Like many old car enthusiasts (and a good portion of the CC readership), I sometimes pass a few hours looking through old car classifieds and forums to see what cars are for sale from the short list in my head of “cars I’d like to have someday.” Most of the time this results in little more than a bit of daydreaming and a search history filled with eBay queries on old car parts. Sometimes, though, a trip through the forums reveals a deal impossible to pass up.
When I purchased my ’89 Thunderbird SC a number of years ago I became a member of the Super Coupe Club of America (SCCOA). Part of their website is dedicated to forums for repair advice, parts sales, and car sales. I’d visit the forums every now and then but always came back empty-handed as I never found anything as nice as my SC. One day recently my visit to the cars for sale yielded a promising lead. Advertised for sale was the companion car to my SC, an ’89 Mercury Cougar XR7, showing just 49,000 miles. Uh-oh.
The Cougar XR7 was built on the same MN12 platform as the SC and shared its 3.8 liter supercharged engine, automatic ride control suspension, and other performance goodies. Styling was much more understated as the XR7 did not include the deeper front fascia with fog lamps, side skirts, or simulated rear diffuser of the SC. Interiors were very similar, with both cars having the same multi-adjustable sport seats, four-spoke “sport” steering wheel, and analog instrument cluster. About the only difference was that the Cougar dash shape was a bit more squared off than the Thunderbird, something only an MN12 enthusiast would even notice. This was one of the cars I’d always been interested in having, but they are even more difficult to find than the Super Coupes as production numbers were tiny. Less than 3,000 supercharged XR7’s with manual transmissions (the more desirable powertrain) were made, and the very few that I’d found online were pretty rough in ways that would be expensive to fix (ratty interiors, damaged body panels, etc.)
This car, however, was a different story. The seller’s entry in the forums stated he’d bought it from the SCCOA forums himself and pictures could be found in that entry from roughly 18 months previous. I searched around and found the photos from the previous owner’s listing, and they showed a car that was obviously well cared for and very original. The car was black with a gray interior, matching the XR7 on the cover of the ’89 Cougar brochure. This really got me interested in learning more, so I asked if the car was still available. Unfortunately for my bank account, I got the positive “yep, still available” answer. Guess it’s time to sell the Mustang!
Having learned hard lessons about buying cars impulsively sight-unseen, I called the owner on the phone to talk more about the car. He said that he’d bought it from the previous owner in northeast Ohio (not Akron, but close enough) and had driven it all the way home to his place in western Kansas. Since that time he’d not used the car much and his wife wanted him to sell it because she wanted an SUV. He said that the original owner of the car was a high-level executive at the Ford plant in Lorain, Ohio where the MN12 cars were built. He was pretty honest about the car’s condition, saying it was pretty nice but the paint needed some work and highlighting some other minor problems. I asked for some photos, a bit worried about the fact that the current owner didn’t post any current pictures in his ad, but my worries were somewhat alleviated when he sent new photos of the car from all angles, interior shots, and engine shots. Of course, the photos were taken when the car was freshly washed and still wet, so the actual condition of the paint was pretty tough to ascertain, but overall the car looked good. In addition, the car came with some tough-to-find spare parts including a complete moonroof assembly and a new clutch (which probably should have told me something), as well as some taillight panels the original owner had gotten from the factory prior to the application of the Mercury and Cougar nameplates (he’d never installed them so they were essentially brand-new).
The original owner had made some interesting choices of equipment for his special-ordered XR7. The car came with the high-end JBL stereo and CD player like my SC did, as well as the extra-cost moonroof. However, the original owner didn’t buy the package that included keyless entry or automatic headlights like my SC had. Everything you need and nothing you don’t, I guess.
After some discussions here at the homestead (which went something like “you want to buy ANOTHER car?”) I made a deal with the owner and made arrangements with a shipper to bring the car most of the way cross-country. Although it was expensive, the shipper’s service was great – I knew I’d made the right choice when 1) he showed up at our meeting place at the correct time, and 2) he said he was on the way to pick up a Bugatti Veyron to fill the spot where my car had been. I believe the truck also had Clark Gable’s Mercedes Gullwing on its way to a new owner.
