- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 19, 2003

Ford Motor Co. hit an automotive grand slam home run with the midyear introduction of the Mustang in 1964.

General Motors, Chrysler and others scurried about to respond to the challenge. Mustang had the market cornered until the competition eventually arrived in 1967.

Besides the Chrysler and General Motors products, the Mustang also faced a challenge from its Mercury cousin — the Cougar.

The first Mercury Cougar, a refined version of the Mustang, appeared in 1967. The 1968 models were virtually identical to the first ones. That is when a contractor in the University Park section of Dallas, 35 years and three days ago, purchased a 1968 Mercury Cougar from Downtown Lincoln-Mercury on June 17, 1968, for his wife.

The base price was $2,933.42 but, of course, there were $937.75 worth of extracost options including:

• Whisper-Aire conditioning………………$360.40.

• Select Shift Merc-O-Matic……………….206.65.

• Power steering…………………………..95.00.

• Decor group…………………………….90.70.

• AM radio with antenna……………………61.40.

• Sports console…………………………..57.00.

• White sidewall E70x14 rayon 4-ply tires…….36.35.

• Tinted glass……………………………..30.25.

To that total was added a $110 transportation fee, which raised the total to $3,981.17.

The standard Cougar engine in 1968 was the 210-horsepower, 302-cubic-inch V-8.

The contractor’s wife sparingly drove the handsome light green Cougar with a black vinyl top for a dozen years.

From the day the Cougar was first driven home, Jim Cox, the adult son of the neighbors, had his eye on the car. He noticed how well the car had been treated and maintained. Over the years he has been a passenger in the front bucket seat on short trips around town.

Although he is a General Motors man at heart, he quickly volunteered to become the second owner of the Cougar when the original owners announced plans to sell in 1980.

The odometer at that time had registered a total of 23,000 miles in 12 years. Mr. Cox took possession of the Cougar on June 18, 1980, 12 years and a day after it was initially registered.

Mr. Cox was teaching at the University of Houston at the time he bought the car. A year later he drove his Mercury to Arlington, Va., where it has been ever since. “It has been garaged most of its life,” he says. That’s easily understood after one look at the car, especially the original, crack-free padded dashboard and vinyl top.

“The car has never been on snow or salty streets and has no rust problems,” Mr. Cox says.

During the 22 years that the Cougar has been in Northern Virginia Mr. Cox has commuted to work on Metro, which helps explain the pristine condition of the car and the low (78,000) mileage recorded on the odometer.

Because the car left the factory with air conditioning, a chrome-plated air vet is suspended under each end of the dashboard. Mr. Cox says that, although the air conditioner works fine, it needs to be converted to the new R134a refrigerant.

The Mercury Cougar in 1968 sold about one-third the number of Ford Mustangs. The difference in base price favored the Mustang by more than $300, A total of 81,014 Cougars were manufactured that model year.

Mercury designers incorporated the hidden headlights into the grille, disguising the effort with 24 vertical chrome strips. Echoing that design theme at the opposite end of the car are vertical chrome strips on the taillights, both left and right composed of three adjacent lights.

When the turn signals are activated, Mr. Cox explains, “They are sequential, powered by three electromechanical relays in the trunk.” People behind the Cougar witness the turn signals “running” across the rear of the car. “You can actually hear the unit clicking in the trunk,” Mr. Cox says.

The all-original interior is remarkably unused and, although the speedometer is set to record speeds up to 120 mph, Mr. Cox says he doubts it has ever been above 80 mph. “The front suspensions on these old cars aren’t all that good,” he observes. The 3,134-pound sporty Cougar rides surprisingly well on a 110-inch wheelbase.

A floor-mounted console below the original AM radio houses the gear selector for the automatic transmission.In the center of the green, padded dashboard, which stretches almost six feet across the car, is a convenient “cubby hole” that has a “roll top” cover.

After 23 years, Mr. Cox still enjoys his pristine Mercury Cougar, but he can see the day when it will be time to pass the torch to a third owner.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide