Fact 1: The 2-speed Columbia rear axle offered in early-1930s Ford and Mercury products almost made a spiritual comeback in 1969 as the “Streep” option for Mercury performance cars such as the Cougar Eliminator and Cyclone Spoiler.
An abbreviation for “street and strip,” the Streep unit was manufactured by Dana/Spicer as a Salisbury design (integrated center section) as opposed to the Hotchkiss-style, drop-out differential common to all Ford 8- and 9-inch rear axles. The idea behind the Streep (which bore absolutely no relationship to Meryl) was to give muscle car owners extra highway flexibility, reduced emissions, and better fuel economy courtesy of a manually controlled, cable operated, 2-speed derivative of the sturdy Dana 44 rear axle.
Though not as stout as the massive 93 ⁄4-inch ring gear used in the Dana 60, the Streep’s 8.5-inch ring gear was encased in an expanded cast-iron housing incorporating a countershaft and gear set, much like a manual transmission. Toggling between 2.88 and 4.27:1 final drive ratios had to be done with the car sitting still, via an extra shift handle mounted on the floor.
Hot Rod magazine tested a 1969 428 Cougar Eliminator (one of six Streep prototype test cars) in its June 1969 issue and had high praise. Unfortunately, the Streep axle never reached production, despite plenty of media buzz and Ford/Mercury hinting about its imminent arrival for the 1970 model run.
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Fact 2: It’s often forgotten that “Dyno” Don Nicholson’s 1966 Eliminator I flip-top Mercury Comet funny car was originally built with a 4-speed stick. Because Don was one of the best stick men in the business—rapidly banging gears in everything from a 13-second 1961 409 Impala to a 9-second 1965 SOHC Cyclone doorslammer—Mercury initially built the Eliminator I with an aluminum-case Borg-Warner T-10 (much like the unit used in 1965 Shelby GT350 Mustangs).
In a 1997 interview, “Dyno” Don told me: “We did some testing down in Florida with the 4-speed. I couldn’t shift it sittin’ there straddling the transmission, it was a thing where it was almost impossible to shift and do it right. We gave up on that pretty quick. The C-6 automatic proved to be much better.”
Check out the April 1966 issue of Hot Rod magazine to get an eye-full of Don’s revolutionary flip-top funny in its early 4-speed configuration.
Fact 3: Ford got a major image boost by releasing 1,358 Boss 429 Mustangs (859 in 1969, 499 in 1970). So how about Mercury; did any hemi stardust land on the brand?
Sadly, the mighty twisted hemi option passed Mercury by, except for two Cougars built in 1969. Mercury race honcho Al Turner sent a pair of white R-code 428 SCJ Cougars to the Kar Kraft Brighton, Michigan, campus for Mustang-spec spring tower/control arm mods and Boss 429 transplants. Once completed, they were assigned to Ford drag superstars “Dyno” Don Nicholson and “Fast” Eddie Schartman.
Unfortunately, the Boss wasn’t an immediate champion so Nicholson’s car (painted red) soon got an “obsolete” 427 cammer. Schartman soldiered on with his Boss before selling the car (intact) to drag racer Lou Cerra in 1971. Schartman’s Cougar survives to this day and is undergoing a restoration. “Dyno’s” Boss-Nine also exists as a sliced-and-diced pile of body panels. Fortunately, its historical significance has been realized and a full restoration is planned.
Fact 4: Ford Boss 429 Mustangs were intended for public consumption so their VINs bore a specific engine code letter (Z) for easy warranty control. By contrast, Mercury clearly had no intention of mass producing Boss 429 Cougars. The two they did build were meant to be returned to Mercury at the end of their usefulness, probably to be destroyed.
As “temporary entities,” their VINs were not assigned a specific engine code to designate the Boss 429. Rather, each of the two cars had an “R” in the fifth spot of the VIN, which was a remnant of their initial construction as 428 Super Cobra Jet cars. Schartman’s beautiful blueon-yellow Boss Cougar was immortalized by race photographer Jon Asher on a Fleer Official Drag Champs collector card in 1970.
Fact 5: What about rumors of showroom-available Boss 429-powered 1970 Mercury Cyclones for NASCAR homologation? It’s an established fact a trio of pre-production prototype 1970 Ford Torino King Cobras exist today—all of them restored and two “upgraded” to Boss 429 power. Conjured by outgoing Ford designer Semon E. “Bunkie” Knudsen and executed by stylist Larry Shinoda with assistance from Ford Special Vehicles Engineering designers Chuck Mountain and Ed Hall, the Torino King Cobras featured wind-cheating, sloped, nose cones and Boss 429-capable engine bays (though standard canted-valve 429 engines seem to have been used in at least two of the test cars).
Did Mercury also get a piece of that action? Yes, while Ford built four Torino King Cobras (three of which survive), Mercury produced two slope-nose 1970 Cyclone Super SpoilerIIs, one of which is alive today thanks to the efforts of former Ford service-rep and mega-fan Steve Honnell. He even knows its history since its purchase from Holman-Moody in 1970 after the NASCAR campaign was terminated.
Though originally powered by a 429 SCJ, Honnell’s abortive aero warrior now sports the Boss 429 powerplant it was meant to have. But again, like the Boss 429 Cougar, Boss 429 Cyclones were never built for public consumption. Again, Mercury came up short when it came to FoMoCo’s Boss 429 programs.
Fact 6: Diehard Mopar fans don’t like to admit it, but legendary Pentastar drag racers Ronnie Sox and Buddy Martin ran a factory-sponsored 427 Comet in 1964—and a series of Chevy 409s before that!
The Comet was one of the 20 A/FX drag package cars built by Dearborn Steel Tubing in 1964. With sponsorship from Brinsfield Lincoln-Mercury of Greensboro, North Carolina, Sox’s mount was initially painted white (as was the rest of the 427 Comet fleet). A September 1964 trip to England with the United States Drag Racing Team triggered the addition of red flanks and a blue roof. The patriotic decorations became a staple of future Sox & Martin race cars, regardless of make.
Fact 7: The 1964 U.S. Drag Racing Team consisted of drag racing royalty including Don Garlits, Tommy Ivo, Tony Nancy, K. S. Pitman, George Montgomery, Dave Strickler, Sox & Martin, and others. Each was handpicked by NHRA president Wally Parks to make the trip to England as a means of demonstrating the sport to the Brits.
In today’s world, the racers and their cars would likely be transported by air but in 1964, the teams, cars, and spare parts were transported from New York City to the British port of Southampton aboard the aptly named SS United States, a 990-foot luxury passenger liner built in 1952, which made the trip in less than four days.
Fast forward to 1991. During a cross-country drive from Massachusetts to Los Angeles to begin my professional writing career, I stopped in Richmond, Virginia, to visit my brother David and his young family for a day. Driving near the seaport we were fascinated by the sight of an immense ship in the distance. It was the decaying hulk of the SS United States. We walked to the berth and I could imagine cranes swinging Ronnie’s 427 Comet over the rail and into the hold for its European visit. At the time of its construction, the SS United States employed a record amount of aluminum to reduce weight and allow a reported 44-mph top speed. No wonder the Drag Team made it to England in less than four days. But now it seemed as if the scrap value of the aluminum might seal the mighty ship’s fate. Happily, in the years since that 1991 sighting, conservation efforts have protected the liner from loss and it is currently berthed at Pier 82 on the Delaware River in Philadelphia.
Fact 8: The Comet played a vital role in Mercury’s muscle car program. But was the first 1960 Comet initially planned as an Edsel model? Yes, it was. Had things worked out as first envisioned in 1958, by 1960 the Edsel line would have been firmly entrenched with hundreds of successful stand-alone dealerships from coast to coast. Adding the Comet to the 1960 Edsel product line would have given Edsel dealers a solid response to the strong-selling Rambler American and Studebaker Lark, not to mention the new wave of Detroit compacts such as the 1960 Valiant, Corvair, and Falcon. But public acceptance of the Edsel was dismal and 1960 was its final year.
By contrast, the Comet program was still valid so a hasty restyle eliminated its Edsel-inspired split grille (which was clearly borrowed from the 1959 Pontiac layout) and retail sales were assigned to existing Mercury dealerships, even though the Comet didn’t become an official Mercury product until 1962. Close inspection of any 1960 Comet reveals many lingering hints of the Edsel connection in the form of 1959 Edsel-sourced interior control knobs and parking-light lenses.
Fact 9: Hardcore Mercury stalwarts aren’t excited to admit that “Dyno” Don Nicholson piloted a series of very successful Chevrolets in Stock, Super Stock, and Factory Experimental action before arriving at Mercury for the 1964 race season in the Ugly Duckling, a 427 Comet 202 station wagon.
Nicholson then raced a series of Comets, Cyclones, and Cougars before being adopted by Ford in 1970 to pilot a 427-SOHCequipped Maverick. Subsequent successful Ford racing ventures included Pintos, Mustang IIs, and Fairmonts through the 1970s.
Fact 10: To prevent non-productive fratricide, Mercury assigned the 1964 427 Comet team to A/Factory Experimental racing (where 10-inch slicks were legal), while Ford focused the 1964 427 Fairlane Thunderbolt on the top Super Stock classes (which were limited to 7-inch slicks).
This minimized brother-to-brother bloodshed and maximized the odds of taking out Mopars and (to a lesser degree) GM products. It also explains why Mercury didn’t bother to develop an automatic transmission variant of the 427 Comet.