Getting the car home highlighted a couple of problems, but nothing too scary. The power steering pump groaned quite a bit, the clutch was a bit spongy (probably explaining the spare clutch in the trunk), the shifter was a bit loose in its action, and the ABS light was on. The paint was obviously the original black finish that had some scratches and other marks, but looked like it would come back to life with some work.
As I expected based on my previous experience with these supercharged engines, work under the hood wasn’t a walk in the park. Replacing the power steering pump required removal of some of the supercharger plumbing, which in turn required the purchase of special (read: expensive) Teflon gaskets to reseal the joints in the high-pressure intercooler circuit. It was an opportunity, though – since the engine was mostly apart we could do the always problematic valve cover gaskets and spark plugs. The clutch just required some adjustment, and a shifter rebuild kit took care of the floppy shift lever. Reclaiming the paintwork took an entire weekend of polishing and waxing (reminding me why I don’t usually buy black cars). As you can see from the photos, it came back fairly well. I learned not long after I bought the car why there was an extra moonroof mechanism when the moonroof stuck halfway closed. Luckily, fixing that was a simple matter of lubricating all the moving parts. I was fortunate in that a restored original cassette/CD system plugged right back into the dash to replace the sketchy aftermarket radio that had been poked into the dash.
The first Carlisle Ford show after I bought the car was in 2017, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the Cougar. The show management planned a big indoor display of Cougars, so I figured I would take a chance on getting my car in the show. Given the limited space available, I didn’t expect much so I was quite surprised that my car got picked to be in the special display. The display organizers said that they were glad I’d applied because they hadn’t gotten very many nice later model Cougars for the show. The show itself was great – I got to talk to a number of people who fell into one of two categories: people who used to have one of these MN12 supercharged cars and wished they still had one, and people who still have one. My car was one of the only 1980’s vintage cars in the display, as I recall.
I have owned the car for about 18 months now, and there are still some things to address. I’ve not yet fixed the ABS problem – it appears to be an issue with the solenoid block, a part that turned out to be quite difficult to find (and heart-stoppingly expensive to buy). The air conditioning doesn’t work, so I’ll have to take care of that before the summer driving season comes. Despite its faults, the car is still a blast to drive. The manual transmission changes the character of the car and makes it a much different beast than the automatic-equipped SC. It’s much easier to keep the engine near its power band – the automatic is in a huge hurry to get to top gear and demands for more power usually involve sluggish engine lugging, then a snap downshift and ALL THE POWER. The manual transmission can be a bit cantankerous at times (I believe they were actually used in Mazda pickups too) but it is much easier to take advantage of the engine’s power.
I am very glad I kept up the search for a good XR7 to match my SC. I think I’ve probably found one of the nicest ones around, and I plan on keeping it for quite some time to come. Now, if I could only get my coworkers to stop bugging me about how dumb I was to sell the Mustang…
I’ve been skimming your coals here and there, but, I want to say that your Cougar is very sharp. I hope you do hold onto something so rare and different for a long time.
To me, these early MN-12 Cougars I find are quickly becoming my second favorite of the whole nameplate. The reason is that I think these are the closest that get to the original 60s models in spirit. To me, while I don’t hate the later generation Cougars, it’s hard for me to view them with any respect or admiration either. They just always seemed like better equipped Thunderbirds, nothing really distinct about them. This generation, I fell is more substantial, it’s different enough that it manages to be its own thing, and with models like the XR7, it does feel closer to its GT roots than the other generations.
Of course, this is just for the 1989-1990 models. I find the 1991-1993 models to be a slight downgrade in terms of its visuals, but still attractive, the 1994-95 model’s grille is off-putting to me, and the less said about the 1996-97 restyle the better. If I did have one criticism for the MN-12 Cougar as whole from a styling perspective, is that I find the formal roofline combined with the trunklid proportions a bit off-putting. For the most part, it doesn’t bother, but if I look at it from the back or the rearmost angle, I find the very upright formal roof combined with the short looking trunk to just look odd.
