By on February 8, 2011


The Cougar name has been slapped on so many different Mercurized (Mercurated?) Fords that it gets hard to keep them straight. I never much cared for the over-gingerbreaded Mustang-based version, but the big Thunderbird-based late-70s Cougar seems properly Mercurial.

I found this one in my local self-service wrecking yard, parked tail-to-tail with the Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas Press Bronco that we saw a while back. Check out that “Quartz Electronic” clock with calendar function! Sure, it probably stopped working by 1980, but I’m still tempted to buy it for my collection of vintage car clocks.

Remember those weird plastic-coated “mag” wheels Ford liked so well during the Malaise Era?

This one has the optional 166-horsepower 400M engine, which made a respectable 318 lb-ft of torque. It was quite thirsty, but got all that luxury moving pretty well.


And hey, Cheryl Tiegs did the ads for it!

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52 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1978 Mercury Cougar...”


  • avatar
    tonyola

    “I never much cared for the over-gingerbreaded Mustang-based version, but the big Thunderbird-based late-70s Cougar seems properly Mercurial.”

    Really? You’d take this baroque fatcat – think of Garfield after four trays of lasagna – over a nice ’67-’68′ Cougar? I can assure you that the Torino-based Cougars were utter pigs to drive and were not redeemed by gingerbread or velour.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, because the ONE thing the 1st-gen Mustang had going for it was its light weight and simple styling. The 1st-gen Cougar was a Mustang that got customized by Manny, Moe, and Jack on a budget of $57.60 after a weeklong ether binge in a Kuala Lumpur whorehouse.
      Having gone through a phase of daily-driving late-60s Torinos, Fairlanes, and Cyclones (never had a Montego, for some reason), I know all about ill-handling Ford products with totally primitive suspensions (which apparently served as the model for Toyota’s even more terrible-handling early Corona). Who cares? You don’t buy such a car for its driving quality. You buy it for… uh… let me get back to you on that.

    • 0 avatar
      JustPassinThru

      “You don’t buy such a car for its driving quality. You buy it for… uh… let me get back to you on that.”
       
      There was something in those old Torino-based tanks:  A sort of quality – let’s call it “bulletproofness” And to our family, having endured “automotive excitement” of the worst kind in our previous rides, a 1962 Rambler and a 1968 Wagoneer…it was a quality appreciated.

      My old man had a ’73 Torino wagon; basically the same car but a fair amount more useful.  Had the 351 Cleveland mill in it. Thing was a bore to drive; more of an adventure to ride in (Feel the swells?  Full left on the helm!)  But it did what it was advertised to do:  Start, run down the road, hold up for over 100,000 miles without major repairs.  Quite an accomplishment in those days.
       
      Of course, it drank gas like crazy…with a late-middle-age driver, 11 miles a gallon.  And for some reason ours didn’t rust…can’t account for that; iron-cancer took so many of those, but skipped my old man’s.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually, the fastback Torinos and Cyclones got OK highway fuel economy, because they had quite slippery shapes (thanks to NASCAR). Aside from the garbage-truck-style handling, the biggest problem was the tiny trunk lid and 8′ deep trunk; if you forgot to bring a broomstick with a coat-hanger-wire hook taped to it, you’d need to crawl into the trunk to retrieve objects that rolled all the way to the back seat. Always embarrassing.

  • avatar
    dswilly

    My aunt had the LTD II version of that when I was a kid.  It had those fake luggage straps on the trunk, good stuff.  Now lets talk about the early Bronco in the background.

  • avatar
    Ironghost

    on the other hand, that’s a ton of engine bay you could fill with something more fun.  LSx swap, turbodiesel swap… heck, a lot of fun.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Sudenly I have the urge to grab some of the badges off this yacht and slap them on a Grand Marquis. 

  • avatar

    As a fan of the “standard sized” Fords of this era, I gotta say that finding one with a moonroof is a pretty big deal. At first it was just a decently optioned Cougar, but then I saw that and went, WOW!

    • 0 avatar
      sastexan

      Sajeev, I’m surprised that you aren’t on the first plane out there to trailer this one back to Houston for an LSX swap.  :)

    • 0 avatar

      LOL, I’ve seen better get crushed here in Houston.  Can’t save ‘em all!

