Car Lot Classic: 1980 Mercury Cougar XR-7 – That Very Common Dishonest Car – Yours For $2995; Hurry!

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(first posted 3/15/2013)    If I ever run out of cars to shoot in Eugene (not likely), I’ll just start hanging out in our sister city to the east, Springfield. The other day, I stopped in at two car dealers; Springfield Buick, and Dan’s Automotive. This used car lot on Main Street was surprisingly chock-full of CCs, and I’ll give you a full tour later, so don’t go off about the Stude in the background. But the queen of the lot deserves its own special moment, since it’s one of my all-time favorite cars.

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Since all too many of you here have a habit of taking my words too seriously way too often, I just lied. This is not one of my favorite cars. Rather, quite the opposite. I positively hated it when it came out; the only question was whether I disliked it more than its big, fat predecessor. I did, actually. Why?

Where to start? Its monkey-assed trunk? That was just a start, and I suppose not all that egregious of a sin. But it was out of proportion to the rest of the car. This “Cougar” was just a tarted up Mercury Zephyr, the Ford Fairmont’s kissing cousin. And I rather liked the Fairmont and Zephyr for what they were: simple, honest cars in the mold of Volvos. I even titled my Fairmont CC “That Very Rare Honest Car”

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That means I get to title this “That Very Common Dishonest Car”. No harm or rudeness intended to you lovers of this fine car, but when you take a simple box of a car and tart it up like this to be a personal luxury car wearing a name that once really mean something in terms of design and performance, it is more than a wee bit dishonest, in the way we all-too often allowed ourselves to be suckered by Detroit’s latest parlor trick.

Why am I such a carmudgeon? I should be telling you how sharp this car’s “gracefully styled luxury half-vinyl roof with intriguing quarter-window treatment”  are and how tasty this some-kind-of-animal-skin-like-texture-and-patterned-padded-vinyl top is. My apologies; on second thought, they are sharp, and that padded top is very tasty indeed. They must be; why else did I pull in to shoot this Cougar on a grey drizzly day?

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At least in its first year’s incarnation, the Foxy Cougar was actually V8 powered. But it didn’t feel like it, since the standard 115 hp 255 cubic inch (4.2 L) version was as dishonest as a V8 engine has ever been: six cylinder (barely) performance, and not all that economical too boot. But by 1981, there was no more pretense: the Pinto 2.3 L four was now standard, rated at 88 hp. And the 200 inch (3.3L) six was also on tap, even though it was rated at the same 88hp. How did Ford manage that, given the 43% greater displacement? Another parlor trick.

But the 5.0 L V8 was optional, sporting all of 130 hp. And the beloved AOD automatic too. Difficult times; or times made even more difficult for not trying just a wee bit harder. Except for Ford’s Department of Pretense. They were obviously working overtime then.

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I’m almost disappointed that we’re not looking at plush velour seats in bordello red. Actually, I’m a bit confused at what we are looking at. The 1980 brochure suggests that the distinctive triple-opera window roof was part of the Luxury Group package. But that also included “Twin Comfort Barco-Loungers” with semi-loose pillow look or something like that. These look so plain and ordinary; not very dishonest at all. And are they just plain vinyl? That just doesn’t read like genuine leather. Who’s being fooled now?

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The offer on the windshield certainly is unusually honest too: 0% interest on an old car; what a deal. Wonder how much he got it for? $700? $800. Wonder how much it cost Mercury to tart up a Zephyr and turn it into a Cougar XR-7?


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In my defense, I will tell you in perfect honesty that this generation of Cougar was a sales flop. Its chunky 1979 predecessor sold over 170k units; barely 58k of these 1980s found good homes. So I guess I wasn’t the only one who didn’t care too much for them. Honesty is the best policy.