Richard Bennett (supremebrougham) is the author of today’s MCC.
As a teenager in Florida in the early Nineties, most of my driving experience was in slow, four cylinder cars. You know the kind, where you press on the pedal and the car says “What? Oh, you want to move…okay…” I started out with a 1985 Buick Skylark, the last of the X-cars, and from there my parents put me into a stripper 1993 Toyota Corolla. Slow, boring but both did the job. I just figured this was how it was and made the most of it.
But my how things change…
In the summer of 1995 my parents and I spent the summer in Michigan visiting family. One day I wanted to get out and go somewhere. My Aunt Jackie was feeling generous and offered me the keys to her brand new Mercury Mystique LS V6. I had read about these cars, and based on what I had read, they sounded like they were a real alternative to European touring sedans. I knew that is was designed in Europe, and that Ford had spent six billion developing it. It certainly looked interesting at the time, so I said, okay, I’ll give it a go (besides, I was desperate for some wheels for the day).
As I made my way out of the subdivision all seemed well enough. The car was roomy and confidant. However, once I made it out to the intersection of Ecorse and Michigan Avenue in Ypsilanti, I realized that I need to change lanes as soon as the light changed. Based on what I was used to, I figured I would just have to floor it and hope for the best. What I got upon doing that was a squeal of the tires and this whoosh of power that pinned me to the seat! I had no idea that the car had a then state-of-the-art 24 valve DOHC V6 under the hood, making all of 170 horsepower. I know that doesn’t seem like much today, but after driving a couple of 90hp econoboxes, it was a revelation. Once I realized what I had, I went out and tried it in the twisties. Till this day it’s one of the nicest, most stable cars I have ever driven! In fact, it was reason why I later spent a few years driving Contours.
A few years later my aunt Jackie sold the car to my aunt Linda, and she drove it for about eight years, till the engine finally gave out at 106k. So my grandfather took the car and decided that he was going to replace the engine. My grandpa is a very accomplished mechanic and worked for Ford for many years as a transmission specialist, so he knows a thing or two about cars.
Well, once he began taking the engine apart he realized that this was so not a 1970’s Ford like he was used to wrenching on out back. It took him and my uncle Doug six months to take out the engine and transmission and replace them both, but they got it done! My grandfather ended up giving the car to my uncle Doug as a thank you for helping him to fix it. Soon after my Grandpa had a massive heart attack and almost died. It took a lot out of him, but he survived. He was glad that he was able though to bring a car back to life “one more time”.
A few months later, Aunt Linda, mentioned that her husband, my uncle Chris, was in need of a car, so my uncle Doug ended up giving the car back to them. Uncle Chris drove it to work and back for close to three years until the transmission decided to start shifting funny. He was all set to donate it to charity and just before he made the call, my Aunt Linda mentioned it to my grandparents. My grandpa immediately said “I DON’T THINK SO!” So they ended up trading one of their 1997 Grand Marquis (they had two) for the Mystique.
So there the car sat. They didn’t need it, as they still had the other 1997 Grand Marquis, along with a 1991 Cartier Town Car in the garage. Grandpa was going to sell it after fixing the transmission, but then he decided to ask me if I just wanted it. My grandparents knew I was thinking about selling my HHR to get rid of the payment, so it seemed perfect.
So, a little over fifteen years after I first got to experience power and control in that car, it was finally mine! It needed a little cleaning up and some TLC, but it still drove as wonderful as I remembered. I still have the car, but unfortunately it’s in dire need of some electrical work, and I so far have not been able to find anyone that can fix it. So I ended up with a beautiful 1995 Buick LeSabre Limited that I love for completely different reasons.
The Mystique is too nice to junk, so hopefully one day it will run again, and I can go back to driving with that smile on my face knowing that I am driving what to me was always, a poor man’s BMW, even though it’s just an old family heirloom.
