Cohort Pic(k) of the Day: 1970 Mercury Cougar – Sliding Towards Irrelevance

Cougars are shy by nature, and here’s one that’s so far escaped our intrepid club of curbside (photo)shooters: the 1970 model. But nifticus found this one hiding somewhere in the wilds of British Columbia, and managed to peel off a couple of shots.

And so it’s on me to say something about it. Unfortunately, that’s not going to be terribly upbeat. And it’s not just my personal take on it, it’s also the undeniable facts of its depressing slide in sales, year-after-year, from what was a rather promising start in 1967.

Let me start this out on an upbeat note by pointing out that I was quite a fan of the original Cougar (1967-1968). Its styling was fresh and distinctive, and its Mustang innards are remarkably well hidden.

And perhaps more importantly, it had the best interior of any American car that year, hands down. Sure, it was a pretty blatant riff on Jaguar, but why not? Better to copy that than the rather austere interior of a Mercedes at that time.

That led to Car and Driver doing a rather unusual comparison of a Cougar XR-7 with a genuine Jaguar 420 sedan. CC Contributor GN posted that here, along with a lot of colorful commentary.

I did find a ’68 Cougar a few years back, and gave it the love here. Well, it’s hard to find someone that didn’t like the original iteration of the Cougar, and successful (and first) attempt to build a premium pony car. Or a more affordable personal luxury coupe, which realistically is what it was.

I know it has its fans, but I was let down by the 1969 version. It was just bland in comparison, watered-down and all the original’s distinctive edges rubbed smooth, like a worn bar of soap. And with an unhealthy dose of GM styling cues, like the Buick-like downward-sloping main character line on its sides. It even lost its distinctive little center prow, or whatever you want to call it.

That came back with a vengeance in 1970, as Mercury was getting a bit desperate about the sinking fortunes of the Cougar.

Here’s a chart that shows the cliff Cougar sales were falling off. Or at least a steep hillside they were tumbling down. 1967 sales were a pretty strong 148k, but they dropped every year thereafter, except for a dead cat bounce in 1973. Whatever had made the Cougar distinctive and appealing got lost very quickly.

Sales improved in 1974 to 92k, after the Cougar was reincarnated as a Monte Carlo/GP fighter, and stayed roughly at that level, until the Cougar took over the whole Montego line. But by then there was no correlation to what it had started out to be. A Cougar station wagon? Really? No wonder that poor Cougar is walking out of the shot. I’m so out of here…

I would speculate that in 1967, the Cougar was actually still able to get the attention of buyers who were perhaps leaning to an import, but managed to lure them back to a domesticated Jaguar. I’m not suggesting Cougar buyers were actually cross-shopping Jaguars; that’s very unlikely. But the import market was booming with mid-priced alternatives, such as the BMW 2002, the Opel Manta, and even the Capri in Mercury’s showrooms, starting in 1970. The Capri was a surprisingly big hit in the US, and quickly jumped to the #2 import sales spot. There’s little doubt that it played a role in the Cougar’s decline as an import wanna’ be.

So that’s my rather sad tale of the Cougar. Maybe yours is a bit more upbeat.



Vintage Comparison: 1967 Cougar XR-7 vs. Jaguar 420   GN

CC 1968 Cougar: Mercury’s Greatest (Or Only?) Hit   PN

CC 1969 Cougar: Premium Pony Car   TK