By on October 10, 2011

 

 

TTAC commentator sastexan writes:

Sajeev,

You proved yourself smart by changing over to the older rod shift transmission linkage on your Cougar SVT. My shift cables are broken again – although this time probably due to the 1st mechanic’s ineptitude and unwillingness to finish the job he started and align it correctly. The end that attaches to the shifter is worn out so the shifter keeps popping off the cable end – which was interesting to reconnect while I was driving in stop and go traffic on the (in)famous Washington Beltway. Unfortunately, the plastic insert on the Contour cables is not replaceable – the only way to fix it is to replace the entire cable set – which is a giant PITA. Oh well.

I also talked to Terry Haines, the transmission guy – if you haven’t heard of him before, he’s a former Ford engineer who has his own shop now, mostly working on MTX75 transmissions. He rebuilt my transmission at 100k, upgraded the shift forks, put in a quaife, replaced two syncros that were going bad. He walked me through the procedure to replace the shift cables (more than I can handle) and we also discussed why the Duratec V6s are puking rods – he unequivocally believes that it is due to the powdered metal connecting rods Ford started using around ’97 – he said that some spec must have changed because earlier Duratec have no con rod issues. In his teardown of motors, he said all the ones that have thrown rods had nothing to do with oil starvation – it all had to do with the con rods stretching out of spec and causing spun bearings then snapping the con rods. He also said SVT engines are more susceptible, due to higher compression and typically harder lives. And he said that the 3L upgrades everyone is doing has the same con rods and is just as at risk – Ford just ignored the problem in the Duratec.
Since you have plans for your Cougar, thought you would be interested in this line of thinking.

Sajeev answers:

Thanks for the heads up on Mr. Haines’ theory: it’s a direct contradiction to what I heard about bits of catalyst from the “pre-cats” in the exhaust getting sucked up, from a bad design of catalytic converter/exhaust manifold.

Either way, that’s just faaan-frickin-tastic.

I have yet to “buy back” my Cougar from Luke, the central Texas Ford Contour genius and all around cool cat. Even if he did put a Hello Kitty tailpipe on it, which implies I now have “Girl power” combined with the same connecting rod worries that decommissioned this Cougar in the first place?

It’s all good, because this Cougar will never be a daily driver. It’s a sleeper with quite a well sorted chassis that even Clarkson rather enjoyed. More to the point, the 3.0L Duratec swap fixes the only problem both myself and Clarkson felt: a lack of balls on this kitty. Try 250-ish horses, put down through that solid rod-shift transaxle and a Quaife diff.

I visited the Cougar last year, drove it around the block just to feel the catnip. SHO-nuff, this Cougar will hunt. There’s reasonable low end, with a smooth (and torque-steer light) powerband that screams all the way to 7000rpm like any other Contour SVT. Except with something approaching 12:1 compression, which sounds absolutely thrilling with every run to redline: I could really put the hurt on unsuspecting racers in this ride. Me likey everything about this plan…except the Hello Kitty Tailpipe.

Back to your points: old cars are such a pain in the ass! Granted the numerous cases of Duratec V6 failures are unfair to the thousands of people in Dearborn that made the rather awesome American Mondeo—and the rest of us who enjoyed them—there’s still the matter of driving a complicated car well past its “expiration date.” In general, bad stuff happens. Some dude won’t rebuild your tranny right, and the cables get fubar’d. And there you are on the beltway fixing your ride, hoping for the best.

It. Never. Ends. So when are you sidelining it and getting a more trustworthy daily driver?

Bonus! A Piston Slap Nugget of Wisdom:

The Contour/Cougar/Mondeo is proof of two things. First, some cars win our hearts and minds…even if they didn’t do their job, ahem, as well as planned. Second, they will get better with age, if they aren’t driven as primary transportation.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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32 Comments on “Piston Slap: Hello Kitty! Contouring the American Mondeo’s future?...”


  • avatar

    Took my Contour to Terry Haines, who was very aware of the precat problem that killed its engine. This and the above-mentioned con rod issue are not mutually exclusive.

    I’ve since learned that the Contour’s truly fatal weakness is its wiring harness. Apparently they’re now disintegrating, and no replacements are available.