More than half of the 100 Ford 427 Fairlane Thunderbolts were initially delivered with modified Lincoln Turbo-Drive automatic transmissions, which reduced tire shock to the classmandated 7-inch slicks. The intent was to tackle Torquefliteequipped Mopars in SS/AA and SS/BA competition.
By contrast, the Factory Experimental categories were not divided by transmission type (automatic versus stick) so each of the 20 427 Comets built in 1964 featured a T&C Toploader 4-speed manual gearbox. It worked; Ronnie Sox dominated A/FX class action at the NHRA Winternationals in Pomona aboard his stickshifted 427 Comet in 1964, its 10-inch slicks effectively gripping the Pomona starting line.
Fact 11: Arnie Beswick is best recognized as a Pontiac drag racing hero. So how did he come to be the recipient of a spankin’-new 427-SOHC-powered Comet Cyclone in 1965?
As with Sox and Nicholson before him, Mercury race program executives initially turned a blind eye to previous racing successes with “Brand X” machinery and rightly focused on what matters most: driver capability. Thus, Beswick found himself at the wheel of a white SOHC Cyclone for the start of the 1965 race season.
Unfortunately, “The Farmer” wasn’t quite ready to abandon his GMC supercharged 421 Super Duty 1964 GTO and the conflictof-interest friction mounted. In a June 1966 Super Stock & Drag Illustrated magazine interview Beswick says: “As time went on I just kept my hands on that Pontiac, and as the newness of the Comet wore off, after everyone had seen the overhead cam engine, why then the promoters kept wantin’ the Pontiac. They could get the Comet from DeLorean (fellow SOHC Cyclone team mate George DeLorean . . . John DeLorean’s brother) or from Nicholson, or from Schartman. The drag strip operators all offered me such and such a figure on the Comet, but if I would come in with the GTO they’d offer me about three times the amount.”
By the end of the 1965 race season, Mercury reassigned the SOHC Cyclone to Paul “Goldfender” Rossi and Beswick returned, full time, to his Pontiac roots.
Fact 12: I was working as technical editor at Hot Rod magazine when the reborn 2003 Marauder was unleashed on the world. Mercury signed up as a key sponsor of the Hot Rod Power Tour and brought an impressive traveling display that featured a mini-fleet of seven new Marauder test cars—plus a massive 40-foot tractortrailer rig adorned with images of tire-smoking Marauders and a Chrondek drag strip timer display.
A multi-day traveling car show, the Power Tour was the perfect venue to test consumer reaction to the car. As I took the wheel of a factory-fresh Marauder for an afternoon of motoring, my Mercury-employed co-pilot hinted there might be a microphone or two hidden in the car to help gather as much product feedback as possible. I did note the Marauder’s 4.6 DOHC offered an inversion of the typical Impala SS driving experience. Its lack of low-end torque was offset by the way the car jumped to life from 3,500 to 6,500 rpm. Speak up when you’re near consumer clinic test cars of any make, they’re often wired for sound.
Fact 13: Elvis Presley famously fi red a pistol into the body and steering wheel of his malfunctioning DeTomaso Pantera. It was a bright yellow 1971 model he’d purchased for gal-pal Linda Thompson in 1974.
Reports say he paid $2,400 for it, quite a drop from the nearly $9,000 sticker price when new. Today it’s owned by the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. Its leather-wrapped steering wheel still shows entry wounds caused by Elvis’ .22-caliber freak out.
Fact 14: June 6, 1957, was a bad day for Mercury high-performance development programs. It was the date the Automobile Manufacturers Association (AMA) resolved to refrain from promoting horsepower, speed, and racing victory in advertising and marketing materials specific to new-car sales.
In his fantastic book The Dust and the Glory, author Leo Levine wrote: “The whirring sound heard that night in Dearborn was that of old Henry spinning in his grave—at a considerably higher rate of revolutions than the agreement intended for his engines.”
Akin to McCarthy-era Communist witch hunts, the AMA’s effort to curb Detroit performance development was completely out of step with market demands. Each Ford and Mercury race driver was immediately, according to Levine’s book, “given his two race cars, a tow truck, and a supply of parts as a bonus” and set free—for better or worse.
Fortunately, the AMA ban was quickly circumvented by shadow organizations such as Bill Stroppe (Mercury), HolmanMoody (Ford), Southern Engineering and Development Corporation (Chevrolet), and Jack Zink (Pontiac).
By 1962, the AMA’s decree crumbled and Ford/Mercury officially reentered all forms of motor racing, spurred on by nothing less than Henry Ford II’s public disavowal of the “agreement.
Fact 15: By 1964 the AMA performance ban was a foggy memory and Mercury was free to enter any type of engine competition it pleased. A brave choice was the East African Safari, which began on March 26, 1964. A 3,188-mile grind traversing portions of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanganyika (now Tanzania), the idea was to prove the Comet’s durability and stamina over the course’s combination of desert, swamp, and jungle terrain. A fleet of six 289 Comet Calientes were prepared at Bill Stroppe’s California shop. At the end of the event, only 21 of the 94 vehicle entries finished—two of which were Comets! Interestingly, each Comet team car wore a California license plate.
Fact 16: The initial blueprint for all subsequent Mercury and Ford factory-backed race programs was forged by Lincoln in 1952. Building upon two years of surprising success fielding their own (non-winning) cars in the 1950 and 1951 Mexican Carrera Panamericana, Southern California hot rodders Bill Stroppe and Clay Smith agreed that victory was possible with proper factory assistance. So they approached Benson Ford and the result was Detroit’s first world-class race operation.
Centered around a fleet of “massaged” Lincoln Capris, results were immediate. Lincolns took the first through fourth positions in the Stock Car division at the 1952 and 1953 Mexican road race events, plus first and second in 1954. Though crowd control problems ended the race after 1954 (which was run on public roads and saw 26 spectator fatalities in its five-year span) the positive experience established a receptive climate within Ford for future factory-backed racing campaigns from Pomona to Sebring to LeMans.
Fact 17: Though they share a name, there is no corporate relationship between the Mercury automobile division of Ford Motor Company and the Mercury Outboard Marine engine company of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.
Further complicating matters is the fact Mercury Outboard founder Carl Kiekhaefer was a devoted stock car racing enthusiast in the early days of the sport. His fleet of 1955–1956 Chrysler 300 race cars was emblazoned with brightly painted Mercury Outboard lettering that shared a similar font with that used by the automaker in certain print ads. Then as now, the situation has created plenty of head scratching among novice stock car race enthusiasts.
Fact 18: Mercury Marine caused quite a bit of head scratching among novice car enthusiasts when General Motors contracted its Stillwater, Oklahoma, engine assembly plant to build DOHC LT-5 engines for the 1990–1995 ZR-1 Corvette.
Though designed in Britain by Lotus, Chevrolet assigned the painstaking task of assembling the intricate 32-valve, all-aluminum engines to Mercury Marine. The final LT-5 mill (of a nearly 7,000 unit run) was assembled by the Stillwater crew on November 23, 1993—ending yet another area of confusion for Mercury passenger-car enthusiasts.
Fact 19: Lincoln-Mercury applied the Capri nameplate to a series of cars that couldn’t have been more different. The only common feature was the fact they rolled on four tires. The original 1952–1958 Lincoln Capri was a full-size luxury car with standard V-8 power. By contrast, the nameplate was revived in 1969 for use on the Germandesigned Capri, a sporty compact model imported from Europe and powered by a series of mild four and V-6 engines. True muscle entered the Capri picture with the 1979–1986 version,which shared its Fox platform and (available) 5.0 V-8 with the Mustang.
The final use of the Capri nameplate (so far) was on convertible-only sports cars imported from Australia in 1991–1994. Targeting the success of the Mazda Miata, the fourth-generation Capri was based (ironically) on Mazda 323 underpinnings and was thus a front-wheel-drive offering. Incidentally, I’m ignoring the 1966 Comet Capri because it’s not really a standalone platform.
Fact 20: The constant game of cat and mouse played between racers and sanctioning bodies will (thankfully) never end. To instill the proper level of fear and respect among competitors, the organizers of the 1953 Mexican Carrera Panamericana road race posted this classic warning: “Only ’50 to ’53 strictly stock car models will be allowed to enter the race in the two standard categories. If your engine, clutch, transmission, or differential has any component parts not belonging to the particular model you are entering, better remove them right now. ‘Stock’ means absolutely no modifications of any kind and there are no exceptions to this rule. Don’t get off on the wrong foot by trying some ‘little’ modification. It’s unsportsmanlike, dishonest, and furthermore, you’ll get caught.” To ensure everyone got the message, the notice was printed in English and Spanish.
This nugget was found on page 30 of the February 1954 issue of Motor Life magazine.
Fact 21: The 1967 Cougar was the first Mercury with sequential taillight turn signals. Standard on all 1967–1973 models, the technology, which used multiple relays to cycle power to the lightbulb fi laments, was first seen on the 1965 Ford Thunderbird.
Though ready for use on the 1964 T-Bird, several states had laws restricting sequential lamps. Happily, Ford worked with legislators to lift the restriction for 1965, and the dazzling display became a T-Bird trait through 1971. Though Ford Mustang stylists must have cast jealous eyes upon the Cougar’s dazzling taillights, Carroll Shelby managed to adopt them for use on his 1967 Mustang GT350 and GT500, minus their die-cast chrome coverings. Interestingly, the 1968–1970 Shelby Mustangs retained the sequential turn signal feature, but utilized lamp assemblies from the 1965 Thunderbird parts bin. 1967 was the only year Shelby used (grille-less) Cougar taillight units.
