The great thing about a Cars and Coffee event is the wide variety of cars you’ll see there. The show is “non-denominational” – meaning it’s not limited to exotic or muscle cars at all and you’ll find all kinds of cars (and even military vehicles) to suit every possible interest. In November 2012, for example, we found a fascinating example of a 60s French sports car in the Matra Bonnet Djet V S. Where else would you find one of these, much less one that was driven to and from the event?
One of the interesting cars we found in the December 2012 event was this 1968 Mercury Cougar. It’s one of several Cougars we’ve seen in the show over the years, including a 1970 Boss 302 Cougar Eliminator with a factory Boss 302 package. And just last month it was a 1970 Cougar XR-7 that closely resembled our own 1970 Cougar XR-7.
We liked this 1968 Cougar – a lot – and in fact if it had been for sale we would have bought it on the spot.
As our Ford fanatics readers know, the Cougar was built on a slightly elongated Mustang chassis with all-new (and very different) sheetmetal. Mechanical options were identical (although V-8 only), as was the front and side glass and the interior instruments (in a unique dashboard). But the intent of the Cougar was as an upmarket alternative to the Mustang. The emphasis was on personal luxury, although performance models were offered as well.
Sometimes derided as the “electric shaver grill”, the vertical bars and hide-away headlamps made the Cougar unique and distinctive. The lights are controlled by a vacuum tank, which is prone to rust but which can also be easily repaired. A similar system was used on the 1968 Ford Thunderbird.
1968 was the first year for the new “Windsor” iron black and head OHV 302 cubic inch (4.9 liter) engine that would serve duty in numerous Ford, Lincolns, and Mercurys up thru 2002 Australian Falcons. This engine family began in 1962 with a 221 cubic inch version, followed by 255, 260, and 289 cubic inch versions. By 1968, only the 302 remained in production, (although some 289s were left over in Mustangs). A taller deck height version of this engine stretched displacement to 351 cubic inches in 1969 and was found in many Ford Motor Company vehicles, culminating in the 1995 Mustang SVT Cobra R. The optional engine during 1967 and 1968 was a 390-cubic V-8, and a very limited number were built with 427 cubic inch V-8s.
Rust problems abound in early Cougars and Mustangs. One of the most nefarious issues, found in out own 1967 Mustang, was the inner fender liners rusting underneath the hood hinges. The force of the hood hinge springs would compound the problem. If you spot one of these cars with the trailing edge of the hood slight raised, this is a telltale sign. Fortunately, this Cougar had almost immaculate inner fenders and was very clearly well taken care of. The shock towers are also very clean.
Note the rare factory air conditioning. One option this Cougar doesn’t have unfortunately, is front disc brakes (drums were still standard). Our ’67 Mustang had both aircon and front disc brakes, as well as the very rare K-code engine. Our ’70 Cougar XR-7 had both aircon and disc brakes, along with a 351.
The interior is a stylish mix of Mustang parts (speedo to the left and aux gauges to the right), along with aircon vents and controls, steering wheel, shifter, and window cranks) and up-level trim in the unique dashboard and door panels.
Likewise, the seats were Mustang underneath but with much better trim and unique colors. In some later ’68s, not this example, headrests were introduced before they became Federally mandated the following year.
The rear end of the Cougar was also unique, and featured a vertical bar motif to match the front. However, the taillights were sequential. In turns the lights would start in the middle of the car and move outward in the direction of the turn. Unfortunately, the electronic module that controlled the sequencing was mounted in the lower left hand side of the trunk, behind the wheels, in an area prone to rust. In our own Cougar, this module because water-logged from water kicked up thru the rust holes at the bottom of the fenders. Our sequencing stopped working, causing us to fail inspection one year at a nearby Lincoln-Mercury dealer. When we simply unplugged the faulty module to make the lights work conventionally, the dealer denied us a pass anyway on the basis that the car didn’t come that way. Ridiculous – and we just went elsewhere to get a pass and kept the car like that until we located another module. Nowadays, hese are easily and routinely repaired.