Sadly, I very rarely see these at all. Granted, when it comes to 90s ford passenger, anything outside of panther bodies, SN-95 Mustangs, or the occasional Taurus is hard to find, but these and the Thunderbird are just impossible to come across. I guess that speaks volumes about how they held up. Ironically, I see the more complex Lincoln Mark VIII more often than the Thunderbirds and Cougars, so if anyone can fill me in as to why, feel free to do so.
Still, enough rambling on my end. I hope you enjoy your Cougar and continue to enjoy it for the foreseeable future.
I have a 89 XR7 with supercharger, 5 speed, and moon roof. 73,000 miles in perfect condition. summer use only. wondering if it is as rare as people claim.
I had the 90 cougar xr7 supercharged, i used to get it worked on maintenance wise at a ford repair shop, and the mechanics would work on it for free just so i would let them play with it. They put a turbo charge on top it to see what it would do and had to take it off because it couldn’t be controlled, to much power. Loved that car to death. Was 23 in 91 when i had it and didn’t know what i had. Only difference is that my interior was black and i had a rag top. Cops would pull me over just to see if it was drop top or not.
That little grill looks like a soul patch or a landing strip.nice car but the t bird had a better read view
Before someone comments about how cheap ford was with the taillights federal law says that the brake lights can’t be mounted on a moveable part of a car
So I guess they get a pass
One thing I find amusing about your posts is how you end up mining NE Ohio for old cars. Being from there, it’s about the last place I would consider looking for old cars. The environment was/is rather hard on the old stuff. Even where I live now in Western Michigan, I find equally old cars in better condition. And we have far more snow here than in Akron!
I looooved the 1989 Cougar when it was released. I’ve been kind of indifferent about most of the cars you’ve posted here, but I’m more of a Mercury fan than I am a Ford fan. That first gen MN-12 Cougar was a stunning car (to me at least) and a clean break from the relatively tall Fox bodied Cougars that preceded it. The ones that followed really didn’t do much for me and once they canned the SC models, I was out.
I hope you hang on to this one for a while. It’s got to be the needle in the haystack!
Yours is a notable car; the pride in ownership is warranted.
I did not know that the MN-12 Cougar was available with the supercharged 3.8/manual. The thought that there was a Mercury version of the T-Bird SC just never crossed my mind. Now that I know, I think I prefer it.
The recent writing about these handsome cars piqued my interest and I went searching. A couple of weeks ago in Scottsdale I saw a T-Bird of this vintage still with the proud original owner. It was a rather ordinary green 3.8 but was also very well preserved. He uses it just on weekends and he is keeping it.
I did locate a low mileage but quite fleet-like 3.8 T-Bird in western Nebraska. Not interested enough to go see it. That mouse hair cloth is just a big turnoff; I’d only want a car with the leather option. The MN-12 style remains attractive after all these years; Ford did a good job. The design not only holds up well but among current cars those big, clean coupes look striking.
This is a very cool car. Like Constellation, I had forgotten that these were ever made. However it touches on one of life’s great “What Ifs”. I love the car, the color, the stick shift, but would have asked back then if all of those things would have made up for the supercharged 3.8.
If Ford would have put the Mustang’s HO 5.0 in this car it would have been an instant classic. The Lincoln Mark VII did but never with the stick. I continue to believe that in a CAFE-free America we would have gotten TBirds and Cougars with that great drivetrain.
If Ford would have put the Mustang’s HO 5.0 in this car it would have been an instant classic.
They did- from ’91 on in the XR7. Again, not with the stick. I owned a T-Bird in that configuration. These are some of my favorite Ford passenger car models. Great fun to drive, but some semblance of practicality built in.
