April 2014 Ride of the Month: CatsRock's '73 XR7 Convertible

The April 2014 Ride of the Month is CatsRock’s '73 Triple Black XR7 Convertible!

In 1973 there were only two convertibles offered by Ford Motor Company; Mustang and Cougar. Alarmed that the convertible would never be available again, convertible sales doubled from 1972 to 1973. But even that was not enough, Ford would not build another convertible for the rest of the decade.

In the spring of 1973 you really needed a convertible in the worst sort of way. Both the US and Russia are testing nuclear weapons, sometimes several times per month. The Beatles are all recoding solo albums and John and Yoko had formed their own country called Nutopia, whose national anthem was silence. Something called Watergate is all over the news, and it appears to go all the way to the top. And the word on the street was that if you wanted a convertible, you better act fast as the new safety standards and changing tastes dictated that there would be no more convertible Mustangs or Cougars in 1974.

Convertibles might be coming to an end, but 1973 brought some powerful beginnings. The New Sears tower in Chicago was about to become the worlds tallest building. Three American inventors would recieve a patent for the first ATM. And you really didn’t want to postpone that new Cougar purchase because by the end of the year, inflation would more than double hitting 8.7%. If the price of a new Cougar XR-7 convertible, at just $3,826, seems attractive now, the price of the new 1973 Motorola DynaTac 8000X cell phone, at just $3,995, probably won’t. That’s right a new cell phone cost more than a new Cougar.

Typically the last model year of production isn’t marked by much in the way of change, but for Cougar, there were several distinctive differences between 1972 and '73. The most obvious external change to the Cougar was the addition of the newly mandated 5 MPH front bumper. The Cougar fared much better than most, the new bigger bumper imparting a more sustainable look to the car, while avoiding the railroad-tie as bumper that was typical of many other vehicles. The US and USSR might have been testing nukes right and left, but Cougar owners could rest assured that the interior of their new car would meet the new more stringent fire resistance standards. Under the hood things seemed much more depressing than they really were. Horse power ratings would be expressed only in new SAE Net numbers introduced in 1972. The base engine was the 351 Cleveland 2V rated at 168 HP. By checking the box of the 351 4V Cobra Jet, you got not only more power, 264 HP, but also a larger 10 1/4" torque converter with Select Shift, higher rate springs all around, heavy duty shocks, and bigger front and rear sway bars. A pretty good deal for just $74.70! But the best deal of all was the Hurst shifted 4 speed manual transmission package at just $14.45. Not only did you get the great shifter and another gear, it bumped up the suspension package another notch higher.

Most Cougar buyers weren’t shopping for performance, only 3288 Cougars, out of 60,629, were ordered with the 351 4V Cobra Jet engine. Of those, only 431 were equipped with the 4 speed transmission. The typical Cougar buyer was responding to the Cougar theme in 1973; “When you want a luxury car that is also a sporty car, you want a Mercury Cougar. No car lives two lives so beautifully. Better than just a sports car, better than just a luxury car, it’s a car not like anybody else’s car!”

CatsRock’s beautiful '73 XR7 epitomizes both the Luxury and Sporty character that Mercury wanted to capture. Triple black, and bad to the bone! Congratulations CatsRock, that is one beautiful Cougar!

The rest of the story:

In 1971 the Federal Income tax rate could be as high as 70% and that was actually down from previous years. It was not uncommon for someone to get a raise only to discover that they had landed in a new tax bracket that gave them nothing to show for the increase in pay. This led employers to look for non-cash benefits that they could provide employees, and in the early 70’s, the company car was a favorite. And this is how Mark’s (CatsRock) Cougar story begins. In 1971 his father got a brand new Cougar as his company car. Mark was smitten by every aspect of the car.

Mark owned several other Mercurys on his way to this XR7 Convertible, starting out with a 351 Cleveland Equipped Montego MX, and ultimately a '75 XR7 built for performance, but not to pass emissions. As it turned out, when Florida passed emission inspection requirements the '75 couldn’t pass the test. Mark bought his first '71 Cougar, old enough to avoid the test, with the idea of swapping the high-performance drive train from the '75 in it to warm it up. And if that wasn’t enough he also bought a '67 standard and proceeded to turn that one into an XR7. As it turned out, the '71 was just too far gone to make the transplant worthwhile, and life got in the way of keeping the '67. Years passed but the Cougar bug never went away.

Mark joined the forum about two years ago and let us follow his hunt for an new Cougar. Mark had some very specific ideas about what he wanted: an XR7 Convertible in Black with power windows. After two years of searching, just about when he thought he would have to give up the hunt, the perfect Cougar appeared. This really was the perfect Cougar. It was powered by the Q code 351 Cleveland Cobra Jet motor, one of only 372 XR-7 Convertibles with CJ power. The CJ puts the power down through an upgraded C6 and into a 3.25 ratio open rear axle. With the CJ suspension upgrades make this a Cougar that knows how to prowl. After hiring a classic car inspector to look the car over, a deal was struck, and the car was on its way from New Jersey to Florida.

Happiness is watching a set of sequential taillights, on your Cougar, at your house. That’s what it took to for Mark to know the Cougar was his. There is something about the first time you wash a new car. You get to run your hands across ever body panel and see the car with your hands as well as your eyes. The new Cougar was straight as an arrow.

Mark drives his Cougar, top down, if at all possible. His only complaint, the top-down driving wind means he has to wear a ball cap to keep his hair out of his eyes. Must be rough! Mark has been to several shows, but one of the best moments ever was finding himself driving in an accidental convoy of GTO’s and 'Cudas and other great muscle cars and knowing that the Cougar had the kind of style to stand proud. And the thumbs up where ever he goes doesn’t hurt either.

Congratulations, CatsRock!

'Vert’s RULE! Congrats!!!

Congrats!!! :beerchug: :beerchug: :beerchug:

This is why there needs to be a LIKE button!

Beautiful car! Congratulations.

Great job Catsrock. It got my vote.


Fine looking Cougar. Congratulations.

Congratulations. I’ve long held a secret suspicion that the big cats make the best looking convertibles. Your car confirms it.

Wow, what a car! I’m hungry for more pics. Congrats!

Congrats CatsRock, beautiful car! :beerchug:

I got to interview CatsRock aka Mike and then finished the write up with a few more details about his story and his car.

Beautiful car congrats on the ROTM award . Nice to see a 70s cat honored

Thanks again to all for the congrats, and of course answering all the questions in the past on how to fix/change/diagnose to keep the vert running. Enjoyed talking cars and cats the other night with Bill, even after he gave me some suggestions on things I might want to consider in the future, and admitted he had no problem spending my money with his ideas :poke: I’ve enclosed an engine compartment photo, not as nice as some around here but for the time being I like the stock look, I’ve only added a transmission cooler under the hood. Also a side/interior shot, although not the factory original colors when she rolled off the line it was exactly what I was looking for and (in my opinion) the PO did a sweet job with the color change. :smoke:

Beautiful, just beautiful…

Very Nice Cat. It rocks!

Thanks OW, guess I’ll post one last shot before the next ROTM graces the forum :smoke:


I hope my 71 convertible looks this good someday!