The Trans-Am racing series has inspired some legendary rivalries - most notably, Boss Mustang versus Chevrolet Camaro Z/28; however the series' most intense battle took place in-house between the Ford and Lincoln-Mercury divisions in 1967.
Carroll Shelby's Mustangs had won the first-ever Trans-Am manufacturer's trophy for Ford in 1966. Eager to promote its new-for-1967 Cougar, Mercury entered the series wîth a team led by NASCAR owner Bud Moore.
Trans-Am cars of this era were much different than their modern counterparts. Series rules required stock dashboard padding, stock inner door panels and working glass windows in the doors. The stock unibody was drilled and lightened but relied mostly on its roll cage for stiffening. In essence, they were actual production cars that went through a series of performance-minded modifications, rather than a purpose-build racer.
The Cougar's 289 V8 received a four-barrel carburetor, a hotter cam, headers and as much porting and polishing of the valves as the rules allowed. Brakes and suspension were left virtually stock.
Moore hired Parnelli Jones, Dan Gurney and Ed Leslie as team drivers. The 1967 season opened wîth a Dodge Dart victory at Daytona, followed by a Mustang victory at Sebring. Then, at Green Valley, Texas, team Cougar finished first and second. This set the stage for a seasaw battle wîth Mustang and Cougar trading the points lead back and forth right through the final race at Kent, Washington. Team Cougar was poised to win the series wîth cars in second and third place when disaster struck: one car failed to restart after a fuel stop and the other lost time after being black-flagged due to a fuel leak. The series ended Ford wîth 64 points, Mercury wîth 62.
This car was restored to period correct condition by its current owners, Ross and Beth Myers of 3 Dog Garage. Originally driven by Dan Gurney, this is a significant car from one of America's most exciting racing eras.Source - AACA Museum
After a successful 1966 season privately campaigning a Shelby GT-350, Shelby employee Mark Waco was able to secure sponsorship from renowned Indy car owner Bob Estes to compete in SCCA racing. Bob Estes / Lincoln-Mercury dealership provided a 1967 Cougar. The conversion to a road racecar was performed by fellow Shelby employee, Bernie Kretzschmor, as well as Nels Miller and Mark Waco. Kretzschmar's experience as the main fabricator responsible for all of the Shelby's GT-350 R-Model Race Cars and all of Shelby's Trans Am Coupes made him the logical choice to perform the conversion.
All of the special race parts used on the Shelby Trans Am Coupes found their way onto this car. In addition, Bud Moore Engineering provided the lightweight front sheet metal and the oversized radiator.
The Bob Estes Cougar with both mark Waco and Nels Miller driving compiled six wins in ten races in the 1967 season. For the 1968 season, a Tunnel Port 289 engine replaced the standard HiPo 289 for all but the Trans Am race at Riverside. The Cougar won six of seventeen races. The Cougar was running in 4th place at the 1968 Mission Bell 250 Trans Am race at Riverside, CA, before a broken brake rotor put the car back in 15th place.
The car, as it sits now, is exactly as it was at the end of the 1968 season. A total of seven Cougars participated in Trans Am racing, and only three are known to survive today.
XR-7 HardTop Coupe
Bud Moore Engineering built this race car from the prototype Group II Cougar 'mule' developed at Dearborn Steel Tubing in 1966. Fran Hernandez of Lincoln-Mercury decided that Mercury needed to be represented as a high-performance brand, and the Trans-Am Series was the only U.S. racing series which would generate the instant publicity to generate sales to the performance buyer. Bud Moore was a logical choice since he had been racing Mercury products for several years. Parnelli Jones did most of the pre-season testing in this car. At the conclusion of the 1967 Trans-Am season, Ford Motor Company forced Lincoln-Mercury to abandon their factory-backed effort, because they did not want the Mustang to have any 'internal' competition. The three team cars were sold, and eventually cannibalized to build racing Mustangs. This car was reconstructed after much detective work by the current owner. Every part on this car, except for the aluminum radiator, was used on one of the original Bud Moore cars.
The SCCA TransAm Series was new in 1966 and from the start it was obvious to all that the series would be a great opportunity to 'improve the breed' both by developing parts under the strain of racing as well as using racing successes for great advertising. And great advertising, then as now, sells cars.
In 1967 Lincoln Mercury became interested in taking part in this new and exciting series as their hope was to develop Mercury into a high performance brand. The car would be the Cougar, and the race team charged with developing it into a competitive race car would be Bud Moore Engineering.
Bud Moore had been fielding NASCAR teams and had a proven record at the track, but Trans Am was new to Moore so his first step in preparation for the 1967 season was to build this car and began testing. Famous race car driver Parnelli Jones was assigned the duties of test driver and using this car they created a very potent contender. In fact the Cougars were leading the championship until the final race where it slipped away.
