Ford’s Mercury Division built rear-wheel-drive Cougars from the 1967 through 1997 model years, followed by a 1999-2002 run of front-wheel-drive Cougars based on the Mondeo chassis. Today’s Junkyard Find is thus historically significant on three counts: it’s the last model year for the rear-wheel-drive Cougar, it’s a special edition commemorating the 30th anniversary of the debut of The Man’s Car, and it’s the last year for the XR7 luxury package. Bitter tears, indeed!

1997 Mercury Cougar in California junkyard, decklid emblem - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsYou might say that ditching rear-wheel-drive and then moving to a British platform after skipping a model year violated sacred Cougar tradition, but the one constant with the Cougar name was that Ford never worried about Cougar tradition. The car started out as a stretched and gingerbread-laden Mustang with cool-looking sequential taillights (1967-1973), then became a rococo-ized Torino (1974-1976), then a blinged-up LTD II with sedan and wagon versions added (1977-1979), followed by a semi-subdued Fox Platform version that— mercifully— returned to coupe-only form after a few years (1980-1988), then switched to the sophisticated MN12 platform of the Thunderbird/Mark VIII for 1989 through 1997. In fact, the only Cougar that didn’t have a near-clone sold by Ford and/or Lincoln during all that time was the 1999-2002 generation, a sport compact that didn’t look anything like its Mondeo/Countour platform-mates.

1997 Mercury Cougar in California junkyard, 30th Anniversary Embroidering - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsFord created many special-edition cars to celebrate production milestones around this time, mostly for the Mustang (including the not-so-sought-after 35th Anniversary Edition). It appears that the Cougar had editions celebrating its 20th, 30th, and 35th anniversaries. Sadly, the Cougar was axed one year prior to the Ford Motor Company’s 100th birthday, so it never had a chance to be sold in “any color you like” black with Centennial Edition badges.

1997 Mercury Cougar in California junkyard, Lorain Assembly sticker - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe 30th Anniversary Cougar was available only on the XR7— actually, all 1997 Cougars were XR7s— and it featured Toreador Red paint, leather/cloth seats with commemorative embroidery, and special aluminum wheels.

1997 Mercury Cougar in California junkyard, Interior - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe 30th Anniversary Package added just $495 to the cost of a $17,830 car (that’s about $880 on a $31,795 car when reckoned in 2022 frogskins), which would have been worth it for the snazzy wheels alone. Until now, I thought today’s Junkyard Find was my first 30th Anniversary Cougar, but I now realize that the Florida Man Faux-Vertible XR7 in Toreador Red we admired nearly 10 years ago was such a car with the embroidery sliced out by a junkyard shopper.

1997 Mercury Cougar in California junkyard, engine - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe only engine available in the 1994-1997 Cougar was Ford’s modern and (generally) very reliable 4.6-liter SOHC Modular V8. This engine was rated at 205 horsepower, 45 fewer than the 4.6 in the same-year Crown Victoria Police Interceptor I once owned.

The only years for a manual transmission in the MN12 Cougar were 1989 and 1990, though the manual returned for the Mondeo Cougars.

1997 Mercury Cougar in California junkyard, LH rear view - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsYou’d have to be a Sajeev Mehta-grade Dearborn zealot to want to restore a 30th Anniversary XR7, and this car is in a Northern California yard thousands of miles from Houston. The Mustang-based Cougars still go for solid prices, and the Fox fanatics might rescue a 1980-1988 cat, but the MN12 cars don’t have tremendous value nowadays.

1997 Mercury Cougar in California junkyard, Interior - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsStill, the MN12s were the best-handling and probably the quietest members of the Cougar family, so we should give them respect.

All this handling… and the quality of a Mercury.

At 16, you got your mom’s station wagon with an 8-track player. At 22, you got an old rustmobile. Isn’t it time you got a real car?

Kate Jackson uses an interesting pronunciation of “Mercury” in this ad.

For links to more than 2,200 additional Junkyard Finds, please visit The Junkyard Home of the Murilee Martin Lifestyle Brand™.

[Images via the author.]

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