If you scan the autoblogosphere on a regular basis, you’ve read some half-hearted eulogies to the best and worst of Mercury. Fair enough, as the Mercury brand deserves every one of those backhanded compliments: sharing too much content with a comparable Fords and (sometimes) sharing too many styling cues with the Lincolns means it couldn’t die off without a dig or two. And it is an easy target: aside from the (lead-sled) post war Yuppie clientele that inspired Mercury’s creation, the original sleeky-Sable and a few old Cougars, this was bound to happen.
But obviously my love for Mercury (here, here, and here) means I’m not going to bury Mercury, but to praise it. And to make sure the brand remains in our collective consciousness just as long as it’s GM counterpart, Pontiac. Wishful thinking, Mehta?
Perhaps I can make it happen: by telling the tale of two Cougars. More to the point, two Cougars owned by the Mehta family: a 1967 Cougar XR-7 with the GT package, and a 2002 Cougar V6 MTX with the Premium package. Both are remarkably un-badge engineered Mercury products, looking like neither a Ford nor a Lincoln. Or any other car, for that matter. Both cats are surprisingly competent and well-crafted machines for their time to boot.
And both found their new leases on life just in time. The ’67 needed a full restoration, and my brother (TTAC’s DoctorV8) went to medical school for (among other things) this reason: to spend ridiculous amounts of money for a restomod Cougar that’ll make ’69 Camaros crap their pants. Think fully independent suspension with Wilwood stoppers, a 6-speed stick and something called a BOSS 529 (that’s right, 529) motor from Mr. John Kasse. Wrap it in a stock looking body and toss in a vintage interior with modern gadgets, and this 600+ horse Cougar shall combine the best luxury elements of a Lincoln with the raw power of a Ford. The coming months will tell.
The 2002 Cougar is more of that madness, in a more controversial package. No doubt, the “New Edge” Cougar has plenty of haters. But nobody will deny the Euro-Cat’s excellent underpinnings from the similarly excellent Ford Mondeo. And while my ‘02 Cougar is a freebie, a gift from a friend who endured a catastrophic engine failure common to V6 Cougars/Contours, the parts and labor involved is anything but effortless. And while the B&B is ever-so-savvy, this Kitten’s got some tricks up its sleeve that’ll surprise everyone.
The stock 2.5L Cougar short block is gone, replaced with a Taurus 3.0L lump turning a wicked 11:1 compression ratio. Ceramic coated headers and a host of SVT Contour upgrades (cam shafts, oil cooler, air box, radiator, etc) made their way under the hood, and so did an original Contour transaxle with a Quaife differential and rod linkage for the shifter. And that gearbox makes this Cougar a 1 of 1, not likely to be duplicated again. And with (an expected) 250+ horses, low-14s in the quarter mile and close to 30MPG, that’s a damn shame. I can’t wait to prowl the streets in this sleeper: a little more computer tuning and it shall happen.
All things considered, this cat has the functional upgrades that made the Mercury Cougar “S” a sweetheart concept car over a decade ago. And while the Sport Compact market was actually fading, the Cougar “S” had a chance to be a sales champ, relative to the mundane sheetmetal cursing the rest of the Mercury lineup. Mercury coulda been a contender if they stuck with what made the Euro-Cat so interesting. Perhaps an American VW was in the making. But it wasn’t.
Ford did an admirable job destroying a mid-level luxury brand with a slim chance of redemption. Mercury deserved better, for it wasn’t terminally ill like Saturn, or pushed in different directions like Pontiac: it had no direction whatsoever. And with a Ford family member behind it, there was the management fortitude to fix this brand. But no matter what Mercury did, FoMoCo’s $40,000 Ford Taurus Limiteds and $32,000 Lincoln Zephyrs/MKZs sealed its fate. Maybe the entire brand should have passed away when the Cougar ran extinct in 2002.
I’d normally request that Mercury should rest in peace, but let’s be clear about one thing: my Cougars will never let that happen. They are the first and the last of a species, as Dylan Thomas wrote:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.