    • 0 avatar
      supremebrougham

      “I’ve since learned that the Contour’s truly fatal weakness is its wiring harness. Apparently they’re now disintegrating, and no replacements are available.”

      Tell me about it! After three shops, $960 and six months of waiting, I finally got the harness replaced in my Mystique. That car is such a pain in the rear, but I do so enjoy driving it. Now I just have to decide if I want to invest in having the one rust hole in the quarter panel repaired…

  • avatar

    The transmission linkage thing brings back an old, old memory. Something must have been wrong with the tranny linkage on the ’57 Chevy 210 wagon. Anyway, I remember my mother having periodically to pop the hood and align a couple of thingamagigs that were situated next to the steering column, if memory serves–and we’re probably going back to the early ’60s, although it might have even been the late ’50s. Then she’d drive some more until one of them fell out of alignment again.

    10 points–no, 100 points for anyone who can tell me exactly what was goign on there.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Column mount shifter? The linkages from the shift lever ran down the steering shaft, then over to the actual transmission with a rather Rube Goldberg-esque set of levers. Over time, those things would wear out and get loose, and a good bump would bind them up so that you couldn’t move the shift lever. Only thing to do was to pull over and stop, then wiggle the levers around to free it up.

    • 0 avatar
      TR4

      Sounds like my ’50 Chev pickup before the linkage was adjusted. There is a small box attached to the steering column just in front of the firewall. The shifter moves a rod which has an upright peg inside the box. The peg engages either the 2-3 linkage or the R-1 linkage both which go down to the transmission where they are detented inside the case with a spring and ball arrangement. Inside the small box there are two notches, one each in the 2-3 and the R-1 linkage. When the lever is pulled toward the driver the peg engages the notch in the R-1 and goes out of the 2-3, so that when the lever is moved up or down only the R-1 linkage gets moved.
      Ideally when the transmission is in neutral (and properly in the detents) the two notches in the small box will be lined up with each other and the lever moves easily between the 2-3 and the R-1 positions. But suppose the notches are not lined up quite right. The driver will shift out of 1 into the detent neutral but then it won’t go into 2-3. Possibly the driver will fiddle the lever up or down a little until it goes forward into the 2-3 position. But now the R-1 linkage is not properly in its neutral detent. It is possible to shift into 2 and 3 as R or 1 is not engaged. However, when the transmission is placed into the neutral between 2 and 3 it is possible for the R-1 linkage to move back into R or 1 due to vibration etc. because it is not quite sitting in its detent. In my case it would shift into 1 and the lever would be stuck in the 2-3 neutral notch. I had to get out, open the hood and yank the R-1 linkage back into neutral, much as your mother was probably doing. Mine was fixed by adjusting, but I suppose that a worn linkage, defective detent mechanism and so on could complicate things.

    • 0 avatar
      mikey

      @ David….Lifting the hood,and aligning the steering column linkage, was a fact of life with a worn GM three on the tree.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Now you’ve got me thinking, Sajeev. Someone should make my cousin Deanna an offer on her FWD Cougar before she kills it though college co-ed carelessness. Especially since if something goes wrong she’ll likely let her brothers with their “Git er done” attitude look at it first.

  • avatar
    FromaBuick6

    I try to avoid being overly critical of people’s current rides…but why would you bother with these pieces of junk? I don’t care how good to drive the Contour was, it was trash. And the related Cougar was ugly, sacrilegious trash.

    Bad rods, bad shift linkages…disintegrating wiring? Ford designed and built these cars with a level of indifference that Volkswagen could only dream of.

    • 0 avatar

      The Cougar was and still is a beautiful design. More to the point, it drove even better than it looked. And, with your TTAC name in mind, I can’t think of any V6 Buick (Turbo Regals aside) that’s worth saving…much less one from the Contour’s era.

      A Buick guy questioning a Mercury guy? Cast stones in glass houses much?

      Different strokes, different folks…

      • 0 avatar
        FromaBuick6

        It’s just a handle…I wouldn’t be caught dead in any post-1972 Buick.

        Frankly, there’s little from any big-volume manufacturer in the ’90s that I really consider worth saving. A couple of 5.0 Fords, the Corvette and Impala SS from GM, the 300ZX and the Supra. Maybe a few more that I’m forgetting, but that’s it. The stuff from Detroit wasn’t built to last, the stuff from Europe lasts only if you have a bottomless checkbook and the Japanese stuff has mostly been beaten into the ground by now.

