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1974 Mercury Cougar : Classic Cars

Mercury Division had a problem. The muscle car market which had been so profitable during the 1960s suddenly belly flopped in 1970. From there on, sales dwindled alarmingly. A question of market saturation, sky high insurance premiums and aging buyers flattened the growth curve. Early market leaders such as the Mustang and GTO were still selling enough cars to make it worthwhile but later entries like the Dodge Challenger were having a tough go of it. The Cougar which was mechanically and bodily tied to the Mustang, faced an unusual twist. Buyers liked the car. They enjoyed the luxury trim, silent, smooth operation and large size. It was perceived as more of a luxury GT than a true tire burner. This was plainly evident in the healthy XR-7 sales. When Mustang was heavily redesigned in 1971 along the lines of their intermediate brawler, the Torino, sales went downwards compared to 1970.

The Cougar didn't fare much better but it had one bright spot glowing. The personal luxury car market was rapidly expanding in sales as were intermediates. The Cougar was basically filled both those niches by virtue of size and equipment offering. It had one major fault, however. A true personal luxury car is full frame with separate body on construction. This provides the best insulation and comfort from road noise and roughness. Cougar was a unibody car just like the Mustang. No matter how much money was spent improving the upholstery, carpets, stereo systems and paint, road noise telegraphs along a unibody panel much easier than a separate frame and body design.

It was getting hard to justify the price increases to customers when they were getting a Mustang in disguise. One journalist noticed the discrepancy and summed it up as, "a sporty compact Cadillac." Mercury knew Torino had jumped into the personal luxury car market in 1972 with a redesign using a full frame and much better quality interiors and insulation. They were rewarded with strong sales although part of that was attributed to having an all new car while GM had to carry over their 1968 era A bodies one more year.

Mercury opted to go all out and make the 1974 Cougar a brand new car inside and out. The dashboard had full instrumentation. The bucket seats were tall and plush even in vinyl. The standard V8 was a 351 with optional power all the way up to a 400 cid Modified block. The Q code 351 Cleveland was also offered but it was quite rare. They were aiming it at the Grand Prix and Monte Carlo buyer.To improve the ride quality, the 1973 leaf spring rear suspension was changed to coil springs front and rear.Luxury car motifs were employed throughout including a leather padded instrument panel, hood ornament and the ubiquitous opera window and vinyl roof. To promote this new Cougar a switch in advertising was done as well. Instead of the car buff books, 1974 Cougars were promoted in more upscale reads such as Esquire, Playboy and Time. The plan worked. Sales went from 60,628 in 1973 to 91,670 in 1974, a terrible year for car sales in general thanks to OPEC and the economy.

Cougar's sales in 1975 were muted due to Chrysler's debut of their personal luxury car, the Cordoba. However it rebounded smartly in 1976 with 83,765 cars. Clearly the new model was impressing buyers.A new wrinkle behind the scenes caused problems. Ford intruded on Mercury's territory with a high end Torino called Elite. Mercury dealers complained, citing internal competition was the last thing they needed. Ford executives decided the Torino name would be dropped after 1976 and the platform redesigned and sold as an LTD II. Mercury Cougar would be paired to the new 1977 Thunderbird which was facing a radical downsizing program.

For promotion purposes, Cougar moved their car away from the Mustang. The vinyl covered dashboard seems weird and dated now. Back then it was a departure from its pony car origins with Mustang's fake wood grain dashboard. In 1973, the Cougar XR-7 is depicted with a classy looking lady wearing a white designer blouse, matching slacks and gold necklace. A sizable motorboat is in the background. It was chic but very much a blue collar fantasy. It's a motorboat after all, not a yacht and we have doubts this woman was ever a mainline debutante.

In 1974, we have what looks like the same car but it's different pal, completely different. The setting is indoors with a black satin backdrop. The woman is dressed in white but her hair is seriously styled. She's wearing an evening gown, diamond bracelet thick enough to cut cord wood with and her pet cat isn't allowed to lounge on her car's roof top, thank you. She's obviously a somebody now, probably a Bryn Mawr or Brown alumni. The 1974 Cougar also drives differently. It's like a bank vault inside and speed is no longer the chief aim of its life. The rear seat is actually comfortable to sit in. You wouldn't volunteer to cross USA in there. However you aren't trapped with your legs straddling a bucket seat ahead of you looming like a tomb stone. That's what like inside a 1973 Cougar. One thing both cars shared however was horrible gas mileage. No one bought these for economy.There was an interesting TV ad for this Cougar featuring a starlet, Farrah Fawcett. This was before Charlies Angels and her hit poster. A link to the vintage ad is included here.

There you go.

Today they are seldom seen at car shows or cruise nights. No one makes reproduction parts and your best bet is to buy the nicest most complete one you can find. Although production numbers were high they rusted easily and luxury cars devalued steeply once they were used cars. The downsize trend took hold and they became out of date quickly. A nice compromise between performance and luxury if you must combine these two is the 1974 Q code Cougar. I would choose the 1973 over it however because weight is your enemy when it comes to speed and a good exhaust system will keep the car almost as quiet as a 1974 model. You won't get the super soft ride however.

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Sources : 1974 Mercury Cougar Photo | 1974 Mercury Cougar Article


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