Home Car Stories One Owner 1973 MERCURY Cougar XR7 convertible- Ron and Judy
1973 MERCURY Cougar XR7 convertible- Ron and Judy PDF Print E-mail
Written by Double Dragon
Thursday, 24 May 2012 21:02

1973 MERCURY Cougar XR7 convertible- Ron and Judy

oneownercollectorcar.com

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Writing and photography copyright D. S. Brown

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 There are many ways to view the 1973 Cougar XR7. If you examine it the way Cougar faithful did back in 1971 when the new body style debuted there is horror. The Cougar people saw the big new car through the context of the 1967 to 1970 Mercury Cougar styling triumph. By comparison, the big 1971 car was a travesty.

If you look back today with 20/20 hindsight in the context of the early 1970s, the big body style succeeds as a luxurious comfortable intermediate sized car. If you look at it compared to the later full size Cougars of the 1970s it becomes a brilliant car with many special touches. Looking at its place in history, it is the last of a breed. 1973 is the last year of the Cougar 'personal car' concept that came out in 1967. This is also the final year of the Cougar convertible.

The 1967 Cougar is Mercury's version of the Mustang. Lengthened 3 inches in the wheelbase and engineered for a softer smoother ride, the Cougar used the same drive train. It was marketed as the car to fill the personal car gap at Ford between the Mustang and Thunderbird. Never as sporty as the Mustang, the Cougar was meant to be an American Jaguar: elegant and refined.

The 1967-68 Cougars were small enough to be considered sporty. Despite a Mercury infusion of luxury they were true ponycars that did sales battles with Camaros, Firebirds, Javelins, and Barracudas. The 1969-70 Cougar was widened and lengthened enough to slip from the ponycar class and nudge into the smaller end of the intermediate class. At this point the car was still sporty in design and intention. In 1970 the new Cuda was much wider so it could be argued the Cougar was just keeping pace with the ever increasing size of the ponycar. Ponycars grew to accommodate ever larger engines as the musclecar race reached its peak. With the Cougar Eliminator, Mercury abandoned the European styling bias and created an outright all American flashy primary colored, striped, spoilered muscle car.

Put one of the still sporty 1971 Firebird, Camaro, Cuda or Javelins beside a 1971 Cougar and the Cougar just looks massive and stately, not lithe and tough. Plunk it beside the giant 1971 Mustang and it doesn't seem too far out of line. That was because the Mustang which created the ponycar class had defected from the ranks to become a distortion of itself in 1971. Despite its size, the Mustang still carried sporty styling cues. The Cougar had shed sportiness and now resembled a Lincoln Continental.

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1971-3 Cougars aren't considered 'real' Cougars by many enthusiasts who loved the car from its inception. Much like the outrage that greeted the transformation of the 1955-57 Thunderbird into the 'Squarebird' of 1958, Cougar fans were horrified by the big ornate luxury oriented Cougar greeting them in 1971. For the first time the headlights were exposed in the overly busy grille and 'fake radiator' centerpiece. The front end dispensed with the hidden headlights integrated thematically into a clean 'electric shaver' front end grille that had been so distinctive on the early Cougars. The stylish thin integrated bumpers had morphed into massive protrusions that looked added on. The rear of the car retained some of the previous Cougar styling with the long sequential turn signals vertically segmented similarly to the 'electric shaver' motif of the earlier cars.

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The continued availability of the big block performance engines gave small comfort to fans of the Cougar. The irony is that a 429 CJ Cougar from 1971 may have been one of the best handling and performing Cougars of all. The bigger size was partly due to greater length, but mainly caused by the much wider track needed to properly fit the 429, which provided a side benefit of vastly improved handling. ROAD TEST drove a prototype and loved the revised suspension and steering which also contributed to a giant leap in handling compared to the 1970 Cougar. The 429 CJ available in the 1971 Cougar is an incredible fire breathing engine with full 11.3:1 compression at a time when GM had dropped compression in its engines across the board. A 1971 Cougar would smoke the sportier appearing 1970 Cougar in acceleration and handling despite its greater size and weight.

1972 saw the end of big blocks, although in fairness the 351 Cleveland in 4 barrel form is still an amazingly potent engine even with smog equipment. The 1973 Cougar was a carryover with the Cleveland still in place. When 1974 rolled around a giant opera windowed full on luxury barge was bearing the name Cougar. Many faithful considered the Cougar a completely lost cause as of 1974. 1973 was the last of the tolerated Cougars (from the perspective of the fans of the original car). This 1973 Cougar has earned one owner collector car status due to its convertible top and meticulous care. Time has blurred the strong wall erected between 1967-1970 Cougars and the 1971-1973 generation.