The 91-92 XR7 package was basically identical in overall package to the supercharged 89-90, save for the styling changes, so the unique trait you got with the now standard 5.0 H.O. was the carried over performance suspension and heavily bolstered seats of the previous years. Thunderbird Sport models in 91 & 92 got a similar suspension package with the 5.0 standard, albeit with fixed shock settings, they’re quite rare though.
Very good looking car! I wanted one of these when they were new also. My Wife’s Aunt had a red one with automatic. There is a similar car with a body kit for sale that I pass on the way to work. I’ve had my eye on it for awhile. No room for any more cars! I just replaced the intake manifold on my ’96 Mustang, after letting it sit for five months. I realize again why I like that little Mustang so much and it’s a keeper.
I still have one two but it’s a 90 or 92 in good shape❣️
Interesting how 80s GM-like the styling is on these. Styling-wise it could have been released as a late 80s Olds Toronado, and it would have dovetailed GM design direction at the time.
My friend Chris had a 91 SC Thunderbird with a 5-speed from 93-98. I have tried and tried, but I just can’t take the vertical backlight of the Cougar. In fact I kinda lose interest in Thunderbird’s after the 88’s.
I thought at the time-and still do- that the MN12s were a definite step backwards in terms of styling compared to the Fox TB/Cougar. They may be better cars in any other perceivable metric, but they’ll never be as cool to me. I even liked the bizarre reverse c-pillar/formal backlight combo on the old Cougar.
I seem to remember the MN12 Cougar as one of the more frequently simcon-topped cars of the ’90s. Usually landau-style rather than a full roof, in Haartz-style cloth in a contrasting (usually darker) color with script emblems reading either “Presidential” or “Bostonian”.
This is a beautiful car as was the MN12 Thunderbird. However, whenever I see either I am instantly reminded of the dressing down the design/development team at Ford received from upper management when they hit the market. They were heavier and more expensive than planned – even though they received multiple kudos for the end product. As for the back light, I remember seeing a spy photo of the ’83 Cougar before it was released. I was horrified at how ugly that back window was with the curved side glass. As soon as I saw one, it was love at first sight. It was really beautiful in the flesh. I did not have the same reaction with the ’86 refresh with the elongated side window. The original magic was suddenly lost. This however restored my faith in Ford design. Is a really beautiful car!
Down here you’ll see 10 Cougars of this time frame for every Thunderbird…but even in the Flesh I just don’t like the Cougar backlight…either as a 83-88 or newer. But I do love the 83-88 T-Birds, man would I love to have one, but only with the 5.0. I have most of the sales brochures and will occasionally go back and look and wish.
I had a Red Metallic ’83 Heritage with Red Velour (wife called it contemporary American Bordello Decor). 5.0L, loved that car. Also had a ’92 Sport with the 5.0L. Same color combo, but with Red Leather.
What a beautiful car!
I’ll confess that I paid very little attention to these back in the 80’s. Thus I had NO idea the XR7 was available with supercharging or a manual transmission.
My Cougar was a ’67 with 289/3 speed stick. Related in name only…
First car of my best friend was a 67 Cougar 289/auto he bought for $500 in 84. This is it.
They’re more similar than you’d think, I had a chance encounter with white 70 at a cruise night a few years ago and the dimensions are surprisingly close. Plus with the V8s ranging between 281 and 302 cubic inches, they even are alike in that measure. The Cougar upsized heavily in the 70s only to get downsized right back to where it originally was by the 80s. 🙂
Other weird similarity, the MN12 went back to using strut rods on the front suspension like the original Falcon chassis
Squint a little at your photo, and you can make your XR7 turn into a Marauder in Silver Birch (the only color with a contrasting black grille insert). Shows Mercury had some design continuity between the mid 90’s and mid 00’s.
I’m surprised XR7Matt hasn’t commented yet. Incidentally, I can’t remember what year his is.
I talked briefly about these supercharged XR7s in my Obscure Special Edition & Forgotten Limited Run Models series and, given the low production volume, I never expected someone to write a COAL about one!
