Mercury, it seemed, was in the habit of being the division that never truly fit where it was intended. Throughout much of its existence, it was perceived as either a plush Ford or a baby Lincoln, and Dearborn’s front office never really helped change the public opinion along the way. That’s not to say there weren’t a few valiant efforts during the Fifties and early Sixties. However, if there was ever a moment when Mercury stood out as intended, it was when the division announced the arrival of the Cougar for 1967.
Rather than simply giving the Mustang a facelift, Mercury designers reimagined the platform by creating a new foundation that was both longer and wider, coupled with a suspension tuned for a spirited, yet discerning buyer. Power was derived not from a six-cylinder, but rather a 200-hp 289-cu.in. V-8 issued as standard equipment. Stylists crafted a body tinged with European influences, with elegant, narrow wrap-around front and rear bumpers, finely contoured flanks, and larger sail panels emphasizing its coupe style. Cougar also got hidden headlamps and broad taillamps (with sequential turn signals) that reflected the design of the front end. Interiors were outfitted with vinyl bucket seats, plush carpeting, and a three-spoke “sport style” steering wheel. In effect, the Cougar was a harmonious blend of Thunderbird’s personal luxury accoutrements with Mustang’s agility and adaptable performance
As one of several new “pony cars” to emerge on the market at that time, the Cougar was a resounding success in its first year, attracting 123,672 buyers. If that weren’t enough, 27,221 more sprung for the mid-year release of the modestly fancier Cougar XR-7. Among those 150,800-plus buyers was Brooks Baldwin, then a recent college graduate who was living with her three girlfriends in Indianapolis, Indiana.“As we were graduating, the other girls purchased Mustangs. However, my father, Tom, was a salesman at C.R. Barkman Lincoln-Mercury, which was in nearby Rochester, so naturally I ended up buying a new Cougar instead. It was painted Lime Frost and had a black vinyl top, with a black interior, and my boyfriend Bill Thompson and I enjoyed driving around the area. It was also a perfect car for my commute,” Brooks remembers.