    • 0 avatar
      supremebrougham

      You caught that too huh? It seemed to me more like it was strangely optioned, in that it has the mid range seats, the base instrument cluster, the moonroof, the big engine and the optional wheels. My grandparents and several aunts and uncles drove these through the 80′s and 90′s, so I got to ride in and drive a lot of these, so I have a bit of a soft spot for them…

  • avatar
    Zackman

    I’m like an old, skipping record – I could never understand why, with so many pillarless hardtop models still available back then, why the fixed quarter windows? How much did Ford save in weight and money? As far as the car is concerned, A friend had one of those in T-Bird form and was nice unless you were in the back seat on a hot day. I preferred the 60′s variant much better. I can’t prove it, but the Fords seemed more awkward than the comparable GM cars of the same period. Still, that bright red w/white atoned for a lot of sins! Yes, they were quite uneconomical to run, too, but gas was still less than a buck a gallon.

    • 0 avatar
      tced2

      $1 in 1978 is the same as $3.25 in 2009.  So the price of gasoline hasn’t really changed much.

      I love the red/white interior. Certainly more interesting your choice of ebony, dark charcoal, or black interior today.

    • 0 avatar

      As a 1972 Continental Mark IV owner, the fixed quarter windows are acceptable because the Opera window interferes with the QW fully retracting into the body.  The Mark’s window goes in maybe 2″…its really more of a “venting” window.
      And the Opera window was there because the C-pillar had to be much bigger for rollover standards. But I agree, GM’s Collanade design was a better way.
      I’m guessing we didn’t have finite element analysis in the early 70s, so instead of reinforcing a skinny C-pillar on these “older” designs, they just made it bigger!

    • 0 avatar

      tced2, good point about the price of gas.
       
      IIRC, many Detroit designs of the mid-70′s reflected what they thought were new impending rollover standards, and they didn’t want to be caught with their pants down GM must have been with their 1973 A-Bodies, most of which looked like the safety bumpers were added as an afterthought.
       
      As far as the fixed rear side windows, I’d chalk that up to Detroit’s 70′s love affair with decontenting.

    • 0 avatar
      tonyola

      The pillarless hardtops began to die out after 1971, partly because of the threat of roof-crush legislation that never came about and partly because of the prevalence of air conditioning. By 1975, all FoMoCo hardtops had fixed quarter panes even if they didn’t have B-pillars. GM kept retractable quarter windows on low-line fullsize Buicks, Pontiac, and Olds two-doors only through 1976. By 1977, the only true two-door hardtops left were the big Mopars, and those were gone after 1978.

  • avatar
    friedclams

    From the ad: “Padded tire deck”
    Pretty much defines 70s malaise and the decline of Detroit for me.

  • avatar
    Trend-Shifter

    My ex 79 Cougar was one of the best cars I ever owned.
    I bought it at 13,000 original miles and drove it 110 miles a day on the rough Detroit roads for over 6 years.  Later it was my son’s college car. 
     
    Salt, gas prices, and college graduation finally won and I decided to sell it.
    Here is ebay picture when I sold it.  It was still running great.  Sold it for Lemons pricing.  
    Link:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/29396384@N05/5193690019/  

    I once swapped some lower profile rims & tires.    It handled really great and the car had a completely different character!   But had to go back to the tall sidewalls because of potholes. 
       

  • avatar
    obbop

    Elephantine.

  • avatar
    slance66

    Learned to drive on one of these (77 XR7), and it effectively became my first car at 16.  It was a pretty solid reliable car, lots of torque with the 351, if not fast.  It was almost impossible not to run over 2-3 curbs a week in these things.  You could not see or feel where the front wheels were with the immense and high hood, low seating position and overboosted steering.  Still, you never forget your first.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    By the summer of 1978 our 4 year old Mercury Montego was due for replacement. Not that it was worn out, but at the time we had the financial means to change out cars more often. My father would usually buy a new car in early February (ostensibly as a Valentine’s Day present to my mother)(and the cars were usually red, too), but the reality was the deals were much better then than in spring. He wanted to wait until the 1979′s came out, however his myocardial infarction changed all of our plans.
    A friend of mine in university had a 1979 Cougar XR7, which had the weirdest groan coming from the transmission. We drove that car all over the midwest (usually in one of those “road trip” spur of the moment ideas) with the tranny groaning away. It never broke or even slipped. The only time the car ever stranded us is when we pushed our luck with judging just how empty the E on the fuel gauge really was.
     