I adore these MN-12 Thunderbirds and Cougars… Yes, it was a flagging segment and yes Ford went over-budget on these but I love a good rear-wheel-drive coupe. Considering GM was putting out rather underwhelming FWD GM-10 coupes at the same time, this makes the MN-12 twins even more impressive.
My personal preference is still the Thunderbird, purely because its styling is, in my opinion, really distinctive and timeless. The Cougar looks a little bit more conventional, albeit still very handsome. Despite its comparative rarity – something that usually gets me on board! – I’d still take the T-Bird S/C. But I’m glad this Cougar is in your hands and being looked after. Great car!
@William I had a busy day, otherwise I would have been all over this post today! 🙂
Mine’s a 94, which despite the XR7 badge has more in common with what would have been the LS package during 89-92. In 1993 Ford applied the one price shopping stratagy to simplify the lineups, which effectively eliminated the LS submodel, but in execution actually eliminated XR7 package – standard NA 3.8, no performance suspension, no SC derived interior stuff(handbrake, seats) and chrome (previous XR7s were monochromatic with blackout) – the Thunderbird also lost its chrome laden base model and Sport model for 93, both were consolidated into the LX with one price shopping.
I prefer the Cougar obviously, for me it’s a more American looking design without the stubbiness of the GM models with formal backlights. With such a fat C pillar it actually strikes me as a modern take on the 58 Tbird roofline. I like MN12s in general, but the Tbird just has a little too much Euro cleanness for my taste, and as much as one can say the Cougar resembles a 86 Toronado, the Thunderbird roofline bears significant resemblance to both the Beretta and the Lumina coupe as well. I preferred the Tbird as a kid when it was new, but the formal Cougar roofline just stood out so much more distinctly when I went car shopping, and even more so today. Plus I like the Q ship styling of these 89-90 XR7s to the GFX laden Thunderbird SC package.
Beautiful Cougar! I couldn’t even find one supercharged XR7 when I was looking for one in high school, and this is exactly how I wanted it, black on grey with the 5-speed manual. To me this was as good, if not better, than the Buick Grand National, and those SCCoA guys have made the Ford 3.8 run just as fast with surprisingly little effort, albeit with some key fixes to alleviate cooling issues and solutions to remedy the notorious head gasket eating problem the 3.8 is oh so famous for.
I ended up buying a 94 V8 with low miles instead, which I adore in other and admittedly sentimental ways, for which I’ll never part with, but the V8s, even the DOHC 5-speed I swapped in place of the SOHC auto, it just doesn’t touch that roots supercharged torque surge of the 3.8 SC. That engine in totally stock form feels like a muscle car engine, only difference is blower whine substituted for V8 burble.
The grille used to be offputting to me on the 89-90s but lately I think it is genius, it’s a direct homage to the 1970 models without being in-your-face retro, same with the laser stripe taillights throwing back in a modern 80s sort of way to the electric razor like ribbing on the 67-70s. Black is the best color of the three available though, the mix of moulding sizes can make white or red look a little cluttered, the bumpers have thick sections with small inserts(chrome on LS) while the sides have thin solid mouldings like those used on the SC. In fact if there was one criticism I could muster up for MN12s of all years it’s the side mouldings all seemed either half baked or look dated(but they look naked without them).
Though I still prefer the ’91 facelift, the 89/90 front looks good in this trim and color as it doesn’t draw as much attention to the grille.
After 1990 Ford seemed to shuffle equipment and trim in these cars every year:
1991- facelifted and 3.8 s/c replaced with 5.0 H.O.
1992- one year only 16″ wheels and XR7 luxury interior (bolster seats and e-brake dropped, burl walnut dash and door trim added)
1993- XR7 essentially becomes LS with new multi-spoke rims and 1992 XR7 interior
IIRC the transmission is a M5OD. It was used in F150s, Broncos, and Rangers as well. I had one in a 97 F150. Some people complain about their durability in the trucks, but mine was still going strong with around 200k miles on it when I sold it. Anyway, I’m sure it’s plenty durable in the MN12. Very sharp car.