    • 0 avatar
      BigDuke6

      “I try to avoid being overly critical of people’s current rides…but why would you bother with these pieces of junk? I don’t care how good to drive the Contour was, it was trash. And the related Cougar was ugly, sacrilegious trash.

      Bad rods, bad shift linkages…disintegrating wiring? Ford designed and built these cars with a level of indifference that Volkswagen could only dream of.”

      Have you EVER driven a Contour SVT or Cougar? If not, what are you basing this um…”observation” on…..?

      • 0 avatar
        FromaBuick6

        I’m basing it on all the Contour owners I’ve known who were repeatedly burned by their unreliable, self-destructing money pits. These cars were too small and too expensive when they were new, and suffered from the worst of Ford’s 90s cost-cutting as used cars.

        Frankly, I could care less how they drive. I’ve spent most of my time behind the wheel of decade-old Hondas that drive nearly as well without all the problems.

      • 0 avatar
        kowsnofskia

        Seriously. The Contour was the kind of car that made the late 90s/early 00s Jetta look reliable.

        This Buick fella is right – they were garbage.

        And as for “have I ever driven a Cougar”?

        Yep – back when they were RWD and something to actually get excited about.

        The 1999-2002 edition was a lame joke. 0-60 in 7.7? Guys, this thing couldn’t keep up with a 99 V6 Accord.

        IIRC the last Cougar edition was generally panned in the car rags and sold like crap after one hot year. Much like the last Thunderbird, it was another of Ford’s infamous 1990s attempts to cover up modest performance with flashy looks (and they ended up with pretty much the same sales results too).

  • avatar
    Trend-Shifter

    I think this Cougar model is a beautifully styled car. I have rented a few and they sure did go! I was thinking of getting a low mileage Cougar as a future daily driver replacement. After reading this article I guess I will shelf that idea.

    Of course it may not be any worse than owning my two present Audi 5000′s!

    • 0 avatar

      If you are that nuts to collect Audi 5000s, you go right ahead and get a Cougar.

      FWIW, the Duratec four-bangers don’t have these problems.

      • 0 avatar
        sastexan

        Like any other vehicle, make sure you are familiar with the foibles of the model and your mechanic is too. I haven’t seen much on wiring harness disintegration discussion on the contour / cougar forums, so I’m not sure if there are just a few bad apples out there.

  • avatar
    sastexan

    First off, I got 137k of really tough driving on the original SVT engine. Some of the hardest conditions you could put on an engine (i.e., extreme heat with A/C in urban driving, lots of cold starts in below freezing weather, days at the track, etc.). So I probably got my money’s worth. Since my “new” 3L has less than 50k on it, this engine will probably go another 100k without blinking – especially with lower compression than the stock SVT 2.5L.

    Second, the shift issue was easily fixable by replacing two plastic clips on the trans case. However, the first mechanic didn’t follow my instructions and did the whole cable set – and screwed it up because he wasn’t familiar with it – which started my fiasco. The plastic clip repair is maybe an hour job, probably less, with $15 in parts. However, Ford doesn’t list this procedure separately – you just have to know. Shame on me for using a mechanic who was unfamiliar with my car (and me).

    Third, this car is remaining my daily driver – at least until the big fat car payment on the wife’s van is over. Yes, defeats advice given but at least I can do minor fixes myself and parts are cheap. And my snow tires still have life left in them, among other consumables.

    Fourth, this car outhandles many, many other cars. Surprised lots of E39s, E46s, even E90s, among others. Maybe partially because of my comfort driving on the track, but regardless, extraordinarily well balanced – even more so as a FWD.

    Maybe I’m crazy to keep the same daily driver for coming up on 14 years / nearly 150k. But it still gives me enjoyment and is Steve Lang cheap to run.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @sastexan: Don’t let the haters ruin your day. I have a similar problem with certain GM products. None of this stuff makes any sense to a normal person, but for those of us with the ‘bug’, it’s just another day. Isn’t that the reason why we’re all on this site commenting about stuff?

      I may not share your enthusiasm for the Mondeo (I really wanted to, but my experiences with Fords over the last 25 or so years have not been good), but I can understand WHY you want to keep this car.

