By on December 4, 2010

The Cougar first arrived in 1967 as something unique and distinct: a handsome, lithe sporty coupe with a distinct hint of luxury and a dash of continental flavor. Although the 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix is often credited with creating the mid-size/mid-price personal-luxury coupe coup, the first Cougar certainly predicted the trend.

What wasn’t so predictable is how quickly the Cougar would slather on the pounds (tons?), and morph into just another bland also-ran competitor in that rapidly crowding field. And if that weren’t bad enough, the once exclusive Cougar name was sullied by four door sedans and even a station wagon. The seventies were not kind to the Cougar, and (surprise) we’re not going to be very kind to it.

The Cougar (de)evolved rapidly in the decade after its arrival, with a total of five distinct generations in that time period. We covered the ’67-’68 and had a brief look at the already plumper ’69-’70 in our recent CC. They both followed the Mustang’s trajectory, largely sharing its platform and body shell, with a couple of extra inches of wheelbase, but with highly differentiated styling. And just like the 1971 Mustang went overboard in size and girth for a so-called pony car, so did the Cougar.

This was during Semon E. “Bunkie” Knudsen’s brief tour of duty at the helm of Ford, and his efforts to bring Pontiac noses and other GM-esque design elements are all-too obvious. Four years after the ’67′s distinctive styling and very successful start, the 1971 Cougar was totally unrecognizable as its successor. What a way to destroy equity in a successful and unique identity.

It wasn’t just that it looked nothing like its memorable predecessors; it now also shared way too much family-arity with the Mustang. Mercury was reverting back to Ford form.

Admittedly, this car’s interior has seen better days, but even in its prime, there wasn’t a whiff of Jaguar here. Go back and compare it to the ’67-’68 interior. What a come-down; this might as well be a Pinto Bobcat. Not surprisingly, sales were also a huge come-down; for these ’71-’73 Cougars they were off a whopping 66% from the original. As was performance, fuel efficiency, handling, taste, and all-round desirability. The only thing that was up was weight (500+ lbs), but that was just an appetizer of things to come.

two cats: normal and morbidly obese

For 1974, the Cougar stopped pretending to be a more exclusive variant of a pony car, and joined the burgeoning mega-mid-sized personal luxury coupe market. This was the hot category in the seventies, led by the Grand Prix, Monte Carlo, Cutlass Supreme and a host of hangers-on. Ford, which had been so successful in creating niche vehicles in the late fifties (T-Bird) and the sixties (Mustang), was caught flat-footed with this monster trend, but jumped in late in 1974 with their delightfully refreshing and highly original Gran Torino Elite. Its great innovation and claim to fame was two “opera windows” per side. It must have been fun to be an automotive designer in Detroit during the seventies.

The Cougar was invited to slip into an Elite suit in 1974 too, but it was a mighty heavy one.  Now the Cougar weighed some 50% more than it did in 1967, well over two tons. And don’t even ask about performance. Somehow, Ford managed to eke less power out of its engines during the seventies than anyone else: the 400 CID (6.6 L) V8 managed 158 hp; the big block 460 (7.5 L) squeezed out all of 216 hp. The bad old days. And no; torque isn’t a direct substitute for horsepower.

But Lo! Sales began to recover after the low point of  ’71 – ’73. Folks took a shine to cars like this fine 1974 XcRement 7, which this owner can’t bear to have the garbage men haul off with the cans, despite how happy it would make the neighbors (he used to have a minor junk yard of vintage Ford iron, but this one survived the cull).

Now we reach 1977-1979, the pinnacle of Cougar size and taste. OK, I know some of you have a soft spot for these lovely cars, and what can I say, other than you’re obviously delusional devoted. Just kidding; aren’t these just ah…ah…wonderful. I just don’t feel like hurting anybody’s feelings today; I do that way too often. Well, it’s good to know someone loves these, because otherwise I wouldn’t have run into this remarkably well kept example. Curiously enough, I found it the same beautiful summer day as I found its very similar red stablemate, the Thunderbird (lower picture).

The family genes are in full display here, eh? The T-Bird was given that precious little slanted opera window, but other than that, I bet it would be mighty easy to swap fenders, doors, bumpers and almost everything else except that opera window on these kissing cousins.

From the very distinctive ’67 Cougar’s electric-razor face, we now gaze on the universal seventies’ Ford face, practically interchangeable with everything from the compact Granada to the mighty Continental. It might have been hard to tell what model was coming down the road, but you just knew it was a Ford. Brilliant!

Now the Cougar suffered much further indignities than just being a badge-engineered clone of a badge-engineered clone of a copy of a GM coupe. Now, the once proud and exclusive Cougar name now could also be had on a four door sedan, and…

Yes! A Cougar station wagon! It’s exactly what the world was holding its breath for. Or was it after they saw it? More likely, since the wagon went over like a hearse; only 4,951 buyers still had enough breath left to actually buy one. It was a one-year wonder, and probably highly collectible by now. I don’t expect to find one.

Mercury’s big marketing theme in the seventies was to more closely ally itself with the Lincoln and Continental. As a result, the Cougar now even sprouted a Conti-inspired butt bulge. Yes, the Cougar was all-too obviously now trying to be a budget-priced Mark IV than an original American take on a Jag. Why try harder?

Ok, even if the exterior styling is very much a question of (questionable) taste, at least the dash and interior were getting relatively better. Compare it to the ’71 above and we have genuine progress! And some commentators thought I was being too harsh on the dreadful Marauder X-100 dash, but look at how much better this is than that too! I didn’t say inspired, just not as bad. The mystery here is why one seat is cloth and the other leather or vinyl. A Monday car, or?

All right, we’ve been harsh enough on this poor big fat dull dumb Cougar. It looks so lovely sitting here on a summer’s evening. What a period piece. But then I just noticed that the very next car I shot on this glowing sunset was our CC logomobile. Compared to the true classic American coupes, this Cougar will always be relegated to a warm-up act, no matter how golden the sunshine. Adios, Mercury! We miss you already.

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108 Comments on “Curbside Classic Mercury Memorial Week Finale: The Fat Cats – 1971, 1974 And 1977 Cougar...”


  • avatar
    zbnutcase

    I had a 75 Torino elite back in the early eighties…what a POS, and I’m a Ford guy. Surely the Coug was much better built because of it’s higher price tag….

    • 0 avatar
      OldandSlow

      I remember the Torino Elite. Very garish and not in an attractive way.
       
      I bought a five year old Volvo wagon that year and kept it another 5 years.

    • 0 avatar
      cfclark

      The mention of the Torino brought back memories–not particularly good ones. My parents bought a ’73 Torino wagon, used, in ’75 (I think that’s right), and I distinctly recall the engine throwing a rod (as we were taking Mom to lunch on Mother’s Day–not the best time for that), and the transmission deteriorating rapidly and needing premature replacement. To top it off, it was a stripper with vinyl seats and a lack of even the most basic trim strips to prevent door dings, so by about ’78 I was already mortified to be seen by my friends in this car with the distinctive pattern of paint chips down the side, and also mortified to emerge from said car accompanied by the sound of my legs peeling off the seats in the summer…my dad said it was the worst car he ever owned, and to this day it’s still his last Ford. Succeeded by another wagon, a Cutlass Cruiser my mom picked out (again used) that was relatively reliable but seemed determined to shed its interior (1981 wasn’t a good year for making sure carpet was attached to the floor of the car).