I also remember when those came out, and the reviews were almost universally positive. Between the Contour/Mystique and the 1996 Taurus/Sable, you’d think Ford would have taken over the world back at that time based on reviews and general good press for both models. Only the 1997 F150 really survived, and even that seemed to have gotten off to a wobbly start with the soft styling and the weird exhaust in front of the rear tire. That Ford butched the F150 up not long after launch said as much as did them immediately decontening the Taurus for 1997. And scooping out the front seatbacks on the Contour/Mystique. I’m rambling, but could it be that Ford was always as arrogant as GM, but relatively quicker to recognize obvious flaws?
I was looking for a used car in about 1998 and test drove a loaded-up 1995 Contour V6. Maybe it was because just before that I had also test drove a V8 Thunderbird, but the Contour seemed strangely gutless. I was expecting it to really run due to the reviews, but it just groaned and wheezed. It is very possible something was wrong with it, even though it was on a very nice Ford dealer’s used lot, but it soured me on them and I never drove another one.
These cars sold OK for a year or two and then dropped off, if I remember correctly. I couldn’t “sit behind myself” in the Contour, which is REQUIRED by me in a car. I always thought it was rude if someone stuffed me in the back of a car not fit for human adults, and have since bought cars with good back seats, even if no one ever sits in them. Waylon and Ernest (my dachshund and minpin) enjoy the back seat of the Town Car, though it takes a while for the air conditioner to get things cooled off back there.
Wow! I forgot about Fords trifecta of fail from the mid 90s. It’s not that the Taurus, “Mondeo”, and F150 were bad vehicles. The Taurus and F-150 just had an unfortunate redesign and “Mondeo” twins just weren’t well recieved.
The funny thing about the tailpipe on the F-150 was that it was designed to exit before the rear tire on recommendation of contractors who actually used their trucks as work vehicles. They were sick of crushing the tailpipe on jobsites and relocating it was Ford’s solution. Fleet buyers loved it, the rest of the public saw it as cheap.
So this would crossshop say a Peugeot 406 Sorry I dont think so nothing handles with those and Ive seen more fancied German brands off with a diesel BMWs seem to use a lot of road if you follow in a Peugeot
That’s the difficulty faced by car makers. They build a car that, according to word of mouth and the articles written by the car magazines, the car buying public is clamoring for, and then the cars sit on dealer lots gathering dust. The Contours and Mystiques should have been home runs for Ford. Instead, they just vanished after a couple of years.
You’re not Passatworld Postman, are ya?
These are some of the worst examples of the generic, jellybean styling of the era. They could have been sold in a “no frills” store as “car”. I don’t remember the Contour/Mystique ever selling well at all. I think these started at about $20k Canadian when they were introduced – the problem was they were the direct replacement for the Tempo/Topaz that they’d been pushing out the door for about $12k for several years.
The European Mondeo (mk1) was well-known as the Mundaneo because of the styling. I had one (my grandfather’s) in the exact colour of this car, with the 90bhp turbodiesel. It went like a train… noisily.
I test flew several European diesel hatch backs looking for my current ride didnt like the Mondeo its noisy and slow compared to a PSA car VW too much money for zero gain so I bought from PSA again. The newer Mondeo uses a Peugeot engine/trans and is a huge improvement but out of my meagre price range
True, it’s not much of a looker, but that was part of the appeal for me. I could “fly under the radar” and no one knew what blew past them until all they could see was my taillights!
To me these cars introduced some of the current forward thinking we have at Ford now. However, the plant politics, bean counter design, and old habits were still going strong, hence the poor quality compared to imports.
The Contour/Mystique story is quite the disaster. We’ll do a full CC sometime. Ford needed to learn the lesson Chrysler already had learned: how to design new cars for the US market at low cost. Instead it grossly overspent adapting the European Ford Mondeo, which was quite an acceptable and successful car there. They made a similar blunder grossly overspending for the new T-Bird/Cougar/Mark VIII program. They were already drunk with truck/SUV profits.
That would have required nothing less than completely revamping the Ford bureaucracy.
Over at Chrysler, that was possible because the company was controlled by one strongman, Iacocca – and at the time of the AMC merger, François Castaing was able to get Lido’s ear, in spite of their personality conlicts. What came of that was the creation of “platform teams” which brought out new models with a minimum of overhead, and in record times. It was an AMC technique, born of a shortage of resources, which worked superbly on a larger scale
The strongman at Ford was of course, Hank the Deuce – and the person in his ear was Edward Lundy, representing the Bean Counter cadre. No WAY was such a program, driven by enthusiasm for product, going to be put in place.