The 1973 is by today's standards a big somewhat awkward looking car. Compared to the tight lithe lines of the original Cougars it is a mishmash of styling cues with no affinity to its origins. Compared to later Cougars it is still a 'personal car' and not yet a land yacht. Later still, you could buy a Cougar station wagon in the boxy downsized version that came to wear the Cougar tag. Compared to that generic drab box, the 1973 car is quite a beautiful thing with special details and comfort. The tradition of attention to detail and luxury was stripped right out of the Spartan utilitarian transportation devices built later under the Cougar name. Finally towards the end of the Cougar run, an attempt was made to build some sportiness and style back into the cars but the name faded away anyways last attached to a small thoroughly modern car with nice lines.

Flash back to Waukegan, Illinois in spring of 1973. Ron and Judith Lingle were living on the shore of Lake Michigan in Waukegan at the time. They spotted the Cougar XR7 about 10 miles inland sitting on the Lindskog Lincoln Mercury car dealership lot in Libertyville, Illinois. The Cougar XR7 had just been delivered to the dealership. Ron worked in car dealerships, although ironically he was employed at a Buick dealership at the time that he bought the Cougar! A few years later he was working at a Ford dealership and alternated between his old Buick dealer and the new Ford dealer when sourcing parts for the Cougar.

All women love the Cougar, and Judy was no exception. It was a very comfortable stylish car, but the size was still manageable. If you didn't compare an original Cougar to this car, it was nice enough. Once you were inside the car you were surrounded in a terrific interior and life was good.

1973 was the last year a Cougar convertible was available. Ron and Judy's Cougar convertible was built in May, 1973 just before the end of the line. The last Mercury convertible was in fact a white paint/ white top Cougar XR7 built July 3, 1973 at the finish of the model run. In a world that was killing off convertibles, any convertible was special and a brand new one was extra special. Feeling special was the point of the Cougar all along. It was always billed as a 'personal luxury car'. The 1973 was adhering to the definition of the Cougar despite its girth.

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Riding inside the car, the OOCC Cougar XR7 imparts specialness like the old cars did. In fact it was actually better riding due to suspension work done for the larger 1971 model. It was a convertible in a time when the species was extinct and it had a very comfortable cabin. The 1973 XR7 provides Jaguar inspired toggle switches, European style full gauges in wood grain with real leather seats just like every XR7 since the debut of the option in January, 1967 (a few months after the regular Cougar had been out). The XR7 is the package that really makes the Cougar. Driving the XR7 allows you to forget your problems and enjoy the ride, which is what the Cougar's mission has been since first introduced in 1967.

The option list is thorough. Power steering, power front disc brakes, air conditioning (in a convertible!), buckets (leather with vinyl bolsters), console, clock, rim blow horn, tilt steering wheel, power top, and sport mirrors.

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The VIN 3F94H563560 breaks down as follows:
3= 1973
F= Built at the Dearborn, Michigan factory
94= Cougar XR7 convertible
H= 351- 2 barrel Cleveland engine.
563,560= Sequential number equals 63,559th build of the year in the Dearborn factory.

Body code 76F= XR7 Convertible
Color 5M= Medium Chestnut Metallic
Interior Trim D3= Ginger natural leather and Mateao vinyl
Transmission U= C6 Automatic
Axle 2= 2.75:1 non- locking
District Sales Office 41= Chicago, Illinois

Ron and Judy bought their Cougar from the Lindskog Lincoln Mercury car dealership at 807 N. Milwaukee; Libertyville, Illinois on June 18, 1973 about one month after it was assembled. The original registration title below has SIN removed for privacy.

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August 29, 1973 the dealership sent out a standard customer satisfaction questionnaire. The new car had come with a stack of emissions information and warranty requirements. The letter below is a typical assurance of dealer service with the added spiel about the importance of the emissions equipment maintenance program.

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Ron filled out the customer survey using a typewriter as seen below. His answers tell a typical tale regarding typical car dealership quality and service of 1960s to 1970s domestic cars. Factory quality was always sacrificed for quantity in the quest for relatively low prices and huge profits. Dealerships were caught in the middle and often castigated for unwillingness to fix defects.