      Before I stray too far off-topic, I remember as a kid liking those bloated Ford coupes. Maybe it was the Starsky & Hutch influence?

  • avatar
    rudiger

    The 1971-73 cars aren’t so bad. You could even still get a convertible.

    Likewise, although the 1974-79 ‘fat cats’ got more bloated, they still had a cohesive look. I don’t dislike them so much as the abbreviated, more mishapen, Fox-chassis 1980-82 Cougars (especially the Fairmont-clone wagon).

    For me, the 1982 Cougar wagon and sedan were the low point of the model series.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    1.  I know you’re hatin’, but as I said before the 71-73 wore its weight gain much better than the Mustang did.

    2.  The ’77+ is much more cleanly styled than the chunky ’74+.

    3.  The driver’s seat may have been recovered (cheaply) if the usual ’70s leather wear and tear split at the seams…..

  • avatar
    rudiger

    The problem with the Cougar was always Henry Ford II’s (‘Hank the Deuce’) constant meddling. The Deuce had always envisioned the original Mustang as a ‘small Thunderbird’ and he finally got his wish with the Cougar. Unfortunately, by 1974, the Cougar simply became a full-size variant of the Thunderbird.

  • avatar
    gottacook

    For one model year (1973), the Cougar was the only intermediate-size convertible available; all the equivalent GM car lines had dispensed with their convertibles after ’72, and Chrysler and AMC even earlier. I don’t give Mercury credit for much, but at least that year they met the needs of families who wanted an American convertible but not a full-size GM or a Mustang (which had a useless rear seat even in coupe form in ’71-’73; the Cougar’s was only slightly better but enough to make a difference, because of the extra 3-4 inches of wheelbase).
    But in general I agree completely with the sarcasm expressed above. Why should Ford have tried harder? They didn’t have to. Same philosophy that led to drivers being incinerated in their Pintos of the same era.

  • avatar
    joeveto3

    Anyone remember the lime green Matchbox Mercury Cougar station wagon?  When I was a kid, it was one of my favorites.
    I love the earliest Cougars, but those from the late 70′s (along with the T-birds) also look good.  I know they are pigs, but back then, just about everything was. I remember the hot color combo being dark blue with the beige top and beige interior.
     

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      I remember the Matchbox car you describe.  I liked it too.  Too bad its charm was not scalable.

    • 0 avatar

      Yep, I had one too. As I said in the prior Cougar CC, it was one of a few Mercury Matchboxes I had as car crazy kid. The spiritual successor to the red 1968 Commuter wagon with the doggies. The green Cougar Villager (Mercury’s analog to Ford’s “Squire” moniker) did not have doggies, but the tailgate did open.
      As you may recall, this was a virtual twin to the LTD II, which in turn were really just Torinos with a twist. Sadly, the 460 was not available in the 77-79 years, so we had to make due with Ford’s other paragon of efficiency, the 400 V8, which produced enough power to pull the skim off your pudding. I believe its output sank to about 170 by 1979. My 1.4 Acura GSR with DOHC VTEC made as much power.

    • 0 avatar
      supremebrougham

      I have one in a box somewhere. It was one of my favorites too…

    • 0 avatar
      stickman

      Got one in a box somewhere…it was among the favorites in my Matchbox/Hot Wheels motor pool.  If you wind a piece of wire through the tailgate you could tow the blue and white boat trailer to the lake.  It was a very versatile machine.

    • 0 avatar
      fastback

      ugh… i have one as well….. it’s that nasty lime green that the last 60s Colony Park came in — I think this was discussed during one of last weeks’ CCs.

    • 0 avatar
      Jasper911

      That was a Mercury Cougar Villager! One of my favorite Matchboxes too…even better after a few fender modifications in my Dad’s bench vise! Yeah that navy blue and beige almost flirted in “preppy” territory. I assume you’re at or approaching 40 too!

      And I almost forgot “Highway To Heaven”! A girl I dated referred to any Torino, Montego, LTDII, Cougar etc. simply as “Highway To Heaven hood cars”.

  • avatar
    tonyola

    While the ’71-’73 Cougars were a little too big, they were nothing compared to the fat and bloated ’74-’79 cars. This was Malaise-era Ford at its most cynical – an attitude that people will buy anything as long as there was enough slathered-on gingerbread. The original ’72 Torino/Montego platform was among Ford’s worst efforts – puffy styling, grossly overweight, thick doors, body-on-frame construction, massively wasted space, and cramped interiors. Later came ever more contrived styling and the most obnoxious looking impact bumpers in the industry. These cars were wallowing, gutless pigs to drive, too. Even the 400 and 460 engines didn’t help much and only pushed fuel economy into single digits.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr Lemming

      Welcome to TTAC.  Always enjoy your thoughtful comments.

    • 0 avatar
      donkensler

      I wouldn’t call it cynicism so much as pure incompetence.  I went to work for Ford in late summer ’78, and people in all levels of supervision and management were genuinely pumped about these turds (we analysts had better taste, but of course our input counted for nothing).
       
      “But they’re slow” “No worse than anyone else’s, anyway, Americans don’t care about that”
      “But they get really crappy gas mileage” Same answer.
      “But they don’t handle” “You kidding? They handle great.  I can steer this thing with one finger.  Anyway Americans don’t care about that”
      “But they’re hideous” “You kidding? Look at that vinyl roof and that velour interior.”
       
      My sense is Henry and Lee had strong feelings about what made a proper American car, and promotions went to those who agreed with them, so by the mid to late 70′s Ford North American management was populated by people who genuinely thought these cars were the pinnacle of automotive design.  They were truly mystified when the market began moving to Civics and Accords and didn’t move back to American cars  a few years later.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Don, interesting and from what I know true too. 

      What a time, as you came in, Lee was on the outs, Ford would be having its most profitable year in history (up to then), HF2 would be retired in a year, and about the same time Ford would be staring into the same abyss as Chrysler (saved only by repatriating profits from FoE back to Dearborn).

      It would be interesting and most welcome if you could give some commentary to how Don Petersen overcame this…

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      Like it or not, the sales figures supported those Ford guys. This car, along with the “downsized” 1977-79 Thunderbird, sold very well and saved Ford’s bacon in a crucial segment of the market.

      The 1972 Torino was a bloated barge, but it was the first Ford intermediate to outsell its Chevy counterpart (Chevelle/Malibu) since the latter debuted in 1964.

      Today it’s fashionable to disparage the 1973-77 GM Colonnade intermediates, but they successfully fought back this Ford challenge, and pretty much decimated Chrysler Corporation’s intermediates. The GM “personal luxury” Colonnade intermediates – Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Pontiac Grand Prix, Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme and Buick Regal – were setting sales records right up until the final year of that body style. People simply couldn’t get enough of them, even though they had been on the market since the 1973 model year.

      Chrysler’s sole success in this market during this period was a carbon copy of the Chevrolet Monte Carlo sold by an aging Mexican actor in commercials that we realized were campy even then.

