Mercury : 1969 Cougar

When Mercury dropped the 428 Cougar Cobra Jet into its 1969 lineup in April, this Ford Motors Division became a real contender in the muscle car wars that had been waging back and forth between the General, Ford and, believe it or not, tiny American Motors (it Javelin was quite surprising vehicle), tilted back toward Ford in a big way.

Ford not only had its Mustang and Fairlanes, but it now owned the two-door category with the Cougar Eliminator series whose base 302 was a very good engine and while not up to the performance you could get out of the big block 428, the small block 302 was still a potent powerplant.

The funny thing about this lineup was there was nothing at all to indicate that there was some rolling thunder under the hood. Overall, the lines were nice but very plain. There was a vague hint of the wedge-styling that was to become all the vogue in the early 1970s as the auto industry sought to cut through the air more efficiently.

The most interesting styling feature was the Cougar's blacked out front end. Not only was the vertical plastic grille blacked out, but the dual quad headlights were fared into the same grille. The front end was further divided into two bight ovals by a bright piece of chrome and gave the front end a pleasing, yet conservatively somewhat rounded style. The chromed bumper - by this time bumpers were little more than chrome trim pieces that had nothing to do with active protection of the vehicle – was designed so that a small valance piece and spoiler were tucked under the bumper and there were two functional air scoops below the bump.

The design team was aiming at the "mature" market – whatever that was – and the whole vehicle ended up as a bland, nondescript two-door with a slightly sloping hood that gently sloped to a raked windshield. The greenhouse peaked at the A-pillar and gently swept back from there to the nearly vertical backlight and down to the squared trunk.

This was another of Ford's series of B-pillarless vehicles that featured lines hat began with the front fenders and carried on straight through the trunk. The rear quarters and sail panels carried the lines nicely to the rounded rear end.

The 1969 Cougar Eliminator series (the official name of the line) used the same basic chassis as the Mustang, although it was stretched three inches. The extra wheelbase resulted in a more stable ride and better handling. The Eliminator needed the extra handling because Mercury was heavily involved in drag racing at this time and the Cougar Eliminator, which started the year with a 427, cranked out a street-ripping 390-horsepower. Later in the year, the automaker added one cubic inch to its engine so that the Cobra Jet (428) could be stuffed under the hood.

And while the performance team was aiming at ultimate street control, there was a contingent in the ride and development department which wanted to retain a European-style of comfortable touring ride in Cobra, so not all of the Cobras on the road were ready for the streetlight drags that were lighting up roads all over the country. Instead, there was a group of Cobras powered by the 302-cubic-inch V-8 that put out 290-horsepower although there was one problem with this combination, it was marginal at best because there was just too much weight for great performance.

For those who wanted the real thing, though, the Cobra Jet 428 was available with an oil intercooler to keep things reasonable under the hood and to extract as much power as possible. The 4.50:1 rear end helped to make the Jet the Cobra to beat. Just incidentally, most Cobra Jets had scoops in the middle of the hood that looked like the real thing, however, only the drag version really worked. The deep sump oil pan also helped the performance equation too.