Monday, November 13, 2023

Automotif CDXXXVII...

The Mercury Cougar, over its 35-year run, was the Car of a Thousand Faces.

It started life in 1967 as a more highly-optioned, Euro-feeling Mercury alternative to the original pony car, Ford's Mustang. The Cougar and Mustang shared a platform and bloated right alongside each other until the 1974 model year, by which time the duo had reached almost Torino-esque proportions.

At that point the Mustang got shrunk back to something like its original small sporty coupe size while the Cougar leaned right in to the bloat, becoming a midsize "personal luxury coupe" that shared a chassis with the midsize Ford Torino and Mercury Montego. Now competing with the Olds Cutlass Supreme and Chevy Monte Carlo, the big cat from Mercury added plushness and, well, flab.

For the '77 model year the Cougar was moved to the same platform as the LTD II and Thunderbird. Now there were sedan and wagon versions offered, while the Cougar XR7 coupe was basically a Mercury-badged T-bird.

Downsized in 1980 to use the then-new Fox platform, the fifth generation of Cougar retained the sedan and station wagon versions (based on the Ford Granada) while the two-door XR7 remained a rebadged Thunderbird.

The '83 Cougar finally shed the brand-diluting sedans. It was now only offered as a coupe on the Fox platform, with all-new rounded lines, albeit with a roof-ectomy in order to give it a jarringly vertical "formal" rear window. This was to distinguish it from the cheaper, sportier Thunderbird and spendier, sportier Continental Mark VII, with whom it otherwise shared underpinnings.

The Cougar in the picture is from the penultimate iteration of the nameplate. Based on the new independent rear suspension MN12 platform, which it again shared with the T-bird and Lincoln Mark VIII, the Laser Red 1996 coupe in the photo would have either had the base 145bhp 3.8L pushrod Essex V6 or the 205bhp 4.6L SOHC Modular V8.

After the 1997 model year, the Cougar badge was moved to a little FWD hatchback coupe based on the European Ford Mondeo. It was something of a consolation prize for Mercury, as it was originally going to be the next Ford Probe, but Ford was axing all the coupes from its lineup other than the Mustang and Escort ones.

The Cougar was discontinued after the 2002 model year, followed nine years later by the rest of the Mercury division of FoMoCo.