The Carchive: The 1980 Mercury Cougar XR-7

It’s that time again. Seven days have passed since we left the familiar chaos of the 21st century and took a bumpy, déjà vu-heavy trip down the history highway, before pulling up in the dark, litter-strewn parking lot of days gone by. Welcome back to The Carchive.
Last week we only made it back twenty years, where we looked at what South Korea’s Daewoo was offering in the UK in 1997, but today we’re looking at a machine that never officially made it to this Sceptred Isle. It’s the 1980 Mercury Cougar.

These hopeless, blurry images are marginally more legible if you click on them


“Since its first appearance, the Mercury Cougar XR-7 has been the embodiment of sport and luxury in a personal motor car”
Oh, deary me. What have we here? Yes, it’s the new-for-1980 Mercury Cougar XR-7, freshly downsized to sit on the Fox platform, various adaptations of which would end up beneath the Mustang, Ford Fairmont, Granada and LTD, and the various Lincoln and Mercury spin-offs thereof.
The success of translating the rather baroque look of its predecessor to a more modest scale was, well, mixed. But hey, it was nothing if not distinctive. And if it didn’t have enough of an image of its own, advertising splashes showing Mercury’s personal motor car in the company of an actual cougar, whose leash may or may not be being held by another kind of cougar were bound to do the trick.
In hindsight, it’s never a good idea to have an advert that has more visual impact than the product it promotes.

“It is a car that abounds with touches of the extravagant, highlighted by a gracefully styled Landau roof with intriguing quarter-window treatment”
I bloody love this brochure.
Intriguing is the word. The ’80 Cougar XR-7 was a stylistic hotchpotch of every trope that was hip at that moment in time.  If they – or some of them – had been applied sparingly and maybe to a more contemporary-looking car, the Cougar might have worked quite well. But that wasn’t to be the case. The bodywork had just as many right-angles as a Lincoln Continental, and lacked the grace of its increasingly popular European competition.
But hey, this was a car for Americans who want to drive American cars. That whole ‘Mercedes-inspired’ spell with the Granada had passed into history, and the mechanically related Thunderbird and Cougar were about as American as a car could get. But smaller. Think lo-cal root beer.

“Pictured above right are singluar new recaro seats, probably the most comfortable and convenient seating ever built into the luxurious Cougar XR-7”
If you squint really hard (because these are some of the worst pictures I’ve ever captured for The Carchive) you’ll see the Recaro seats of the XR-7’s ‘Sports group’. Never before have I seen the classic contours of Recaro sports seats look more jarringly out of place that behind the fiercely rectilinear dashboard of a fifth-gen Cougar.
That dashboard, incidentally, was optionally home to vacuum-flourescent digital displays for speed and fuel, for no really valid reason that I can think of. A rev counter was conspicuously absent from the options list, but with a miserable EPA/CAFE inspired 4.2-litre 255 Windsor V8, this wasn’t a car for red-line thrills. Fortunately, the less asthmatic 5.0-litre 302 remained an option on most versions, and standard with the luxury pack.

“Mercury Cougar XR-7 for 1980. Your easiest entry into the cat set”
The Cat Set, whatever that was, would get bigger the year after this catalogue was valid. Then, the death of the Mercury Monarch led to four-door sedan and station wagon joining the XR-7, both of which were spun from the re-imagined Ford Granada, and were in turn pensioned off only a few years later to be replaced by the Marquis line.
The aero-styled Thunderbird that would sire the next Cougar was generally seen as far better than its predecessor but once again Ford couldn’t resist doing something really stupid with the way its Mercury badged version looked. Yes, there were fewer tacky stick-on flourishes, but the elegant semi-formal roofline of the Thunderbird was replaced with a hideous upswept side window and clashing rear screen angle, for absolutely no justifiable stylistic reason – although there was more rear seat headroom as a result. Hooray for rear seat headroom.
Hooray for personal luxury cars.
(All (attrocious) images are of original manufacturer publicity material, photographed (terribly) by me. Copyright remains property of Ford, who I’ve still not entirely forgiven for introducing an SUV named KUGA.)

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15 responses to “The Carchive: The 1980 Mercury Cougar XR-7”

  1. salguod Avatar

    The only thing worse than a 1980 Cougar is it’s Ford sibling, the 1980 Thunderbird.

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      Gosh, it’s over four years since we held Thunderbird Week in The Carchive.

    2. JayP Avatar

      My dad had that same Tbird in baby blue. For what it was, it was comfortable and looked pretty good compared to the other 1980 cars.
      But the audio sucked. I think it had one speaker in the dash?

      1. outback_ute Avatar

        The super-low, unrealistic, base price ala carte options system has a bit to answer for really. What are ostensibly ‘luxury’ cars that have steel wheels, single-speaker audio, no AC or power windows in the base package should not exist. I could see the argument that some buyers could have a valid reason eg wanting steel wheels rather than alloy, but leave that to dealers to address. Poverty-pack luxury cars should not leave the factory doors.

  2. Tomsk Avatar

    It’s pretty popular to dump on the 1980-’82 T-bird and Cougar XR7 for a multitude of reasons (quality, performance, styling…), but I kinda have a soft spot for them. One with a Coyote crammed under the hood and a complete 2003-’04 Mustang SVT Cobra suspension and brake setup (IRS and all) swap would be rather amusing.

    1. Rover 1 Avatar
      Rover 1

      Because retractable headlights lead to better aerodynamics.

    2. salguod Avatar

      I figured that they would have their fans for that very reason, their Fox body roots mean that all kinds of upgrades are possible. So, I did a Google image search for “Custom 1980 Thunderbird”, prepared for the visual onslaught, and found exactly three:
      This mildly custom on Cardomain (Cardomain is still around?).
      This stock appearing drag car posted in a Grassroots Motorsports build thread that went dark in Feb.
      And a mostly stock appearing bagged low rider, but that’s it.

      Do it again with 1981 and 1982 and you get a couple more with custom wheels or a hood scoop, totalling half a dozen or so.
      These are seriously unloved cars, and their Mustang related underpinnings evidently isn’t enough to turn the tide.

  3. nanoop Avatar

    Ah yes, the car set: well-off people that meet at exclusive spots you can’t get to without a car, such as rest stops – the natural habitat of cougars and landaus.

  4. tonyola Avatar

    The poster child for the deep Malaise automotive era – right here.

  5. Victor Avatar

    Had a 1972 Thunderbird , ran like the wind and never gave me problems.

  6. outback_ute Avatar

    Looks like the “sports group” page might have been shot at Red Rocks near Denver CO?

      1. outback_ute Avatar

        Thanks, no wonder I didn’t recognise it then! Quite a similar formation.

  7. neight428 Avatar

    “The success of translating the rather baroque look of its predecessor…”
    Why baroque looks persisted with any kind of success after powdered wigs went out of fashion is a mystery I will never understand.
    “Opera windows and lots of puffy upholstery! And is that the most garish simulation of wood grain the boys down in graphics can come up with?”

  8. Rudy™ Avatar

    Those Recaro-designed seats undoubtedly were comfortable. They were one of the few good things about the pile of shyte Merkur I owned. Well, OK, not quite so good since they used cotton stitching which deteriorated in the sun after a couple of years. But while it lasted, I could drive for hours on those seats and never feel tired or uncomfortable. It’s kind of funny seeing them in a luxo-barge like this Cougar though.