The Mercury Cougar appeared in 1967 as a sport-luxury vehicle. The muscle car era was in full swing and Mercury used a longer version of the Ford Mustang chassis complete with two doors, leather bucket seats, and V8 engines. In its inaugural year, Motor Trend awarded it their prestigious award, the Car of the Year. The Mercury brought style, sophistication and speed. The engine options ranged from a 289 cubic inch V8 engine producing nearly 200 horsepower to a 390 cubic inch 8-cylinder power-plant capable of producing 335 horsepower and an amazing 427 foot-pounds of torque. The high performance 390 cubic-inch engine ran the quarter-mile in sixteen seconds and raced from zero to sixty in 8.1 seconds. A three-speed synchromesh gearbox was standard and a four-speed manual and three-speed Merc-O-Matic were also available, allowing for customization to suite all types of drivers and styles. The suspension was modified from the Mustang platform to include a longer rear leaf spring and an upgraded front suspension, the result was a softer, comfortable ride with a sports-racing heritage. An optional firmer suspension complete with stiffer springs, solid rear bushings, larger shocks, and wider anti-roll bars, were available for a price. If the driver preferred luxury over performance, the XR-7 package was available. This included competition instrumentation, walnut dash, leather-covered automatic transmission shifter, wood-trimmed steering wheel, and a combination of leather and vinyl seats. Just over 27,000 of the XR-7 option was ordered during its introductory year. The XR-7 option was offered for all years the pony-car Cougar was produced. More than 150,000 2-door Cougar hardtops were produced in 1967. The success and popularity of the car continued in 1968 although sales did drop by around 40,000 vehicles. There were still well-over 110,000 examples produced in 1968. The base engine was the 289 V8 engine producing nearly 200 horsepower. The muscle-car era was heating up, and so were the available engines that Mercury was offering. A 427 and 428 cubic-inch engine became available with the 427 producing 390 horsepower and the 428 producing 335. With the 427, the Cougar could run from zero to sixty in 7.1 seconds and the quarter-mile in just over 15 seconds. The 428 was offered near the close of 1968 model year, a move that was intended to allow the buyer with customization room while keeping insurance and safety personnel content. When compared with the 427, the 428 did better on satisfying emission requirements and had around fifty-less horsepower. A performance package was offered, the GT-E, complete with the 427 cubic-inch V8 matted to a SelectShift Merc-O-Matic, power disc brakes, hood scoop which did nothing except add to the aggressive look of the vehicle, various performance and handling upgrades, and steel wheels.
The cougar changed in many ways in 1969. A convertible option was now offered, the 427 engine option was removed, and the wheelbase became wider and longer resulting in a heavier vehicle. Sales were still strong but they just barely cleared 100,000 units. Mercury introduced the Eliminator package available in blue, orange, and yellow exterior colors. Under the hood lurked a four-barrel Windsor 351 cubic-inch V8 capable of producing nearly 300 horsepower. The base engine was a 302 cubic-inch 8-cylinder producing 290 horsepower with the top of the line engine a 428 cubic-inch 8-cylinder producing just under 340 horsepower. Mercury offered products such as Weber carbs and deep-sump oil pans that amplified the performance to meet customer performance requirements. Larger brakes, sportier suspension, engine modifications, and performance products did make the car a stronger force on the drag strip but it was often shown-up by the smaller and lighter muscle cars of the day.
For 1970 the Cougar continued to grow in size. Although the size meant more interior room for the passengers, it also meant more weight. The Eliminator was still available, now with a 351 cubic-inch Cleveland 8-cylinder engine producing 300 horsepower. The 302 cubic-inch V8 rated at 290 horsepower was the base engine. A 429 cubic-inch 8-cylinder big-block with Ram-Air induction offered 375 horsepower and 440 foot-pounds of torque. With less than 4,300 convertible options sold during the 1970 model year, it guarantees their exclusivity in modern times. Although the size of the car and the available engines grew, sales did not. Just over 72,000 examples were produced in 1970.
The muscle-car era was beginning to decline due to stiff safety and emission regulations, gas shortages, and steeper insurance premiums. Mercury decided to continue the Cougar on the path of luxury with sport-tendencies, resulting in a larger wheelbase. The Eliminator package was no longer offered. The 351 or 429 cubic-inch engine were all that were offered. Horsepower ranged from 285 through 370 depending on the engine and configuration selected. 3,440 convertible were sold and nearly 63,000 combined total Mercury Cougars were produced in 1971.
In 1972 the 351 cubic-inch V8 was all that were offered. Sales were around 54,000 units with the hardtop configuration proving again to be the popular option. Horsepower was now rated in SAE Net horsepower. The Cougar produced between 168 through just over 265 depending on configuration. The same continued into the 1973 model year.
With sales around 60,000 in 1973, Mercury decided it would be the final year for the Cougar in the 'pony' car configuration. Mercury continued to use the name 'Cougar' in various models.
Built atop an enlarged Ford Mustang chassis, adorned with luxury Mercury had become famous for, and powered by high-performance engines, the Mercury Cougar was a well-rounded vehicle. It was designed to offer performance while keeping the occupants comfortable and content. By Daniel Vaughan | Nov 2007