They tried to do it the old way, and apparently it didn’t work out so well.
I say “apparently” because I know nothing of these cars – not on my radar. They offered neither unusual utility nor economy…just another car aimed at someone else.
You forgot to mention another “strongman” at Chrysler. Robert J. Lutz. Who was actually running Chrysler (as president of the company). Read Mr. Lutz book “Guts” about the platform teams/Castaing etc.
He was a n00b over at ChryCo at the time, too. But not unknown to Iacocca, who had played power games with him many years prior to that at Ford.
They were too similar in personality, both Alpha Dogs, and with drastically different plans for their company. Lido kept Maximum Bob around because he was too valuable to kill; but on a very, very short leash.
Which in the end undid Chrysler – which is fodder for another thread.
Henry Ford II died in 1987, or before this program got off the ground at Ford. And I believe that Edward Lundy had retired by that time, too.
And while the Chrysler approach resulted in a bevy of very attractively styled vehicles with some compelling features, the company cut a lot of corners to bring them to market. Which resulted in many unhappy owners who were initially seduced by the handsome styling and good vehicle dynamics, and regretted their choice. I was in graduate school in the early 1990s, and one of my classmates bought a first-year Neon sedan. I remember her complaining about the rain leaks around the front passenger-side door. Shades of the 1957 Plymouth.
In many ways, it was 1957 all over again at Chrysler…
Ah, but the preliminary planning would have taken place much earlier. Before anything can be ordered, money need be allocated; and that would have been about the time Lido’s dust and debris were being wiped from Ford. The Bean Counters won…time to focus on cranking out Panthers.
Corporate cultures change slowly, except in merger or bankruptcy; so Henry’s heavy imprint would have been on any project up into the 1990s. Remember…the minivan originated as a Ford concept that the Iacocca loyalists took with them to Chrysler. Ford reacted, as they were wont to do in those days, with panic and a rush job: The Aerostar.
To read David Halberstam’s account of Ford in the 1970s-early 1980s, Ford was the place where great ideas went to DIE.
Just goes to show the fallacy of the world car or how the ‘same’ segment is not the same across different markets. The Mondeo was running into the same issue that had seen the Scorpio and Omega disappear, the buyers of cars that size were heading for BMW’s not Fords. Somewhat different to the US market you would agree.
It will be interesting to see what happens when they re-combine the Mondeo and Fusion for the next generation, whether they have learned anything.
Please do with the full CC. We looked at these to replace our 5-speed Topaz and were shocked that:
1) It cost over twice as much as the Topaz
2) Despite being bigger outside it was smaller inside
We decided to pass on the Mystique and waited for the Focus ZTS.
There must have been thousands just like us…
As I recall the Contour/Mystique had very poor rear seat room. It was a 4-door car but opening the rear doors led to a big disappointment. (One of the car magazines said something like “there should be a board of directors inquiry into the missing rear seat room”. Apparently no one at Ford put much importance into a usable rear seat.)
But at least the rear windows rolled down!
It always baffled me too that the car wasn’t very roomy in the back. These cars rode on a 106″ wheelbase, the same length as the first gen Taurus, so I am not sure where the space got used at. Luckily for my rear seat passengers I’m only 5’6″ so I keep the seat up kind of far, so it was never an issue for anyone.
I have a ’97 Contour GL Sport, 4 cylinder, 5 speed, that I’ve had since ’99. Great vehicle and under-rated IMO. The car has only let me down one time due to a dead battery. The syling isn’t what it could be but it is a solid ride. I also have Acura TL for long trips etc but the Contour has been my daily ride for 12 years. Thanks for the great write up. Hopefully, you will get it back on the road soon!
Curbside Classic is a one of a kind site, thanks for all the efforts Paul and contributors. I look forward to it daily!