Fact 22: Mercury Comet flip-top funny car pilots faced a new challenge in 1966: claustrophobia. Unlike previous side-entry doorslammer match-race packages, fl ip-top drivers strapped themselves into the seat then waited for crew members to lower the body and latch it securely.
The same held true at the other end of the track, unless you had a waiting crew, exiting wasn’t easy. Regarding his 1966 Eliminator I Comet, “Dyno” Don Nicholson offered these words in a 1997 interview: “I could climb out the window if I needed to get out . . . it wasn’t like I was captive in there. Of course we weren’t blown at first and without that big old blower sittin’ up there, visibility was good. With injection, we didn’t have any fi res so that wasn’t a concern. But later after we put the superchargers on ’em in 1967, you had to worry about it. With blowers came roof-mounted escape hatches, which helped.”
Fact 23: The 1966 Comet Cyclone GT was Mercury’s muscular answer to the Pontiac GTO formula, and, like the pace-setting GTO, offered a styled hood to add visual sizzle.
While the raised central blister on the 1965–1967 GTO’s steel hood was capped by a non-functional die-cast metal insert with twin horizontal slits, Mercury stylists chose to render the Cyclone hood in then-exotic fiberglass. Emulating the look of the 1965 B/FX and A/FX Cyclone hood, the 1966 redesign moved the twin horizontal slits rearward several inches.
The puzzling fact is how, after committing to the costly handmade fiberglass hood, Mercury balked and rendered the scoops non-functional. There was no underhood ducting to route cool, outside air to the carburetor. Instead, the fiberglass underside bracing ran directly beneath the openings and obstructed them.
Owners of 1966–1967 Cyclones hoping to breathe outside air had a heck of a task ahead of them when modifying a stock hood. That said, the visual excitement of the hood was a key factor in helping Mercury sell nearly 20,000 1966–1967 Cyclones.
Fact 24: Don’t go looking for power windows in any 1967 or 1968 Cougar, not even in the posh XR-7. Existing lift motors and levers were too thick to fi t within the thin doors. The situation was recti- fied for 1969 when electric window lifts joined the option sheet for $104.90.
By contrast, Mustang buyers were deprived of optional power side windows ($127) until the 1971 model year. 1967–1969 Camaro and Firebird buyers could get A31 power windows for $100.10. Barracuda (and Challenger) buyers had to wait until 1970 for access to P31 power windows, priced at $105.20.
Fact 25: Mercury didn’t reserve lightweight fiberglass panels for the exterior alone. In 1965 every Factory Experimental Comet (four with 427 SOHC power, four with 427 High Riser wedge power for A/FX action, and fifteen with 289 small-block motivation for B/FX work) received a unique one-piece fiberglass dashboard.
Resembling a stock steel Comet dash, the key giveaways were the sealed glove-box door and a complete lack of heater/defrost and radio equipment. Interestingly, each plastic dash retained its metal ash-tray assembly.
More than a decade later, the 1978 Mercury Zephyr (and its Fairmont sibling and Fox-Body Mustang/Capri variants) used an injection-molded plastic dash assembly. Who says racing doesn’t improve the breed?
Fact 26: Seemingly making up for past sins, the 1965 Mercury A and B/Factory Experimental Comet Cyclone fleet incorporated plastic bucket seats. Where previous low-mass interiors employed Bostrum-sourced bucket seats or thinly upholstered bench seating, Mercury pulled out all stops in 1965 with a pair of 6-pound buckets. Sure, the color-matched vinyl upholstery was a nice touch, but there was no mistaking the intent of these lightweight buckets. No competing Detroit carmaker—not even the Mopar A-990 package cars of 1965—went this far to shed interior weight.
Fact 27: From the other side of the two-ton threshold comes the beefy, 4,580-pound 1969 Mercury Marauder X-100. Few enthusiasts know it shared its deeply tunneled Backlite and sail panels with the Ford Galaxie 500 Hardtop Fastback, but with a Mercury Marquis front clip grafted in place.
The X-100 was a surprising performer thanks to the standard 360-hp 429 big-block. Only 5,635 were built in 1969 (plus another 2,646 in 1970), indications the market for full-size muscle machinery was fading fast.
The most distinctive X-100 feature was the standard matteblack paint treatment that covered the trunk lid and rear window surround. Oddly, roughly half of all X-100 buyers elected to delete the matte-black finish. Ever smear wax on matte-black paint? If so, you understand why some buyers elected to skip the black-out rear window and trunk treatment.
Fact 28: Taking its name from “Dyno” Don Nicholson’s line of Eliminator flip-top funny cars, the Cougar Eliminator arrived in the spring of 1969. To establish exclusivity, only four colors were offered: white, yellow, orange, and blue. A total of 2,250 were built. Mercury added green and gold in 1970, though persistent Eliminator customers could special order any color in the Mercury paint book.
But don’t go looking for a vinyl-topped Eliminator; vinyl was strictly prohibited, an unusual twist for luxury-oriented Mercury. Convertibles were also excluded; the Eliminator was strictly a fixedroof offering. For its second and final year, 2,267 Cougar Eliminators were built in 1970, an increase of 17 units over 1969.
Fact 29: In the early years of the pony car phenomenon, convertibles accounted for a significant percentage of total production. After missing sales opportunities in 1967–1968, Mercury added a Cougar convertible body option in 1969 and total output was 9,820 (5,796 base Cougars and 4,024 XR-7s), making the ragtop a roughly one-in-ten proposition (a total of 100,069 Cougars were made in 1969).
In comparison, competing 1969 pony car convertible production was as follows: Chevy Camaro, 16,519; Ford Mustang, 14,746; Pontiac Firebird, 11,657; Plymouth Barracuda, 1,442.
Though Cougar was a bit late to the convertible pony car party, it stayed longer than most competitors, the final Cougar drop-tops selling in 1973. For comparison, 1969 saw the final Camaro and Firebird ragtops and Barracuda/Challenger soft-top output ended after 1971, leaving the open-air pony car market solely to Cougar and Mustang. As for AMC, its Javelin and AMX, unfortunately, were never offered as convertibles (though a handful of styling prototypes was constructed).
Fact 30: The pair of Cyclone Super Spoiler II styling prototypes built in 1970 were fitted with droop-nose fiberglass cones, which added 7.5 inches to vehicle length. Visual comparisons indicate the same nose unit was intended to be shared by the Ford Torino King Cobra to reduce cost. In series production, the nose cones were meant to be made of steel, not fiberglass.
Each surviving prototype nose is fitted with deeply tunneled, fixed (non-retractable) headlamps. For racing, either clear plastic or opaque body-colored blisters capped the headlamp tunnels to reduce drag and turbulence at racing speed.
Fact 31: An integral part of the thorough 1970 Mercury Montego/ Cyclone redesign was the adoption of a cross-flow radiator. Its lower profile (versus the vertical-flow, top-tank-style radiators used previously) allowed body designers to lower the hood line by 2 inches.
Corporate cousin Ford Torino/Fairlane/Falcon also benefitted from this revolutionary cooling system revision as did the allnew 1971 Mustang/Cougar pony cars a year later.
Fact 32: Ever wonder why the Cyclops-esque centerpiece of the 1970– 1971 Mercury Montego/Cyclone grille is hinged so it can be raised upward? The reason is to allow fitment of California’s headlamp alignment testing rig, a key part of California’s mandatory bi-annual vehicle safety inspection. Without the hinged segment, the test fixture didn’t clear the novel grille, triggering safety hassles and potential rejection stickers.
Fact 33: If the 1971–1977 Comet’s taillamps look familiar, it’s because they’re shared with the midsize 1970–1971 Montego. Comet GTs also used the same bolt-on hood scoop fitted to certain 1969– 1971 Cougar and Montego/Cyclone performance models. Though functional on the larger cars (when a Ram Air powerplant was specified), Comet hood scoops were purely ornamental.
Fact 34: The centrally mounted hood scoop employed on the 1969– 1970 Cougar Eliminator may look similar to the scoop used on the 1969–1970 Boss 429 Mustang, but they are not identical. The Mercury unit is not as tall and when viewed from the top, the Mercury scoop has a much different footprint—it gets slightly wider from front-to-back, opposing Fords reduced width layout.
Fact 35: Ford may have trumped Mercury with the Thunderbird and original Mustang, but Lincoln-Mercury dealers got even with the De Tomaso Pantera in 1971. Built in Modena, Italy, the midengine Pantera had looks to match any Ferrari but with burly American horsepower, courtesy of the free-breathing Ford 351 canted-valve Cleveland V-8. In the first year, 1,007 Panteras came to America with the total reaching roughly 5,500 cars by the time Ford halted importation in 1975.
Fact 36: A follow-up to the Ford-powered DeTomaso Mangusta of 1967–1971 (401 built), design of the Pantera was heavily influenced by Dearborn stylists. Though initially penned by American designer Tom Tjaarda working on behalf of DeTomaso, Ford Styling replaced the originally envisioned split rear window with a hinged engine-access panel and recessed plate-glass window. Dearborn also waved its wand over the taillamps, B-pillar vents, and replaced Tjaarda’s grille-mounted headlamps with retractable units.
