Could there possibly be a more appropriately-named car for a mattress to lie in front of, as if implying an invitation for well… you know? Oh, the very many innuendos that come to mind. All jokes aside, the Cougar was a significant part of Mercury’s history, and largely what gave the brand some uniqueness over the years. The sixth generation in particular, is credited at reviving the ailing nameplate, and was one of the first cars to launch the “aero revolution” that would soon take the industry by storm.
Over the course of its thirty-four years of production, the Mercury Cougar came in many shapes and forms. Through eight generations, it assumed many identities, including pony car, convertible, personal luxury coupe, sport compact liftback, and even sedan and station wagon. Yet in its purest form, the Mercury Cougar was always a two-door coupe, and this remained a constant throughout its entire run.
Starting out as premium pony car, basically the larger and more luxurious cousin to the Mustang, by the mid-1970s the Cougar had grown in size and its image had shifted from muscle car to that of personal luxury car. Like so many cars of the era, many Cougars were trimmed with features such as vinyl roofs, luggage racks, opera lights, wire wheels, living-room inspired seating, and acres of chrome and fake wood.
Also like most cars of the late-1970s, the Cougar would not grow any larger, for its fourth generation. The 1977-1979 Cougars proved to be immensely successful, with the car seeing its all-time highest single-year sales for each of those three years. But with CAFE taking effect in 1978, automakers were forced to consider fuel economy as an essential part of new car design. Additionally, the treat of another energy crisis and skyrocketing fuel costs was still very real, propelling Ford to downsize the Cougar substantially for 1980.
The resulting 1980-1982 Fox-body Cougar XR7 was a styling fiasco, looking like designers sawed off bits and pieces of the fourth-generation Cougar, attached them to a body of ungainly proportions, and then sent it through a fun house of mirrors. The related Cougar 2- and 4-door sedans and wagon were less gaudy and better-looking, but these weren’t true Cougars. Sales plummeted drastically with this fifth generation, but thankfully a tremendously better sixth generation Cougar was in the works.
Still riding on the somewhat ubiquitous Fox-platform, the sixth generation Cougar was a styling breakthrough in a world of otherwise boxy car designs. Having lost four inches of wheelbase while retaining a similar length, this new Cougar was still a long car on a relatively short wheelbase. However this was much better downplayed by the new model’s larger wheel openings, flowing sheetmetal, and better-integrated bumpers.
In terms of overall design, the Cougar was one of the first cars to usher in the “aero” trend that would greatly affect car styling in coming years. As opposed to the ’82’s flat-face and over-sized radiator grille, the ’83 Cougar greeted onlookers with a significantly sleeker, wedged-shaped front end. Around back, the low, slanted trunk remained, but thankfully the spare tire bulge, busy taillights, and bladed fenders did not. In their place was a smoother deck-lid and flush-mounted, horizontal wraparound taillights for a cleaner, understated appearance.
The most notable styling feature of this sixth generation Cougar was undoubtedly its rear windows. Sporting a distinctive up-swept curve, these windows rose in dramatic fashion to meet a thick C-pillar and near-vertical roofline. Combined with car’s long hood and sharp, tapered trunk, it made for a rather spectacular profile view.
This design remained largely constant for four model years, upon which a significant refresh arrived for 1987. Like many cougars of the human type, an extensive trip under the knife was needed in order to stay appealing next to more youthful competitors. In what could almost be considered a new generation (at the very least, generation 6.5), the Cougar was freshened with almost entirely new sheetmetal, sans the hood and doors. Up front, a new fascia was highlighted by a smaller waterfall grille that was now integrated into the front clip. Flanked by composite headlights, it made for a far more aerodynamic and Sable-influenced look.
The notchback roofline was both elongated and made slightly less vertical, beginning its descent further forward and meeting the decklid further aft. By gently decreasing the roof height the further aft it went, designers were able to reduce the Cougar’s drag coefficient from .40 to .36. The added real estate also allowed for the enlargement of the rear windows, with their upward curve now mirroring that of the windshield for a rhomboid-like glass area.
Around back, the slant-back trunk design was done away with. In its place was a longer, more upright trunk, increasing the car’s overall length by three inches. New horizontal taillights once again proudly bore twin Cougar emblems over the reverse signals.
Inside, changes were less drastic. To conserve expense, 1983-84 Cougars actually carried over the 1980-82 interior design, so it was not until 1985 the the Cougar was treated to a new, modern-looking interior (pictured above) to match its aerodynamic exterior looks. With all the costly exterior changes for 1987, the 1985 interior would carry over for the remaining two years of this generation.
Interior trim features and options would vary through the years, but for 1988 the Cougar LS would be distinguished by its digital instrument cluster, column shifter, and woodgrain dash trim. Standard seating was the “60/40 cloth front twin comfort seats with consolette”. In reality this configuration was closer to buckets than a bench seat, consisting of two bucket seats with a seat-bottom-length console and flip-up armrest attached to the driver’s seat.
In true European fashion, the “consolette” featured the car’s available power seat controls, window switches, and mirror controls, as well as cassette tape holder and a coin holder (something Ford liked to include in many of its vehicles before the debit card gained wide popularity).
Cougar XR7 interiors differed in that they included standard bucket seats with a full-length floor console and console shifter (all optional on the LS), as well as dark trim, a sport steering wheel, and an analogue gauge cluster. Apart from these differences, LS and XR7 interiors could be equipped very similarly in terms of comfort and convenience features.
Underneath, the Cougar received minor suspension adjustments and the addition of front A-arms, for a slightly firmer feel. More notably, was the return of the torquier 5.0L V8 to the performance-oriented XR7 model. Oddly enough, the 5.0 had always been available on other Cougars, with a similar horsepower (but lower torque) 2.3L turbocharged 4-cylinder the only choice for the “performance” XR7. A 3.8L V6 was the standard engine on non-XR7s. The slow-selling five-speed manual, however, was dropped, leaving a four-speed automatic as the only choice for all 1987-1988 Cougars.
As far as trim levels went, the base GS model disappeared for ’87 and ’88, leaving only the aforementioned luxury-oriented LS (which accounted for over 80% of Cougar sales) and performance-oriented XR7. For 1987 only, a special factory “20th Anniversary Edition” was offered. All 5,002 of these Cougars featured a unique Cabernet Red exterior color with 15-inch gold aluminum alloys and 24-karate gold trim and badging. A special interior included heated Light Sand Beige Ultrasuede seats with red piping and deluxe equipment.
A number of other special dealer editions were offered over the sixth generation Cougar’s run, and our featured car is a 1988 Bostonian Edition, which was part of several “City Editions” offered by dealers around the country. Given what’s been seen on eBay over the years, the Bostonian Edition appears to be the most common City Edition, and was offered through the seventh generation’s final year in 1997. The downside of this particular car is that its non-factory vinyl roof hides the Cougar’s distinguished rear windows.
The 1987 restyling helped sales remain strong throughout the Cougar’s entire sixth generation. With the exception of 1983, every following year saw sales of over 100,000 units; an impressive number, especially when considering that total Mercury sales wouldn’t achieve this figure in final years.
A very new Cougar arrived for 1989, riding on an all-new platform with a nine-inch longer wheelbase. Along with a multitude of performance and safety improvements, the seventh generation Cougar was a far more competitive car. Unfortunately, it would never attain the same sales success of its predecessor, as demand for cars of this type had begun its permanent decline.
1985 Mercury Cougar (Outtake)
1980-1988 Mercury Cougar (Capsule)