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Ron had problems with convertible fit causing leaks, faulty power steering and electrical woes. The Cougars all seem to have electrical gremlins. Ron wrestled with recurrent 'light flicker' complaints on and off over a decade until 50,000 miles. Replacing the headlights, sequential turn lights and later the modulator for controlling sequential action solved the electrical issues. Any Cougar I've owned from the 1960s has also suffered similar light flickering issues and mystery electrical issues. Changing the original mechanical control box for the sequential lights to a solid state aftermarket unit solved my problems. Ron had a new top installed in 1982.

Although there was no excuse in the 1960s for the lax quality control of domestics, new pressures in the 1970s held "The Big Three" back from making headway on this issue. The 1970s put the manufacturers into a scenario of trying to catch up with Federal regulations. Added complexity and expense of new bumper and emissions systems and impending CAFE laws drained away energy and time in the design phase. It added a bit of extra work on the assembly line.

Friction with unions was escalating at this time, too. Forces from all sides seemed to be conspiring to lower vehicle quality or at least freeze it in a plateau phase. The gas crisis created an opportunity for high MPG foreign cars to strut their stuff. The imports were built in factories run with different priorities. Imports made incremental steps forward in quality each and every year. Aside from fuel economy, the import improvements chipped away at the supremacy of "The Big Three" who maintained stagnant quality levels all the way through the 1970s.

Domestic assembly lines were kept moving at all costs. Dealer preparation was expected to remedy all ills later on. Dealerships frequently resented being left 'holding the bag' with defects. They were willing to spend a few hours on car prep but didn't want to have to reinvent the wheel. The standard complaint leveled against dealers from the 1960s was that they were simply interested in moving cars off the lot and didn't want to bother with customer follow-up. While this was undoubtedly true of many 'quick buck' operators, even legitimate dealers felt overwhelmed by factory defects. With the added hassles facing manufacturers in the 1970s this inherent attitude was only going to get worse.

Emission controls rear their head in many ways in the 1973 cars. As we saw above, the standard follow-up sales letter emphasized emissions maintenance. Below, you can see the extent of emissions controls covering the engine to the point where it is nearly buried. Granted, this car has power steering and A/C to contend with, but the engine bay is a barrel of snakes.

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Note the tubing extending to the front of the engine bay feeding cool air to the air cleaner. This is a precursor of modern fuel injection ducting.

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The sluggish performance of the Cougar is reflected in the passing distances printed in the consumer information page down below. This information is based on real life scenarios. Cars are loaded down and replicate typical maneuvers found in real life. POPULAR MECHANICS and the old UNION OIL TRIALS incorporated similar relevant passing speeds and distances into their tests. Despite the famous old Cleveland 351 under hood, the emission controls have muzzled the roar of the Cougar. To be fair, this is the pedestrian 2 barrel version. The 4 barrel still had some guts.

Braking distances aren't quite so depressing despite the gargantuan weight of the 'ponycar' Cougar which was now as heavy as many full size cars of the mid 1960s. Note that the smallest available tire size E78s provide a mere 3% tire reserve! That tells you how much weight the Cougar has put on. Back in 1971 when the new body made its debut, the ROAD TEST Cougar convertible with 429 and A/C was not going to be available as a production vehicle. It was discovered that the weight of the convertible with these heavy options exceeded the maximum load limit possible for the tires that would fit inside the wheel wells!

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Below is the first page of an 'Important message to buyers of 1973 Fords'. In case the dealer sales letter and the slow passing distances didn't tip you off that the new era of emission controls was upon us, pages of information drill this fact into the new car buyer's head.

In the late 1960s it was discovered that factory fresh cars frequently developed inoperative emissions systems within several thousand miles. Now that the systems were more complex and interactive it was more important than ever to keep the fluids fresh and clean and engines in exact perfect tune.

The first page urges owners to use the Ford specified oils and gives exact crankcase capacities. All Ford engines were supposed to be able to run on regular (i.e. leaded) 91 octane fuel, or if the rating system was a single digit rating, a minimum of rating No.2. The single digit rated fuel didn't catch on and hasn't been used for a long time. You'll see further down in this article that an incompatibility between leaded gas and the EGV caused problems within a few years time.

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On the back of the page the warranty for emission controls is set at 5 years and 50,000 miles. This was the cause of 'one size fits all' engine/ transmission/ axle combinations beginning in the 1970s. It was too time consuming and expensive to certify all the myriad combinations that used to be available. In the 1960s you could order five or six axle ratios and three or four transmissions per engine. There were usually seven or eight engines. No manufacturer could run all those combinations through a 50,000 mile test.