    Sad to see such a nice old car in the boneyard. I guess that’s the fate for everything, though…

  • avatar
    threeer

    Reminds me of our 1976 Mercury Montego.  Well, except for the padded roof…and the quarter window…and the cloth interior (ours was vinyl).  But the car served us faithfully for 13 years, with hardly an issue.  As my mother and father were preparing to return to Germany, my mother fatefully decided to sell it off to a local salvage yard.  Naturally, about four weeks after they moved, I saw the blue bomber out on the road again!  Say what you want about that car (heavy, thirsty..all of the above apply) but it ranks as one of our most trustworthy vehicles.

  • avatar
    Mike66Chryslers

    My granddad bought one of these as his last winter beater, replacing a late-60s Oldsmobile after the V8 became a V7.  The Cougar was a metallic plum color.  In retrospect, I don’t know why he bought a 2-door.  It probably didn’t work well with his bad leg.  He had also never owned another Ford product in his whole life.
     
    I seem to recall it being fairly reliable, although it rarely went on trips beyond the city limits.  Once it left him stranded at the mall.  He got out a rubber mallet from the trunk and gave the ignition control module a good smack, started it up and drove it home.  I assume he replaced the ICM at some point not long afterwards.  When he died, one of the first things my dad did as executor of the estate was to get rid of that car.

  • avatar
    geeber

    Ah, the late 1970s…when respectable people drove around in big, bright red cars with equally bright white vinyl roofs and side trim. And huge chrome grilles on the front.

    Now everyone drives around in grey, silver and medium metallic blue sedans and SUVs.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      “Now everyone drives around in grey, silver and medium metallic blue sedans and SUVs.”

      It’s a pity, to be sure! You can add yellow to your colors of the old days! Consider my avatar! Proud of it, too. When I bought my 2004 Impala, I seriously considered “Victory red”, but I thought it was a bit too bright for the style, but on the current version, it works well. Unfortunately, our other rides are grey and silver. I like chrome grilles, but you wouldn’t catch me dead owning a blue car!

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      If it is any consolation, enthusiasts HATED these ‘personal luxury’ abominations with their excessive ornamentation, fake vents, fake landau bars, fake radiator shells, fake soft tops, fake wood dashboards, fake gauges, unsupportive seats, seatbelt buzzers, idiot lights, comically large federally mandated bumpers, three speed automatics, and engines that barely ran while hoovering fuel. Cars like this completely lacked the authenticity that would define good design in the ’80s, the general public finally repulsed into making tasteful decisions for a brief but wonderful era. It was the Germans who led the way, but the 1986 Taurus was an almost perfect repudiation of everything that was wrong with a ’70s personal luxury car. It is depressing to drive past a BMW dealer today and see the chrome medallions on the front fenders, but maybe good taste will follow the coming austerity.

    • 0 avatar
      MoppyMop

      Bright red?  In the Midwest, these stayed bright red for about a week after they were driven off the lot, after which they turned into a tasteful two-tone combo of faded, dusty pink and iron oxide.

  • avatar
    hatuman

    The gas gauge is bigger than the speedometer.  Draw your own conclusions.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    The reason these cars were popular is because they matched the deep shag carpeting, the dripping mineral oil swag lamps with the cherub inside, the crushed velour leisure suits with the white patent leather slip on shoes, Jimmy Carter, denim suits, Bee Gees, flared polyester jump suits, pre-AIDS, Farrah-haired buyers who knew these cars were groovy enough to keep on truckin’ to Studio 54.

    You can blame these delightful faux gothic plastic creations on our eternal need to look better than the guy driving in the family vehicle.
    And, you can…
    “Blame it all, on the nights on Broadway…”

    SUCKAS!

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      My polyester leisure suit in 1976 was tan, but give me credit for not getting the lime green one! I wore it a total of once! Cost? $29.00, about $28.50 too much. I did not go the white shoe route, but had a white/brown reversable belt. Fortunatley, my wife-to-be put the kabosh on that. VanillaDude, I don’t know how old you are, but I laugh my head off over some of your posts. Pretty accurate. Thanks for all the bad memories. Now I know why I hated the 70′s from 1972 on. Not much worth remembering, ’cause even the cars stunk up the joint all too often, but the Cougar pictured above was nice-looking once upon a time.