Count your blessings. I had a ’97 Contour GL Sport V6 auto many years ago. I loved that car, but it spent waaaayyyyy too much time in the shop. It was such a mechanical mess that I traded it after three years and 70k+ miles for a….2000 Contour! Decontented? Yes, but other than a bad fuel pump, it was miles ahead in reliability.
This might me the first time I’ve heard the Mystique recalled in such glowing terms. Most of the car guides l’ve read summed up two words of advice regarding these cars – stay away. I recall the nickname “Mercury Mistake” being used as well.
There’s an odd mixed message in this article. The engine is described as finally giving out… at 100 000 miles? That seems mediocre to me, especially in comparison to endurance champs like the MOPAR slant six & 318 V8, GM small-block V8, etc. Not to mention a tranny that’s needed major intervention twice, and an electrical system that’s defied efforts to seek repair.
IMO more people would have reason to swear at a car like this, not swear by it.
You’ve put your finger on the eternal paradox of cars, and the fact that any car can become a beloved family member, despite its faults. The human condition: emotion vs. reason. It largely explains why we’re here. And why we readily embrace and endlessly debate both points of view.
I’ve never heard anything good about the Mystique/Contour before either. A coworker had one. He complained that it ate alternators. He said the alternator was down low without a shield, and would catch all the road slush in the winter.
The author’s affection for this car is further proof of something I’ve long believed — there is a fanbase for virtually every vehicle ever made.
I’ve always had unusual tastes in cars…
I agree, that 106k is far too soon for an engine to give out, let alone a transmission. Truth be told, I don’t know that the trans needed replaced, but my grandpa figured that while the engine was out he might as well replace both. The trans he put in was new (he had connections), but the engine is from a ’97.
But, the new engine runs well.
All I can say about these cars is that they are some of the best handling front drive cars I have ever driven, and that’s why I like them.
As for this particular car, it just has a lot of memories attached to it for me. My grandfather told me today to sell it and get rid of it, but I still haven’t decided what I want to do yet.
This must be….interesting for you. The boys aren’t exactly fawning over your heirloom!
When I write my first CC, I’m going to be sure to do it on someone else’s car!
Hehe…This isn’t my only car!!!
Besides, I wanted to try my hand at this before I got into the really good stuff, just to see if I could do it!
Look at it this way, if I can write glowingly about a car like this, hopefully I can knock one out of the park on a really interesting car!
Well, you did a very fine job, but everyone knew you could based on the quality of your comments on other CCs.
Thank you, I really appreciate that.
I think the Tempo/Topaz that preceded, was the undoing of the Countour/Mystique.
As I recall from limited rental experience 25 years ago, the Tempo was a buzzy, wallowing, top heaving feeling (?) POS…effectively killing or limiting any follow up, no matter how improved.
The Tempo with the Taurus Vulcan 3.0 V6 was a hoot, though. With a 5-speed, it really was a poor man’s SHO. I actually would rather have a clean V6 Tempo over a SHO.
You can bolt in the SHO V6 into a Tempo V6 – you just need to sort of the wiring after to have the best of both worlds.
If the Tempo was this car’s undoing, it’s because the Tempo was dramatically cheaper. The sticker shock on the Contour sent a lot of buyers to the Escort, Taurus or another brand.
I had the 1996, 4 cyl, auto, GL trim. Really enjoyed driving it. Only real problems concerned motor mounts. I guess the vibrations from the 4 wore them out too fast. Back seat was a poor design. I think the fact that it looked too much like the much cheaper/worse escort did not help sales at all. I am guessing that many potential customers did not know the difference. Bad reputation of Tempo was a sales negative too.
Looking at the resale values of these cars will tell you a lot about them. As the present owner of 00 Contour SE V6 I’d say that while they had their good points they are anything but robust.
Yup, used ones could be bought cheap. In 2002 my ’97 Contour was dying, and I was in serious need of a replacement car. I found a Ford dealer that that three V6 SE Sport Contours, a ’99 and two ’00’s on the lot. All three had under 25k and came Certified by Ford. My choice of color, priced at $8888.00! I took the Chestnut Brown one, as it was the prettiest, and had the lowest mileage at 23k.
Garbage. You were always better off either getting a base 4-cylinder 5-speed or an SVT.
