By on March 28, 2022

1997 Mercury Cougar in California junkyard, LH front view - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsFord’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!

1997 Mercury Cougar in California junkyard, decklid emblem - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsYou 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.

1997 Mercury Cougar in California junkyard, 30th Anniversary Embroidering - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsFord 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.

1997 Mercury Cougar in California junkyard, Lorain Assembly sticker - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe 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.

1997 Mercury Cougar in California junkyard, Interior - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe 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.

1997 Mercury Cougar in California junkyard, engine - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe 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.

1997 Mercury Cougar in California junkyard, LH rear view - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsYou’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.

1997 Mercury Cougar in California junkyard, Interior - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsStill, 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.]

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27 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1997 Mercury Cougar XR7 30th Anniversary Edition...”


  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Kate Jackson. Farrah Fawcett (Majors) starred in some earlier Cougar commercials that males of my generation talked about for years. particularly the 1974 white dress/bathing suit with a Mark IV parked beside the Cougar at the start of the commercial.

    Have always admired the first generation Cougar. But then I also like the ‘big’ Mustang.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Yeah, the first gens were very sharp looking. Friend of mine has a neighbor with one in his driveway, looks like it hasn’t moved in a decade or two. I wish someone would rescue it.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        A buddy had a used Cougar of the late 60’s vintage. He ended up selling it because at the time it needed some work and didn’t have much of an aftermarket support like Mustangs. Even though he was an electrician apprentice at the time, he struggled to get the sequential taillights to work. The folding headlights didn’t work either. That was typical. In the early 80’s we didn’t think of 60’s era cars as being collectible unless they had more rare performance engines or trim levels. They were just cheap transportation. My larger ’68 Galaxie 500 with the HiPo 390 easily beat his 302 2 barrel car.

        • 0 avatar
          jeoff

          I had a 67 in the mid eighties—my first car. The pop-up headlights worked pretty well, but not the sequentials. The sequential signals worked sort of like a music box—there was an electric motor with gears that flipped switches for each part of signal—I just turned the crank to put all the switches into the on mode—and then used an off the shelf indicator clicker for the time to make it blink. The car was just okay—I didn’t know much about cars then—had a bit of bondo in it—and apparently someone switched out the 289 for a 302. The power steering was super-floaty. It was pretty—painted it candy apple red from what I remember to be metallic pea green—I think. Used a coat hanger to hold the battery in—which caught fire—(I returned the battery to kmart —not my finest moment).

    • 0 avatar
      SoCalMikester

      almost enough to make ya wanna buy a betamax for the crisp still shots

  • avatar
    CaddyDaddy

    Appears that someone has snagged the independent rear suspension. For the life of me I could never figure out why Ford did not make the T-5 manual an option in this car. 4.6L, IRS and a 5 speed in a smart styled coupe. I know some executive said, ….But it will steal Mustang Sales….

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Had one back in the 90’s. It was more “Downsized Crown Vic” than “Larger Mustang” in how it drove. There was a 5 speed in the earlier supercharged models available, but not the T5. These were heavy and the T5 was already marginal in the Mustang.

      Always felt like the earlier MN12 cars were better built. They spent significant money on the platform just in time for big RWD Coupes to fall out of favor. They spent most of the run figuring out how to make them cheaper and cheaper.

      Still, if you want to build a street car, these are cheap with V8 (windsor or modular) power, 8.8 inch rear, and if you need a manual, they were at least available so even if it isn’t terrinbly easy to find . IIRC, the 3.8 (which got the manual in the Super Coupe and XR7 Supercharged) shared the bellhousing pattern with the windsor v8. I don’t know anything about the mod motor.

  • avatar
    MitchConner

    Nearly bought a lightly used supercharged white over charcoal 1990 XR7 with a stick — but read some comments about their reliability and got something else. Still think about walking away from that. It was a pretty cool car.

    Ford sold a ton of this generation Cougars and Thunderbirds in Northern California throughout the middle 90s. They were everywhere in a market that loved to buy Asian imports on the low end and European stuff on the high. They weren’t bad looking and offered very, very good value for money. Lots of them had V8s.

    When I was buying a 1994 Mustang GT my Dad tagged along and kept bringing up V8 Birds. Felt the larger size at the same money was a better car. Went with the Mustang because it had a stick and a Canary Yellow and black leather color scheme that really worked well. Loved the 17 alloys as well. Got an amazing deal and the sales manager was great to work with. One of my best buying experiences ever.

