TTAC Retrospective: 1979 Mercury Cougar XR-7

As electric cars regain popularity, I remain hopeful that their virtue of instant, quiet power will inspire automakers to revive the personal luxury coupe. Electric propulsion would be ideal for a car whose mission is to provide comfortable and stylish accommodation for two passengers plus occasional passengers in a not-too-small rear compartment.

The long hood, a key styling feature of the genre, could become a roomy ‘frunk’ capable of holding all the golf bags the marketing department could wish for. Glove-soft upholstery can cover seats that lack limited, uncomfortable side support. All the electric assists and conveniences would be in place to delight the sybarite’s heart. For example, the power window switches could simply be operated by sight, so that fingers are not strained when operating the Starbucks window. Personal luxury coupes don’t need to be fast, which improves range. The possibilities know Broughamized electric coupes are endless!

Despite my frequent and vigorous attempts to show them the way, automakers seem blind to the golden opportunity to revive the personal luxury coupe. Elon Musk even stopped texting me. Philistines.

Fortunately, cars like the 1979 Mercury Cougar were made in sufficient numbers to survive for elite connoisseurs of personal luxury.

Of course, the Mercury Cougar started out as a slightly stretched, classy sibling to the Mustang in 1966 for the 1967 model year. It would live on for eight generations, transforming from a pony car to a personal luxury car and finally to a sporty front-wheel-drive coupe before disappearing into in history forever in 2002. A few sedans and wagons carried the Cougar badge, but these were deviations in form.

The fourth generation Cougar arrived in showrooms for the 1977 model year. It was smaller than its predecessor and available as a sedan or station wagon. That’s because the Cougar became Mercury’s entire mid-range lineup in 1977. The chassis underpinned the Ford Torino and Thunderbird.

The engineering was pure Detroit standard: a separate ladder frame, V8 engine at the front, three-speed automatic transmission in the middle and tension axle at the rear. Why play with a winning system?

The Cougar boasted of being “a vehicle designed by Lincoln-Mercury”. What this means in practice is marshmallow-like coil springs in every corner and a silky smooth ride quality. The suspension system works with the numb power steering to create a strong reluctance to conquer mountain switch. This freedom was worth it.

Three V8 engines were offered (not always simultaneously or in all markets) in the fourth generation Cougar. A 140-horsepower, 5.0-liter smooth-mill was standard, or buyers could increase output with 5.8- and 6.6-liter engines. No matter which engine was chosen, the car did not offer brilliant acceleration.

The engine’s modest power is no cause for alarm (or disgust). A friend of mine has a beautiful 1979 Cougar XR-7 with the 302 standard; it easily follows Maryland commuter traffic. Electric disc/drum brakes also get it down nicely from 55 mph.

The Cougar’s true personality shines through in its styling, which is similar to its big brother, the Continental MKV. The XR-7s even had a continental bump on their trunk lids. Quadruple square headlights flank a formal Lincoln-style grille, while the front fenders protrude from the grille and house sharp turn signals and parking lamp lenses; again, more Lincoln. The Cougar mascot has to be one of the best of the 1970s; a chrome halo encircles the profile of a puma; “At the sign of the cat!” commercials blared. Choose one of the “Glamour” metallic paints for extra disco points.

Opera windows were de rigueur for American upward mobility cars at the time; buyers of base Cougar models can get them as an option. Brougham or XR-7 trim brought the exclusive opera window standard, highlighted by sharply angled louvres on the XR-7. Cougar coupes give the impression of a pillarless hardtop, but the rear quarter is fixed.

While Federal bumpers didn’t add any elegance to the Cougars’ long hood and short deck proportions, they were a part of life back then. Today, such features reflect the emphasis on safety that characterized 1970s car design.

Burl walnut inlays and a choice of colored vinyl or fabric upholstery for an inviting interior. Benches or bucket seats were also available. Although it may seem incongruous, you can order a “Sports Instrumentation Pack”.

There was also a wealth of options for comfort and convenience: power seats, CB radio, tilt steering wheel and several sound systems, including the Quadrasonic! Buyers could also specify a smart illuminated entry system; lift the door handle and a transparent ring around the door lock will light up. Stick to!

I have not attempted to provide an exhaustive list of all available Mercury Cougar options. Instead, I wanted to illustrate some of the ways a buyer would have added personality to their personal luxury coupe.

Why this car

Why don’t you want this car? It’s a low mileage survivor in a great color combination – Light Medium Blue with coordinating Dark Blue upholstery. Sure, it has the base engine, but the 302, er, 5.0-liter is a sweet racing piece and should offer acceptable fuel economy for the owner looking to tour. It is also equipped with the most attractive (IMHO) of the wheel options available.

The seller didn’t spend much time writing a long description, but the photos seem to support his claim that the car has only covered 29,000 miles. They noted cold air conditioning, good working order and electric windows. An electrically operated seat control can be seen in the pictures; maybe they never had to adjust the seat?

The only downside here is that seller demand is high and the car’s options are light. Keep an eye on it and go after it with an offer the seller can’t refuse when it doesn’t make the asking price unless he “knows what he’s got”.

Things to look for when buying a 1979 Mercury Cougar XR-7

I hate to make it look like my needle is stuck in the groove, but the two watchwords here are rust and trim. Bodywork is expensive to repair and trim parts are time-consuming to acquire. Cougars in the late 70s did not have enough money to justify a large outlay for body restoration. Interior and exterior trim is also not easy to find. If you own a Mustang or a Corvette, the catalogs fulfill all your wants and needs; not so with a ’79 Cougar.

These cars are mechanically reliable and maintenance and repair parts present minimal challenges. Cougars’ engines can be coaxed into lively performance if desired.

To summarize

As I mentioned in the introduction, the personal luxury car doesn’t seem to be coming back anytime soon, and a 1979 Mercury Cougar is a great example. Besides, you’d be crazy not to buy a car that matches the casual suit your dad wore to his wedding.

here is another link to the sale.

TTAC retrospective

TTAC Throwback is a new series about cars that we think deserve to be owned by someone who truly loves them. Imagine Sarah McLachlan singing in the arms of an angel as the camera pans past an adoptable car, desperately hoping it doesn’t get recycled into a Nissan Versa (I, I have something in my eye). Go ahead, make your bid; Aren’t you feeling better right now? You are doing the right thing!

[Images courtesy of the seller]

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