Everything in between was just plain terrible. Yes you could find a few examples that lasted well beyond their expiration dates. But the Contour/Mystique represented the absolute nadir of Ford product development in the 1990’s.
Oh boy… I had a ’96 and ’98 (both V6 manuals – remember when you could get that combination in a sedan?) as Ford management leases, and remember the acceleration and handling fondly. Also got my mom into a ’95 four-cylinder auto (I had to atone for the ’84 Topaz I got Mom and Dad to A-Plan – worst POS ever). The V6 was smooth enough that I hit the rev limiter in second gear a couple of times merging onto the Southfield Freeway.
As mentioned above, one problem with the Contour/Mystique was that Ford had poisoned the well with the Tempo/Topaz such that the market price for the Contour/Mystique was several thousand dollars less than, e.g., Accord. At the same time, I understand it was a fairly expensive car to screw together (Product Development must have assumed that wasn’t a problem because the world would see we were building a good product and would reward us with a price similar to Accord/Camry). As a result, by some point in the ’96 model year the car was being sold at a variable loss (price net of incentives less than labor plus materials), and was made unavailable on A-Plan (first, the company didn’t want to incur the additional cost of the dealer commission for selling a money-losing car to an employee at dealer cost, and second, there would have been tax due from the employee). This situation continued through the ’97 model year.
For MY ’98, the poor thing underwent a rather severe decontenting, after the PD folks went through and removed every bit of variable cost they could find on short notice. The change I most remember was the cheap console that had the cup holders tucked way under the instrument panel where they interfered with the shifter. If the car was parked with the shifter in first, one couldn’t put a cup in the drivers’ side holder. Rather, one had to hold the cup in one’s lap, then once at highway speed with the transmission in fifth transfer the cup to the holder. Of course at this point, the shifter interfered with the passenger’s cup holder. To say nothing about having to reach way down and forwards to retrieve the cup later on.
There was a lot of decontenting going on at Ford in 97-98. It hit the Club Wagon in 87 with a vengeance.
Despite it’s shortcomings ( listed above ) I loved my 95 Contour SE manual. The V6 was plenty powerful for it’s time, and it handle very nicely. I’m glad I got the 95, as the decontending started in 96, and accelerated from there. I even liked the chrome strip in the bumpers that was a 95 only feature — for some odd reason, the front end reminded me of a 49 Ford.
The Contour made it to 104,000 miles before it got t-boned on Christmas eve. Only problems were the water pump failed at 60,000 ( bad plastic impeller design ), front wheel bearing at 80,000, and one of the windows got loose from it’s track.
These cars are one of the reasons why I’m wary of the lauded new Focus. It’s a similar story: European handling, a true world car, a sign of new thinking at Ford, blah blah blah. The reality was a cramped backseat, heinous component quality, eye-poping Monroneys and spiteful de contenting as the tarnished car floundered in the marketplace.
Sound familiar? The new Focus ticks all the right boxes. The car rags are certainly swooning over it in typical shortsighted fashion. It’s got mediocre interior room compared to its competitors, a flakey autobox, and no market indication that buyers want to pay $25k for a compact.
Enthusiasts always think that small cars with European feel and premium features are what everyone’s clamoring for. But most people just want a cheap car that is comfortable on sucky American roads. And the rest prefer that their Eurosedans have a Roundel on the hood, not a Blue Oval.
And the debate goes on…
Your points are well taken, but I do believe that the new Focus has been selling well. From what I’ve read, the upper-trim levels are in greatest demand.
Let’s hope that Ford has learned its lessons regarding quality control and reliability this time around.
I really want to like the new Focus. I’ve sat in a few and while the features are really nice, I’m not a big fan of the non-movable headrests, and the view out seems well, really compromised. And on the sedan, the trunk opening is a joke.
