Curbside Classic: 1987 or 1988 Mercury Cougar – Picking At An Open Wound

Some of the simple things in life can be so satisfying….a juicy steak…..finding money in the sock drawer…..a glass of sweet tea on a hot day…..writing about a Mercury.

Despite any possible appearance to the contrary, I’m not contractually obligated to write about Mercuries.  However, there is a deep urge within my psyche to root for the underdog, to defend the unjustly impugned, to play Devil’s Advocate, to root for the home team, to challenge the conventional wisdom.  That’s why I vociferously defend the infinite virtues of modern pickups.

This is also why I love writing about a Mercury.  Well, maybe just the full-sized Mercury through about 1978.  The smaller Mercuries appear nastily sarcastic.  But this Cougar is a shining exception to that tendency, a car that deserves its moment of glory, basking in internet adulation.

It’s just a shame I didn’t find the Cougar I really, actually, sorely wanted back in 1988.  But, as we shall see, beggars cannot be choosers.

Being born during the first third of the 1970s, I am one of those who grew up around cars others have coined as “malaise”.  These established a normal of sorts for me despite their now being as archaic as a slide rule.

The period during the 1980s when cars started to re-blossom was truly exciting.  When Ford began selling a 200 horsepower Mustang again during the Reagan Administration, and knowing this was net horsepower and not the inflated gross, the performance imagery was enough to blow my teenage mind.

Not that it would have taken much.  But this steady increase in performance definitely made for a promising looking future.

Amongst all of this heady excitement was the resurgence of Ford and Chrysler.  As people gravitate towards that with which they are most familiar, I was strictly a Ford and Chrysler homey at that time.  Of the two I was more entranced by the variety of products springing forth from Ford.  It didn’t really matter about the Fox platform being almost the de facto platform for most of their rear-drive lineup; I just knew I liked the rear-drive offerings be it Thunderbird, Cougar, Mustang, or Capri.

Of this bunch the Cougar spoke to me the loudest.  It came across as more sophisticated and mature than a Mustang or Capri and it was simply less plentiful than a Thunderbird.  It’s that rooting for the underdog thing.

But, like with the Thunderbird, one had to be judicious so as to avoid some semi-brougham travesty.  You know the ones; these were what was often seen on the street but not shown in the brochure.

The Cougar XR-7 is what was calling my name at 125 decibels.  To borrow a Mercury tag line, it was indeed the shape I wanted to be seen in.

There was just one problem.  As someone not quite old enough to even possess a driver’s license, I knew I’d have better luck pissing up a rope while jumping on a trampoline than being able to take possession of a Cougar anytime soon.  So I did the next best thing and sweet talked my father until I was blue in the face.

I should have known better but it made sense to my teenaged mind.  A person can’t be blamed for trying can they?  Aren’t dads bottomless wells of money?

For years my father had a fifty mile commute to work in Carbondale, Illinois, and he’d been grumbling about needing to buy another car.  Knowing he put about 25,000 miles per year on his commuter car, a little math told me he’d have about 50,000 miles or so on a new Cougar by the time I needed to be equipped with a car.  Sounds like an easy sell, right?

Pop certainly appeared to have taken a shine to the idea, mentioning multiple times how such an arrangement could work out well.  While out and about I was even successful in getting him to stop multiple times at Ford Groves in Cape Girardeau to look at new Cougars.  My mother even got interested, wanting to know more about them.

Then one fateful day in 1988 mom and pop went car shopping, unbeknownst to me.  What did (t)he(y) get?

A damned Ford Tempo.  What an utter disappointment.  Well, it was more than disappointment.  What is a good word that goes a step or two beyond disappointment?  Disaster?  Washout?  Fiasco?

But it was his loss.

Instead of being able to be gleefully whisked around by a standard 3.8 liter V6 or an optional (and far preferable) 302 cubic inch V8, he opted for a Tempo.

Instead of buying something that was a mobile demonstration of the sophistication and elegance that could only be found in a Mercury, both of which reflected well upon the driver, he opted for a Tempo.

Instead of a Cougar that could be obtained in one of fourteen (14!!!) exterior colors, plus three two-tone exterior combinations, he opted for a Tempo.

How does one get excited about a Cougar and end up with a damned Tempo?  That’s like expecting to taste a succulent prime rib only to get a mouthful of raw liver.  It’s not even comparable.  Quickly enough I learned my valiant efforts had been resoundingly ignored.  I was p-i-double s’d.

In retrospect I was likely just an unwitting stooge to provide amusement for my father at my expense.

1996 Cougar shown

Some teenage wounds don’t heal quickly.  Ever been dumped by a significant other?  Ever been turned down for a job that was given to some buffoon?  The Cougar wound was an irritant for quite some time.  So what did my father finally do in 1995?  He bought a red Cougar.

As an aside, upon seeing his 1995 Cougar I inquired about its history to learn it had briefly been a rental car in Florida.  Me being my ever so charming self, along with the filter between my brain and mouth being disconnected at that moment plus being one who will stick their finger in the monkey cage, I remember saying something along the lines of…

“Oh, gees, Pop.  A Cougar rental car in Florida?  I bet that buggy was popular for drug running.  You might want to run it by the police station for the dogs to give it the sniff test.  I’d imagine there’s been a bunch of cocaine stuffed in the rocker panels and inside the fender liners.  You’ll want to get it cleared because your life could go to pot if you get pulled over and the cops find all that nose candy in your Mercury.”

He suddenly got a worried look but not enough to expel any effort to get it checked out.  I have a long memory but I digress.

The years 1987 and 1988 were the last of the salad days for the Cougar.  Sales were 104,000 and 119,000, respectively; sales tapered off to 75,000 by 1994 with the bottom falling out for 1995.  How bad was it?  The Cougar sold a mere 16,860 units that year.

For a weird perspective, Mercury sold 19,300 Granada based Cougar wagons in 1982.  This should certainly be proof the personal luxury coupe market was rapidly declining.

Remember my crack about semi-broughams?  With the wire wheel covers on our featured example, it should qualify as such.  Although, with the lack of options inside, could this particular Cougar be a semi-semi-brougham?

That crazy broughamification is what has always frustrated me about these Cougars.  With good judgement one could end up with something that looked pretty fantastic, as seen with the XR-7 further up.  Exercising poor judgement netted a person a windswept Mercury with those insane wire wheel covers.  Even the cheap, chintzy plastic wheel covers in the center look better than those insipid baling wire looking things.  Retch.

Frankly, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the wheel cover on the far left.  Rarity can inspire curiosity, I suppose.

Crappy wheel covers aside, I still have an affection for this generation of Cougar.  But it seems this affection has its limits as I have not been so affected as to have written up this particular Cougar in the six-plus years since I took these pictures.

Conversely, I’ve written up in short order every contemporary General Motors G-Special body I’ve found.  That’s just an observation.

These Cougars aren’t perfect – the wheelbase seems a smidgeon too short in the 1980s Ford tradition and visually it appears a little heavy in the tail – but they are so much better than than the Granada based ones, such as the 1982 wagon, that preceded it.

The only real drawback is under the hood with one having the choice of the ornery 3.8 V6 or the defanged 302.  Mercury attempted to correct that with the MN-12s that came along in 1989 but that’s a story for another day.

The 1987 and 1988 Cougar has become exceedingly scarce it seems.  They were a decent car on a platform that is almost Lego like in its ability to be built up.  I’m hoping this one found a good home that gave it good nurturing…and a better set of wheel covers.

Found May 2013 near Winfield, Missouri