      The brutal truth is that a very large segment of the population wanted cars like this, and a big reason that Chrysler was facing bankruptcy by 1979 was that its strength was in the low-profit Omni/Horizon and Aspen/Volare (all of which had serious quality problems of their own). Chrysler would have LOVED to have had a high-profit Dodge and Plymouth that sold as well as the Thunderbird and Cougar XR-7 did from 1977 through 1979.

      And these cars weren’t completely replaced by Accords, Camrys and Altimas. Many of these buyers simply migrated to trucks and SUVs. I’ve read that the demographics of those who buy personal-use pickups today is virtually identical to those who bought personal luxury intermediates in the 1970s. Remember that the Ford F-Series pickup was already the best-selling vehicle in the country by 1981…in the midst of a severe recession and with high gas prices (gas prices set an inflation-adjusted record in March 1981 that was only recently broken).

  • avatar
    Brian P

    My brother-in-law had a ’71 Cougar, green, 351 Windsor back in the day … it was the car he had when he met and eventually married my sister. Memories of that car are mostly pretty good. The ’76-ish Torino that followed it … not so much. Rusted out in very little time.

  • avatar
    tech98

    The late-70s Cougar/Thunderbird to me typified everything wrong with Detroit in that era — a grotesque, obese, rolling Vegas lounge-act of a car.

    • 0 avatar
      MadHungarian

      The sad thing is, people bought the doggone things!  I think the ’77 T-Bird sold the most units of any model year T-Bird.  Cougar sales likewise jumped significantly in 1977-78 over 1975-76, even if you count only the coupes in 1977-78 to make it a fair comparison.  At least with the T-Bird you have the significant reduction in size and price as an explanation.  Whereas the ’77 Cougar is simply a facelifted version of the same car as the ’76.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      I’m constantly amazed at how many of these ugly monsters are still on the road… High sales figures or not, I wouldn’t have expected them to actually last this long.

    • 0 avatar
      ponchoman49

      As todays sharply reduced lineup, bland Asian styled, colorless interior clone, passionless letter named yawnmobiles of today typify what is wrong with Detroit here and now!

  • avatar
    MarcKyle64

    I was blessed by owning two of these behemoths in the 80s.  I drove a faded silver ’76 XR-7 in college and a black ’78 XR-7 in grad school.  The ’76 was comfortable, stone reliable and gobbled up the interstate between home and school.  I knew from the ’76 and the anemic 2 barrel 351M it carried how much of a slug they were, so gave it to a cousin.
    I found a ’78 with the 351W and massaged it with an Edelbrock intake, Holley carb and a complete renovation of the exhaust system with headers, crossover and duals.  I might have added more power by putting in a better camshaft and doing some headwork, but there was a big difference already and I liked how it drove.  The ’78 carried me all through grad school and the first few months of looking for work – then was destroyed in a t-bone collision.
    There were worse cars of the time, I found the Cougars to be comfortable and reliable for the time.  The worst thing was the mileage, I once measured 10 mpg on a trip to Tulsa.

  • avatar
    obbop

    Recalling the sheer raw muscle power required to tote those behemoth barn-door-sized doors to customers (typically body shops) my body cringes.
    The bumper assemblies were not any fun, either.
    The worst, however, had to have been that 1973 Buck front bumper assembly.
    That assembly was beyond one humans ability to hoist, requiring two husky low-class bad-part-of-town-dwellers to tote.
    I can not gaze upon that “old iron,” especially the full-sized two-door from that era (prior to the downsizing and greater use of plastics) without recalling the wear and tear upon my body’s structural components.
    Do not take my warnings lightly when I growl about removing yourself from my chosen dumpsters. I claim them and those years of hefting and toting prodigious weights will assist me in staking out and defending my domains, my sources of sustenance that will assist my survival in my declining years.

  • avatar
    Amendment X

    I am glad I never witnessed this decade…

  • avatar
    Amendment X

    One thing I never understood about the evolution of automotive styling…
     
    The way the sheetmetal was pressed for cars in the 60s looks like it required more technological expertise — flowing curves, some contrasting sharp lines, a few bulges here and there — than 70s and 80s cars. 70s and 80s cars look like they were drawn with rulers. Why? Stylistic laziness? I never got that.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      I think the early 80′s and 90′s cars reflect the use of early CAD and CAM software …  Complex curvatures require sophisticated software and powerful computers to do… if you lack either, then you have to be satisfied with straight-edge-inspired designs…

    • 0 avatar
      Nick

      I think the crown kind of the straight lines had to be some of the mid-70s LTDs.  I honestly think it took about one pot of coffee’s worth of a designer’s time to put that together.
      Anyway, you are indeed fortunate to have missed this decade Amendment X…the cars were almost all dreadful to look at and dreadful to drive (and a lot of other things were awful too).
      Funny, not long ago I check out a 71 Cougar in that frost lime green, the proverbial little old ladies car brought up from Georgia.  It was in fine shape, but for all the reasons mentioned in this article it didn’t appeal to me.  Had it been 67-68, or even a 69-70, it would have been a great find though.   Seems to always be the ugly ducklings that last for 30 or 40 years.

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    Truly, the ’70s was a dark age for American vehicles. The Cougar is just another example of over sized, underpowered, hideous emissions control systems, dismal ride/handling compromises, Gothic castle exterior styling, and bordello interior styling. Witnessing this as a car enthusiast at the time was quite dismaying to this writer. The whole general theme seemed retrograde, and just plain stupid.
     
     

  • avatar
    jplane

    it was absolutely horrible.  One of the worst trips I ever took was as a passenger in this pos.  So uncomfortable.  A huge car that couldn’t seat 4.

  • avatar
    Monty

    My brother owned a 78 T-Bird that eventually had all of the smog controls and other extraneous stuff removed; with the now unfettered 400 4bbl that car ate up serious highway miles at a steady 100mph, with way better fuel economy. He would probably still own it, if it hadn’t met it’s end t-boned by a dump truck. From which my brother walked away without a scratch – almost 2 1/2 tons of car saved his life.

    It was one of the most comfortable cars I’ve ever sat in. Handled like crap, but it was never meant to corner-carve – it was designed and engineered to eat up highway miles.

    I have a soft spot for the 77 – 79 Coug and ‘Bird – even though I know they were indicative of how far Detroit had sunk.

    • 0 avatar
      ChandlerAZguy

      A 78 T-Bird was my first car, red with red interior. I handled like shit, but was reliable (except it tended to get hot on long jaunts), I bought it in 1985 for $1500 and traded it in for $2500 for an ’87 T-Bird. Not a bad deal. Geez, now I own a Prius.

  • avatar
    getacargetacheck

    I spent plenty of time in 1971 and 1974 Cougars which were concurrently owned by one of my neighbors in the early 80s.  The 1971 XR7 felt, rode and sounded crude compared to the 1974 version which was downright plush (in an LTD kind of way).  Seating was so low in the 71 that you practically sat on the floor in much the same way you did in Pintos and Mustang IIs.  For everyday use the 74 wins hands down. 

