Junk Gem: 1972 Mercury Cougar XR-7

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Beginning with the 1939 model year and continuing through 2011, the rule in Dearborn was that most Ford models would have a sibling dressed in Mercury badges (and Canadians even had Mercury F-100s and Econolines). When the Mustang first hit showrooms in 1964, the countdown to a Mercurized version began. That car, the Cougar, debuted as a 1967 model marketed as the “man’s car.” Today’s Junkyard Gem is a much abused example of the early 1970’s Cougar, found in a San Francisco Bay Area car wreck some time ago.

Just as the Mustang packed in weight and price as the ’60s became the ’70s, the even more gingerbread-heavy Cougar did the same. From 1971 to 1973, the Cougar was still based on the Mustang chassis, but weighed several hundred pounds more and was over seven inches longer. Curb weight on this car was 3,298 pounds, versus 2,941 pounds for the lighter ’72 Mustang coupe.

Yes there is a Mustang under all that chrome! When Mustang switched to a modified Pinto chassis beginning in the 1974 model year, the Cougar switched to the midsize Torino platform and remained there until joining Mustang on the Fox platform for 1980 (although the honor of being the Mustang’s near-twin went to the Mercury Capri at that point). For 1989, the Cougar became a Thunderbird MN12 sibling, where it remained until its 30th anniversary‚Ķand then the Cougar got the axe. The Cougar story was not completed at that point, however, because the name was revived in 1999 with a Mondeo-based version that lasted until 2002 and is notable for being one of the few Mercury models without a corresponding Ford-badged counterpart .

Along the way, there were Cougar sedans and even station wagons, with the curb weight of the heaviest Cougar ever ballooning to well over two tons (the winner of that honor is the 1977 Cougar Villager wagon, which climbs at a whopping £4,482). In 1972, though, all new Cougars were coupes or convertibles, and all came with factory V8 power.

The build tag on this tells us it was assembled at the River Rouge complex in Dearborn and sold through the Kansas City sales office. This tells us that someone drove this car to California after buying it in the Midwest; Ford also built 1972 Cougars in San Jose, so California Mercury buyers would buy locally made ones. It’s a high-end XR-7 in Medium Bright Yellow paint, with a Medium Ginger interior.

The engine was gone when I arrived, but this sticker tells us it was a two-barrel carbureted 351 cubic inch (5.8 liter) Cleveland V8, rated at 163 net (not gross) horsepower. Scrap buyers keep grabbing 351C engines soon after they hit a yard’s inventory.

The build tag specified the transmission as a three-speed FMX automatic, and the engine pullers left it behind. A three-speed manual was the base transmission.

The interior was almost completely cleared by the graveyard scavengers.

There’s a late ’90s parking sticker from Pioneer High School in San Jose, and the kind of rusty bodywork California cars often have around the windows.

The list price of this car was $3,323, or approximately $23,997 in 2022 dollars. This was nearly as expensive as the more expensive 1972 Mercury Montego, the GT.

A 1967-1970 Cougar in this condition might have been worth a restore, but there wasn’t much hope for this car once it entered the junkyard ecosystem.

Civilized like an elegant woman, wild (MEOO!) like a cat. I always feel bad for the leashed (and probably drugged) big cats in 1970s Cougar ads.

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