The 1967 Cougar hit the showroom floor on September 30, 1966, which meant Mercury had a car to compete in the pony subclass. This first year was available in a hardtop with an option of the base model or the more upscale XR-7.The uptown model has an imitation wooden dash, black face instruments, toggle switches, vinyl/ leather upholstery, and an overhead console. If you chose the Merc-O-Matic transmission, then you would also have a floor mount “T” shifter. The entry level engine was a two-barrel on a 289-cubic-inch that developed 200 hp (149 kW) or, stepped up a notch, the 390-cubic-inch (6.4 L) with a four-barrel that developed 335 hp (250 k) on the GT package.
However, a GT performance package was available for either the base or the XR-7, which included the 390-cubic-inch V8, a handling package, better brakes, high quality tires, and a low restriction exhaust system. Mercury based the design on the Mustang although the sheet metal bodies looked much different with an attempt to give the Cougar a European flare. The grille is vertical bars and is the full width of the front of the car; the headlights are hidden. The rear is similar with the vertical bar effect with the sequential turn signals somewhat concealed behind the bars. The car won Car of the Year from Motor Trend magazine and was a big hit from the start with everyone.
The power options were always available for the Cougar, but almost right away it started gradually drifting away from its roots and becoming something new. It was on its way to becoming a luxury pony car. As an example, in 1970, a fashion designer came up with a hound’s-tooth vinyl top with a matching interior. The Cougar got a redesigned shell in 1971. The hidden headlights saw the light of day; they were no longer retractable, and also in 1971 the wipers were hidden and stayed that way.
During the 1969 model year, the Cougar saw a few changes; one of the most visible is a convertible added to the lineup with either the basic or the XR-7. The grille’s bars weren’t vertical; they were now horizontal with a spoiler, and Ram Air with hood scoop were available options. Mercury offered an Eliminator performance package, which had a 390-cubic-inch with a four-barrel, but you could kick it down a notch and choose the Boss 302, or you could kick it up a few notches and get the 428 CJ. This option came with a blacked-out grille, special stripes, and front and rear spoilers. As added options, there were Ram Air induction, a higher tuned performance suspension, and a handling package with a lot of bright colors available. In 1969, there were two only Cougars built with a Boss 429 V8. Originally built for racing, they’re the rarest Cougars ever made.
Minor changes in 1970 included the addition of side marker lights and seat belt shoulder harness. The under hood changes were more pronounced with the base engine becoming larger midyear to a 302-cubic-inch (157 kW) V8 power plant with a two-barrel that developed 210 hp. Mercury wanted the Cougar to be the company’s power icon with the introduction of the XR7-G, which came with all kinds of options such as a hood scoop, hood pins, and Lucas fog lamps.
All the Cougar models had a choice of three engines: the 302 V8, the 390 V8, or a new option the 428 (7.0 L) V8. The XR7-G option pack could come with the 428 Cobra Jet engine if you wanted your ride a little quicker; there were only 14 of these plants assembled. Starting April 1, 1970, the 428 Cobra Jet with a Ram Air was on a few GT-E models. The 428 engine rated conservatively at 335 hp (250 kW) but with the Ram Air option the engine developed 410 hp (306 kW). The factory produced 394 GT-E models, but only 37 of those had the 428 installed. The GT-E had power front disc brakes as part of the basic package.