    • 0 avatar
      caljn

      Re: your screen name…Was it Joe Garagiola hawking Mustang II’s or K cars??  I can’t remember exactly.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Chryslers. Although HF I came up with the idea of a retro-active rebate (i.e. if a certain number of cars were sold in a given year, all purchasers would get money back at the end of the year), Chrysler pretty much AFAIK invented the idea of a (near-) instant rebate, hence, Buy a Car, Get a Check…

      Wasn’t this advertised during the Super Bowl? (btw, I’m amazed that I can’t find a clip of this on youtube.)

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      From obituary of then Chrysler (and later Toyota) auto executive Bob McCurry, who died on Nov. 13, 2006:

      “Among his many automotive accomplishments, however, McCurry may be best remembered for introducing cash rebates as an incentive for buying new cars. In late 1974, as Chrysler’s group vice president in charge of sales and marketing, he was fighting an uphill battle against shrinking sales and growing inventories.

      After working non-stop with his staff over the Christmas holidays, McCurry’s solution to the problem aired during half time of the Super Bowl IX telecast on Jan 12, 1975, when Joe Garagiola appeared as the ringmaster of Chrysler’s Car Clearance Carnival.

      “Buy a car, get a check,” Garagiola told viewers, offering $200 cash back if they purchased a new Dodge Dart or Plymouth Duster. McCurry won new customers that day and the Pittsburgh Steelers won the game 16 – 6 over the Minnesota Vikings. Nearly 30 years later, rebates are still being used to attract buyers with some automakers offering thousands of dollars on a wide range of models.”

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    Cars like this honestly makes me wish the 70′s had started with a sudden finding of new technology that suddenly made IC-engines 5 times as powerful, and 10 times as clean, and three times cheaper. Not too mention tire and suspension technology suddenly getting a boost. Or steel suddenly went lighter and stronger. Because I actually like the looks of those cars. (well, 71 to 73) I always have too. Theres just something about the huge hips and sleek front ends that trigger some testosterone thing in me. It’s true that not many cars from this time looked good (mostly because of bumper regulations) but I love the 71-72 Charger, 70-73 Camaro and Firebird, and offcourse the 71-73 Cougars. The fact that they are completely useless and impractical just confirms that they are a work of art and not just an appliance. Sorry if I upset someone who has actually owned or had to drive one of these engineering fails.

  • avatar
    georgie

    I drove a lot of these in the Ford Elite and Mercury Cougar models as Hertz rental cars in the years 1973 to 1979. Mostly in the Eastern U.S. I always found them to be in better shape and to perform better generally than their comparable G M counterparts.

  • avatar

    Sorry for info repost but there is a collection of very good vintage video road tests by Car and Track available on YouTube. I mentioned it in the prior Cougar CC.

    For anyone still interested in this topic, check out this 1974 vintage Car And Track comparison test between the Cougar and the Cutlass. Even with a 460 this flabby feline needed 18 seconds to cover the quarter mile. Has to be a low for efficiency.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjQLZXgix2M
    This kitty wallows through the slalom, the nose dives into the asphalt on braking, the engine gasps and wheezes it’s way through the quarter mile. All you need is a disco era polyester suit to head on down to the Disco. 

  • avatar
    supremebrougham

    My grandparents, and several aunts and uncles had a number of ’77-78 Cougars and Thunderbirds. They were indeed HUGE! They sucked gas like there was no tomorrow. They handled like a boat. But (the ones that were well-kept) were beautiful cars in their time. Let me see…as I recall, the family owned a total of about ten of them. They are all gone now, since replaced by Panthers, Tauruses, Sables and SUV’s. Despite their flaws, when I think of those old cars, I think of my family, and that’s a good thing :)

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    I believe 1978 was the best year for Ford Thunderbird sales, with 352,751 produced. Mercury sold 213,270 Cougars that year, most of which were XR7s. I’m not sure what was so magical about them, other than perhaps lack of competition. People seem to have liked them though. Ford had little choice but to downsize both cars to the flimsy Fox platform, as the arbitrary CAFE standard was more important than the desires of customers. Sales never recovered.

    • 0 avatar
      gottacook

      Yes, but if Ford had kept making the non-downsized versions, how many do you think they would have sold in 1979-80 during the second “energy crisis”? Gas prices rose quite a bit then and didn’t moderate until the mid-’80s.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Ford sold 284,141 1979 Ford Thunderbirds, which was consistent with the sort of drop expected for a model in its third year of production. That is only 4,500 fewer cars than the 1980-1982 Fox Thunderbirds sold in three years combined. It is also about twice the number of cars that any subsequent Thunderbird would sell in its best model year.

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    My family had the predecessor to the 74+ Cougar:  a 1972 Montego MX Brougham.  The car was relatively quiet, comfortable and reliable, but it also was an absolute boat to drive.  Doors were as thick as hams, blind spots galore, ultra-thin sheetmetal and a trunk with less room than a compact.  However, to be fair, that was the way all of the Big Four designed mid-sized cars in those years.
     
    To my eyes the post-war high point of Ford product planning was 1960-1969.  Even though GM was still dominant in sales, Ford kept them on their toes with a series of game-changing cars such as the 1961 Lincoln, the 1965 Mustang, the 1965 full-sized wagons, the 1967 Cougar, the 1967 T-Bird sedan, and (arguably) the 1969 Marquis.
     
    Unfortunately, by the early 1970s Ford had slipped back into playing follow the leader — with a striking degree of penny pinching.  The 1974+ Cougar is most remarkable for the way it was such a thinly disguised and marginally updated 1972 Montego.  People may have bought the Cougar at record levels, but the brand was irrevocably tarnished.
     
    How could Cougar has stayed the course?  Given how the luxoboat meme dominated that era it’s hard to even visualize Ford deviating from radiator grilles, landau rooflines and fake Continental spares.  Even the compact Granada/Monarch — which was on an updated version of the late-60s Mustang/Cougar platform — largely copied this look.  Only the Capri escaped the Continentalization of Ford’s lineup, but of course it was designed in Europe.

    • 0 avatar
      gottacook

      “To my eyes the post-war high point of Ford product planning was 1960-1969. … Unfortunately, by the early 1970s Ford had slipped back into playing follow the leader…” Yes, but – if I can depart from Torino- and LTD II-based cars for a moment – the presumed flagship of the line, the Lincoln Continental, kind of lost the thread in the late ’60s. When Ford returned the Continental to a body-on-frame design for 1970, the result was a more competitive car. And once the Cadillac DeVille started to be made very cheaply (with the ’71 model year), the Lincoln became yet more desirable by comparison. Moreover, for ’73 the Continental was (I think) the only Ford product not to have a gigantic 6-inch-tall girder stuck on the front; that came in ’74, unfortunately, but the ’73s were able to almost emulate the ’70-’72 front bumper while meeting that year’s standard. (I realize these cars were the basis for the regrettable ’75-’79s, but that’s another story.)

      When I was a teenager, we had a ’72 Continental 4-door with the standard 460 engine – a dealer demo – that ran on regular gas and was a blast to drive; the strangulation by pollution controls hadn’t yet really begun in earnest.

