When the MN-12 Cougars and Thunderbirds were unveiled in 1988, they were considered a breath of fresh European air that was going to inject new life into the declining personal luxury coupe segment. Alas, it was not to be, as these cars were plagued with problems stemming from cooling issues, to rust issues, to general quality issues, to the 3.8L Essex V6 having a bigger appetite for head gaskets than most Subarus. As attractive and great to drive as they were, they were as plagued with issues like cheap hotel beds are with bedbugs.
When new, these cars were very advanced. With technologies ranging from supercharging, to advanced electronic gizmos, to OHC engines, the MN-12 coupes must have seemed positively space age to its Greatest Generation target demographic. They definitely were impressive cars, in both a technical sense, and in a sense if a status item that shows “I’ve made it this (very) far in life, and will buy an impressive car to prove it.”
Like many of its competitors, the MN-12’s were left to rot, shrivel up, and die on the vine after 1995. Similarly, any plans for a successor probably went up in smoke like the Marlboros by the shifter would eventually do. Sometimes, people will say “The end is near! The end is near for ______!” In the case of the personal luxury coupe, they were right.
By 1997, the MN-12 coupes were the last of the Mohicans. With all other RWD competitors dead almost a decade before, all that was left were FWD “imposters” to carry the personal luxury car torch with the ThunderCougar. A decade after the MN-12s passed on, the 2007 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, the last car to carry the personal luxury car torch was killed by the corporate heads at GM. As of now, the American personal luxury coupe is likely never to be seen again.
The personal luxury car was a special car, for a special time, and a special people, in a special country. It was the car that represented the peak of American Exceptionalism, and the American Dream. A time when one could walk into a factory with little more than an able body, and a will to work, and live a comfortable, middle class lifestyle in return.
It was a car that was luxurious and refined, stylish and oozed gravitas, without being ostentatious, flashy, or high-priced. It was available with a bevy of options for those looking for either a sporty, but respectable coupe, and for those looking for a flat-out boulevard cruiser. It was the embodiment of 1945-80 middle America and its ideals. It was born during a time of prosperity, and killed during a time of crisis and recession. It was a sign of the times, and it is to be looked at as such. Goodbye personal luxury coupe, we hardly knew ye.