TTAC Throwback: 1979 Mercury Cougar XR-7
As electric cars are finding favor again, I keep hoping that their virtue of instantaneous, silent power will inspire automakers to revive the personal luxury coupe. Electric propulsion would be ideal for a car whose mission is to provide comfortable, stylish accommodation for two passengers plus the occasional occupants of a not-too-small rear compartment.
The long hood, an essential styling hallmark of the genre, could become a commodious “frunk” able to hold all the golf bags the marketing department might desire. Glove-soft upholstery might enrobe seats devoid of confining, uncomfortable lateral support bolstering. Every power assist and convenience would be in place to gladden the sybarite’s heart. For instance, power window switches could operate just by sight, so one’s fingers aren’t strained when ordering at the Starbucks drive-through window. Personal luxury coupes don’t need to be fast, enhancing driving range. The possibilities for Broughamized electric coupes are endless!
Yet, despite my frequent, vigorous attempts to show them the way, carmakers seem blind to the golden opportunity to revive the personal luxury coupe. Elon Musk has even stopped returning my texts. Philistine.
Fortunately, cars like the 1979 Mercury Cougar were manufactured in sufficient quantities that there are survivors to be had by the elite personal-luxury cognoscenti.
Of course, the Mercury Cougar started as a slightly elongated, upmarket sibling of the Mustang in 1966 for the 1967 model year. It would live on through eight generations and morph from a pony car to a personal luxury car and finally to a sporty front-drive coupe before melting forever into history in 2002. A few sedans and wagons wore the Cougar badge, but they were aberrations from the form.
The fourth-generation Cougar hit showrooms for the 1977 model year. It was smaller than its predecessor and available as a sedan or wagon. That’s because the Cougar became Mercury’s entire intermediate line in 1977. The chassis underpinned the Ford Torino and Thunderbird.
The engineering was pure, standard-issue Detroit: A separate ladder chassis, a V8 engine up front, three-speed automatic transmission in the middle, and a live axle in the back. Why mess with a winning system?
The Cougar boasted of being “ride engineered by Lincoln-Mercury.” What this means in practice are marshmallow-like coil springs at every corner and silken ride quality. The suspension system works in tandem with anesthetized power steering to create a strong disinclination to conquer mountain switchbacks. This freedom was worth the compromise.
Three V8 engines were offered (not always concurrently or in all markets) in the fourth-generation Cougar. A smooth 140-horsepower, 5.0-liter mill was standard, or buyers could dial up more power with 5.8- and 6.6-liter engines. Whichever engine was selected, the car did not offer scintillating acceleration.
Modest engine output is no cause for alarm (or disgust). A friend of mine has a beautiful 1979 Cougar XR-7 with the standard 302; it handily keeps up with suburban Maryland traffic. Power-assisted disc/drum brakes haul it down from 55 mph just fine, too.
The Cougar’s real personality comes through in its styling, which apes that of its big brother, the Continental MKV. XR-7s even had a continental hump on their decklids. Quad square headlamps flank a Lincoln-esque formal grille while front fenders protrude beyond the grille and house knife-edged turn-signal-cum-parking lamp lenses; again, more Lincoln. The Cougar’s mascot has to be one of the best of the 1970s; a chrome halo encircles the profile of a cougar; “At the sign of the cat!” purred the ads. Pick one of the “Glamour” metallic paints for extra disco points.
Opera windows were de rigueur for upwardly-mobile American cars back then; base-model Cougar buyers could have them as an optional extra. Brougham or XR-7 trim brought the upmarket opera window standard, embellished with jauntily-angled louvers on the XR-7. Cougar Coupes give the impression of being a pillarless hardtop, but the rear quarterlight is fixed.
While the federal impact bumpers don’t add any elegance to the Cougar’s long-hood, short-deck proportions, they were a fact of life at that time. Today features like that bear witness to the emphasis on safety, a hallmark of 1970s automotive design.
Burled walnut appliques and colorful vinyl or cloth upholstery choices made for an inviting passenger compartment. Bench or bucket seats were available too. Though it might seem incongruous, you could order a “Sports Instrumentation Group.”
There was also a raft of comfort and convenience options: Power seats, CB radio, tilt steering wheel, and several sound systems, including Quadrasonic! Buyers could also specify a trick lighted entry system; lift the door handle and a translucent ring around the door lock illuminates. Neat!
I have not attempted to provide a laundry list of all available Mercury Cougar options. Instead, I wanted to illustrate some of the ways a buyer would’ve added personality to their personal luxury coupe.
Why This Car
Why wouldn’t you want this car? It’s a low-mileage survivor in a lovely color combination – Light Medium Blue with coordinating dark blue upholstery. Sure, it has the base engine, but the 302, err, 5.0-liter is a sweet running lump and should deliver tolerable fuel economy for the owner who wishes to tour. It’s also fitted with the most attractive (IMHO) of the available wheel options.
The seller didn’t spend much time writing a lengthy description, but the photos seem to bear up their claim that the car has only covered 29,000 miles. They did note cold A/C, good running condition, and power windows. A power seat control is visible in the photos; perhaps they never needed to adjust the seat?
The only fly in the ointment here is that the seller’s ask is high, and the optional equipment on the car is light. Keep an eye on it and swoop in with an offer the seller can’t refuse when it doesn't bring the asking price – unless they “know what they have.”
Things To Watch Out For When Buying a 1979 Mercury Cougar XR-7
I hate to sound like my needle is stuck in the groove, but the two watchwords here are rust and trim. Bodywork is costly to repair, and trim parts are time-consuming to source. Late ‘70s Cougars don’t command enough coin to justify a big expenditure on body restoration. Interior and exterior trim pieces are not easy to come by either. If you own a Mustang or Corvette, catalogs supply all your wants and needs; not so with a ‘79 Cougar.
These cars are mechanically dependable, and service and repair parts present minimal challenges. The Cougar’s engines can be coaxed to provide a more spirited performance should you have the desire.
To Sum It Up
As I mentioned in the introduction, the personal luxury car does not seem destined to make a comeback any time soon, and a 1979 Mercury Cougar is a fantastic example of the breed. Besides, you’d be a damn fool not to buy a car that matches the leisure suit your dad wore at his wedding.
Here's one more link to the sale.
TTAC Throwback is a new series devoted to cars we think deserve to be owned by someone who really loves them. Just imagine Sarah McLachlan crooning In the Arms of an Angel as the camera pans past a deserving car up for adoption, hoping desperately that it doesn't get recycled into a Nissan Versa (I’ve, I’ve got something in my eye). Now go ahead, put in your bid; there now, don’t you feel better? You’re doing the right thing!
[Images courtesy of the seller]
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