentially to myself.  So one morning I went “Self, I wonder exactly how fast this car can go?”.

    I still do not know what speed I eventually hit before I chickened out and dropped back to the speed limit.  The spedometer only went up to 80, leaving a big swath of nothing on the bottom of the gauge until you’d hit the ‘zero’ that ostensibly was only supposed to be touched when the car wasn’t running.

    I had pegged the needle back to that zero.

    Ugly or not, a ‘real Cougar’ or not, I can attest that those cars could be fuel efficient beasts.

    To this day I miss that car.


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