COAL #8: ’84 Mercury Cougar

My new job was in Downtown Los Angeles, we lived approximately twenty miles east in Whittier. My work commute usually took a half hour when traffic was light and we lived there for two and a half years. During that time, part of my heart became an Angelino. We kept the ’77 Coupe de Ville for a couple of years after we were married.

The Cadillac was now seven years old and it started having a few problems. The major failure was when the transmission went out while my wife was on her way to work in Fullerton. That left us Cadillac-less until payday and my Wife could crunch the numbers to pay for the repair. This was before we both had credit cards with a high enough limit to immediately pay for the repair.

I still had my motorcycle to rely on, and we still had my wife’s old Nova. The poor Nova had been side-swiped on the left and never been repaired. It looked pretty rough, so I tried to get my wife to drive the Cadillac.  I usually rode my motorcycle to work unless it was raining. Then I would take the “rain car.”

My wife became quite adept at driving the car that she had been initially intimidated by. We lived on a busy four lane street. A narrow driveway sloped down between elevated front lawn areas onto busy Beverly Blvd. It could be tricky but she became an expert.

It’s almost funny that I was starting to consider the ’77 an old car. I currently have, and drive cars that are 15-25 years old, but I wanted my Wife to have a safe, reliable, car that she would not be embarrassed to be seen in. Not that there was anything embarrassing about the Cadillac, but I still wanted the reliability of a new car.

Maybe my eyes were much bigger than my bank account!


My first thought went to another used Cadillac. The new downsized El Dorado had debuted in 1979 and it was still the current body style in 1984. A two or three year old Eldo would make a nice replacement. They were still pretty pricey however, and I thought that it was time to buy my first new car.

I thought that I might try being fiscally responsible and test drove a Renault Alliance at the AMC dealer. It should have been called the Appliance! That cured me of any crazy econo car thoughts (My Astre experience was still pretty fresh in my mind). I found the Chevy Celebrity Eurosport to be interesting and I’d also been kind of enthralled by the Ford Fairmont when it was introduced. I thought of it as the poor man’s “wanna be” Yuppie car. As a newlywed, I thought that it might be a good idea to get some input from my wife, since she would be the one driving the car on a day to day basis. Her assessment of these cars was simply, “No way Jose!”

A new Mercury Cougar had arrived in 1983 and they had a great ad campaign built around an old Frank Sinatra song, the “I’ll Be Seeing You” series of commercials. The car was pretty nice looking, an unlikely combo of aero and formal; the upright rear window was reminiscent of the El Dorado. I read a lot of criticism of the car’s styling nowadays, but back then it just hit the right note. It was a big seller. Of course if the Cougar was a consideration, then why not its sibling the Thunderbird?

Sleek and severe, but it worked.


I found the T Bird to be more attractive, as it seemed the sportier choice, but my wife found the more formal Cougar to be more appealing. It wasn’t a matter of price, they were pretty equal depending on the options chosen. My wife wanted the Cougar, so that’s what we got. We picked it out of the inventory on the lot. It had a dark gray exterior with lighter gray cloth upholstery. It had power everything; a/c, cruise, and of course a cassette stereo. Some came with alloy wheels, but our’s had whitewalls and the wire spoke hubcaps that she preferred. The standard V6 was perfect. I wanted it to have reasonable fuel economy.

You can love them or hate them, but my wife loved them!


The tail lamps are well detailed.


The fit, finish, paint, and assembly quality were miles ahead of what we had been building in Fremont. That caused me a bit of pain to admit.

The interior was plush and nicely screwed together. Quality was Job One!


The more expensive models had opera lamps and vinyl roof coverings, our Cat was clean and modern. It was an acceptable substitute for an El Dorado, especially for a newly married young couple. I have always loved personal luxury cars.

Just as the Wife had been driving the Coupe De Ville after we were married, this really was her car. I’d say that it suited her style, a youthful, classy stylish, car. At twenty three years of age, it looked appropriate for her. Like many of our spouses or Significant Others, in the coming years she would put up with a lot of cars that she wouldn’t be too enthused about. It would be almost another decade after the Cougar was gone, that we’d get another car that she really liked.

The car was perfect for commuting as well as long trips to visit the in-laws in the Central Valley as well as my family in the Bay Area. It was so quiet and rode so smoothly, with such effective air conditioning. We only had one kid at the time, and she was well past the car seat stage, so trying to wrestle a baby into a safety seat wasn’t yet an issue. My wife really liked the Cougar; it was smaller than our old Cadillac, even easier to drive, and it sent out the right signals. We both had good jobs so we never had to penny-pinch and make do with a cramped Chevette.

Even though the Cougar wasn’t exactly what I would have preferred -I would definitely have gone for the El Do- I still had my Harley Sportster. This was a pattern that I maintained all through my family raising years. I always held onto my motorcycles until I was in my late 50’s. I even achieved my goal of owning a Harley Big Twin at this time.

The Cougar would make the trip back to San Jose with us in January of 1985. We sold the “rain car” before we left to her brother, who was in the Army at that time. We loaded up our belongings, including the two Harleys into a U-Haul truck for the trip north.

With only one car, I bought a good bright fuchsia-colored rainsuit and rode the bike to work every day, even when it rained. We had found a really nice duplex in the desirable Willow Glen neighborhood, which was less than ten miles from both our jobs.

A year later we had been able to save up enough money for a down payment on our first new home, a duplex style townhouse, marketed as a “duet home.” It was nice, with three bedrooms, two baths, a small backyard, but most importantly, a two car driveway with a single car garage. The fixed thirty year loan rate was 13%. We were able to get a special first time buyer rate through the County program that lowered that to only 11%!

We couldn’t afford a place in Willow Glen and we moved across town to the East Side neighborhood of Evergreen. This formerly agricultural area was being built up at a rapid pace with new developments. We were still in the city, now only a bit more than ten miles from our jobs. We have always maintained a priority of reducing our commutes by living closer to work.

The Cougar was still doing its job, and I started thinking about getting some type of hobby car that I could drive to work when it rained. I found a rather tired old Honda Civic CVVC coupe for sale at a gas station. This was followed by a succession of hobby cars that have continued to this present day.

We were pretty happy in our new home, but I still wanted a real house on its own lot with a two car garage. It didn’t have to be new. Real estate in San Jose was hot at this time, (when isn’t it!) and I didn’t want to get frozen out of finding our next home. Even in the short time we lived there we benefited from a fair amount of appreciation. Lucky for me, my Wife is a whiz with our finances, and we were able to find our next home only a mile away from our current home in a very nice established neighborhood.

Now that we were established in a long term residence we found our family increasing by another child. We had to deal with using a baby seat in a somewhat tight rear passenger compartment. It was hardest on my wife who had to ferry the kids around while I was at work. She had to do this while maintaining her own employment. We stuck with the Cougar for another couple of years until we realized that we needed something bigger.