(first posted 11/5/2014) What was the most memorable Mercury Cougar of all time? For some, it may be the original 1967-68 Cougar with its clean styling. For racing or muscle car enthusiasts, it may be the limited production XR7-G (G for Dan Gurney), or the GT-E with 427 or 428 Cobra Jet power. For fans of the James Bond movies, it is likely to be the 1969 convertible of Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo, played by Diana Rigg, who in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service becomes the only woman to marry James Bond. It was the Cougar’s most prominent and defining cinematic role.
The overindulged daughter of Corsican mafia lord Draco, Teresa had everything that she wanted during her troubled life, and her Cougar looked not at all out of place in the jet-set company that she kept. Amid Rolls-Royces and of course Bond’s Aston Martin – in this movie a DBS Vantage – this red pony car had a brash presence that matched her strong personality. Teresa made her entrance in it in the opening beach scene and, after Bond rescued her from apparent assailants, fishtailed away with its V-8 roaring and sand flying instead of acting like a grateful damsel in distress. Bond identifies her with the car, describing her at the casino as “the driver of that red Cougar” when he did not yet know her name. She proceeded to pilot it as her signature ride from Portugal to Switzerland.
For an extraordinary woman, the producers of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service selected an extraordinary Cougar. Being one of 9,820 Cougar convertibles (4,024 of them XR-7s) produced in 1969, the first year for the Cougar convertible, already made it relatively rare compared to the 90,249 hardtops sold that year. The hood scoop and hood pins visible in many scenes hinted that a high performance engine lived under the hood, and this view of the car on display at the Bond in Motion exhibition clearly shows Cobra Jet 428 engine callouts on the hood.
Introduced in the middle of the 1968 model year, the Cobra Jet 428 with its four barrel carburetor and 10.6:1 compression ratio had a gross rating of 335 horsepower at 5200 rpms and 440 foot-pounds of torque at 3400 rpms. The hood scoop, non-functional in 1968, became an actual intake when combined with the optional ram air system introduced in 1969. Widely believed to be considerably underrated for insurance purposes, the Cobra Jet 428 was capable of accelerating the 1969 Cougar from 0 to 60 in 5.6 seconds and doing a 14 second quarter mile.
Teresa had considerable skill as a driver to go along with her car’s muscle, and she displayed it when rescuing Bond from Irma Blunt and her team of SPECTRE agents in a snowy Swiss village, impressing the not easily impressed Bond greatly in the process. She piloted the Cougar with the bad guys’ Mercedes 220S in hot pursuit through the town’s streets and around an ice racing track, punting aside Minis and Ford Escorts that got in her way.
Fans of Diana Rigg will likewise be impressed to hear that she drove the Cougar herself during the filming of the ice track scene. Prior to the filming of this scene, an Austrian rally driver taught her about opposite lock and steering the car with the accelerator on ice, and as the chase scene demonstrated, she learned well. Some of you probably fell quite a bit more in love with her just now.
The Cougar bowed out of the story shortly after the chase around the ice racing track, parked in a barn during a blizzard as deep snow deprived it of traction and a flashing red idiot light indicated that the extreme cold was affecting something under the hood. After Bond professes his love to Theresa and proposes marriage, in the morning they abandon the car and happily ski away, symbolically leaving behind her earlier untamed life as well.
The signature car of the only woman to win James Bond’s heart during the first 44 years of the movie franchise, portrayed by the most distinguished actress to play a “Bond Girl” (knighted in 1994 and still going strong at the age of 76, nominated in 2014 for an Emmy Award for her role in Game of Thrones), this 1969 Cougar 428 Cobra Jet convertible was equal to its role. In its first years, the Cougar was one of Detroit’s hottest new models, with a briefly glamorous image, and with the 428 Cobra Jet it was one of the hottest performance cars in the world. Today the Cougar is a little-remembered product of Ford’s indistinct middle division to most, but to the many millions of fans of James Bond, it is a car to be remembered as one of the most significant of the Bond series.