      More power to you!

      • 0 avatar
        sastexan

        @geozinger – No one is ruining my day or even denting my resolve to keep it running as my daily driver. Yes, my post was a little defensive – long day at work. I didn’t know Sajeev was going to run this as a piston slap – I was just emailing him for his own knowledge.

        The Mondeo was dissimilar to the other Fords of the day, due to its primary engineering taking place in Europe (in fact, the car I most closely correlated its handling with was my friend’s ’91 Saab 9000 turbo). I think modern Fords are really well engineered – I wouldn’t hesitate to buy a new one (if I were to buy a new car, that is). That being said, I had plenty of Contours as rentals – and those cars could not feel more different than my SVT. Horrible auto transmission against straining Zetec, blank plastic staring at you, crappy tires (more to do with rental agencies than Ford).

        The only car I would consider as a replacement at this moment is an RX-8, probably with the R3 package. That in itself probably explains my interest in handling over speed, function over form, and unusual over mainstream.

        And yes, I think most of us are on this site due to our own individual proclivities to some sort of automotive weirdness. :)

  • avatar
    sastexan

    And my three year old daughter would LOVE the Hello Kitty tailpipe.

  • avatar
    Jacob

    I’ll give this car credit for being one of extremely few Mercury cars that were not an outright and shameless rebadge of the corresponding Ford car.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    There are lots of folks advertising in Hemmings Motor News who make wiring harnesses for all kinds of old cars. If they thought there was a market for these, I’m sure one or more of them would move on it.

  • avatar
    BigDuke6

    “Frankly, I could care less how they drive. I’ve spent most of my time behind the wheel of decade-old Hondas that drive nearly as well without all the problems.”

    By the way…..the saying is “I COULDN’T care less”. Unless of course you DO care somewhat……..
    If you care about something, even just a little bit, then you could care less than you do care. If you are trying to be clever and cute about expressing your utter lack of concern regarding whatever matter or idea is being discussed, then you couldn’t care less. If you have been confused by nonsensical justifications for saying “I could care less” when “couldn’t” is meant, reread the sentences preceding this one as many times as necessary.

  • avatar
    FromaBuick6

    By the way…..the saying is “I COULDN’T care less”. Unless of course you DO care somewhat……..
    If you care about something, even just a little bit, then you could care less than you do care. If you are trying to be clever and cute about expressing your utter lack of concern regarding whatever matter or idea is being discussed, then you couldn’t care less. If you have been confused by nonsensical justifications for saying “I could care less” when “couldn’t” is meant, reread the sentences preceding this one as many times as necessary.

    Sorry. I’m not a professional writer, so I didn’t notice the colloquialism 99% of American English speakers would have overlooked. Now please excuse me while I obtain an English degree before making any further blog comments on the internet.

    Get a life.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      So it’s OK to bash other people’s opinions, but not OK to suggest a correction to someone’s English?

      If you care enough to post, choose a phrase that makes sense and effectively conveys your message. Unless you really couldn’t care less, of course!

      • 0 avatar
        BigDuke6

        +1
        thanks th009

      • 0 avatar
        rockit

        “So it’s OK to bash other people’s opinions, but not OK to suggest a correction to someone’s English?

        If you care enough to post, choose a phrase that makes sense and effectively conveys your message. Unless you really couldn’t care less, of course!”

        HAHA someone got owned

      • 0 avatar
        FromaBuick6

        This isn’t The Truth About English.

        I said that I don’t understand why anyone would go to such expensive lengths to keep these cars going, because I’ve heard nothing but trouble about them. Instead of a real rebuttal, I get a grammar critique. That’s irrelevant and childish; He might as well have called me a doody head.

  • avatar
    BigDuke6

    “I said that I don’t understand why anyone would go to such expensive lengths to keep these cars going, because I’ve heard nothing but trouble about them.”

    And ALL I said was “have YOU ever driven one?” Then maybe you would understand why Contour SVT owners do what they can to keep them running, regardless of what “you’ve heard about them”. And I wouldn’t call you a doody head…..I don’t even know what a doody head is. By the way, I dispense grammar corrections as a public service….free of charge. And when someone corrects ME, I accept it as a lesson learned.


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