So we shall see if it grows on me…
I grew up in a number of Mercurys and in 1995 we were in the market for a new car. We wanted a car similar in size to our Dodge Lancer ES Turbo that we had at that time. My beater was a Yugo (really!), and I really wanted something that had air, as we lived in Atlanta at the time. We went to the car show, and I sat in a couple of Contours and Mystiques and found them too small for even my small family at the time. Ford had supplied factory workers to work the shows and (I guess) get feedback from potential customers. I was a little dismayed to see some subpar assembly (interior items were loose), although that could have happened throughout the course of the show. I mentioned that the cupholder arrangement was rather fragile and poorly positioned, but the nice lady from the midwestern plant had little to do with that issue and I really felt bad pointing it out.
IMO, The Chrysler Cloud cars outclassed everything that year, and for several years after. Both GM and Ford really didn’t have anything close at that time, and I think they outclassed all others, too. I drove several versions of them over several years, and they never disappointed me.
As it turns out, we never did buy a car that year. My mother retired for the third time and gave us her 1990 Mercury Topaz, a car I grew to dislike greatly. But it was free and I kept my mouth shut. The other big downer about the Contour/Mystique was a big price increase over the outgoing Topaz, which was the dealbreaker for us.
So close and yet so far…
The “cloud” cars are one of the most underrated cars in the last 20 years, I think. We bought mom a used ’99 Breeze with about 75k miles on it and besides the fact I missed that it needed a water pump when we bought it which I fixed immediately, it was a damn good car. I also replaced the transmission fluid immediately, figuring if anything major was going to fail, it’d be that Ultradrive POS. I (of course) used the correct Chrysler witch’s brew fluid, and that thing shifted like butter forever.
Mom drove it to 100k and gave it to my sister and her husband, who beat the living shit out of it, and it was great to about 175k when it got t-boned.
It was a nice driving car, too. That wide, low stance really paid dividends. Nothing fancy, but roomy, comfortable, plenty of scoot from the 2.4, good economy and low-revving torque in a way that only long-stroke designs can do, and all the basic power features a person really needs. So what if it sounded like a tractor?
It was hard to beat for the money.
A friend had a 1998 Dodge Stratus. The engine and drivetrain were pretty robust, but I recall it nickle-and-diming him with various electrical and accessory failures at around 100,000 miles. They were sharp, and the styling has held up well over the years.
There are a few of these rattling around here (Gallup,NM) but interestingly no more than the Tempo/Topaz that preceeded it. Most of the Mystique/Contours that have survived have been 4-cyl models.
The one that always suprized me the most is the 4-cyl stripped down Contour that my school district owns as a errand car for the Warehouse. Got a small package that needs to be delivered? Just asked them to send over a case of copy paper and a few boxes of staples? Contour to the rescue! Now I know the car doesn’t have many miles on it but surely it’s been beat to hell and back but still seems to be running and going fine.
FYI Richard, your Mystique is the only one I’ve ever seen that the dashboard wasn’t warped on, but then I live in the desert Southwest.
The early versions of these cars didn’t have the dash warping problems, it was after the 1998 redesign that that started happening. The biggest problem with the early versions was that the center dash vents would break and literally fall off in your hands! This happened years ago and if you will look carefully, you will see that I replaced that part of the dash with a piece from a 1998 Mystique. For some strange reason they went through the trouble of redesigning that part for 1998, but then in 1999 they just gave it the Contour’s dash.
And I guess being in the upper Midwest does have some advantages 🙂
Thank you everyone for your comments!
I’ve been out of town shooting a wedding, and I just got back a little while ago.
I have a lot of cars photographed, so I hope to be contributing again soon.
My thanks to Paul for allowing me this opportunity, and to the rest of you for making this such a great place to spend time!!!
I remember being impressed with these cars when they debuted. I liked the styling of the Contour, especially the sportier versions.
Unfortunately, they had plenty of reliability problems. But what killed these cars were high prices in relation to the outgoing Tempo/Topaz and a very cramped back seat. People used to getting “deals” on their Tempo would visit their Ford dealer, look at the sticker price, and walk away in shock. Domestic buyers were already conditioned to expect a deal. Meanwhile, owners of Hondas, Toyotas and Nissans were not about to pay those prices for a car from one of the Big Three, given their reputation for inferior reliability.
GM would repeat the same mistake with the Olds Intrigue not less than five years later.