    • 0 avatar
      racebeer

      Yep …. my wife had a ’78 XR-7 in that deep burgundy metallic with white vinyl top and white interior when she was one of those “Farrah-haired buyers who knew these cars were groovy“.   Probably one of the reasons I married her a few years later ……

    • 0 avatar
      Monty

      England Dan and John Ford Coley…’nuff said.

  • avatar
    gator marco

    My wife owned a 79 Cougar when we got married back in the early 80′s. We drove away from the reception and immediately had to go to a car wash to remove some of the decorations from her “baby”. Kept it until we had a couple kids and traded it in on a minivan.
    The Cougar was red with the white interior, certainly not something to put messy children in. It rode like a living room couch. Poor mileage, but it was pretty reliable. Of all the vehicles we’ve owned over the years, if we could have just one back to keep forever, that would be the one.

  • avatar
    Verbal

    Those plastic-coated wheels were notorious for getting stuck to the brake drums/discs.  Under hard braking, the heat would melt the plastic coating, which would cool and re-solidify.  Later, when you tried to take the wheel off, you would remove the lugs and the wheel would stay put.  Also, the center caps on those wheels lasted an average of two weeks before disappearing.  Good times.

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      I had a 77 T-Bird; bought it when I was in high school in 1982, had 35K miles on the clock.  The car was black with a gray vinyl roof and gray vinyl interior.  The car has those very same plastic covered wheels, and they did get stuck. My car came with the 302.  What can I say?  Poor gas mileage, no power, I needed to bolt training wheels to the door handles if I planned on going around a corner at more than 5mph.  On the plus side, it looked nice, it was quiet (no rattles or squeaks) and save for the stuck wheels, it was dead reliable.  From a standpoint of reliability, it was better than 80%-85% of the other cars from that era. The 77-79 T-Bird along with it’s Mercury twin were immensely popular.  Ford built over 1.5 million of these twins during their 3 year production run.   Except for full size pickups, nothing sells in those numbers anymore.

  • avatar
    doug-g

    The interior has held up well (except the headliner), Ford must have used better plastic than GM back in those days.

    Also, isn’t Cheryl Tiegs “green” now and hang with Ed Begley, Jr? I might be confusing my 70′s models.

    • 0 avatar
      JustPassinThru

      Ford did.  In the Iacocca era, Ford made a point of making interiors quite a bit more upscale, superficially, than comparative GM models.  Of course, that didn’t carry over to the trucks.

      Probably a backlash to the early-sixties spartan, painted, exposed-shifter-tube era of McNamera.

  • avatar
    doug-g

    Ford kept the exposed-shifter-tube until, what?, 1963?  Really distracted from the interior in MHO.  I always wondered if it was a royalties thing – as in GM might have patented the collar (for lack of a term) and Ford would have to pay to use it.

    • 0 avatar
      JustPassinThru

      I had, briefly, a well-preserved 1964 Galaxie; and if memory serves, it had that exposed shifter tube.
       
      I think it was McNamera’s doing.  There were a lot of spartan elements in Fords of that era:  Flat side glass, angular lines, upright seating arrangements.  Up until the 1965 redesigns, which were when Iacocca finally exercised control.
       
      It was McNamera’s Puritan tendencies and his intolerance of dissent.  He ordered cars to fit HIS minimalist tastes, not for the customers.  Iacocca, with his long hoods and opera windows, swung the pendulum too far the other way.

    • 0 avatar
      MadHungarian

      Say what you want about McNamara, but his conservative approach got Ford out ahead of GM in compact and intermediate cars.  The Falcon was boring but it quickly eclipsed the Corvair and forced GM to respond with the Chevy II/Nova.  And look how long Ford was able to keep recycling the first generation Falcon in Argentina and Australia.  Talk about return on investment.  Then in ’62 the Fairlane was released basically inventing a whole new market segment.

    • 0 avatar
      JustPassinThru

      There was a lot going on in that era.  Conservative styling and engineering suddenly became fashionable; Rambler was third in sales in 1961.  It was probably a reaction to the batwing/tailfin excesses of a few years earlier; not everyone was excited about fast-rusting French curves.

      Then, there was Ford management, flush with cash from their IPO in 1956 .(?)  And at the same time, Ford had finally gotten control of their own finances; the company as Henry left it was a bookkeeping disaster.