    Ford fell into a rut around that time where their cars looked good at launch — but progressively got worse with every design refresh. The Cougars and Birds didn’t escape that. The 1993s were good looking cars inside and out — but the 94 interior and exterior updates, especially the Bird’s tear drop grilles in the front bumper just didn’t work. Slowly but surely sales trailed off after each update.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    ThunderCougarFalconBird.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Wasn’t the last Cougar built on the Probe platform? Which I thought was Mazda-sourced…

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      No. It was on the Contour/Mondeo platform. It took the place of the Probe in the lineup and in top trim was closer to a 2 door Contour SVT than most enthusiasts care to admit.

  • avatar
    aja8888

    I had a gold 1997 anniversary one with all the badging and tan interior. I bought it at auction with 30 K miles on it for $5500 about 10 years ago. I loved that car, but my daughter wrecked it when she was doing demolition derby caused by her drug habit. She’s all better now. I miss that car.

  • avatar
    NECarGuy

    The 4.6L wasn’t the only engine available in the 1994-1997 Cougars. The 3.8L was also available.

  • avatar
    RHD

    Built with Mercurial quality!

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I owned a 1995 Thunderbird LX in black with the red velour interior for 12 years until selling it in 2019 with 140k.
    It had the 4.6 2V Modular and most options including the moonroof except the rear discs and ABS. I previously owned an 87 Thunderbird Fox body with the 3.8 that gave up its head gasket at 187k.

    It served me well with normal maintenance and few issues such as replacing the suspension bushings, links and control arms. The plastic intake was replaced with an aluminum one as per the TSB by the previous owner.
    The wrap around dash is very ergonomic and the gauge cluster has what you need. Unfortunately the 96-97 models were deconented (Thanks Jacque!) and furnished with a sparse gauge cluster. They also added the integrated cup holders in the console just aft of the shifter. A number of 94-95 owners search these out to replace their makeshift cup holders that are hinged inside the console armrest door. After all it was the era of “we need to add cup holders, pronto!”
    The interior plastics can get creaky but if you go the TBSC forum they recommend taking apart the trim and putting them back together with 3M double sided tape as a buffer. I did it on the the console on mine and it worked fine.

    These are somewhat undervalued cars which is sad because the MN-12 platform is quite advanced with its independent rear suspension, tad more interior room and spacious trunk giving it a “Gentleman’s Mustang” feel but I happen to think the future value of these will appreciate for a number of reasons from nostalgia for personal luxury coupes to decent Mustangs being out of reach. From what I was seen recently the SC is appreciating in value. If you can find a good one especially a 5 speed without its somewhat persistent head gasket issues it’s a worthy buy.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    I had a 95 V8 in pearl white with grey leather, the basketweave wheels and classy deck lid luggage rack. It was a great at eating up highway miles with one or two people, in the style befitting a personal luxury coupe. Now having a Fox Mustang, the independent rear on these MN12 cars was had to have done wonders for the ride/handling compared to the Fox based Cougars. It was a good car, but the writing was on the wall for that class long before 97.. Still one of my favorite cars of the 20+ I’ve had.

    I believe they were all XR7’s from 95 on, no matter 3.8 or 4.6 powered?

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Speaking of the Mondeo platform:

    https://teknikensvarld.expressen.se/nyheter/konsument/the-new-ford-mondeo-is-dangerously-overweight-169293/

  • avatar
    ajla

    When I was in high school someone with a 4.6L MN12 Thunderbird used to occasionally race me (I had a Grand Am GT). Unless my shifting was off I’d normally win but I had better tires, was better with maintenance and he was fat.

    He wrecked the T-Bird winter his senior year and ended up with a catfish Sable after that. Of all the people with (relatively) powerful cars at my school I think I was the only one that didn’t total their vehicle but it wasn’t through lack of trying.

    /Cool story, bro.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    From the link:
    The Limited Edition 35th Anniversary 1999 Mustang GT was released with features available on the 2001 GT. They only came in red, black, silver, or white.

    Aaaah, that explains it. Every vehicle made today is actually a 35th anniversary special edition. Of course!

  • avatar
    Crosley

    I had a Thunderbird SC that was this platform’s clone. For a while, the XR7 Cougar had the same 3.8 supercharged engine that really was torque monster in that era. It looks like it eventually got the 4.6 V8 turd.

    The lines on the Thunderbird were just so much better. The Cougar just never looked right, the transition from the roof to the rear just looked like it had been grafted on from another vehicle. It also seemed like they were all this red color.

    You never saw anyone except the really elderly driving them when they were new. Not just old, like a few months from being in a nursing home.

  • avatar

    I am reading this article in horror, wondering why Murilee continues to torture me with all these bitter tears! This Cougar is too clean to scrap…TEARS OF BITTERNESS!!!!11!!

  • avatar
    jnoble

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

  • avatar
    TDIGuy

    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.

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