I was shopping for a car of this size in the summer of 1995 and I liked the Mystique the best of the choices so I started at the local L-M dealer.
I found one there that was a odd metallic salmon sort of color and, I’m not sure why, but I really liked it.
I test drove the car and was pleased with what I experienced and had a politically incorrect discussion with the salesman about how I thought the ones made in Mexico should be cheaper than the ones made in Kansas City because they paid the line workers so much less.
The bottom line is that the car was $19K and they wouldn’t budge an inch on the price so I bought a Pontiac Grand Am for only $15K and it was a ‘sporty’ coupe to boot.
I would have had one of these if the salesman had been more flexible.
And I would imagine that that dealer eventually learned that he needed to get off his high horse and start dealing. This wasn’t in Florida was it? I remember contacting a L-M dealer in Ocala many years ago and asked about looking at a car. I was 19 or 20, and they flat out told me they wouldn’t deal with me because I was too young!
Several years later I wanted to trade my 1997 Escort LX Sport for a Contour or Mystique. The L-M dealer in Crystal River had a ’96 Mystique. I wasn’t crazy about the color, (a weird green) but the price wasn’t too bad. They wouldn’t take my Escort in on trade, claimed they couldn’t sell it!
Anyway, I believe that salmon color was called Coral Pink, I hated that color!
No, it wasn’t in Florida.
It was Heritage Lincoln-Mercury in Hackensack, NJ.
I don’t remember what year they went under, but it’s been a while.
They richly deserved it.
Their specailty was selling Town Cars to old farts at a huge profit and they seemed to resent having to deal with anything as insignificat as the Mystique almost as much as they despised the Merkur cars that had been there earlier.
@supreme: Yes, back when I was selling, we sometimes wouldn’t deal with younger people. I was lucky most of the time, because many of my younger customers would either pay cash or come back with parents or grandparents to co-sign the deal.
But I can understand if a salesperson had a bunch of bogus young people, he would not be interested in doing business with them.
@catbert: I’d had a similar experience back in the 80’s. The only Ford dealer in our little town actually got a 1986 SVO Mustang in stock, and I about peed myself when I saw it on the lot! I immediately went in to test drive it and try to make a deal on it.
The salesperson, who didn’t know poop about these cars, tried to hit me for the full price ($16K) when we got back to the dealership. I could have bought a 350 IROC Camaro for that kind of money! I begged him to work with me, even $50. He was not interested.
Six weeks later, I found one of the last Mercury Capri 5.0L Sport Coupes ever built on the local L-M dealer’s lot. I bought it for $13K out the door and was the happiest camper ever. Until I had to sell it because of impending fatherhood. Another story for another time.
At late as November of that same year, that SVO was still sitting in the front of the Ford dealer.
A great write-up of an interesting car plus 58 comments and nobody has mentioned the sound of the engine?
The 2.5L V6 was a very smooth engine. My dad bought a 95 Contour SE V6 auto as a late-model used car and I had a chance to spend some time driving it in my early college years. To me, at that age and being used to a late-80s V8 truck and Chrysler minivans the Contour’s engine was one of the most refined and wonderful sounding I had ever experienced.
The automatic transmission, however, was thoroughly infuriating. When learning to drive I knew to always come to a complete stop before shifting an automatic from reverse to drive, but that Contour required the driver to telegraph their intentions a few seconds in advance before it completed a shift.
The sound of the engine as it passed between 6600 to redline (which was what, 7400 rpm?) was just glorious. It had a tough growl without ever feeling or sounding thrashy and pulled hard all the way to redline. It was a good car for driving under the radar, as I recall once dashing across town to mail something on a deadline I floored it past the local police station and topped 65 in a 35 before pushing it into lower gears to engine-brake for a stoplight, but the cop that drove up lights-flashing pulled over the poor sap that lined up at the light behind me.
The modern 2.5L 4cyls may make as much power as that 2.5L V6 did, but they will never match it in smoothness and refinement. They’ll most assuredly be more reliable as the Contour seemed to spend more time needing to be or getting fixed than being driven once it passed 90k miles.