  • avatar
    threeer

    Say what you will (and many of you have!), but our 1976 Montego (same blue as the Cougar above, sans opera window) was dead reliable for 13 years.  Two large (albeit) vinyl bench seats made it a teenage boy’s dream for taking his date out in!  Rust, rather than mechanics, finally slowed the old girl down, but she went from Germany to Pennsylvania, back to Germany and then finally to Tennessee, never wavering in her duties to the family.  It was a sad day when we sold her off…

  • avatar
    thornmark

    Another Cougar wagon:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:1982_Mercury_Cougar_GS_wagon_rear.jpg
     
    And the fuglier:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:5th_Mercury_Cougar.jpg
    Fugliest?  After the original, so hard to choose.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    I saw the 77-89 Cougar and T-Bird as a nice intermezzo between 1971-73 (and to a lesser-extent 1974-75) and 1980-82.

    Paul, take a close look at the 77-79 T-Bird and you will see that aside from the windshield, roof, doors and maybe also the hood and bumpers, there are no common panels, not trunk, quarters, fenders (i.e. gill-slits), nor front grille and headlamp header.

  • avatar
    ajla

    The ’77-’79 is pretty good, but it needs fender skirts and button-tufted seats if it wants to compete with the big boys.

  • avatar
    Trend-Shifter

    In 2000 I bought a 1979 Cougar with 13,000 original miles as a work beater car.
    My work commute would total 110 miles round trip through the beat-up salty roads of Detroit.
    I proceeded to drive the Cougar 160,000 trouble free miles.   In that mileage time frame all it needed was regular maintenance, U-joints, and sway bar end links.      The engine and transmission had no leaks and ran as new.  The suspension was still tight.  No problem at all with non-drivetrain items such as windows, doors, heaters, etc.
     
    Here is a link to a picture at 160,000 miles when I made the Ebay pictures for sale. 
    Link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/29396384@N05/5193690019/ 
    I sold it at low cost ($700) with full disclosure of the impending rust soon to take over.   The new owner had a perfect functional car.    It would have been the perfect Lemons car!   It actually would handle very well if you were to change to low profile tires.  It had the “radial tuned suspension” with substantial sway bars and big brakes.     I had big ole tall tires to take the pot holes and keep the tall gearing for mileage. 
     
    BTW, it had a 302 V8.   I de-smogged it as follows:  no cat with small pipe dual exhaust,  re-jet carb,   re-route vacuum lines,  no air pump.  With the tall gearing it loved 55-75 mph which perfectly matched my commute.   It got 18 mpg freeway.    It was a slug accelerating (weight to power) and the engine worked hard over 80.   
     
    For maintenance I would change the oil & filter, transmission fluid, & grease every 4000 miles.   That was about every two months.   For the transmission I welded a drain plug to the pan.   I would drain the transmission with every oil change.  The transmission took a little less than 3 qts.   So it was cheap insurance and works.     Then change the transmission filter every year. 
     
    My 1979 Cougar was the perfect definition of the Malaise (tm Murilee) era cars.  Low power, big ugly bumpers, vinyl top, heavy, and over sized.   But no one can say that the quality sucked on this one. 

    • 0 avatar
      dusterdude

      I had a 1977 T Bird with the 302 V8.  I bought it in 1985 with about 70,000 miles on the clock. It was a nice driving car, but, as far as reliability –  I didn’t’ have the same luck as you ! ( I went through 2 transmissions in 2 years  (over only 35,000 miles of driving))

      I have always maintained my vehicles well, but, in spite of decent maintenance, this car proved as my least reliable..
      (by changing tranny fluid every every oil change, that stringent maintenance schedule is what  helped yours   (A few years after I sold the car in 1987, I heard  that Ford “messed up ” by offering the 302 / transmission combo in the T Bird / Cougar late 70;s design ( not robust enough to move this very heavy car ))
       
       

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Yes, but if gas were $1 a gallon these days the ‘malaise’ 70′s vehicles would still be sought after and collectible.
    There is something wonderful about driving 75 to 85 mph down the interstate in one of these things without a care in the world. Seats that are glorified Lay-Z-Boy’s. A mass of metal that is amazingly easy to drive thanks to using the rear wheels. All the power, comfort and features you would want in a car from this era.
    Truth be told, most folks simply didn’t want a claustrophobic, hard-riding, high-rpm foreign car. A lot of Americans of that era wanted a ‘personal’ vehicle that would have a sense of grace, space and pace of a classic Cadillac. Yes the technology and designs were going on nearly 20 years of glacial improvement, the interior space was still ridiculously small, and the manufacturing quality eventually opened up a chasm of opportunity for the Japanese and Germans. But the Big 3 were still trying to give middle-class folks a vehicle that was 80+% as good as their flagship, at about 50% of the price. A formula that I believe is still being pursued today.
    Anyone here who thinks that Americans left these vehicles en masse for the competition ought to take a look at today’s pickup and SUV sales. As bad as the Cougar was by today’s standards, it wasn’t what made Detroit lose the car market. For that you need to take a strong gaze at their comparable FWD offerings. The relentless march of crappy, look-a-like FWD vehicles in 27 shades of bland mediocrity is what killed the Big 3.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      But the Big 3 were still trying to give middle-class folks a vehicle that was 80+% as good as their flagship, at about 50% of the price. A formula that I believe is still being pursued today.

      Anyone here who thinks that Americans left these vehicles en masse for the competition ought to take a look at today’s pickup and SUV sales.
       
      + 1 Mr. Lang.  That is the absolute truth.  If the Big 3 could have kept building cars like the massive cruisers (albeit, with the improvements that they learned in the last 30 years) they would have done better.  People ditched their 1970s Impalas for Tahoes.

    • 0 avatar
      tonyola

      But some of the FWD cars you’re so quick to slag actually were better than the overfed malaise boats. For example, the GM 3800 C and H body cars offered virtually all the room, lounging comfort, plush ride, and enormous trunks of their predecessors. They’re decently torquey (very much so in the supercharged versions), whisper quiet, smooth, and glide effortlessly on the interstate at 85 mph. But they also have usable (granted, not sporty) handling, real steering, and get at least double the gas mileage. Have you forgotten that Buick was able to sell 100,000+ LeSabres per year as late as 2005? Sure there was GM’s spotty quality, but a good H/C car is an excellent cruiser. I know the Malaise luxoboats well, but I drive a low-mileage ’94 LeSabre daily. I’d rather drive it than just about any American car of the ’70s.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      Are you kidding me? I have more H body vehicles that are financed and rented out than any other platform.
      The problem for the 1990′s was by the time GM started to nail the needs of that potential customer…
      1) GM had screwed their reputation beyond repair.
      2) The interior designs had become largely outdated on these cars.
      3) Plastic intake manifolds and dex-cool hurt the perceived quality of these vehicles.
      Throughout the 1980′s GM made a long line of FWD competitors. The only one worth a flip was the H platform and the designs for that catered to an older clientele. Later on the reliance of using older design elements (column shifters, bench seats, etc.) and cheap materials did the H body in.
      It’s a shame because on an apples to apples comparison, the H body appears to have all the right parts. Unfortunately the sum of a few parts destroyed the whole.