A lot of people have disparaged the Cougar’s formal roofline on this site in the past, but I’ve always thought it looks good and this car shows why. Very nice.
Your car has the Teves II ABS system which my 1988 Buick Electra T-Type had, as well as my neighbor’s 1990 T-Bird SC. I worked on both systems so I am very familiar with them.
Common failure mode: accumulator fails, causing excessive ABS pump cycling, which causes the pressure switch controlling the pump motor to fail, resulting in pump motor running continuously and burning out. It doesn’t sound like this has happened to your car yet because you still have brakes.
I can’t remember on my neighbor’s SC, but on the 1988 Buick, the rear brake pressure came directly from the accumulator and not from the master cylinder (which acted only as a control valve to allow the pressurized fluid into the rear system). What this means is, when the ABS fails as described above, you have no rear brakes whatsoever, and you also have no power assist for the front since that same pressurized brake fluid is used to provide the boost.
So you have only manual front brakes which sounds OK in theory, but speaking as somebody who experienced this failure while driving, I took back roads to limp home using D1 and D2 along with the parking brake, not exceeding 20mph. It was scary, and fortunately the failure happened as I was slowly pulling into a parking space, and I still struggled to stop the car.
At any rate, not to derail this thread, but pay attention to your ABS system and you may want to proactively replace the accumulator for starters. If you are going to keep the car, I would recommend adding an LED on the dash connected directly across the ABS pump motor leads. Then you can monitor when the pump motor runs (which should be only intermittently, just like a well pump at home with the accumulator tank on it) and know right away if you see it cycling on and off all of the time, or if it the pressure switch sticks and keeps the pump (which is very quiet) running continuously.
I ended up buying a wrecked low-mile 1990 Bonneville SSEi from the junkyard for $300, primarily just to obtain the complete ABS unit, and it paid off in spades later as I did end up using it.
I’m a huge fan of your SC, and now with this, you have both species of MN12 in peak early format. Very, very nice! It definitely looks best in black.
For your next challenge, move on to the closely related FN10 platform and find yourself a Mark VIII to truly complete the set. The LSC trim became available in mid ’95, and the interior got an upgrade for that year also (wood accents and a couple other tweaks). So to stay with the pre-facelift styling, but to get the LSC and the better interior, perhaps look for a ’96?
I remember as an 18 year old loving these when they were revealed during 1988.
T-Bird Super Coupes were more common but finding a Cougar, especially with a stick was tough back then and almost impossible now. We did have a couple of T-Bird’s in the 1989-90 range at our then dealership but the customer return issues were a turn off so we instead seeked out the 91 onward V8 cars instead.
I do remember spending a bit of time with a maroon 1989 LS coupe with the only other engine choice in these cars, the dreaded 3.8. It drove nice enough but felt heavy and slow and nowhere near as fun as the blown 3.8 cars. It also had the ABS option and naturally the light was on which cost us a few bucks to resolve back in the day. We got the car for well under trade in value because of that so it worked out in the end.
As far as which looks better I actually like the looks of both Cougar and T-Bird and wouldn’t mind a 96 or 97 V8 version of either as an example of the last RWD personal Luxury coupe offered here. Finding a nice clean one is getting very tough though.
I had one exactly like this.Mine had a tape player and the premium sound system.It had the keyless entry.It had the automatic suspension.It was supercharged.It had the mag whells and 16 inch tires.I LOVED this car.I loved everything about it.A guy ran a red light and hit me one day.The car absorbed the impact really well.It was fixed after that but I let it go.I really wish I had kept it.
I had one exactly like this but the interior was black leather, and the panel was digital
Keyless entry and sunroof.
I was absolutely in love with My car! XD
I used to say it was made just for me since I’m a thunder cats and freddie mercury fan.
I was searching for information on the VIN of my 1989 Cougar XR7 and found your post about the Cougar you bought, which is nice by the way. Thought I’d share my car. I bought mine brand new at a dealer in Anchorage, AK., still have it…only 32,000 original miles, with all the bells and whistles.