Where I’m sitting, we’re done for another workday week. The sticky, polyester 9-5 shirt and tie are coming off, the pipe bowl is being stuffed with rough shag and a favourite tipple is being poured into a lead crystal glass, with perhaps a few chips of ice to add a little decorative frost. And to heighten the feeling of decadence, perhaps a long, lingering look through a musty old brochure. Join me, if you will, in The Carchive.
From last week’s manual labour behind the wheel of a ’78 L-Series, we’re leaving Ford’s heavy truck division and heading fifteen years into the future for a look at one of their cars.
But first, I want you to do something for me.
Clicketty-click for biggety-big!
Stop what you’re doing and forget that the Ford Thunderbird ever happened. Erase it from history. Every generation from the fifties to the Millennium. Eradicate them all from your subconscious.
Relax, breathe in, breathe out.
Now breathe in a little deeper, hold it, and breathe out again.
Once more, breathe in, hold it, and breathe out again.
Now, I want you to imagine that Ford, the most mainstream of modern car manufacturers, maker of the Fiesta, the Focus and the Taurus, could offer you a rear wheel drive, V8 powered touring coupé, and you could choose it in Lincoln or Mercury flavour, too.
Truth really is stranger than fiction.
“Mercury Cougar XR7. It can turn a stretch of road into a stretch of the imagination”
OK, I’m over-egging the dramatic pudding, here, but I find it unendingly tragic that the delicious recipe of an old-school V8 powertrain, long-distance lounge comfort and two-door intimacy is a dish that Ford stopped serving almost two decades ago, barring the vanity-project DEW98 ‘bird of 2002 and the Mondeo-based FWD effort which finally bore the Cougar nameplate.
It was our fault. The public just lost interest in domestically branded personal luxury cars, largely in the light of there being so many overwhelming temptations from farther afield. Brand, image and marketing were becoming all things and all men, and extravagant packages from mainstream, supermarket names were being ignored in droves.
Tragic when you consider just how much the MN12 Cougar and Thunderbird still had to offer.
“A clear line of communication between car and driver”
This brochure dates from ’93 after a scalpel was taken to the flabby Cougar lineup and all the wasteful, excess meat was trimmed off. Gone was the LS, the sexier, more-easily-sold XR7 (now sans hyphen) being the sole model, and available with a raft of possible specification permutations.
It was also the last year of the old stalwart Windsor V8, pensioned off for ’94 to make way for the Modular. You could alternatively plump for the 3.8 V6, plain, no dressing, not like the supercharged version that powered the SC variant of the Cougar’s less formally roofed cousin, the Thunderbird. 140hp in a 3500lb, 200 inch car must have been stately, especially as an automatic transmission was mandatory in ’93 Cougars.
“Few driver’s cars accommodate passengers quite this generously”
The MN12 platform offered full five-passenger seating. Most interior parts were common between Ford and Mercury; the dashboard and steering wheel were shared, but the Cougar’s idiosyncratically notched roof made for better headroom in the second row. Combined with the lazy 200hp output of the Windsor (at 4000rpm- that’s turbodiesel territory), these cars really weren’t at all comparable with anything else out there. Too cheap and not highly enough strung to be compared with a BMW, too rear-wheel-drive to be fairly cross-shopped against a Chrysler or GM. Yet even their fiercely individual nature wasn’t enough for Ford to persevere with the concept in the end. There was far higher profit yield in SUVs, a sector afflicted far less by competition from foreign brands.
I gotta be honest, I always thought the Cougar was a bit silly looking. I infinitely preferred the BMW-like silhouette of the Thunderbird, and the MKVIII was just delightful from nose to tail, but it’s great that there was so much variety available. There must be kids out there born since 1998 who have no idea that a company like Ford was ever involved in selling big, two-door five-seat rear-drive coupés that weren’t Mustangs.
I’d love it to happen again some time.
(All images copyright Chris Haining, Hooniverse 2016)