Fact 37: It isn’t often that safety upgrades are removed from a race car to appease the rule book, but that’s what happened to the six Comets entered in the 1964 East African Safari. After competitors complained the multi-point roll bars fitted to the cars were not “stock” enough and added an unfair amount of extra vehicle strength, Mercury Performance Manager Fran Hernandez agreed to remove the cross-braces from all six entries on site and the race went on.
Fact 38: It’s easy to forget the first-generation Cougar (unlike its corporate cousin, the Ford Mustang) was never offered in that oh-so-delictable pony car body style, the fastback. Rather, Mercury offered two body choices: a convertible (1969–1973) and a formallooking hardtop (1967–1970).
For the 1971 restyle (which was far more than skin deep and included a switch to a full-perimeter frame and coil-spring rear suspension), Mercury attempted some sleight of hand by incorporating “flying buttress” B-pillars (as seen on the 1966–1967 GM A-Body and 1968–1970 Dodge Charger). The resulting side profile resembled a sleek fastback, but the rear window was set at a less severe angle, forming a tunneled effect.
Unlike a true fastback (such as the 1968–1969 Cyclone), which typically forces an inconvenient reduction in the size of the trunk lid opening, the second-generation Cougar enjoyed a fullsize trunk. The faux-fastback Cougar styling cycle ran 1971–1973, with muscle seekers preferring 429-powered 1971s. Subsequent offerings were small-blocks only, as the muscle car era quickly drew to a close.
Fact 39: Ford may have had heavy influence on the design of the 1971 Lincoln-Mecury/DeTomaso Pantera, but it was Ford’s first goround with monocoque construction in a quasi–mass-production setting. The resulting steel-body tubs had many boxed-in sections that were highly prone to moisture accumulation and subsequent rust-out.
DeTomaso’s Modena, Italy, production facility should have been fitted with a zinc-dip tank large enough to immerse each body shell. Rust is the enemy for Pantera collectors and restorers today.
Fact 40: The 1967 Cougar shared its chassis with the Ford Mustang— with one important difference: an extra 3 inches of wheelbase (111 versus 108). Cougar’s cowl-to-front-spindle distance was shared with Ford but specific floorpan stampings gave Cougar rear seat passengers 31.7 inches of leg room, compared to 28.8 in Mustang.
More importantly, the extra real estate gave Cougar body stylists room to create distinctly unique body surfaces. By contrast, the competing Chevy Camaro and Pontiac Firebird (also new for 1967) shared the same 108-inch wheelbase F-Body platform, and while attractive, are clearly cut from the same cloth. Not so with Mustang/Cougar comparisons.
Fact 41: The 1964–1965 Comet Cyclone 427 (wedge and SOHC) FX cars used a unique dual-scoop fiberglass hood. An overlooked detail is that the driver-side opening fed the rear Holley carburetor while the passenger-side scoop fed the forward Holley. It isn’t clear why Mercury stylists segregated the airflow, but a look at the divided underhood ducting confirms the fact.
Later in the 1964 race season, some of the 427 Comet racers (Sox & Martin, for one) adopted Thunderbolt-esque teardrop hood blisters with air tubes fitted to the inboard headlamp receptacles.
Fact 42: The 427 SOHC V-8 was huge news for 1965. But did you know it was developed in an amazing 90-day whirlwind of activity? In a January 1965 feature article, Hot Rod magazine staffer Eric Dahlquist titled a story “Ford’s 90-Day Wonder” in appreciation of the fact the 427 wedge-to-OHC conversion program went from the drawing board to the dyno room in three months.
Why the rush? Students of Daytona 500 history recall the 1964 upset victory instigated by the arrival of the Chrysler 426 Hemi, its 1-2-3 victory was earth shaking to Dearborn. As such, within a week of the February 1964 race, Ford and Mercury engineers were instructed to devise a Hemi killer as soon as possible.
Fact 43: To further differentiate Mercury and Ford full-size offerings from each other, in 1966, Mercury adapted the 428’s cast nodular-iron 3.98-inch stroke crankshaft to the 390 FE V-8 (the 4.05- inch bore was unchanged). The resulting Marauder 410 breathed through a standard 4-barrel carb, single exhaust (duals were optional), used premium fuel 10.5:1 pistons, and delivered 330 hp and 444 ft-lbs of torque.
The odd part is that Mercury reserved the brute for full-size models (it was standard in Park Lane and optional in Monterey and Montclair) but ignored the midsize Cyclone and Cougar muscle car set. Sure, the 410’s 330 hp was five clicks shy of the Cyclone GT 390’s 335 hp and 427 ft-lbs, but the 410’s improved torque would have been handy in stoplight face-offs against GTOs. Never offered in any Ford, the Marauder 410 wasn’t even assigned a specific fender emblem. The only identifiers were a foil air-cleaner decal and the engine code M stamped into the fi fth spot of the VIN tag.
It’s fun to imagine the possibilities of 410-cube Cyclone and Cougar muscle models, but in the end, it is likely that marketing studies found the 410 deflated the impact of the top-tier 427 and 428 engine options of 1966–1967. In another twist, the torqueladen Marauder 410 was strictly N/A in station wagons, where its added grunt would have been well matched to cargo-hauling and trailer-towing duties.
Fact 44: The 427 SOHC block is nearly identical to the High Riser unit, the only physical change being the addition of a cast boss to the rear of each bank to allow oil drainback from the heads to the crankcase. To adapt the stock block’s oil-fl ow circuitry for OHC use, non-drilled steel bushings replaced the three rear camshaft bearings to seal off the oil passages and prevent pressure leaks. A shortened “dummy” camshaft rides in the forward cam bearings to drive the oil pump and distributor.
Fact 45: Those who question the reliability of the 427 cammer’s nearly 6-foot-long camshaft drive chain need only look to the nearly identical architecture of the millions of late-model Ford SOHC and DOHC Modular V-8s and V10s in service today all over the globe.
Fact 46: To minimize financial losses on its semi-hand-built NASCAR homologation special, Mercury dulled the 1969 Cyclone Spoiler II’s excitement factor by mandating 351 small-block power, a fairly inexpensive engine.
By contrast, Ford’s 1969 Torino Talladega was also restricted to a single engine, the more potent and costly 428 Cobra Jet big-block.
At 290 hp, the Windsor-based (inline valve heads) 351 4-barrel was no slouch, but is partly responsible for the reason muscle car buyers typically pay less for Cyclone Spoiler IIs than Talladegas today, even though the Mercury is a rarer car (519 built versus 754 Talladegas).
Fact 47: The 519 showroom-stock Cyclone Spoiler IIs made in 1969 legalized its aerodynamically enhanced nose clip, rolled rocker panels, and trunk spoiler for NASCAR competition events. Fortunately, NASCAR wasn’t as rigid as it could have been and ignored the Spoiler’s 351 small-block engine.
Apparently, the Ford Boss 429 Mustang program convinced NASCAR of the engine’s “stock” status and numerous Boss-429– powered Spoiler II race cars resulted, despite the fact you couldn’t buy one from your local Lincoln-Mercury outlet.
The flexibility was short lived. For 1970, NASCAR honcho Bill France doubled the minimum production requirement from 500 units to 1,000, or a number equal to half the number of active dealerships (whichever number was greater). This quickly killed Detroit’s enthusiasm for short-run aero specials.
Fact 48: The 1963–1968 427 block was tough enough for the Daytona 500, but a .030-inch cylinder overbore is about as far as you can go without making the cylinder walls too thin for reliable use. Remember this fact before you take your numbers-matching AC Cobra, S-55 Marauder, or Cougar GT-E 7.0 out for a high-RPM, power-shifting blast. When Ford/Mercury engineers were planning the FE engine family in 1955, they intended to use extra stroke, not increased bore, as the primary means of adding displacement as the years passed.
A review of stock bore/stroke combinations tells the tale: the 332 has 4.00/3.30; the 352 has 4.00/3.50; the 360 (truck only) has 4.05/3.50; the 390 has 4.05/3.78; the 410 has 4.05/3.98; and the 428 has 4.13/3.98.
By contrast, the 427 employs a 4.23×3.78 bore/stroke combination. This generously over-square geometry (bore greater than stroke) was an anomaly specified to minimize operating friction, a vital detail in endurance race events such as the Daytona 500 and 24 Hours of LeMans.
Note that the 427’s bore is one-tenth inch larger than the 428 and nearly a quarter inch larger than the 332 seedling engine of 1958. The block design was taken to its limit with the 4.23-inch bore. Cylinder damage or wear requiring over-boring in excess of .030 must be handled with a sleeve.
By contrast, the 332 and 428 blocks have enough meat to allow over-boring the cylinders by .060 inch or more—if sonic checking verifies a particularly thick casting.
Fact 49: The 1957 Mercury Power Boost fan was one of the first decoupling units offered by Detroit. Still mechanical (as opposed to modern electric fans), the fan hub was filled with a viscous silicon liquid that transferred pulley rotation to the fan blades at low vehicle speed (where airflow through the radiator core isn’t adequate to carry heat away).
As vehicle speed reached 35 mph, the thick liquid was formulated to “shear” and allow the pulley to spin faster than the fan blades, thus reducing parasitic drag on the crankshaft so more power was available to turn the drive wheels. In its inaugural year (1957) the Power Boost fan was standard on the base 255-hp 312, but, oddly, not available on the larger 368 unit.