The guide includes a stern warning to owners that tampering with emission equipment is a federal offense. Earlier 1960s style long service intervals such as the 6 month/ 6,000 mile oil change are retracted. In order to keep the emissions controls working exactly right and to not void your warranty oil changes were reduced to every 4 months or 4,000 miles whichever came first. This interval was cut in half for typical conditions encountered in the average person's driving cycle (dust, heat, cold, idling, and slow traffic). This same interval was used for checking the throttle solenoid fuse. Intake manifold bolts had to be torqued every 24 months or 24,000 miles. Spark plug wires needed to be checked for resistance, spark control system and vacuum systems had to be inspected. The vapor canister, fuel system, EGR system, and cooling system were all included in this comprehensive list.

Amongst the original factory paperwork is a little booklet explaining the warranty. New details are bumper and emission equipment warranties. The tires are covered separately by the tire manufacturer. The Motorcraft battery was guaranteed up to 36 months on a pro rated basis (except for police and taxi use). As it turned out, the warranty period was pessimistic as the factory battery lasted nearly 5 years, needing replacement March 7, 1978.

The early emissions equipment caused many headaches for the manufacturers and customers. Despite the comprehensive list of 'super-tuning' maintenance items, it was discovered too late that leaded gasoline was eating away at the EGR throttle spacer plate at the carburetor base causing rough running. The letter below was sent out Feb 15, 1977 informing customers that a carburetor base plate replacement has now become a warranty item. Customers are told that they will receive a refund if they paid to have this repair performed in the past.

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 The OOCC Cougar was kept in top notch shape. Below you can see the carpets and pedals. There is virtually no wear on the gas and brake pedal. The OOCC Cougar has relocated the XR7 signature toggle switches from the 1967-70 position in the center of the dash to a corner just right of the steering column.

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Right from the start the convertible was parked during winter months. Garage bills usually start at end of May and cease in late September. The original mileage in 2010 is quite low at 83,707 miles.

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 Despite careful maintenance and use, the OOCC Cougar does suffer some minor defects. The rear passenger ashtray inset metal piece is missing. The lever to release the passenger seatback is missing its knob. Both of these details are typical even on a well looked after car. You can't police your passengers every instant that they are in the car. The seldom used back seat can accrue many faults while the driver's area which sees 100 times as much use remains unblemished. It just goes to show that many people don't respect other people's cars despite receiving a favor when they are being given a ride. The sole wear damage in the car appears on the driver's door panel. The plastic has developed a few cracks from usage.

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The OOCC Cougar XR7 was used quite lightly. Factory brake pads lasted 3 years. Pads were replaced for the first time June 4, 1976 at 25,482 miles. It wasn't until April, 1982 that brakes were done again. April 14, 1998 the front rotors needed replacing at 81,355 miles.

Exhaust needed work in 1979, 1982 and 2002.

Tune-ups were routine and infrequent until the car was brought in to diagnose hard starting in the mornings during 1981. A carburetor leak was fixed in 1995.

Automatic transmission fluid was first changed at 41,506 miles June 2, 1978. Three years later the fluid, gasket, filter and modulator were changed. The next year the car was brought in for an ATF leak.

The usual wear items were replaced as follows:
Ball joints/ rear springs= 6 years/ Mar 27, 1979.
Water pump= 7 years/ July 14, 1980.
Brake Master Cylinder= 8 years/ Sep 1, 1981.
Alternator and belt= 13 years/ April 9, 1986.
Radiator recore= 25 years, 81,355 miles/ April 14, 1998.

The A/C needed some work. May 9, 1983 it needed a new A/C pulley. A new A/C condenser was needed April 14, 1998.

Some atypical but minor problems were a new oil pressure gauge sending switch April 9, 1986. The temperature sending switch was next to fail at 82,933 miles May 30, 2002.

The original top was replaced in 1982 and the car was repainted in 1994. The OOCC Cougar was driven regularly until 1998. It saw very little road time after that.

In 2009 Ron and Judy consigned their Cougar XR7 to Volo Auto Museum and Sales. Volo has many prominent movie cars as well as a massive stock of muscle cars and specialty collector cars. Many of them are for sale.

UPDATE. The OOCC Cougar has been sold. The Cougar was sold before Ron and Judy made it to their 40th anniversary of ownership. 30+ years is still a pretty impressive stint!

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Last Updated ( Thursday, 17 October 2013 09:08 )