    • 0 avatar
      tonyola

      I did say that GM had spotty quality, and I know there were plenty of bad 3800 H/C cars. I’ve had to replace the engine computer and deal with a couple of cam/crank sensors in my own car. But there was no shortage of problematic GM (or any Big Three) cars in the ’70s either. It does not change my assertion that the dynamics of a ’94 LeSabre are much better than a ’74 model.

    • 0 avatar

      @tonyola 

      *(see pics in the highlited links)

      I used to have a 1991 Buick Park Avenue Ultra (very similar to your ’94 LeSabre) and after that, I got a ’74 LeSabre that I used as a winter beater in 2004…

      The LeSabre had a 350-4 barrel and it had a decent mileage and performance for a 70′s boat. It also had better driving dynamics than the ’91 Park Avenue (and the Park Avenue had the “grand touring” package which included stiffer suspension and faster steering than the regular model…). A friend of mine had a 1999 Park Avenue Ultra with the regular “Dynaride” suspension and it was even worse than my 1991. Another friend of mine currently has a high mileage 2000 LeSabre Limited which he likes because he got it for cheap and because it’s still relatively reliable but I’m sure he’d trade it for a ’74 anyday.

      The Park Avenue was a money pit, my father gave it to me after the transmission failed for the 3rd time and soon after I had the transmisson rebuilt, I had to replace the 3800 engine. I also replaced many other parts, 2 evaportators, a condenser, the a/c compressor, the steering rack, the 4 shocks, the fuel pump, wheel bearings, all 4 expensive shocks (with air lift at the rear), ball joints at the front and at the rear and ignition system (coil pack and the circuit behind it), the sagging headliner, the lower dashpad, the CD player (twice!) and a lot more parts!

      The 74 LeSabre was mostly trouble free and I sold it two years after I got it 3 times the price I paid it!

  • avatar
    caljn

    How about a CC on the 73-77 Monte Carlo/Cutlass/Regal??

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Inevitable; and perhaps soon. But not all together. We need to spread out all that goodness.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      So much love on those cars, despite the fact that they were good, would feel like a preferential cheat, after my beloved 1st and 2nd generation Cougar got rolled-up into a Best of Mercury retrospective.  Truth be told, I was patiently enjoying CC, savoring the thought of the day the pony-Cougars would get the wonderful blend of fact and context that was delivered to so many other cars (that while interesting, were not so near, or dear, to my heart.)

    • 0 avatar

      No! 1970, yellow with a white vinyl top and high compression, else NO U!

  • avatar
    geozinger

    It was the 70′s, what else is there to say? If you lived through it, you understood what was happening. If you didn’t, it’s really tough to explain…
     
    Me and my immediate family had a number of these models discussed in this post, there isn’t enough room on this blog for me to list our interactions. Needless to say, I’d love to have back our: 1971 Cougar, 1972 Montego MX, our 1974 Montego, or the 1977 LTD II (with factory Starsky and Hutch stripe!). Not so much for their driving dynamics, but for the sentimental value.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      We had a ’76 Gran Torino in yellow the brown roof and interior … was a nice car, but equipped with the trailer pkg, the big engine, there was not enough insulation in the rear floor to keep the cats and the axle from throwing so much heat thru the rear seat that first sweat was caused, then a slow cooking of ones buttocks seemed to be happening …  mom demanded dad get rid of this car … it was traded in with like 12,000 miles for a 77 LTD II which had no trailer pkg, and just the base engine … this was the car I learned to drive in, and the car I received my 1st ticket in 75 in a 55 on I-696 in Southfield, Michigan.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    This was FMC’s most expensive and successful TV commercial ever;                 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-j2UT7vn1hQ

    • 0 avatar
      Wheeljack

      Funny how that Cougar looked an awful lot like a ’61-’63 Thunderbird after it went over the cliff…

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @Denver: Mmmmmm… Kate Jackson….
       
      Oh, sorry, got off track there. (begin sarcasm) I would say that the segment is realistic. All of the cars back in the ’70′s squealed their tires when they went above 27.375 MPH, it was the law back then. The high speed chase shown is true to life, I once out ran a 1978 Dodge Magnum in my 1979 2.3 L Pinto ESS at the now unimaginable speed of 43 MPH. Fortunately, no animals or children were harmed during our escapade, as our then-legal squealing tires alerted everyone to our oncoming presence. Unfortunately, my pursuer suffered a similar fate as Kate’s, with the exception that he ended up in a marshy area up to his axles, and the car did not suddenly morph into a much older version of the aforementioned Dodge Magnum (end sarcasm).
       
      MMmmmmm… Kate Jackson….

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      “our then-legal squealing tires alerted everyone to our oncoming presence. ”

      This feature will need to be revived for electric cars…

  • avatar
    Joss

    74-79 Merc I’m kinda surprised when I remember history. The 73 oil embargo had Milhous’s Executive pouring CAFE on Detriot.  Yet the Coug’s poundage went up not down…

    I dam near brought a 10 yearish 77 Coug offa the low-end of a GM dealers lot. I judged it to be a good, safe highway ride but I chickened out on the mileage. Shame cause I really like the boat.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Remember:  What appears on the market today, was in development 3-4 years prior. 

      Thus the 74 was industrialized, developed and nearly ready for sale when the oil crisis (or was it Oil Crisis) hit … no chance to change it quickly … Mustang II was a quick attempt to get back to basics with the pony car… but for a time, the crisis passed so quickly that the products in any segment did not seem to change much, and it was really only around 1976 then 1977 that the first post-crisis designs began to appear… and even these were too big, and inefficient, until the 2nd round answer came in 1978-1981…

      As they say in the military, you go to war with the army you have…

  • avatar
    Wheeljack

    Even though it’s not a Cougar, a buddy had a hand-me-down ’73 Torino with a 351 Cleveland. It’s surpising how much these cars can be improved (dynamically) with some good gas shocks and some lower profile radials.

    For my buddy’s car, we found some of the Ford argent “Magnum 500″ knock-off wheels that were widely available at the time, put some 60-series tires and Monroe gas-magnum shocks on it and it was was like night and day. No loss of comfort, but now the car felt buttoned down at speed and handled steering inputs in a calm and collected manner. We blacked out most of the chrome, installed dual sport mirrors and even found a high-back bench that looked like buckets from the outside (never could find some correct buckets in the right color despite years of looking). My buddy even found a Cobra-Jet style hoodscoop in the junkyard for $15 and took the radical step of cutting the hood and making it (semi) functional.

    All in all, it wasn’t a bad looking car and was dead solid reliable up through 165,000 miles, when he sold it to a guy he worked with. Only repairs we had to make to it (other than typical maintenance) were a replacement distributor, upper control arm bushings and upper ball-joints….that’s it. Say what you want, but it was good car.  

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    There is a time for everything, and the 70′s were all about vinyl roofs, opera windows and plush interiors. the EPA regs killed performance, so the automakers began to emphasize luxury.
    And by this time many people were getting a bit older and now had families, and were outgrowing their musclecars, and cars like the ones featured were just what they wanted.
    The mid sized fords were comfortable up front, even though the rear seat was best suited for smaller children, but much better than trying to stuff your kids in the back of something like a mustang, gm F body or chrysler Ebody.
    They were also smooth riding, very quiet and comfortable, which was what people bought them for. While ford had a lot of faults during the 70′s one thing they had going for them was that all of their V8 engines were good designs, from a reliability standpoint. The same can be said for the C4 and bulletproof C6 transmissions, both of which came in these cars, depending on which engine the car was equipped with. And a large percentage of these had the bulletproof 9 inch rear.
    Many people that owned those cars later bought F150′s, explorers and expeditions, like some of my neighbors.

