QOTD: Terrible Nineties Sports Car Design From America?

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

Last week, we wrapped up a trio of posts about the best sporty car designs of the Nineties from around the world. Today we venture into the darker depths of the same subject. First up are the bad designs American manufacturers proffered during the decade.

The familiar rules of the game are the same as in prior editions:

  1. All selections must be model years 1990 to 1999.
  2. Picks must be from an American manufacturer, even if sourced from an import.
  3. Any body style is eligible as long as it’s sporty*.

*Some commenters need to take note of rule 3, max, and relax all cool.

My choice for bad Nineties design started off serviceably enough at introduction, but then through corporate fiddling and adjustment ended up in a sad state.

It’s the seventh-generation Mercury Cougar, which debuted on the MN12 platform for the 1989 model year. Rear-drive, V6 or V8 power, and available with a manual in 1989 and 1990. Sounds like a decent starting point, apart from a grille that looked like a placemat. As expected, Cougar shared its DNA with the Ford Thunderbird (and was step sibling to Lincoln’s Mark VIII), though the Cougar was more serious looking and a bit more upscale than the Thunderbird. The upright design remained unchanged for the first two model years. A refresh came in 1991.

Arguably the best looking and most Taurus-like version of the model’s run, another refresh was carried out for the 1994 model year that brought it closer to Sable.

But Ford wasn’t finished, and in 1996 performed a more substantial rework on both Thunderbird and Cougar. Now Cougar shared its visage with the Thunderbird, but carried its own bumper and grille (which looked a mess). Previously absent, trim sprouted along the sides of the coupe in the form of chunky cladding.

Metamorphosis from moth to caterpillar complete, Ford cancelled the Cougar after 1997. The name remained dormant for two years until a resurrection on the Mondeo platform Ford Cougar.

What are the best examples of bad American sports car design from the Nineties?

[Images: GM, sellers, Mercury]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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2 of 96 comments
  • Wodehouse Wodehouse on Oct 09, 2019

    The New Edge Cougar from '99 and that Mercury Capri convertible thing that looked like it should have debuted on stage with the Ford Probe series of concept cars from 1979 onwards. Yuck!

  • Eng_alvarado90 Eng_alvarado90 on Oct 16, 2019

    1990-1991 Pontiac Grand Am GT. The profile actually looks quite similar to the cougar with an almost vertical rear windshield, however the trunk always looked disproportionate to the rest of the car and the front grille was just ugly. Its Beretta platform mate was much better

  • 2ACL Not as bad as some have quipped, but half the appeal of a sport compact is the car on which it's based. The Ion was one of the worst in segment, blunting the outreach of GMPD's work. More marginalization hit in the form of competitors evolving into some of their most compelling interations. $8.5k? KBB tells Joe Average to aim for half that. Within the context of those specifically interested in this model, the magic words for asking more than market seem to be 'Competition Package.' If the best the seller can do in a short ad is vaguely reference aftermarket audio, they don't deserve a premium.
  • The Oracle I can’t wait to see the UAW attempt to organize the Chinese plants when they come.
  • Redapple2 They strove to excel and improve in this era ( on the cheap? ). They gave us Saturnasty and Northstarubish and the F150 grew in dependability and features over the Silveradoffal. -gm- a legacy of utter garbage.
  • Tane94 Yes and yes to both questions. GM and Fird have long used built-in-China components in their vehicles -- the GM 3.4L engines used in past SUVs being just one example. Why is the US so scared of China's manufacturing prowess? Why is the US so scared of China's ascendency to world super-power? Look at China's high speed rail network, including mag-lev trains, and then US trains. I would buy a China-built vehicle with no trepidation.
  • Theflyersfan Adding to what Posky said (and for once, I kinda agree with what he wrote), and as an auto enthusiast it kills me to think this, but why should auto makers care about enthusiasts any longer? Hear me out... It can be argued that the first real enthusiasts were those coming home from WW2, having served in Europe, and fell in love with their cars. And Detroit responded. That carried over to the Boomers and Gen X. The WW2 generation for all sakes and purposes is no longer with us. The Boomers are decreasing in number. The first years of Gen X are nearing retirement. After us (Gen X), that's when we see the love of cars tail off. That was the generation that seemed to wait to get a license, grew up with smart phones and social media, got saddled with crippling home and student debt, and just didn't have the same love that we have. They for the most part are voting on do-all CUVs. Yes, automakers throw us a bone with special models, but they tend to be very expensive, saddled with markups, high insurance rates, and sometimes rare. Looking at you Audi and Lexus. Friends of mine who currently have or have just raised teens said their kids just don't care about cars. Their world is not out in the open and enjoying the moment with the roar of the engine. It's in the world they created for themselves at their fingertips. If they want bland and an appliance, that's what will be built.