Fact 50: 1956–1957 Thunderbird restorers love finding 1956 Mercurys in the junkyard. That’s because each of the 327,943 cars sold in 1956 (from the lowly Medalist sedan to the luxurious Montclair four-door hardtop) was fitted with standard 312 power—a key ingredient in the restoration of any P,D,E, or F code 1956–1957 312 T-Bird (1955s used much easier to find 292 power exclusively).
Better still, every 1956 Mercury 312 was outfitted with a 4-barrel carburetor; 2-barrels were not available. Dual exhaust was standard on Montclairs, Montereys, and Custom wagons only; Medalist and non-wagon Custom buyers paid extra for “twice pipes.” A 312 4-barrel with single exhaust seems odd, but it did happen.
Fact 51: Desirable 312 Y-blocks can also be found under the hoods of 1957–1960 Mercurys as the base engine (when the optional 368, 383, or 430 wasn’t specified). Beware, 1959–1960 312s were fitted with 2-barrel induction. So don’t be fooled into thinking they’re less desirable 292s.
Check the VIN for guidance. In 1959, the letter P in the first position signaled the 312 2-barrel. Mercury reset its VIN system in 1960, shifting the engine code to the fifth position, but again used the letter P to identify the 2-barrel 312 for its final appearance in 1960. The 312 was gone by 1961, the W-code 292 2-barrel taking its place as the base Mercury V-8 offering.
Fact 52: The 1967 Cougar was unique among Detroit pony cars in that its standard powerplant was a 200-hp 289 small-block V-8. By contrast, Mustang, Camaro, Firebird, and Barracuda offered inlinesix engines as base equipment. Accordingly, Cougar’s $2,851 base price was a few hundred dollars higher ($2,461 for Mustang, $2,466 for Camaro, $2,666 for Firebird, and $2,499 for Barracuda). You get what you pay for, right? Another Cougar exclusive, which might have hurt sales, was the lack of an available convertible body style until the 1969 model year.
Fact 53: 1968 marked the final year for the mighty cross-bolt-main 427 in Ford and Mercury passenger car applications. It also saw the first use of a hydraulic cam in this NASCAR-bred powerhouse. Newly enacted Federal legislation placed a cap on engine emissions, which can escalate if a solid-cammed engine is allowed to go out of tune with excess valve lash. By replacing the solid cam with a self-adjusting hydraulic unit, the emissions variable of lax owner maintenance was removed from the picture.
In detuned form, the 1968 427 was still good for 390 hp, though 4-speed manual transmissions were no longer available. Cougar drivers seeking big-block, 4-speed excitement had to opt for the 320-hp 390 or late-year 428 Cobra Jet, with a substantially under-rated 335 hp.
Fact 54: Another near-miss for Cougar performance customers was the Indy 500–influenced Gurney-Weslake cylinder head option. A 1968 Mercury press release depicted a Cougar engine bay stuffed with a G-W–equipped 302, a seeming indication of production-line intent. Cast in aluminum, the heads doubled the flow of K-code (289 ci, 271 hp) Hi-Po castings and were a direct bolt-on job for the 289/302 short block. Alas it never came to pass. G-W’s second-place finish at the 1968 Indy 500 was one of the final hurrahs for the stock-block/pushrod race formula before the domination of turbocharged Offys and Fords took over.
For use in Cougars (and Mustangs), G-W conjured the socalled MKIV version. Similar to earlier heads used in open-wheel racers, changes were made to ease packaging between Cougar/ Mustang spring towers. Both single and dual 4-barrel carbureted manifolds were developed for street applications. Despite additional success of the heads aboard the LeMans-winning Ford factory GT- 40s of 1968–1969, Mercury failed to realize a showroom-available G-W–powered Cougar.
Fact 55: The original-equipment fan belt used on the 1963 Mercury Marauder (single 4-barrel) and Super Marauder (dual-quad) 427 engines was molded with a Dacron insert liner that shrank when heated, helping to tighten the belt and reduce water pump/ fan slippage during severe use.
Fact 56: The Merkur XR4Ti of 1985–1989 was sold through approximately 800 Lincoln-Mercury dealers in the United States and Canada and was well known for its outrageous bi-plane rear wing (1985–1987 models), which helped produce downforce at 130 mph yet allowed a drag coefficient of .32.
The standard turbocharged SOHC 2.3-liter inline-four was nearly identical to the engine used in the Ford Mustang SVO and Thunderbird Turbo Coupe and produced (with a manual transmission) 175 hp and 200 ft-lbs. Unfortunately, the Merkurs sold here never got the intercooler upgrade fi tted to Mustangs and T-Birds, which would have bumped output to 190 hp and 240 ft-lbs.
Fact 57: It is interesting to note that while the vast majority of V-8-powered 1965–1970 Mustangs were assembled with medium-duty 8-inch rear axles, same-year Mercury Cougars were equipped with the stronger 9-inch units regardless of engine option. Thus, while Mustang performance seekers must hunt down a 289 Hi-Po or big-block model to snatch its 9-inch rear end, Cougar builders need only switch the center section to one with limited slip and higher gear ratio (unless already equipped).
Fact 58: In 1981, law enforcement agencies faced a horsepower crisis and Mercury reacted as best it could. Shared with the Ford LTD Police Package, police-spec Marquis were available with a new 351-cube weapon in 1981, a high-output 351 Windsor making 20 hp and 15 ft-lbs more than the civilian 351 offering.
The added output (165 hp at 3,600 rpm and 285 ft-lbs at 2,200 rpm versus 145 at 3,200 and 270 ft-lbs at 1,800 rpm) resulted from a dual-cat, dual-exhaust system and marine-sourced camshaft. In production for 36 consecutive years, the Grand Marquis was Mercury’s longest-running production model. The final Mercury Grand Marquis left Ford’s St. Thomas assembly plant in Ontario, Canada, on January 4, 2011.
Fact 59: We know that Ford reacted to the law enforcement horsepower crisis with the nifty Mustang SSP (Special Service Package) of 1982–1993. But did the Fox-Body Mustang’s Mercury Capri stablemate ever strap on a holster and badge?
The 1982–1986 Capri RS certainly could have been as useful, perhaps even moreso because its bubble-like glass hatch was better suited to hauling police equipment. But it wasn’t. Even though Mercury matched the 1978–1983 Ford Fairmont police package with its own Zephyr Law Enforcement package, the Capri was never sworn into police duty.
Fact 60: The Y-block engine family was only in passenger car production for 9 model years; in contrast to 21 years for the flathead that preceded it and 20 years for the FE big-block that followed it. So why was this engine family produced for such a comparatively brief period? Lack of growth potential.
The Detroit horsepower race wasn’t predicted when Ford/ Mercury engineers began planning the Y-block in 1949 and so, gave it modest 4.63-inch bore spacing. Exactly 4.63 inches of distance separate the centerline of one cylinder bore to the next.
In this scenario, cylinder bores can only be enlarged so much and still leave sufficient room for thick walls and coolant passages. Thus, without adding the cost of tall-deck block castings or the wear-inducing geometry of a stroker crank, Ford deemed 312 cubic inches the safe limit, nowhere near the 400 cubes needed to match the competition. Supercharging helped (1957 Ford only; never on Mercury), but was costly. The solution was the startfrom-scratch 1958 FE 332/352 engine family, which eventually grew to 428 cubic inches.
Fact 61: Though based on the same platform as the stock 1965 Ford Mustang, Mercury devised a very different front suspension configuration for use in its mini-fleet of 427-powered A/FX 427 Comet Cyclones. To accommodate the extreme width of the cammer in the Falcon-based Mustang engine bay, Holman-Moody eliminated the intrusive spring/shock towers entirely and devised a novel torsion-leaf front suspension layout.
By contrast, Bill Stroppe Engineering in Long Beach, California, removed the stock spring/shock towers but instead of going to horizontally positioned torsion-leaf springs from H-M, Stroppe moved the stock spring/shock towers to the outsides of the fender walls and retained the tall coil springs. Some juggling of the lower control arm anchor points and extra-length forged spindles completed the picture with room to spare under the hood.
Ironically, a shortage of 427 cammer engines caused the quartet of cars delivered to Ed Schartman, Ed Rachanski, Bill Lagana, and Moyer Mercury to be delivered with standard pushrod-equipped 427 High Riser wedges. The cars destined for Don Nicholson, Arnie Beswick, Hayden Proffitt, and George DeLorean were packed with 427 SOHC superstar power. Still, all eight cars (even the wedgeheads) were modified with the outboard-located front coil springs to ease subsequent fitment of cammer power. An excellent overview of Don Nicholson’s as-delivered 1965 SOHC Cyclone was printed in the April 1965 issue of Hot Rod magazine.
Fact 62: Thanks to its diminutive external dimensions, the small-block 289B/FX Cyclone fleet retained stock Comet front suspension architecture. Fifteen more cars also prepared by Bill Stroppe Engineering were completed in 1965, each equipped with K-code 289 Hi-Po small-block motivation topped by either a single Holley 4-barrel, dual Holleys ($249.50), or a quartet of Weber downdraft carburetors ($595).