My parents had a 96 Contour with a 4cyl and 5spd. It had quite good handling and the get and up go was decent but not outstanding. Seems to me the automatics in these are problematic as you often see them for sale cheap with blown transmissions.
Late to the party, but I had a 1999 Mercury Cougar V6 that was essentially the same as a Contour/Mystique under the skin. I think the handling of these cars is VASTLY underrated. Even Consumer Reports said these cars had “excellent” handling (faint praise?). I had an auto, so it wasn’t a particularly fast car in the least, but was more like a slower car that was fun to drive fast. Was great for whipping around town; the car had that connected, low-to-the-ground go-kart feel that I think is gone from modern vehicles.
I definitely had my share of problems: auto tranny went out at 65k, lots of electrical bugs (ABS module went out so I lost ABS and T/C — never bothered fixing, probably not the smartest decision), non-stop Check Engine Light/O2 sensor issues, had to replace the flexplate due to premature wear that would cause a loud and embarrassing screeching when starting up, some suspension problems…but man I loved that car. It got me through high school, college, and early young adulthood/”real world” life. I drive very few miles each year (work 2 miles from home), so it finally died at 13 years old and 115k miles.
Would love to see a CC on the New Edge Cougars. When they came out, they were truly revolutionary styling-wise (I imagine it was similar to what it was like when the first Aero cars came out; too young to remember that), and were the first car in the entire Ford stable to introduce the New Edge design philosophy. As a result of that, the styling aged very well. They were also the only design completely unique to Mercury in…forever. Unfortunately, they were launched as the whole sport compact segment was cooling off, and while it was nice to see Mercury handed a bone, these really should have been sold as updated Ford Probes as was originally intended. A unique little oft-forgotten car with a lot of cool little Euro touches.
And now for an update…
After much thought and discussion, I sold the car today to my best friend James. He was in need of a car, and like me, he “gets” these cars.
James and I laugh because there is a good chance that he and I are long lost relatives because our families share a last name in our family tree and come from roughly the same area in the South. So, it’s probably safe to say that the car is STILL in the family, another chapter for the Old Family Heirloom…
I purchased a like-new aquamarine colored Contour GL
with the Zetec 4 in summer 1997. 17,000 miles, A/C, power
After 9 combined years of driving two worn out 1981
Buick Centurys, the European genetics of this Contour took
me some getting used to! For instance, the steering wheel,
all loosey-goosey in those mid-sized Buicks, was so stiff in the
Contour I thought something was wrong with it, LOL. I was
never grand puba of the high school gym, so I actually
got quite a work out steering that car in normal driving for
the first couple days getting used to it.
It was quiet, comfortable, and peppy compared to the big
Buicks, and I finally learned what it meant to be DRIVING.
Alas, starting in 2001, it started stalling alot and having
electrical problems I never had with those Buicks or any car
I’ve owned since the Contour. Even the FORD dealer that
sold it to me could not solve the issues. After nearly
$2000 and a new main wiring harness(basically EIGHTY
PERCENT of the wiring in the whole car!) these issues
were *minimized* – the dealer gave up chasing the recurring
Check Engine lights. Side note: The service dept. never
did explain how the original harness came to be “completely
smashed” and full of cracks…..
In 2003 we hit 60,000 miles, and per the maintenance
schedule I had the timing belt replaced by a supposedly
reputable local mechanic. Figured we’d save money by not
using the dealership. Took him three days, and he said
he had to lift out the engine to do the job. Three months
later, in the fall, we were coming back from upstate CT, when
we heard a strange buzzing sound we thought was a car
with no muffler passing us.
Ten minutes later, back on local roads, the engine seized
up altogether, and we had it flat-bedded back to another
garage near our house. Turns out the “new” timing belt
had snapped – explaining the funny sound we heard. I had
been driving the car with NO timing belt for nearly TEN
minutes, on an interference engine, and never knew it! Just my
luck: changing the timing belt on schedule and the new one
“Gave” the contour to the garage it was trucked to, for
$200, out of anger. They fixed it up and the mechanic’s
kid drove it around for another five years. Sad ending
to a relationship with a well designed but poorly executed
sedan with fine road manners.