There was a lot at stake when the product planning group at Mercury got the green light to develop their pony car competitor. The first option they explored was to simply tack a different grill and tail-panel on the already hot-selling Mustang. Although this would have been the safest approach, but it ran the risk of stealing sales from the Mustang. More important than that was that it would just reinforce the idea that a Mercury was a gussied up Ford, and that wasn’t good for Ford or Mercury.
In 1962 Mercury had had another shot at developing a unique product, the Meteor. The Meteor did ride on the Fairlane platform, itself a stretched version of the Falcon, but it had distinctively different rear quarters and front fascia. In spite of a styling refresh, and the addition of more body styles in 1963, it never sold well and was discontinued. Mercury had a history of failing every time they strayed too far from the Ford offering.
The plan for manufacturing was to build the Cougar on the same line as the Mustang. The Cougar’s modest sales forecast (just 60,000 units) meant that there would most likely be 10 Mustangs for ever Cougar that would run down the line. Mercury had learned the hard way that this could lead to quality problems. The assembly workers had to “relearn” the job when a stray Mercury was mixed into a herd of Fords. A distinctive car was desirable, so long as the distinction was not poor quality.
Frank Zimmerman Jr. was the Lincoln-Mercury Marketing Manger and he understood the risks. The Mustang was being offered in three body styles; coupe, convertible and fastback. Proposals for adding both a wagon and sedan were in consideration at the time the Cougar was approved for production. Common knowledge at the time was that the way to grow a brand was by offering as many body styles as possible. Zimmerman made the call that the new Cougar would be offered in only one body style, and it would be a coupe. Zimmerman put the decision this way; “You can screw in quality with one body style”. But Zimmerman also had a different idea about how to broaden the Cougars appeal. But the original had to prove itself in the market first.
For 1967 the Mustang / Cougar chassis had been enlarged to house the big 390 FE engines. Cougar would waste no time in taking advantage of this, making the 390 standard in the GT package, and optional in any Cougar. Power would be synonymous with the Cougar name; no six cylinder engines would be offered.
The market response to the new Cougar was incredible. Fear of failure turned almost over night into a race to see if they could catch up with demand. The new Cougar was a step-up from the Mustang, splitting the difference with the Thunderbird. In January of 1967, Zimmerman would get his second Cougar offering. A new Cougar, called the XR-7, would provide another step up the ladder. It would feature leather upholstery and an imitation wood-grain dash with a full set of instruments including, what was at the time a very racy addition, a 6000 RPM tach. At the top of the Cougar ladder was the XR-7 GT. A nicely optioned XR-7 GT was within striking range of the larger, even more luxurious, Thunderbird.
At the time it was said that adding a convertible to the Cougar line would have added an additional $40 million to the development budget. Part of the reason this was so high was that the top structure for a Cougar convertible would have to be completely different from the Mustang. The Cougar roof-line was a distinctive part of the Cougar profile that had to be preserved. Had Mercury built it, the selling price of a Convertible Cougar XR-7 GT would have been astronomical at the time.
Just because Mercury didn’t build one is no reason for others not to try. One of the first (if not the THE first) Cougar convertibles was built by Kevin Marti of Marti Autoworks fame. According to Kevin, he had been trying to catch the eye of a particularly attractive young lady that he had seen cruising up and down Central Avenue in his home town of Phoenix. In a scene right out of American Graffiti, Kevin pursued her unsuccessfully in his own '67 XR-7. Finally fate would put him next to her at a traffic light. At a loss for words, the only thing young Kevin could think of to say was “Hey I’ve got a Cougar too!” Not impressed, the young lady responded, “Well, it’s not a convertible is it?”
With the kind of resolve only a testosterone charged teen-aged male can demonstrate, Kevin proceeded to cut the top off his Cougar and then rob two Mustang convertibles of their essential parts to build his convertible. (This may have also been a first for parting out Mustangs to build Cougars!) Kevin may have paved the way, but our March 2016 Ride of the Month demonstrates how the conversion process has been perfected.
Malcolm will share more of the story of his Cougar with us soon, and we will add the details here. In the mean time they say a picture is worth ten thousand words, so put on your reading glasses and give these pics a good look.
The GT badges on the front fenders tell you that a 390 GT S code engine hides under this hood. The scoop is not original but a nice custom touch to the very clean lines of the car. When a convertible top is folded down, the goal is too make it as flat as possible. This is called the stack-height. Malcom’s car demonstrates how a low stack-height maintains the Cougar’s style. The Styled Steel Wheels are modern reproductions, the rims are fully chromed and much stronger than the factory original version.
Under the hood is a work of art. The rocker arm covers are XR7-G style and the oval air cleaner with running cat insert are a perfect match. What you might not know is that this combination is not just a plug and play fit. Typically this style air cleaner hits the bottom of the hood and sometimes the top of the distributor. I hope Malcolm will share his secrets for making this combination fit. The Shelby style K brace and the Monte Carlo bar are both wise additions to stiffen up the front of the car. I suspect the Monte Carlo bar is a custom creation to clear the air cleaner and distributor.
This is a heavily optioned Cougar. The Tilt-Away steering was not available with a four speed from the factory, but it makes a great addition. Power Disc Brakes were Kelsey Hayes 4 piston type for 1967 only. Seat back head-rests were not available from the factory until '68 and became mandatory in '69. They are nearly impossible find today and look great in Malcolm’s car. The 1967 AM/FM radio was mono. The push buttons rotate for either FM or AM stations. This was a one year offering that is extremely rare. The Sports Console with clock was an XR-7 only option, and unique for 4 speed applications. It was a $72.55 option. The steering wheel shown was used in the GT version of the '67 Mustang. It was a popular dealer installed item. It is another one year part that only works with the '67 steering column.
The black hood scoop and center hood stripe would appear in April of 1968 as the only visible sign of the 428 Cobra Jet lurking underneath the hood. Maybe Malcolm is giving us a hint about what is really hiding here?
In order to make room for the top mechanism, the rear seat back has to be narrowed. You would never know by looking as what must be custom upholstery makes the seat look like it was born here.
The Cougar roof line is faithfully executed making this one of the finest convertible creations we have ever seen. The rear exhaust tips and cut out trim are XR7-G items and integrate perfectly with the lines of the car. The only exterior clue that this is an XR-7 are the “hash mark” rocker trim in font of the rear wheel opening. In '68 the rear trunk lock cover would also get an XR-7 badge by the Cougar badge seen here is correct for '67 XR-7’s.
Be sure to come back and check this thread out as we get more from Malcolm to complete the story.