  • avatar

    Still grinds my gears that no one here likes the ’69-’70 models. Paul, if you come across a nice example on the street, I think it deserves a CC outtake at least. I want to relive misspent youth.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheeljack

      I like the ’70 Cougar, especially if it happens to be an Eliminator with a Boss 302 or even the “standard” 351 Cleveland with a 4bbl. I even like the “beak” they added in 1970, in spite of the fact that it’s easy to bang your head on said beak when working underhood.  

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Fair enough. And I wouldn’t say no one here likes them; at least one of our devoted commentators owns one.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      I like em.  I’m the devoted commentator Paul mentions.  We had 3 69s:
      - Maroon on maroon with bench seat, one of 1,300 with that option.  Convinced my dad to buy from our 1st owner neighbor when it was 10 years old, w ca. 70k miles.  My mom drove it for 15 more years, daily (in S.E. MI) was still solid and a looker when sold!
      - Black over cream with black leather interior XR7 conv, I bought as a project car for 600 or 900 bucks, after disassembly, realized how bad the chassis was … stored it in a garage in a Detroit neighborhood that went to pot shortly thereafter … was afraid to go down to try and extract it … wonder what ever happened to it … I still have the interior and fenders, hood and decklid in my attic, wish I had taken the conv top mechanism too, but…
      - Black over burnt orange w black leather interior XR7 coupe, I bought from 1st owner after bugging her for several years, car was about 10 years old with low miles, drove it for a couple of years to school, then garaged it and bought a Fiesta … still have this one today, with less than 90k miles…

      I’m still hoping that Paul might circle back and do a proper CC on these early cats…

      BTW, the Cougar was somewhat of a blind-side to GM just as the Mustang had been … best part of that was the launch, where the Ford guys got the idea to shine a spotlight on the GM HQ building in Detroit that projected the name and image of Mercury’s upcoming cat:
      http://www.coolcats.net/welcome/cougarhistory.html  

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      BTW, the 1969 was the exception in the 1st 4 years, in that it had a horizontal grille theme … while it looks somewhat modest compared to the 1970, the 70 has the advantage of, like the 67 and 68, of hiding the parting lines for the headlamp doors … so I must grudgingly admit, from a craftmanship point of view, the 69 is not as good…

  • avatar
    rudiger

    +1 on the ’70 Cougar.

    Speaking of seventies’ luxo-barges, has there been a CC on one of the most celebrated of the era, the 1975 (or later) Chrysler Cordoba? It certainly didn’t create the personal-luxury segment (Chrysler was always more performance-oriented), but when governement mandates and fuel economy choked performance as a selling point, the Cordoba with its new, squared-off ‘formal’ roof and famous Ricardo Montalbon ‘fine Corinthian leather’ commercials, it was enough of a success and another Chrysler high-point that it kept the company afloat for a few more years than it probably should have.

    Unfortunately, the Cordoba was also built at what can only be described as the depths of domestic auto manufacturing quality control in the seventies, meaning there may not be many left in any kind of running condition.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Whenever I think of Cordoba, I think of the clip of the front clip of a nice brown one that appears in the opening sequence of the Chips TV show …  btw, look at how few, or perhaps no, foreign cars appear in the footage …

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYKdayl7BHM

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      Seems like brown was the most common color for those early Cordobas (probably because that’s what seems to have been in most of the adverts). It’s the color I most remember, too.

      Then it was white when they brought back the Cordoba-based 300.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheeljack

      My fav out of the last of the B-bodies is the Dodge Magnum. Not a bad looking car overall (certainly the best of the various Chrysler/Dodge/Plymouth models available) and the glass headlamp covers help make the front end look better.  

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

       
      Cordoba: not yet, but soon, like so many other cars waiting to get out of my files and on the page.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    BTW, I don’t know if anyone else noticed it, but I had to chuckle when I noticed that the grille emblem, on the blue & primer 71 featured in the CC, had somehow been mounted off center and high.  Can’t do that on a 69, the mounting holes for the emblem pegs are cast into the grille.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    Dunno who started the rebate thing, but I know ford had them by february of 75. My dad bought a new ford wagon at that time and got a rebate check.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      Chrysler Corporation was the first to offer rebates; GM and Ford followed suit. I can still hear Joe Garagiola saying, “Buy a car, get a check!” in those Chrysler Corporation commercials. We’ve become used to rebates and incentives now, but it was a very radical idea at the time.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      If I remember correctly, Chrysler also began the end-of-model-year “tent sales”, too. 1974, I think. The beginning (1973 models) of the bad old days for American car makers and they’re still trying to regain their mojo.

      I liked the large T-Birds and Cougars – beautiful cars, but the 1978-ish models were much too large to have all those fixed windows and were impractical for carrying back seat passengers like the large GM, Ford and Chrysler coupes.

      The station wagon Cougar made me smile, because I always fantasized about if someone came up with a four-door Corvette for no other reason than “just because”! Remember the “station wagon” greenhouse you could buy for a ‘Vette in the 70′s? It sort of mimicked a Vega Kammback wagon! Pretty cool in its own way, of course. Hot Rod magazine featured one of these.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      I always fantasized about if someone came up with a four-door Corvette for no other reason than “just because”!
       
      Kinda like this?:
      http://i4.photobucket.com/albums/y104/OWIS/Other/RedFourDoorVette3.jpg
       

  • avatar
    slance66

    The car I learned to drive on, a 77 Cougar XR7.  I have a to confess a soft spot, as this is what I took to work at DQ, the movies etc. through high school.  I still remember driving it aggressively with a very cute little cheerleader beside me in front….who would of  course slide across the vinyl into me on any hard right turn. Who wore seat-belts then? The V8 had little power, but sufficient torque.
    While it was a disgrace compared to the 67-69 editions, it had become a boulevard cruiser, and and a pretty decent one.  Not only was it the same as the T-Bird, but as the 2 door Lincoln of the day as well.  Mechanically it never gave us any problems that I recall.  It was definitely snow challenged however but otherwise served duty as my dad’s daily driver quite well until I took it on later.   Considering my friend Andrew drove a brown Buick Century with really noisy lifters, I considered the Cougar more than acceptable (our friend Pete however had a 65 T-Bird with a 390 and a Javelin with a 360 at his disposal).
     

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @slance: re: your buddy Pete; everyone has one. I had a friend of mine in high school who had his own Jeep Renegade CJ-5. If he didn’t want to drive that, his father had some huge Buick (which one I don’t recall right at the moment), a Chevy Suburban, his mother’s Pontiac Grand Prix SJ, or the farm truck which if IIRC was a Chevy LUV.
       
      Bastard.
       

