The 1968 Mercury Cougar is a legendary American muscle car that has captured the hearts of car enthusiasts around the world. This masterpiece of automotive design, power, and performance is an enduring symbol of the golden age of American automobiles. In this in-depth exploration, we will dive into the history, specifications, and significance of the 1968 Mercury Cougar. By the end of this article, you will have a deeper understanding of why this iconic car has become a classic in its own right.
A Brief History of the Mercury Cougar
The Mercury Cougar made its debut in 1967 as a sibling to the wildly popular Ford Mustang, with both vehicles being manufactured by the Ford Motor Company. The Cougar was introduced as part of Mercury’s strategy to enter the rapidly growing “pony car” market. This category of cars was characterized by a sporty, compact design with powerful engines.
From its inception, the Cougar was designed to be a more luxurious and upscale alternative to the Mustang. In order to appeal to a broader audience, the Cougar emphasized comfort and luxury features while still providing the thrilling performance that muscle car enthusiasts craved. The 1968 model year marked the second year in the Cougar’s production, and it continued to build upon the success of its predecessor.
Design and Styling
The 1968 Mercury Cougar featured a sleek, aggressive design that set it apart from other vehicles of its time. The front end was dominated by a distinctive horizontal grille with hidden headlights, which would become one of the Cougar’s trademark features. The rear end showcased a unique set of taillights that stretched across the width of the car, creating a striking visual effect.
The Cougar’s body was slightly longer and wider than the Mustang’s, offering more interior space and a more comfortable ride. Inside, the cabin was appointed with upscale materials and features, including bucket seats, woodgrain trim, and a full range of gauges. The overall design of the 1968 Cougar exuded a sense of luxury and sophistication that was unmatched by other muscle cars of the era.
Engine and Performance
Under the hood, the 1968 Mercury Cougar boasted a range of powerful engine options that delivered the exhilarating performance that muscle car enthusiasts demanded. The base model came equipped with a 289-cubic inch (4.7-liter) V8 engine that produced 195 horsepower. For those seeking even more power, Mercury offered several optional engines, including a 302-cubic inch (4.9-liter) V8 with 210 horsepower, a 390-cubic inch (6.4-liter) V8 with 335 horsepower, and the range-topping 427-cubic inch (7.0-liter) V8 with a whopping 390 horsepower.
These powerful engines were paired with either a 3-speed manual transmission, a 4-speed manual transmission, or a 3-speed automatic transmission. The combination of potent engines and smooth-shifting transmissions delivered thrilling acceleration and impressive top speeds, ensuring that the 1968 Cougar was a force to be reckoned with on the road.
Handling and Suspension
The 1968 Mercury Cougar featured a sophisticated suspension system that provided a smooth, comfortable ride without sacrificing handling and performance. The front suspension featured an independent short/long arm (SLA) design with coil springs, while the rear suspension utilized a live axle with semi-elliptical leaf springs.
The Cougar’s suspension system was designed to deliver a perfect balance between comfort and performance, ensuring that drivers could enjoy a smooth ride on long road trips while still being able to tackle tight corners and winding roads with ease. Additionally, the 1968 Cougar offered optional power steering and power front disc brakes, further enhancing the driving experience.
Models and Variants
For the 1968 model year, Mercury offered the Cougar in two main trim levels: the base model and the upscale XR-7. The base model featured a well-appointed interior and a range of standard features, while the XR-7 added even more luxury and refinement to the mix. The XR-7 came equipped with leather seats, a woodgrain dashboard, and additional gauges, including a tachometer and an oil pressure gauge.
In addition to the base model and XR-7, Mercury also introduced the limited-edition Cougar GT-E for the 1968 model year. The GT-E was a high-performance variant that featured a 427-cubic inch V8 engine, a unique hood scoop, special badging, and a range of performance upgrades. With only 394 GT-E models produced, this rare and powerful variant has become highly sought after by collectors.
Racing and Performance Heritage
The 1968 Mercury Cougar’s performance capabilities did not go unnoticed by the racing community. The Cougar found success both on the drag strip and in road racing competitions throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Cougar’s racing pedigree helped to further bolster Mercury’s reputation as a manufacturer of high-performance muscle cars.
