Junkyard Find: 1997 Mercury Cougar XR7 30th Anniversary Edition

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

Ford’s Mercury Division built rear-wheel-drive Cougars from the 1967 through 1997 model years, followed by a 1999-2002 run of front-wheel-drive Cougars based on the Mondeo chassis. Today’s Junkyard Find is thus historically significant on three counts: it’s the last model year for the rear-wheel-drive Cougar, it’s a special edition commemorating the 30th anniversary of the debut of The Man’s Car, and it’s the last year for the XR7 luxury package. Bitter tears, indeed!

You might say that ditching rear-wheel-drive and then moving to a British platform after skipping a model year violated sacred Cougar tradition, but the one constant with the Cougar name was that Ford never worried about Cougar tradition. The car started out as a stretched and gingerbread-laden Mustang with cool-looking sequential taillights (1967-1973), then became a rococo-ized Torino (1974-1976), then a blinged-up LTD II with sedan and wagon versions added (1977-1979), followed by a semi-subdued Fox Platform version that— mercifully— returned to coupe-only form after a few years (1980-1988), then switched to the sophisticated MN12 platform of the Thunderbird/ Mark VIII for 1989 through 1997. In fact, the only Cougar that didn’t have a near-clone sold by Ford and/or Lincoln during all that time was the 1999-2002 generation, a sport compact that didn’t look anything like its Mondeo/ Countour platform-mates.

Ford created many special-edition cars to celebrate production milestones around this time, mostly for the Mustang (including the not-so-sought-after 35th Anniversary Edition). It appears that the Cougar had editions celebrating its 20th, 30th, and 35th anniversaries. Sadly, the Cougar was axed one year prior to the Ford Motor Company’s 100th birthday, so it never had a chance to be sold in “any color you like” black with Centennial Edition badges.

The 30th Anniversary Cougar was available only on the XR7— actually, all 1997 Cougars were XR7s— and it featured Toreador Red paint, leather/cloth seats with commemorative embroidery, and special aluminum wheels.

The 30th Anniversary Package added just $495 to the cost of a $17,830 car (that’s about $880 on a $31,795 car when reckoned in 2022 frogskins), which would have been worth it for the snazzy wheels alone. Until now, I thought today’s Junkyard Find was my first 30th Anniversary Cougar, but I now realize that the Florida Man Faux-Vertible XR7 in Toreador Red we admired nearly 10 years ago was such a car with the embroidery sliced out by a junkyard shopper.

The only engine available in the 1994-1997 Cougar was Ford’s modern and (generally) very reliable 4.6-liter SOHC Modular V8. This engine was rated at 205 horsepower, 45 fewer than the 4.6 in the same-year Crown Victoria Police Interceptor I once owned.

The only years for a manual transmission in the MN12 Cougar were 1989 and 1990, though the manual returned for the Mondeo Cougars.

You’d have to be a Sajeev Mehta-grade Dearborn zealot to want to restore a 30th Anniversary XR7, and this car is in a Northern California yard thousands of miles from Houston. The Mustang-based Cougars still go for solid prices, and the Fox fanatics might rescue a 1980-1988 cat, but the MN12 cars don’t have tremendous value nowadays.

Still, the MN12s were the best-handling and probably the quietest members of the Cougar family, so we should give them respect.

All this handling… and the quality of a Mercury.

At 16, you got your mom’s station wagon with an 8-track player. At 22, you got an old rustmobile. Isn’t it time you got a real car?

Kate Jackson uses an interesting pronunciation of “Mercury” in this ad.

For links to more than 2,200 additional Junkyard Finds, please visit The Junkyard Home of the Murilee Martin Lifestyle Brand™.

[Images via the author.]

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • Jnoble Jnoble on Mar 30, 2022

    If I remember right, the last rendition of the Cougar before it went away was originally intended to be the third gen Probe

  • TDIGuy TDIGuy on Mar 31, 2022

    Yes, this was the year I almost bought one. Had a really good price advertised in the paper. Black and white ad, of course and I'll explain why that is relevant... Thanks to the links in the article to the original brochure, I can now describe *exactly* what was wrong with the car. It was *arctic green* with a *willow green* interior. The sales guy told me the dealership was forced to take delivery of a range of colours, hence why they got this. I was more thinking somebody ordered this thing and then saw what it looked like and backed out of the deal.

  • Tassos Jong-iL The Peninsula of One Korea.
  • Eric No, I just share my opinions. I have no use nor time for rhetoric from any side.
  • Redapple2 Jeez. This is simple. I 75 and 696 area. 1 nobody -NOBODY wants to work in downtown Detritus. 2 close to the tech ctr. Design and Engineering HQ. 20 miles closer to Milford.3 lower taxes for the employees. Lower taxes for Evil GM Vampire.4 2 major expressways give users more options to suburbs. Faster transport.Jeez.
  • Clark The Ring (Nürburgring) is the only race track I've driven on. That was 1985 or 1986 with my '73 Fiat Spider (and my not-so-happy girlfriend). So I made the Karussell (today: Caracciola Karussell, which I believe the author meant; there is another one: Kleines Karussell).
  • AZFelix This article takes me back to racing electric slot cars with friends on tracks laid out in the basement. Periodically your car would stop due to lost connections or from flying off the track and you would have to dash over to it and set it right. In the mean time your competitor would race ahead until faced with a similar problem. It seemed like you were struggling harder to keep from losing than trying to win. Fun times.“History never repeats itself, but it does often rhyme.” Mark Twain