Base priced at $4,776, these 2,600-pound strip trippers were available from any adventurous Lincoln-Mercury dealer ready to accept the realization that the same $4,776 could purchase a loaded 1965 Park Lane ragtop—with a thousand bucks left over. Win on Sunday, sell on Monday, indeed!
Fact 63: Ford specified retention of the Kelsey-Hayes front disc brakes on its fleet of 1965 427 A/FX Mustangs; because each car was based on a K-code 2+2 fastback, it was easy to do. Over at Mercury, recognizing the many benefits of lower sprung, unsprung and overall mass on the drag strip, Bill Stroppe Engineering traded stopping power for reduced mass by specifying the stock 10-inch front drum brakes on all 427 and 289 Factory Experimental Comet Cyclones.
The itemized weight of a typical brake drum, backing plate, wheel cylinder, and shoe set is generally much less than the heft of a brake rotor, hub, caliper, brake pads, and caliper adapter bits. Because drag racing rarely involves repeated severe braking episodes—the stuff of brake fade nightmares—drums are where it’s at.
Fact 64: The 1968 Cougar GT-E was easily identified by its bold silver gray argent lower-body paint treatment, domed-hood bustle (427 only, 428 used a forward facing scoop), quad-outlet exhaust tips, blacked-out grille, and the rumble of its standard 427 W-code V-8 (or R-code 428 on cars built after May 1968). But did you know that radial tires were planned for but never delivered?
Dealer sales materials describe standard FR70-14 red- or white-stripe radial tires for the GT-E but none are known to have been factory installed. Instead, GT-Es were fitted with F70-14 Firestone Super Sports Wide Oval or Goodyear Speedway Wide Tread tires. As for radial tires, 1968 Cougar price guides do show FR70-14 tires as being optional at $38.95 when the GT group was chosen. For this price, you got five tires (including a spare). The 1968 Montego price chart lists FR70-14 radials for $121.75, while full-size Mercury Monterey, Montclair, Parklane, and Marquis offered 205 and 215 R15 radial tires for $58.35 to $116.92.
Fact 65: Muscle-era Mercurys are known for their excellent drag strip traction. Much of the credit goes to their leaf-spring rear suspension (shared model-for-model with Ford). Competing GM muscle intermediates (Chevelle SS, Buick GS, Olds 4-4-2, Pontiac GTO) were stuck with coil-spring rear suspension layouts, which may have offered a smoother boulevard ride, but were prone to axle hop on hard acceleration.
Fact 66: Don’t plan on swapping wheels between your DeTomaso Mangusta and Pantera. Though both cars use exotic cast-magnesium rims, the Mangusta’s four-lug hubs don’t accept the Pantera’s five-lug wheels. The same goes for certain Comets: Six-cylinder cars typically came with four-lug wheels, while V-8s came with five-lugs.
Base six-cylinder Mustangs with standard-issue (non-HD option) drum brakes were fitted with four-lug wheels up to 1973, Mercury’s more refined Cougar rolled on five-lug wheels from 1967 through 1979.
Fact 67: The biggest problem facing the six Comets entered in the 1964 East African Safari was shock absorber failure. Ford’s Autolite Division designed extra-duty shock absorbers only to have them fail during practice runs. No fewer than five progressively stronger sets were tried before the race. In combat, the shocks turned out to be okay, but the elevated 3,800-pound curb weight of each rallyfortified Comet (600 pounds greater than stock) took its toll.
The next-weakest link was the shock mounts on the Comet’s frame and axle, which tore away from the brutal punishment of the un-paved roads. Despite being shock-less, the Comets pressed on, two of the six-car team finishing the rally in 18th and 21st place.
Fact 68: Cougar marketing material claimed the new 1967 had a 15 percent better ride than Mustang. But if the two cars shared platforms, how was this possible? Besides the calming effect of Cougar’s 3-inch-longer wheelbase, the radius struts (which link the lower control arms to the front of the frame) were designed with curved ends rather than straight ends as used on Mustangs. Extrathick rubber bushings also helped differentiate between Cougar and Mustang handling traits.
Fact 69: Did you hear about the guy who bought a set of 1967 Mustang leaf springs at a swap meet for his 1967 Cougar? They didn’t fi t. That’s because Cougar leaf springs are 6 inches longer (eye-toeye) than Mustang springs.
Remember, Mercury planners initially wanted the Cougar to be more of a junior Thunderbird than an upmarket Mustang. As such, plush handling (easily achieved with longer leaf springs) was a greater priority than the economy of parts sharing with Mustang.
Fact 70: Dana/Spicer has been making automotive rear axles for nearly a century. Mostly remembered for the use under 3/4-ton pickup trucks and 1960s Mopar muscle cars, did you know Mercury (but not Ford) was also a big Dana axle customer? When the 1949 Mercury chassis was designed, engineers abandoned the banjo-style, torque-tube rear axle and transverse leaf spring used since the first Mercury in 1939. Floorpan designers specified an open driveshaft so the transmission tunnel size could be reduced and rear suspension arc freed from its rigid attachment to the transmission (à la the torque tube).
The search for a durable rear axle led Mercury (and Lincoln) to Dana’s various Salisbury-style (removable inspection cover) offerings. The Dana 35, 37, 45, and 53 all saw service under various Mercury passenger cars between 1949 and 1956, when the Ford 9-inch was phased in.
By contrast, in the same 1949–1956 time frame Ford utilized an in-house Hotchkis-style (drop-out center section) rear axle assembly (not to be confused with its famed 1957-up 9-inch unit).
Fact 71: Though Mercury switched to Ford-sourced 9-inch axles for 1957, Lincoln continued use of the Dana 53 until the 1965 model year. With its 9-inch ring gear, the 53 was stronger than the 8.5-inch gear-equipped Dana 45 used in Mercury passenger car applications.
Incidentally, other passenger cars fitted with various Dana rear axles included Studebaker, Kaiser, and Willys. Overseas, Jaguar, Volvo, and Jensen used Dana axles that were manufactured by GKN Driveline under license.
Fact 72: Sensing the 9-inch ring gear diameter found inside the Salisbury-style Dana 53 rear axle might not live behind the newfor-1966 462-cube standard V-8, Lincoln finally stopped using Dana axles in 1966. The replacement was a newly upsized version of the Ford-sourced 9-inch axle unit.
To cope with the 462’s 485 ft-lbs of torque, a 93 ⁄8-inch ring gear was adapted to the 9-inch housing, necessitating a pair of crescent-shaped notches for ring gear clearance during assembly. This 93 ⁄8 axle was also used under 1966 Ford Galaxies equipped with the 7-liter package and most 428-powered Mercury full-size cars.
Fact 73: NHRA Stock Eliminator drag racers intent on shedding every last ounce—legally—know to watch for 1982 Lincoln “bustle-back” Continentals in the boneyard. That’s because their 10×2-inch rear drum brakes feature aluminum drums that weigh half the mass of more common iron drums. These drums fi t any Ford rear axle already equipped with 10×2 drums and the 5-on-41 ⁄2 bolt pattern.
A one-year-only-deal for 1982, 1983-up Continentals are strictly out since they switched to standard four-wheel disc brakes. Fox-Capri/Zephyr (and Ford Fox car) swaps are a no-go because they use a smaller 9-inch drum and matched backing plate. But owners of 1960s Cougars and Cyclones can benefit from the reduced unsprung mass.
Fact 74: Fox-Body Capri/Zephyr owners looking for direct-fi t aluminum rear brake drums can find them on 2.3-liter turbopowered Capris (1979–1984) and Zephyrs (1980). Over the fence at Ford, the 1979 Mustang Indy Pace Car and all pre-SVO turbocharged Fox-Body Mustangs and Fairmonts (1979–1984; Fairmonts only in 1980) were also built with aluminum rear drums.
Measuring 9 inches and having the standard Fox four-lug wheel pattern, they’re a direct fi t for Fox-Body cars equipped with cast-iron drums. SVO Mustangs are out since they graduated to four-wheel disc brakes, and five-lug wheels, which are not as easy to interchange.
Fact 75: Despite the fact Lincoln Continentals, Ford Thunderbirds, and Mustangs could be had with front disc brakes as early as 1965, the first Mercury performance car fitted with factory front disc brakes was the 1966 full-size S-55. Its 11-inch vented discs were shared with the 7-liter Galaxie. By 1967, front disc brakes were standard equipment on full-size S-55 Cyclone GTs and Cougar GTs.
Fact 76: A decade after front disc brakes became available for big Mercurys, the first Mercury offering (not including Pantera) with four-wheel disc brakes arrived in 1976. But it wasn’t a traditional muscle model. Rather, it was the full-size Marquis, and the $300 package was available on police cars and station wagons.
Also shared with Ford LTDs, the extra braking power was commonly combined with the 460 V-8 and heavy-duty trailertowing package in those pre-SUV days, when full-size wagons were primarily tow vehicles. The novel brake package was discontinued aboard the downsized full-size Mercury models in 1979.
Fact 77: A year after the big Mercs got four-wheel discs, the midsize 1977–1980 Lincoln Versailles arrived on the scene, also with discs all around. Not a performance car, the Versailles is still of interest to 1960s Cougar (and Mustang) owners because its rear axle is a direct bolt-in swap. The 58-inch track width, leaf-spring mounts, and 5-on-41 ⁄2-inch bolt circle make it a very popular addition to any pre-1971 Cougar in need of better braking.
