By Dave Turner
Photographs of some of the models referred to in the article taken by the Author can be found at the bottom of the article.
“Sharpen Your Senses”
The name Mercury Cougar was among the most revered of motoring families, since it made its first appearance in 1967 as a big brother to the Mustang it had acquired a strong following. Initially they were basically slightly enlarged Mustangs and continued to be a variation of a contemporary Ford and employing much of the same technology.
Unfortunately due to years of alleged mismanagement the Mercury label became extinct on Jan 1st 2011, having been an important branch of the Ford group since 1938. The final breed of Cougar arrived in 1998, being as usual based on a contemporary product, this time the Ford Contour/Mercury Mystique, which were the US versions of what Europe called the Mondeo. These final variants of Cougar have been described as one of only two memorable Mercury cars in over 20 years – the other being the 2003/4 Marauder.
Effectively replacing the Mazda based Probe and produced in the Ford/Mazda plant at Flat Rock Michigan they had the looks, the performance and the road holding that should have made them best sellers. It is said however that as the money was being made by trucks and SUVs Ford was not really putting much effort into things like sporting coupes, and the final nail went in when Ford discontinued the Cougar/Mystique lines to concentrate on saving the company by pushing where the biggest profits were. Apparently it was still touch and go.
Styled in Europe, the concept was called “aero-angular” and when launched by Jay Leno he is quoted as saying “I like a car with a good ass – this one’s got it!” A total of 184,222 were made. Like the Probe before it, two versions were available, a 2 litre four, and a 2.5 litre V6. Very few changes took place during production, a sure indication that Ford had already lost interest, the front end was slightly altered for 2001 – the full width ‘sharks mouth’ gave way to a central grille with a light at each end.
As Mercury was not represented in many export countries, the car was sold in them with a Ford badge, although hefty import duties forced an inflated price tag and resulted in understandably poor sales. While the US market cars came with a range of no less than ten very exciting exterior colours, export examples (as far as to the UK at least) were limited to just three. These were black, a rather aggressive blue and silver, the latter being by far the most attractive (it took us some time to find one and we still have it eighteen years later!) although green replaced the blue for 2001/2.
Just two miniature ’98-02 Cougars have been found, and they both were contemporary with the real article. Both were conceived in Europe and so carry the blue oval badges rather than the Cougars head and feature left hand drive. At least the two small Cougars we have are extremely nice models – the Minichamps 1:43 came in at least four colours, like the real car it is the silver finish that sets the model of to its best advantage. Despite having no ‘V6’ badge on the rear, it would appear to depict the larger engined version by studying the path of the exhaust system highlighted in silver on the well detailed base.
The larger of the two models came under the Action name, a spin-off of the Minichamps programme and of course it is up to the usual standard expected from that source. Doors, hood and trunk open without unsightly gaps while the trunk interior goes as far as depicting the recess for tools on the right side while the hood reveals a fair imitation of the Duratec 2.5 Litre V6 as confirmed by the “V6’ badge on the rear. Plenty of interior detail but it has a slightly more ‘plasticky’ look in this larger scale. At the time this model was issued a US home market version was also listed that would have obviously featured the Mercury insignia, no front licence plate holder and a narrow but deeper rear licence plate recess – this has so far proved elusive.
Mercury Cougar 1998-2001 Model Listing
Illustrations: Mercury Cougar 1998-2002
Minichamps 1:43 diecast from China: 88020
This is the “Silver Frost” version, others being red, black and blue.
Minichamps/Action Performance 1:18 diecast from China: 822132
Cougar V6 in Medium Melina Blue
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