CC Capsule: 1980-1988 Mercury Cougar – Transitioning from Dork to Cool, and Almost Succeeding

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Every car manufacturer has a platform they just milk for all it’s worth. They put it on everything and anything that makes its way to the shop floor. The best current example is Volkswagen’s MQB platform, which is now the basis of everything from the small Audi A3 to the full-size Volkswagen Passat, covering everything from sports cars(Audi TT) to crossovers (Volkswagen Tiguan).

In the storied halls of overused underpinnings you can find some of the most influential names in history. The Chrysler K-Platform saved Chrysler from the brink and allowed us to currently have such things as the Challenger Hellcat. The GM B-Body led the way to a GM that was actually competitive for a while. The Ford Panther platform literally needs no introduction. And then, there was the Fox Body…



The Fox Body was Ford’s MQB during the ‘80s. When one thinks of it now, it might well be visions of a Mustang in CHP livery hunting down rogue yuppies in 420SL’s or laying rubber while performing a wheelie on the dragstrip. Those less inclined toward hooliganism may think of the Mark VII or the Thunderbird, thus leaving tons of Zephyrs and Fairmonts ignored into irrelevance. But unlike MQB, The Fox body had a bit of a problem trying to move upmarket at first.

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Like the first Fox Thunderbird, the Cougar looks like a two-door Fairmont that fell off the Brougham tree and hit every single branch on the way down. Admittedly, that’s kinda what happened, but it’s no excuse.

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The upright Rolls-ish grille and optional opera windows did no favors to the slimmer shape; neither did the fact that the base engine for the coupe was a 4.2L V8 making a simply staggering 119 hp. The sedans had it even worse, with an 88 hp, 2.3L four wheezing them away.

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Yes, that’s right. I said sedans.


I would by lying  if I told you that these had been the first Cougar sedans and wagons to hit F-L-M dealerships. With the previous generation, however, it all somehow felt right on cars that size– they could still carry the Cougar badge without it seeming like a transparent exercise to cash in on a name with pizzazz. But when they returned for second helpings, the only word that could accurately describe them was “unworthy”.

They would’ve been perfectly adequate with any other name, as adequate as any other Ford-in-a-hat that Mercury sold until its demise. But now they carried neither the presence nor the glamor that the badge demanded. This is especially true for the 1982 wagon, which lost all the charm of those large station wagons of yore.


Oldsmobile obviously thought that this was a good idea. They showed as much when, a couple of years later after the T-Bird/Cougar launched, they decided that most every car in their lineup would carry the celebrated Cutlass name. Everything from the small A-Body Cutlass Ciera/Cruiser to the older G-Body 2-doors and the N-Body Cutlass Calais. A veritable compilation of Cutlasses that did nothing to stop the fall from grace of Oldsmobile and the Cutlass name itself until its shameful last outing as a lightly fluffed Chevrolet Malibu.


Happily, the Cougar had a different sort of life. Ford listened to the complaints of the people and gave the Fox platform a thorough makeover. They also put the sedan and wagon neatly in the bin. The 1983 Cougar and Thunderbird hold the distinction of being the first Fords to carry the new Aero image for the company, a style that would pay off for them two years later with the Taurus/Sable twins.

Personally, I think these Cougars betray themselves by wanting to be formal and sporty at the same time. That upright roofline and slanted rear window clash with the rest of the exterior, like a guy in a T-shirt and jeans that is for some reason also sporting a top hat and monocle. It still had that 2.3L four, but because it was now fitted with a turbo it actually produced some horsepower–145 of them, actually. And the Windsor V8 was there to carry the folks that preferred their Personal Luxury Coupe comfortable more than fun-to-drive.


The interior had all of the standard Fox body bin parts present and correct. Dig that fake wood appliqué. All in all, the Cougar did pretty well for itself, selling an average of 112,000 cars per year since its 1983 redesign vs. 147,500 Thunderbirds over the same period. Not a bad return for Ford’s trouble, and enough to guarantee the survival of the Cougar–and for everyone to forget about those awkward teenage years when it was forced to wear braces and a silly vinyl hat.


Related reading:

1980 Mercury Cougar XR-7 That Very Common Dishonest Car