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    I am late to the party on this one.  I think we can all agree that the mid 70s was not a great era for cars.  The Big 3 were dealing with a lot of new design perameters (safety and emissions) and struggled a bit.
    I have a fair amount of experience with mid-sizers of the mid 70s, and I think we are being too hard on the big cats.
    The Ford mid sized platform handled like a boat, was underpowered and not all that good looking.  However, what were the alternatives?  By the 70s, mid sized Mopars were somewhere between bad and awful.  Cheap bodies, ugly as sin (except for the Cordoba), and Lean Burn made these cars to avoid.  Few of the old Mopar charms, and many more problems.  My family had some of the GM units – a 74 Lemans and a 74 Cutlass.  The bodies did not feel very substantial, and really cheap interior materials.  The “luxury” pull-straps on the doors were always breaking and flapping in space.  Our LeMans had a 2 bbl 350 with the worst choke-induced hesitations during warmup of any car we ever owned.  It also was no great performer and sucked gas like no tomorrow.  The Olds was a bit better here.
    The Fords were quite durable, and had the best feeling bodies and interiors of any of them.  If you could get past the sluggish performance and the not that great styling, I think these were the best US midsizers of the 70s.  Call them Torinos, Cougars, LTD IIs, Thunderbirds, Elites, Montegos or whatever else Ford decided to call them, they weren’t really bad cars, at least compared to the competition.

  • avatar
    geeber

    To some extent, Ford’s intermediates and full-size cars benefited from the stinginess of Henry Ford II and Ed Lundy. GM went for downsizing in a big way, but it cut some corners (putting too-small transmissions in some big cars) and brought out some new engines (Pontiac 301 V-8) or revived old ones (Buick V-6) that weren’t initially very durable.

    Ford clung to its dinosaurs until the last possible moment, partly because Henry Ford II didn’t like small cars, and partly because neither he nor Ed Lundy wanted to spend the money necessary to thoroughly redo these lines. When Ford did downsize its full-size and intermediate lines, the effort could charitably be described as half-hearted. I don’t remember these cars as being problematic – aside from the sloppy quality control that plagued all Detroit cars during this period.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    GM, Ford and Chrysler were forcing Americans to buy other cars when they started rolling these horrible contraptions out their doors. They blackmailed Americans into buying tiny Japanese tin cars in order for them to have a vehicle that was designed for people and daily life. When the Big Three issued their 1970′s cars, they were offering their worse products ever. They sold millions of these embarressments.

    Engineering? There didn’t appear to be any engineering here beyond sound proofing drivers and passengers from their driving experience. These cars were pure profit because they were recycled decades old crap pimped out like whorehouses.

    These Cougars couldn’t seat four people comfortably. There was crushed velour in pillow-top Lazy-Boy passenger seats, but no cupholders. There were opera windows, but no visibility. There was a baroque-styled speedometer, but no instrumentation. They had deep pile shag carpeting, wood applique and deeply padded vinyl roofs, but were barely usable.

    As a styling exercise, these cars are as interesting as many better cars. As period pieces, they entertain. But as cars, these things are catastrophic embarressments.

    Perhaps this is what happens when auto leaders get so comfortable, they just forget what it is their cars are supposed to do.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    This was the most whored-out car platform ever.  Used for Thunderbirds, Torino Elites, Montegos, LTDII’s, Cougars, Continentals…all of them equipped with the same instrument panel that Ford had begun using in the final years of the suicide door T-Birds.  I’ve always said it was unfair that GM mostly got singled out for marketing cookie cutter cars, because Ford was even worse about it in the Seventies and into the Eighties…

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      GM was criticized because it had always maintained stronger identities among its various divisions. While the divisions may have shared a platform, they used different engines, tuned the suspension in different ways and had distinctive styling that reinforced the brand’s identity. This started to change in the 1970s, but it was still quite a shock in the 1980s when GM released Cadillacs that that weren’t any more majestic than Oldsmobiles and Buicks that really weren’t much bigger or better trimmed than Chevrolets.

      Ford had never put the effort into maintaining a distinct identity between Ford and Mercury. No one would have been shocked in 1977 if you had told him or her that a Cougar was a Ford with a different front and rear styling treatment.

  • avatar
    Canucknucklehead

    In my university days, I also worked as kind of an unofficial used car salesman (it’s a long story) and we had a 1979 XR7 on the lot. I drove it until the gas tank went almost dry and it languished in the front row, where we kept all the crap we wanted to flog quickly, since the good stuff sold itself. It was a 351 2V and one of the most gutless wonders I have ever experienced. It handled like a barge and when you put the brakes on, it felt like it was going to nosedive into the pavement. To top things off, it had the interior room of a Chevette, well, not that bad, but it was small. It also guzzled gas like a Peterbuilt. But, heck, it was sure shiny!
     
    Anyway, having practically given up hope I would ever sell it and would have to take a bath on it at auction, up drives a 20 something young man in a 1973 Dart Swinger with a Slant Six and a 2 BBL carb. It was so cool since he had put the interior of a ’67 Dart GT in it. It even had (for the time) a killer stereo. He loved the XR7; and traded the Dart for the Mercury and $500 in cash (which my buddy and I promptly blew on restaurants and women, yet another story). I put the Dart on the hoist and practically every part you could see had been replaced. The car drove like new, was fun to drive, was cook and cheap (for the time) to run.
     
    About a week later the guy came back with the XcRrement and wanted this Dart back, which I instantly took over as my daily driver. I said “no way” and he slunk away. I drove the Dart for over a year, and eventually sold it to a bipolar blonde I was trying to bang, for the paltry sum of $1200, which she decided was too much, meaning she hated me forever and never did bang me.
     
    So lessons learned: never sell your cool ride to try to get laid. And never buy a Cougar XR7, either.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    @canucknucklehead….by the late 70′s the aftermarket had a line of emissions legal intake manifolds designed to increase power, driveability and fuel economy of smog motors, and they worked well.  Edelbrock was the most popular maker of such manifolds, and they had a line for every V8 engine made, even AMC engines.
    Holley had a line of carbs designed for the same purpose, and when combined with one of the aftermarket intakes it made a world of difference in the performance and fuel economy. Shortly after the intakes and carbs came out crane came out with a line of cams designed with the same purpose in mind, and they also worked well. They were referred to by crane as “fireball” cams, basically what is the RV line today.
    All of those parts were pretty cheap to buy back then, and anyone with minimal mechanical skills could install them. magazines like hot rod, car craft and popular hotrodding used to do those swaps on a regular basis and report the results, which were usually astounding.
    So if a person didn’t like the fact that their car was a dog there was no reason for it to remain that way, unless they did not know how to turn a wrench.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    The blue cougar would be a 76, the 74′s & 75′s didn’t have the slots in the front bumper.

  • avatar

    People complain that a platform is “whored out” Until they go to buy parts for their one off frame. Chassis should be used in as many was as possible, IMO. I was amused at the bemoaning of how all the 70′s Ford noses looked alike. Seen the noses of the collective Acura lineup lately? I kind of like my 78 XR7, but it’s modified with a 523″ engine installed.

    http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a72/psquare75/460/IMG_2845-1.jpg

    I have another (’77) with a mild 460 swap as well, that I daily drive 3 seasons.

    http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a72/psquare75/othercougar/IMG_2656.jpg

  • avatar

    I love these cars. I thought they were beautiful when they were new and I still do.


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