1967-1973 Mercury Cougar
It was Motor Trend’s Car of the Year in 1967, and Car Life called it a “Mustang with class.” Yet the Mercury Cougar has been mostly overlooked by collectors, and this relative of Ford’s iconic pony car hasn’t yet ascended to the heights of valuation that many other muscle cars have. This is good news for the budget-minded collector, as it’s still possible to acquire a pretty nice Cougar for what would be a pittance in Hemi country.
The Cougar debuted for 1967 as a two-door hardtop, with an aerodynamic roofline and hide-away headlights. It was based on the Mustang, but with a stretched wheelbase and some suspension modifications for a more comfortable ride. Ford’s idea was to pursue the sports-luxury market, creating a serious rival for GM’s myriad upmarket muscle cars like the Buick Skylark GS and Oldsmobile 442.
To this end Cougars could be had with better appointments than their Ford-badged cousins, with simulated leather bucket seats, a wood-rimmed steering wheel, and a simulated walnut dashboard all offered. Yet the Cougar still had the traditional pony car look, with a long hood and short rear deck. Like with the Mustang, it was possible to find a trim level and drivetrain combination to suit any budget.
The base model came equipped with the venerable Ford 289, making 200 hp with a two-barrel carburetor. A three-speed manual was standard, though a four-speed manual and a three-speed automatic were available. An optional four-barrel setup bumped output to 225 hp, and the GT option got you a 390-ci V8 with a heavy-duty suspension. Halfway through the model year the XR-7 package was introduced, with a deluxe gauge set and a whole host of other interior upgrades.
For 1968, a rare XR-7 option package was available, the XR-7G. Named in honor of famous SCCA Trans-Am Series driver Dan Gurney, an XR-7G could be fitted with one of six different powerplants, and carried a fiberglass hood scoop, styled steel wheels with radial tires, fog lamps, racing-style hood pins and special emblems. A sunroof, the first ever offered by a car manufacturer, was optional. Hertz bought 188 of the 619 XR-7Gs produced, making this iteration among the rarest and most valuable Cougars. Standard power units in 1968 were 302-ci V8s making 210 hp, and the 390 output climbed to 325 hp. Power junkies could be sated by the GT-E option, pairing a 427-ci V8 making 390 hp with a Merc-O-Matic three-speed automatic transmission, along with suspension upgrades and power disc brakes. The 427 was replaced mid-year by Ford’s 428 Cobra Jet Ram Air; while rated for insurance purposes at just 340 hp, many have estimated its true output equivalent to the 390 hp of the 427.
The 428 CJ formed the basis for the fiercest production Cougar, 1969’s Eliminator. The ongoing Detroit horsepower wars were nudging the Cougar further from the luxury realm, and this package included a blacked-out grille, side stripes, a spoiler, and a number of garish color options. Underhood, the Eliminator used Ford’s 290-hp 351 Windsor as its standard powerplant, with the 428 optional. The CJ could propel the big Cougar down the quarter-mile in under 15 seconds, despite 1969’s restyling that saw the car’s proportions grow.
A convertible model was also introduced for 1969, an attempt to broaden the appeal of a no-longer fresh car whose sales were waning. Three more model years saw the Cougar continue to grow in size as its sales shrank. Engine options in 1970 included a list of classic Ford mills: the 351 Cleveland, the Boss 302, and the 428 CJ.
Mercury discontinued the Eliminator model for 1971, though a 429-ci CJ rated at 370 hp was offered. 1972 and 1973 saw engine “choices” shrink to just one, the 351. Just as in the rest of the muscle car market, these last Cougars were neutered by pollution regulations, so the big cat trod a new path more defined by luxury than power.
A collector in the hunt for a Cougar should understand that with so many different equipment packages and options and most parts readily available, there are a lot of cars out there that have been modified with equipment that wasn’t fitted when they left the factory. There is much less of a stigma associated with “clones” among Cougar enthusiasts than elsewhere in the muscle car realm, but you should still know what you’re buying.
If you’re shopping for a Dan Gurney XR-7G or a real GT-E, be sure there’s a paper trail associated with the car before you pay a premium. These models are the truly rare Cougars, with 619 XR-7Gs and 394 GT-Es produced. Know that a Cougar “Dan Gurney Special” is not the same thing as a real XR-7G, just a chrome dress-up package offered in 1967 and 1968. Like most muscle cars, engines determine a large part of a Cougar’s desirability. For 1969 and 1970 Cougars with the Cobra Jet engine, the fifth digit of the VIN should be either an R or Q.
With a large national club and an enthusiastic membership, more advice is readily at hand. If you are uncertain about a car’s authenticity, there are plenty of resources available—try starting at Marti Auto Works (martiauto.com), which offers production reports for all FoMoCo vehicles produced from 1967 to 1973.
Base Cougars are not scarce, so there is no reason to buy a car with any rust whatsoever. Cars requiring mechanical work are less of a problem, as standard Ford parts availability is excellent. Due to this support, and their inherent mechanical simplicity, a Cougar can make a great daily driver.
The market for Cougars is still growing. While they may never reach the peaks we’ve seen for other muscle cars, prices are following the general trend. For the XR-7G, GT-E and Eliminator, expect to pay in the $30,000-and-up range, depending on options and condition. But a standard Cougar, even an XR-7 with decent options, can still be found for $10,000 to $15,000. Convertibles carry the typical premium, but know that many of the more desirable options were not available on the droptop.
Regardless of the model, Cougars sell for chicken feed compared to the premium people are paying for the more popular pony cars. This likely won’t last for long, as we’re already seeing people step up and pay real money for “off-brand” muscle cars from the likes of AMC, Buick and Oldsmobile. Will Mercury be next?