One of the most famous Cougar racing teams was the Bud Moore Engineering team, which campaigned Cougars in the highly competitive SCCA Trans-Am racing series. In 1967, the team secured several victories and finished second in the championship, with drivers Parnelli Jones and Dan Gurney behind the wheel. The success of the Bud Moore Engineering team helped to showcase the Cougar’s performance capabilities on a national stage.
The Cougar’s success in racing also led to the development of performance parts and aftermarket modifications that allowed owners to further enhance their vehicles. These upgrades allowed Cougar enthusiasts to extract even more performance from their vehicles, making the 1968 Mercury Cougar a popular choice for both amateur and professional racers.
Collectibility and Restoration
As the 1968 Mercury Cougar has grown in popularity among classic car enthusiasts, interest in restoring and preserving these vehicles has surged. The Cougar community is incredibly active, with numerous clubs, online forums, and events dedicated to celebrating and preserving these classic muscle cars.
There is a wealth of resources available to those interested in restoring a 1968 Mercury Cougar, including parts suppliers, restoration guides, and expert advice from experienced restorers. Many classic car enthusiasts find the process of restoring a Cougar to be a rewarding and enjoyable experience, with the end result being a beautifully preserved piece of automotive history.
The collectibility of the 1968 Mercury Cougar has also led to a growing market for original and reproduction parts. Many parts suppliers specialize in Cougar-specific components, making it easier than ever for restorers and collectors to find the parts they need to keep their vehicles in top condition. In some cases, new parts are being manufactured using original Ford tooling, ensuring a high level of quality and authenticity.
Pop Culture and Media Appearances
The 1968 Mercury Cougar has also made its mark on popular culture, appearing in various films, television shows, and music videos over the years. These appearances have helped to maintain the Cougar’s status as an iconic American muscle car and contributed to its enduring appeal.
One of the most famous media appearances of the 1968 Cougar is in the 1999 film “The Thomas Crown Affair,” starring Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo. In one memorable scene, Brosnan’s character escapes from pursuing police in a blue 1968 Cougar XR-7, showcasing the car’s performance and style in an action-packed chase sequence.
Legacy and Impact
The 1968 Mercury Cougar cemented its place in automotive history as a classic American muscle car that combined performance, style, and luxury. The Cougar’s unique blend of attributes set it apart from other vehicles of its time and helped to establish Mercury as a major player in the muscle car market.
Today, the 1968 Cougar remains a popular choiceamong car enthusiasts and collectors who appreciate its timeless design and impressive performance. The Cougar’s enduring appeal has led to a vibrant community of owners and fans who continue to celebrate and preserve these iconic vehicles.
As interest in classic muscle cars continues to grow, values for well-preserved and restored 1968 Mercury Cougars have steadily increased. The limited-production GT-E model, in particular, has become a highly coveted collector’s item that commands premium prices at auctions and private sales.
The 1968 Mercury Cougar’s legacy lives on in the hearts and garages of those who appreciate the unique combination of power, style, and luxury that this classic muscle car offers. Its enduring popularity has ensured that the Cougar will remain a significant part of automotive history for generations to come.
The 1968 Mercury Cougar stands as a testament to the golden age of American muscle cars. Its distinctive design, powerful engine options, and upscale interior set it apart from other vehicles of its time, making it a sought-after classic for collectors and enthusiasts today.
The Cougar’s unique blend of performance, style, and luxury helped to establish Mercury as a major player in the muscle car market and cemented the Cougar’s reputation as an enduring classic. As interest in classic muscle cars continues to grow, the 1968 Mercury Cougar remains a shining example of the innovation and excitement that defined this iconic era in automotive history.
Whether you’re a collector, an enthusiast, or just someone who appreciates the beauty and power of classic muscle cars, the 1968 Mercury Cougar is a vehicle that deserves your attention. Its timeless design, thrilling performance, and luxurious appointments make it a true classic that will continue to captivate car lovers for generations to come.