Curbside Classic: 1981 Mercury Cougar – The Only Two Door Sedan Cougar

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(first posted 7/3/2015)    The original Cougar epitomized the personal luxury-sports coupe. We’ve documented how the Cougar lost its way in the later 70s, becoming a full line of mega-medium-sized cars, including even a station wagon. By 1983, the Cougar found its way again, as a coupe-only, wearing new aero-duds. But for two years only, 1981 and 1982, the Cougar was available also as a two door sedan. And you’re looking at one.


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My definition of a two-door sedan is that it has to use the same roof line and C-Pillar as the four door sedan, whereas a genuine coupe has a roof that is either shortened, lower, or just differently shaped than the corresponding sedan’s. The downsized Fox-body Cougar arrived in 1980 only as a XR-7 “coupe” wearing a Donald Trump-worthy “wig”. Since there was no four door, it’s “coupe” enough for me.

And the 1980 XR-7 sat on an extended wheelbase Fox-body, with 108.4″ between the hubs.

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But in 1981, the Cougar line suddenly swelled again, becoming the de-facto replacement for the departed Monarch. And even Mercury calls them “sedans”, 2-Door and 4-Door.  And if these sedans look a bit stubby, its because they’re sitting on the Fairmont/Zephyr’s 105. 5″ wheelbase.

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The XR-7 isn’t called a “coupe” in the brochure, but there’s no doubt that it is a legitimate one, with its C-Pillar moved forward (along with more rake), fulfilling the most classical definition of a coupe.

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So what prompted a two-door sedan Cougar? If it was taking over from the Monarch, that illustrious car had a coupe, but no two-door sedan.

Mercury 1979 Zephyr 2-door sedan

But the Zephyr did, which in my opinion was a better-looking car than the Cougar sedans. But the Zephyr was still being built, right through 1982. Oh well; Mercury’s product planners (always) knew best.

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On the inside, it would be hard to readily distinguish this from a higher-trim Zephyr.

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That applies particularly so to the rear seat, which has a rather un-inviting solid plastic molding for its whole side.  Not very Cougar-like.

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If that back seat was a bit depressing, the engine line-up for the 1981 Cougar was even more so. Standard engine was the 88 hp 2.3 L “Pinto” four; optional was the (also) 88 hp 200 cubic inch Falcon six. If one really had to have V8 power, the only one on tap was the sad 255 V8 that made all of 115 hp. The 130 hp 302 was reserved for the XR-7.  These were the low point for Ford, the company that once touted itself as the “Total Performance” company.

There’s a chance this is actually a 1982, since I can’t readily tell the difference, but things got only slightly better: the 200 six became standard, but managed to lose one horsepower, dropping to 87. Oh well….

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To bad that’s not a Sable next to it, but these two show a pretty clear evolution of Ford design over a 15 year or so period. Given the choice between them; we’ll, let’s just say that somehow the idea of telling folks you drive a “Cougar two-door sedan” is perversely appealing.