Fact 78: The first Mercury factory drag package equipped with rear disc brakes was the flip-top Comet fleet of 1966. Unlike the Holman-Moody “stretch-nose” A/FX Mustangs of the same year, which were fitted with 10-inch drums on the rear axle, Mercury continued the space-age theme by specifying lightweight aluminum rotors from the Kelsey-Hayes Research and Development department.
Following Fran Hernandez’s command to Al Turner to “just do it” (see item #591), no holds were barred in the quest for ultimate mass reduction. To prevent the soft aluminum from wearing rapidly, a specific “dye-packed” facing was sprayed onto the virgin aluminum then baked in place for durability. A pair of Mustangtype (though cast of thicker metal) four-piston calipers applied the squeeze.
Fact 79: The Cougar Super Competition Handling Package was standard on the 1968 GT-E and included 6-inch wheels, a .85-inch-diameter front roll bar, 124 pounds/inch front coil springs, and 128 pounds/inch rear leaf springs. For comparison, the standard 1968 Cougar suspension (as fitted to 302 models) included 5.5-inch wheels, .72-inch-diameter front roll bar, 88 pounds/inch front coil springs, and 78 pounds/inch rear leaf springs.
The 1968 GT-E was a great start but by all accounts, the best handling muscle Cougar was the 1969–1970 Eliminator Boss 302, which had 6-inch wheels, a .95-inch-diameter front roll bar, 130 pounds/inch front coil springs, 145 pounds/inch rear leaf springs, and a new secret weapon: a .50-inch-diameter rear sway bar.
Though its canted-valve Boss 302 was heavier than the Windsor-based 302, a lightweight aluminum intake manifold helped offset the gain. The 428 SCJ (R-code) Eliminator may have been stronger at the drag strip, but for all-around fun, no Cougar beats the (G-code) Boss 302 variant.
Fact 80: How about the 180-mph flip-top Comet’s front brakes? There were none. These cars weighed about 1,700 pounds and were fitted with skinny Denman front tires; their miniscule contact patch offered minimal braking force. Instead of brakes, each Comet was fitted with a 12-foot Deist cross-form parachute for initial deceleration. From there, the experimental aluminum Kelsey-Hayes rear discs took over and worked very well.
Incidentally, once the four factory flip-top Comets proved their worth, Logghe Brothers (which produced the tube frames) was free to build them for competing match-race teams. These non-factory-backed cars were typically fitted with aftermarket Hurst-Airheart rear disc brakes, the experimental aluminum K-H units being somewhat difficult to obtain by “outsiders.”
Fact 81: Mercury was the fi rst Detroit automaker to break the 400- hp mark with the 1958 430 Super Marauder engine (a oneyear wonder). Seemingly emulating the nuclear chess game being played out between Washington and Moscow at the time, the Super Marauder trumped the Chrysler 392 Hemi, Tri-Power Pontiac and Olds J-2 with a trio of Holley 2300-series 2-barrel carbs, fi nned-aluminum valve covers, and a massive cast-aluminum air cleaner housing—all perched atop the largest domestic V-8 in the business.
Offered in 1958 Monterey, Montclair, and Parklane models, the Super Marauder engine was developed by Bill Stroppe’s race shop. The 430 host engine was an unusual creature, its in-block combustion chambers (and chamber-less cylinder heads) bore a close thematic resemblance to the Chevy 348, which was also released in 1958.
Fact 82: Nearly 20,000. Given the need for labor-intensive hand finishing, paint-matching headaches, and constant fitment challenges, that’s a lot of fiberglass hoods to offer on a regular production model. But, that’s what Mercury did in 1966–1967 with the muscular Comet Cyclone GT. Specifically, production totals were 15,970 in 1966 (13,812 hardtops, 2,158 convertibles) and 3,797 in 1967 (3,419 hardtops, 378 convertibles).
Competing fiberglass hood campaigns from rival Detroit muscle makers were generally less ambitious: 19691 ⁄2 Dodge Super Bee, 1,907 panels produced; 19691 ⁄2 Plymouth 6-barrell Road Runner, 1,432; 1970 Dodge Challenger T/A, 2,399; 1970 Plymouth AAR ’Cuda, 2,727; 1970–1972 Oldsmobile 4-4-2 W-25 Outside Air Induction (approximate total includes W-30, W-31, and 1970 Rallye 350 installations), 8,547.
Perennial underdog, AMC cranked out more than 15,000 fiberglass hoods for standard fitment on 1971–1974 Javelin AMXs. The only glass hood campaigns that netted more units than Cyclone were the 1970–1975 Pontiac Firebird Formula 350, 400, and 455, at 59,670 panels; and Chevrolet’s plastic wonder car, the Corvette, which is cheating because the entire body was made of the stuff.
Fact 83: Two million dollars. That was the projected cost of producing the 1970 King Cobra/Cyclone Super Spoiler II front clip in steel. By contrast, the fiberglass panels used on the six pre-production styling and test cars were far less expensive and could have sufficed, if NASCAR hadn’t bumped minimum production requirements from 500 (in 1969) to two-cars-per-dealership (in 1970). The new math for 1970 would have required construction of nearly 3,000 cars—and procuring as many warp-free fiberglass nose clips was likely a headache Mercury didn’t want to face. So steel became the material of choice.
Coincidentally, early in 1970, Henry Ford II fi red “Bunkie” Knudsen, who had been a major proponent of “win on Sunday, sell on Monday.” He was replaced by the more practical Lee Iacocca, who immediately slashed Ford racing budgets by 75 percent. In this corporate climate, two-million bucks was simply too much to ask and the 1970 Cyclone Super Spoiler (and Torino King Cobra) programs were quickly abandoned.
Fact 84: S-55 or S/23; what’s the difference? Though built by fiercely competing makes (Mercury and Plymouth), the 1962, 19631 ⁄2, and 1966 Mercury S-55 (3,613 built in 1962, 8,762 built in 1963, and 3,585 built in 1966) and the 1970 Plymouth S/23 Sport Fury (689 built) have intriguing similarities. Both rode on a 120-inch wheelbase and targeted buyers looking for sporty fl air in a full-size platform with standard V-8 power (390, 406, or 427 for S-55, and 318 for S/23, though most got 383s).
Contrary to suspicions that former Mercury product planners were behind the Plymouth S/23 program, it’s simply a case of random coincidence. The Mercury S-55 nomenclature derives from the division’s flirtation with alpha-numeric model designations (also employed on the sporty compact 1961–1963 S-22 Comet and 1962–1963 Meteor S-33).
By contrast, Plymouth simply utilized its VIN identification code for the S/23. In Plymouth-speak, an RS23 body is nothing more than a Plymouth (R) Sport Fury (S) two-door hardtop (23). If anything, Plymouth’s S/23 moniker was likely influenced by Chevrolet’s successful evolution of the 1967 Camaro Z/28 Special Performance Package RPO code as an actual model identification badge.
Fact 85: The Comet nameplate got its start in 1960, affixed to a slightly upsized Ford Falcon shell. Despite some midsize detours along the way and a one-year hiatus in 1970, the Comet name again appeared on a compact car for its final go-round in 1971. Based on the Ford Maverick, let’s compare the first and last Comets of 1960 and 1971.
Wheelbase was 114 versus 103 inches. Length was 194.8 versus 181.7 inches. Height was 54.5 versus 52.5 inches. The 1971 Comet was a success with 83,000 built, accounting for 22.7 percent of all Mercury sales.
Fact 86: Automotive journalists writing about not-yet-released new cars have a really tough job. They have to balance educated guesses and facts, often only to look dumb with the passage of time. The headline cover blurb of the May 1970 issue of Car Life magazine touts: “Ford’s New DeTomaso Cobra.” Cobra? Yes, Cobra. The story inside depicts a production-ready, mid-engine DeTomaso but nowhere in the piece is the car’s eventual name, Pantera, mentioned.
Rather, the story admits: “The Cobra name is, at this writing, tentative. The problem is that Ford’s use of Cobra on sedans may have erased from the average mind the image of performance that it gained from the Real Cobras from the Shelby works.”
Fact 87: “We arrived at Mbulu early in the morning hours and just before checking into the control, ran into a barrage of huge rocks lobbed off roadside banks by some fun-loving local residents . . . we just missed getting a cannonball variety rock through the passenger’s window as the missile neatly flattened the drip molding on that side.”
Hot Rod magazine publisher Ray Brock must have had some fun as co-pilot of the Bill Stroppe–prepared number 73 Comet Caliente during the running of the 1964 East African Safari. A fiveday torture test of man and machine, only 100 of the 3,100 mile course was paved, so rocks were easily obtained. Brock and driver Norman Greatorex survived the ordeal but their Comet was a DNF thanks to a washed-out bridge.
Fact 88: “DeTomaso had been producing one Mangusta per day when he [Company head Alexandro DeTomaso] signed the threeyear contract with Ford last September  to produce the new Cobra. Ford bought a Mangusta, and another Italian mid-engine car, a Lamborghini Miura, sometime back and took them both down to the last bolt. They found a remarkable amount of bad planning in the Mangusta—poor passenger and driver comfort, poor placement of driving controls, and uninspired acceleration from the 289 V-8.”
The resulting Pantera (tentatively identified as a Cobra in this May 1970 Car Life magazine reference) benefitted from heavy involvement from Ford’s Dearborn engineering and design staff, plus the much needed infusion of 351 Cleveland power.