      You might say McNamera was a man for his time.  But that time passed quickly, as Rambler and Studebaker demonstrated.  Fortunately for Ford, Iacocca was also the right man at the right time.

      Every generation has its excess.  As noted, this example is a perfect show of all that was wrong in the 1970s.  A few years from now, people may look at our current rolling-banana car-styling, and blanch.

  • avatar
    autobahner44

    New junk then, old junk now. DILLIGAF? Crush it…

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Back in the mid-80′s I owned the prior generation, a 1975 which was basically a dressed up Montego/Torino. A baby Mark IV. For me this was a step up from my 70 Mustang coupe which was showing it’s age w/ 200 + K on it. Quite sporty for the personal luxury segment, but a far cry from the 67-73. It was sliver with the magnum 500 wheels and typical rococco styling overkill of the era: maroon landau vinyl roof, opera windows. Though the matching maroon vinyl interior w/ buckets console and floor shift, gauge pkg made it sportier than a less stellar Torino/Montego. It was fairly reliable and the 351 was smooth and powerful w $1 and change fuel did not put much of a hurt on my wallet. I did the normal maintence but for some reason the A/C compressor blew a rod through the case so I replaced it with a junkyard one. Then the engine rear main seal started leaking which I think was a problem for some 351′s of this era so instead of fixing it (though some of those oil treatments from your friendly auto parts store tended to slow the leak)I ended up selling it for $600; roughly what I paid for it.

  • avatar
    big_gms

    Alright, maybe I (sometimes) have poor taste in automotive style, but I think this is a nice looking car for its era. I’ve always had a thing for the ’77-’79 Cougar, preferring it by a slim margin over the T-bird of the same era, which to my eyes is also not a bad looking car. I like the slightly more angular styling of these as opposed to the somewhat more rounded lines of the mid ’70′s Cougars.

    I did not know those wheels were plastic coated! Weird. All these years I thought they were aluminum alloy.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    Cheryl was serious material back then, the Jill Wagner of that generation.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    I am old enough to have stood open-mouthed at the ugliness around me, and young enough to have believed that it was the way it was supposed to be and completely normal. I am a history addict and believe that regardless of the historical period, people don’t change and that the concept of progress is just another advertising jingo applied by crooks and liars.

    I am really glad to have lived through the 1970s unscarred. When I see the older generations and how they flounded and struggled through that period of time, I believe that there was some kind of powerful Jedi Mind Trick being sent through Doobie Brothers music or perhaps through The Dry Look hair products sold back then. Mustaches. Wow. How completely frightening and damn ugly. Chest medallions and perms for men? It got to be so bad Queen and Chicago are considered some kind of awesome rock groups. Did eight trak stereo really alter music so much that this kind of barf was sold as entertainment?

    You want to know why there was a Reagan and conservative movement over the next twenty years? Because the only folks untouched by the debris of the 1970s were old fashioned conservative Amish folks in Yoder Kansas who finally had enough of the crapfest around them and staged a coup to return us to our roots.

  • avatar
    cfclark

    One of my college friends had the use of one of these (I say “the use of”, because it was lent to her by a prof and family with whom she was rooming) one summer–this would have been in around 1990 and I think it was the T-Bird version. Always hysterical to see this slight, nerdy-looking Asian girl pull up in a classic ’70s schlockmobile. I think she really enjoyed the incongruity of it all.

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    I had a ’77 T-Bird for a while, which I bought because it was cheap, and cosmetically perfect, and I am a sucker for over the top 70′s styling.  It is probably one of the most space-inefficient designs ever — the exterior dimensions are within an inch or so of a ’77 Sedan deVille all around but the back seat is useless and the trunk is tiny.  The driving position is weird, low and the pedals are very far away, which I guess works if you are long legged but guarantees a visit to the chiropractor after a long trip if you are not.  The Cougar lacks the distinctive T-Bird basket handle roof.  Sorry, the padded tire deck doesn’t make up for that.

  • avatar
    biskit

    My parents bought a ’79 model new in 1980, a leftover in green that was probably difficult to sell because of the color. They were happy anyway, as I believe it was the second new car they’d owned. I really liked the car. I remember the truck key cover would remove your fingertips if it slipped or you bumped it while opening the truck! That’s a memory I’d lost until now. Thanks for finding this one, Murilee.


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