Fact 89: The mid-engine 1967–1971 DeTomaso Mangusta’s 32/68 front/rear weight distribution was too much of a good thing. When driven hard into a corner at the limit of tire adhesion, 1,944 pounds (68 percent) of the Mangusta’s total 2,860-pound mass was prone to suddenly taking the lead and spin the car out.
For the redesigned Pantera, the folks in Modena and Dearborn conspired to create a kinder 42/58 front/rear weight distribution. Panteras are thus much better handling cars than Mangustas when taken to the limit
Fact 90: Unlike the crafty folks at Pontiac (who notoriously provided the motoring press with things like 421-powered GTOs masquerading as stock 389s), Mercury (like Ford) occasionally erred in the opposite direction. In the July 1968 issue of Car Life magazine a Cougar XR-7 was tested. But it wasn’t just any Cougar, rather it was an early-build, W-code, cross-bolt 427 (the R-code 428 Cobra Jet replaced it midyear). So why, oh why, did Mercury fi t the magazine test car with a mundane open differential better suited to a Villager station wagon?
The article author noted: “Quarter-mile times were just over 15 sec., not quite up to Supercar status . . . much of the 427’s strong low-speed torque went up in right rear tire smoke.”
A mere $41.60 covered the cost of a limited-slip differential, and produced more noteworthy mid-14-second times. A total of 357 1968 Cougars were equipped with 427 power; the late-arriving 428 Cobra Jet was installed in just 37 cars. Though far less common, the mundane 428 still plays second fiddle to the NASCAR-bred 427 in collector circles today.
Fact 91: The two men responsible for “inventing” the flip-top funny car in 1966 were Mercury race chief Fran Hernandez and his drag race specialist Al Turner. According to Leo Levine’s The Dust and the Glory, Hernandez and Turner shared this discussion: Hernandez said, “I want you to go out and think how you would build the most way-out car ever built—we would be the ultimate cheaters. The weight objective would be 1,700 pounds.”
Turner replied, “You can’t build a car that light.”
To which Hernandez said, “I didn’t ask you that, just do it.” Hernandez then added, “We’re going to take the attitude that we’re the dumbest guys in the world . . . We’re not going to use anything because ‘so-and-so is using it, so it must work . . . ’ and everything we do we’re going to have to justify to ourselves on paper before we do it.”
The resulting flip-top Comet funny cars revolutionized the sport. Levine’s book continues: “There was no vehicle of the same type that could even touch them. Through 1966, the Comet drag racing team won 86 percent of the races in which they participated. Nicholson, the most successful of the group wound up with a 130- 10 win-loss record, which at one time included a match-race win streak of more than 30 straight.”
Fact 92: Nearly two decades after the flip-top funny car’s first appearance, Stuart Turner was assigned control over Ford Motorsport of Europe to help transform the company image. One of Turner’s first tasks was creation of the Sierra RS Cosworth, a limited-production special powered by a DOHC inline turbo four.
Similar in appearance to the Merkur XR4Ti imported to the United States, Turner’s Sierra RS Cosworth debuted in 1986 (two decades after Al Turner’s SOHC Comets took to the strip) and went on to numerous victories in Group A Touring Car and Group B rally competition. So were Mercury’s Al Turner and Ford-Europe’s Stuart Turner related? Not by blood; Big Al is a Yank, while Stu is a Brit, though both enjoyed careers at Ford-Mercury— just on different continents.
Fact 93: Only two of the four Lincoln-Mercury vehicles bearing the Capri nameplate qualify as performance cars: the 1951–1959 Lincoln Capri (early versions of which were formidable road race champions) and the 1978–1986 Mercury Capri RS hatchback (which shared the Mustang GT’s potent 5.0-liter drivetrain). It’s interesting to note that the sales of each version reflects the time in which it was marketed.
Lincoln’s luxury yacht sold 126,449 units; the German-born semi-fastback of 1970–1978 found 464,729 buyers; the aforementioned Fox-Bodied Capri accounted for 300,356 sales between 1979–1986; and the ragtop-only, Mazda 323-based front-wheeldrive Capri roadster of 1991–1994 attracted a mere 66,382 buyers worldwide. Of the lot, it is fair to say the German-bred compact has the largest following. The near half-million imported to the United States doesn’t include cars built for European consumption. Nor does the tally include the fact Capri production continued in Europe until 1987. Lincoln-Mercury ceased importations after 1978 to turn attention to the new-for-1979 Fox-Body Capri.
Fact 94: The 300,356 Fox-Body Capris sold between 1979 and 1986 is a strong showing, but pales when compared to the 2,598,078 Fox-Body Mustangs sold between 1979 and 1993. The Capri’s main showroom disadvantage was its limitation to a single body style, a hatchback coupe. By contrast, Mustang buyers could opt for a hatch, a sedan, or (after 1983) a convertible.
Fact 95: To keep pace with the 1983 Fox-Body Mustang, in 1984, American Sunroof Corporation (ASR) began construction of limited-edition ASC/McLaren Capri convertibles. Based on decapitated Capri hatchbacks, the ASC conversion process involved the creation of specific rear quarter-panel caps, trunk lids, floorpan reinforcements, and tonneau covers.
Unlike the Mustang convertible, which was also done offcampus at Cars & Concepts and retained its back seat, the ASC/ McLaren strategy used the rear seat area to store the folded convertible top. This made the car a two-seater and also necessitated reworking the windshield for an extra 10-degree rake. Priced at $21,000, a total of 552 ASC/McLaren convertible conversions were built (50 in 1984, 257 in 1985, and 245 in 1986).
Fact 96: The turbocharged 1985–1989 Merkur XR4Ti sold 64,238 units in the United States (8,974 in 1985; 14,315 in 1986; 14,301 in 1987; 15,261 in 1988; 8,765 in 1989; and 2,622 in 1990). Imported from the Ford-Germany Karmann assembly plant in Osnabruk, Germany, it took over for the Fox-based Mercury Capri and was meant to bring a high-tech, European image to Mercury. In the end, its use of rear-wheel drive may have been its downfall in those days of massive consumer brainwashing on the supposed benefit of front-wheel drive.
Ford came close to slapping Mustang badges on the frontwheel-drive Probe. Today, the emphasis is back on rear-wheel drive and a car like the Merkur XR4Ti (with the expected airbag, navigation, ABS upgrades) would be praised by the motoring press. Kevin Cabana, my high school math teacher, was right—everything happens in cycles.
Fact 97: “Taken individually, the Cougar and the Boss 302 are excellent. But they don’t belong together.” Why was such a sour introduction written for Car Life magazine’s April 1970 road test of a Cougar 302 Eliminator? It was because of the 4.30:1 rear axle ratio.
Granted, the test car was admittedly built specifically for Lincoln-Mercury’s performance day (attended by automotive journalists) so the final drive was likely installed for extra excitement. It didn’t appeal to the Car Life scribe who said the 4.30:1 gearset “set up more clatter than a Bahamas steel drum band . . . a first gear cruise at 30 mph made more noise than you could get by tossing an oil drum down the steps of the Washington Monument.”
The writer also took issue with Cougar’s weight, 400 pounds heavier than the Mustang Boss 302. Some folks just don’t know a good thing when they have it.
Fact 98: Don Nicholson employed a rather unique method of warming the tires on a 1968 Cougar XR-7 GT Cobra Jet during an August 1968 drag test for Super Stock & Drag Illustrated magazine.
Sensing the car was capable of running quicker than its previous 13.9/100.5 pass, he “whipped the car into an extremely tight turn in the staging area and held the wheel to the lock, going around and around, body arched over, tires squealing. Once he was set up, he didn’t have to move the wheel at all. Then . . . Nicholson went into the same maneuver in the opposite direction.”
With seriously hot tires, the Cougar unleashed a 13.67 at 101.5. The beautiful black test car was one of only 23 428 CJ powered XR-7 GTs made in 1968, 20 of which (including the test car) were equipped with the C-6 automatic transmission.
Fact 99: Cougar always lived in Mustang’s shadow when it came to showroom sales. Here’s a comparison of Mustang/Cougar sales totals: 1967: 472,121/150,893; 1968: 317,148/113,726; 1969: 299,320/100,069; 1970: 197,045/72,343; 1971: 149,628/62,864; 1972: 125,093/53,702.
It is interesting to note that Mustang sales tumbled harder than Cougar sales as pony car newcomers (Camaro, Firebird, Javelin, E-Body Barracuda, and Challenger) bit into Mustang’s shrinking haybail. Cougar’s luxury status helped insulate it from down-market competitors.
Fact 100: The intermediate-size Comet was the car of choice for Mercury buyers looking for a smaller package—and Fairlane buyers seeking an extra level of refinement.
Here’s a comparison of Fairlane/Comet sales totals: 1962: 297,116/165,224; 1963: 342,887/134,623; 1964: 268,616/189,943; 1965: 223,945/165,052; 1966: 526,274/170,426; 1967: 239,688/ 81,133; 1968: 371,787 (includes Torino)/117,482 (includes Montego); 1969: 366,911 (includes Torino)/115,944 (includes Montego); 1970: 496,644 (includes Torino and Falcon)/120,010 (Montego replaces Comet, which became a Maverick-sized compact this year); 1971: 326,463 (Fairlane nameplate discontinued for 1971)/57,094 (includes Cyclone).
Written by Steve Magnante and Posted with Permission of CarTechBooks